October 16, 2003
UK public photography

Various people have had issues with taking photos in public. Myself included (in France).

To clarify, I walked up to a police officer in London today, and asked him whether there were any regulations on taking pictures of random people in public, and he informed me that as long as they were not perverse (sneaking up on couples going beyond simple snogging etc), it was completely fine.

As I understood it, in general shooting photos, without prior consent, of people in normal situations in public is no problem at all, and completely legal.

Now, that should be clear. Still haven't seen any sort of legal resource about it on the net though. Could there be other rules on publication (I didn't ask)? UK legal advice appreciated :-)

(Standard disclaimer: I take no responsability for whatever happens to you if you act based on the information above. This is not legal advice. I'm not a lawyer etc blablabla)...

Update: more information is available here.

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I see you have found Pj’s (my wife’s) Blatherblog entry on this topic:-

'As long as you are on public property, no permission is needed. In areas privately owned but accessible to the public, such as parks and shopping centres, restrictions may apply, but in principle these have to be displayed on a notice.'

Of course if you were then to go on to use the photographs for commercial purposes it would be a different matter. The Advertising Standards Authority requires that a model release form is obtained for any photograph depicting a recognisable human face.

Whilst remaining within the law you can photograph from a public place, the street, into a private place, a shop, or garden. I would suggest thinking twice before taking this step. I imagine that if you carried a set of steps, instead of a tripod, and used them from the street to look into people’s private property, you would probably find yourself in trouble with the police.

I would add to this a note of caution when photographing children; this country is still in the grip of paedophile paranoia. There is a difference between what is law and what might get you into trouble.

If photographers are struggling to decide where the line of legal and legitimate behaviour lies, then it is to be assumed that the non specialist will have much less an idea. It is the non specialist (the subject of your photography) that we will have to deal with first. No amount of law is going to be of immediate benefit if you photograph the girlfriend of a 20 stone disgruntled wrestler who has just spent two hours in the pub getting jealous of other men admiring her low cut neckline.

Posted by: Sensiti on October 16, 2003 05:18 PM

I agree - it is definitely better to be on the "safe" side (with a margin) of the law when it comes to these thing - still, it is good to know one's rights and have peace of mind with respect to being stoppped/harrassed by the police for one's activities...

Posted by: Anders on October 16, 2003 06:27 PM

I always follow the rule that it's OK to take pictures of people in situations where they might reasonably expect to be observed by other people. So shots through people's windows are out, but shots in the street are fine. Obviously if someone says 'no', then you don't take any pictures of them and don't use any you've already taken.

Oh, and no children, under any circumstances whatsoever. It's very easy to get arrested or at least hassled for something you didn't do.

Posted by: Matt Ashby on December 5, 2003 07:47 PM

I was photographed unknowingly juggling at glastonbury festival last summer (in a public area, not on stage). I was very surprised and somewhat unhappy to randomly stumble upon this image of me juggling used by lastminute.com in conjuction with the sale of the camera used to take the shot. Having written to them countless times since July, I have only just (04jan) received a response saying that as far as they know they dont need permission in a public place. Is this correct? The caption on the advert says "I saw this and just had to take a photograph with my xxx digital camera". I am trying to find out where i legally stand on this, as I feel I have been used to sell a product. any advice happily received. Rik.

Posted by: rik on January 6, 2004 11:11 AM

[Also responded in private email]


Very interesting situation indeed! I believe you are right - to TAKE the photo is allowed, but when publishing it for commercial purposes the rules are slightly more muddled (see for example the recent judgement in the European Court of Justice linked from here:


I AM NOT A LAWYER, but a good one should be able to sort it out for you, if you'd like the photo removed...

Happy juggling!

Kind regards,

Posted by: Anders on January 6, 2004 01:11 PM

Just this weekend, (jan18,04) I've been chased by a guy with a knife, and attacked by an old woman...

for taking their picture.

and the product is well worth it:

Posted by: Kenneth Cowan on January 20, 2004 06:45 AM

What illegal can be in shooting people in different life situations?.. 8)

Posted by: Ken on February 18, 2004 11:45 PM

On a similar note. A friend had his picture taken and as far as I know he didn't sign a release form. The picture is being used on a website now for commercial purposes. What he was wondering was could he use the picture himself for similar purposes.
I doubt it because as far as I know the photograph is the property of the photographer, but doesn't the model have some rights to the photograph as well? At the very least if the photo is being used without his consent there'd at least be a counter case if it came to the crunch.

Posted by: Chris on March 6, 2004 02:07 PM

i'm just wondering about the legality of tacking video images off people on mobile phones.
When i was working at manchester airport on the runway 2 project we were told we could not photograph the protesters for legal reasons could you clear this point up for me.

Posted by: stephen boden on April 10, 2004 11:32 PM

I was driving in rochdale yeaterday 30/06/04 and some people were on the street and as i drove past them one of them took a photo. As i drove past i noticed one of them holding a device and pointing it towards the car I saw a red light and then a flash. My 5 year old daughter was in the car asleep in the back seat so I did not stop to ask why they had taken a photo also because there was about 10-12 grown men and I felt a bit threatened especially since i am not from that area. I told my wife and a few friends who said that I should have reported it to the police since they could publish my photo and imply something bad or put it to some bad use. The group consisted of all asian males and were muslim, i could tell by the way they were dressed and had beards and the islamic dress. Probably an islamic group or movement, ive seen plenty of leaflets from this sort of groups. I hope they do not use the photo to imply something bad, where do i stand legally, what can i do?? I am really concerned I would appreciate any info and help. Many thanks.

Posted by: Abbz on July 1, 2004 11:54 AM

I am an artist working with photography and video. I am trying to negotiate through some of the complex issues raised by those people who get caught on camera in the background of recent work.

Can anyone tell me where I stand if the work will be for exhibition but not for commercial purposes (ie i will not receive or make a profit from its screening). Seeking permission and rendering people urecognisable has been done....am I wide open to prosecution if I continue with this to the exhibition stage? Any help greatly appreciated


Posted by: on September 20, 2004 05:45 PM

Hi Anthony, thanks for commenting.

I am not a lawyer, so I can't really give a final answer, but for art- and other non-commercial purposes (including editorial use,) my *impression* is that you don't need model releases. That being said you're always safer if you get them, but in your case it sounds like it's a bit too late...?

Good luck! Let us know if you find any additional information!


Posted by: Anders on September 20, 2004 08:50 PM

I have a website which promotes music events, I'm looking at adding photos from gigs to make the site more interesting, will i be legaly at risk if i do this? most of the photo's will be of groups of people, is there any photography law guides on the net?

Cheers, Sam

Posted by: sam on September 17, 2005 02:57 PM

this may be of interest http://www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr.php . it seems consistent with what the police officer told you, and the discssions in amateur photographer.

Posted by: sam on February 5, 2006 07:34 PM
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