Photography And The Law: 5 Questions Answered

By Geoff Harris

Photographers rights, Photography and the Law, Section 44, what are the most common Legal questions asked by photographers

In a recent blog, I talked about a city architectural tour I took in London and touched on the repeal of Section 44 and photographers rights. And it struck me that it might be useful to photographers, both here in the UK and in the USA exactly what you can and cannot photograph.

Having said this (and here comes the legal disclaimer!) - By reading this page you accept that MyPhotoSchool are not offering legal advice and do not accept responsibility for any omissions or errors. If you require legal advice please consult a lawyer.

The bottom line is there is no law preventing you from taking photos of whomever or whatever you want, so long as you are standing on public land and not on private property and this include photography police officers. There are a couple of exceptions to this, and these include government and military installations and some airports, but just use your common sense.

The problem is that it’s sometime difficult to tell what is public and private land, as some public spaces can be privately owned. 99% of the time, pavements, sidewalks and footpaths are public land.

So what are the most common Legal questions asked by photographers?

Q. Can I photograph people and places as long as I am standing on public property?

A. YES! If you are standing on public property you are legally allowed to photograph anyone or anything you like, even if your subject is on private property or is a private building. We would of course always encourage you to exercise common sense, be courteous and respectful to others and behave in a sensible and moral way.

Q. Can I sell/publish photographs taken on public land?

A. YES! You are within your rights to use images editorially, in a book, on a website or in an exhibition. However if a person is recognisable and you use their picture or that of a privately owned building without their permission to endorse a product such as in an advertising campaign, this could result in legal action.

Q. Can I sell photographs I take of private property?

A. YES! Unless you have gained entry illegally. You may need permission from the property owners if you intend to use the image to endorse a product. Many institutions such as the National Trust, English Heritage, Disneyland and Graceland that allow ticketed access to the public, make it a condition of entry that photographs may be taken, but may not be used for commercial gain of any kind.

Q. When asked by private security staff am I required to give my personal details?

A. NO! When stopped by security guards, you are not obliged to provide any personal details. Private security guards do not have any police powers, nor do they have any powers to view or delete images or confiscate equipment.

Q. When asked by the Police, am I required to give my personal details?

A. NO! Unless the police have reasonable suspicion that you are involved in terrorist activities, they have no powers to take your details, look at your photos or to confiscate your camera. However, failing to cooperate with the police when questioned may lead to a charge of obstruction. Cooperation and politeness are the most efficacious ways of dealing with police enquiries.

Common sense and knowledge are your best friends. Avoid taking photographs of children without consent, exercise caution and empathy when photographing victims in traumatic situations and be prepared to be questioned if photographing sensitive buildings such as government premises, banks and embassies. Develop your knowledge of the law and carrying a print out of your rights.


Amateur Photographer magazine has produced a Photographers' Rights Card. Print it out and keep it with you

If you are based in the USA there is a very good double sided guide by Bert P. Krages Attorney at Law on Photographer's Rights Guide USA .  It’s a downloadable PDF flyer describing the rights of photographers.

Media and Intellectual Property Law specialist Linda Macpherson LL.B, Dip. L.P., LL.M has written the very useful UK Photographers Rights Guide which is designed to be printed double sided and kept with you when taking photographs, or used as a hand out at events promoting photographers rights.

We'd even suggest taking a screenshot of the top half of this page and handing it to a police officer if it ever came to it: View Police guidelines.

Wikipedia also has a useful article relating to photographer's rights

In November 2011 the government issued new guidance to security firms outlining zero rights to prevent photographers taking photos on public land. Download the guidance document.

The picture, taken at a protest against the Act in Trafalgar Square, is by Sarah. Used under licence.

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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