Can you still take photographs during the lockdown?

By Geoff Harris

Sadly it looks as if the lockdown restrictions will be here for a while, even if a vaccine is widely rolled out.

There are a lot of restrictions on what we cannot do, including following leisure pursuits and hobbies, so where does this leave photographers?

What you can do

The good news is that you can still take photographs – so long as it’s part of your daily exercise. Indeed, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that it is ok to do so, so long as you keep moving – in other words, it’s advisable not to set up a tripod or lighting. Pausing during your exercise to take a few photographs seems to be OK, though.

You are allowed to take photos as part of your daily exercise – so long as most of the time, you keep moving!

“You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise,” says the official government advice. “This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.”

This is also an important caveat – there is still ambiguity exactly what is meant by local, but you need to exercise common sense. When asked about this issue by ITV News, Andy Slattery from Cumbria Police said: "If people live in an urban centre it's perfectly reasonable to drive a short distance to access the nearest available space for them. That doesn't mean travelling a hundred miles or more up to the Lake District to exercise."

If you don’t want to attract attention with a camera when you go out, make the most of your smartphone

Again, a bit ambiguous, but we’d suggest that it’s OK to drive a couple of miles to a local nature reserve or beach. You can exercise/take photographs in a public outdoor place by yourself; with the people you live with;

with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one); in a childcare bubble where providing childcare; or, when on your own, with one person from another household.

While there was speculation that this last exemption might be removed in England, owing to large numbers of people gathering in London parks at weekends, for example, it currently remains in place.

The government defines public outdoor places as:

  • Parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • Public and botanical gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • The grounds of a heritage site
  • Public playgrounds

So there is quite a lot of places you theoretically can still take photos as part your daily exercise. Also, there is no time limit on the amount of daily exercise you can take, all the government says is you should “minimise time outside the house.”

Lockdowns are a great opportunity to practice close-up and macro photography

As you would expect, you can take as many photographs as you wish around your own house and garden, so this latest lockdown is a great opportunity to brush up on your bird photography skills, take portraits of the family or get into close-up and macro photography. You can take photographs around your home or garden with others within your household or support bubble. It is not allowed to set up face to face meetings with other photographers as a ‘group leisure activity’, however, whether around your home or in an outside space. This is the reason most camera clubs and photographic societies now run meetings online via Zoom or similar services. There is a useful list of national camera clubs here.

While camera clubs and photo societies can’t physically meet, most now organise events online

Professional photography

When it comes to professional photography, it appears that they are allowed to travel longer distances if they are unable to work from home – so presumably a landscape photographer based in Manchester, for example, could travel to Cumbria to take photos if they are to be sold commercially. We’d definitely carry some ID, however, such as business cards, if you get stopped. Photojournalists and broadcasters are considered key workers. So you can travel to take photographs or record video as part of your work, and you are exempt from travel restrictions. You should carry a valid NUJ or IFJ press card or other professional credentials in case you are stopped.

So, while there are a lot of limitations for photographers, the good news is that it is still possible to follow your passion, so long as you are aware of the current rules – some of which are, admittedly, a bit ambiguous. Please note our guide mainly covers the rules for England; if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you should refer to the specific guidance where you live. Please note also that this blog should not be taken as legal advice in any shape or form – it’s just our informed interpretation. Good luck and do keep sharing your photos with us.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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