Know Your Photography Rights

June 11, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 22 Comments | |
Know Your Photography Rights Image

There has been a recent rise in the number of lurid headline stories about photographers being confronted, and in some cases even attacked or arrested, for simply taking a picture. Even the esteemed Editor of Photography Blog was recently stopped and searched by the police.

In an age of heightened fear about terrorism, using a DSLR camera is increasingly being perceived as a crime, rather than a hobby. Using a DSLR and a tripod can really get you into trouble with the authorities, as you're suddenly seen as an expert.

Here are a selection of recent articles that touch upon some of the issues involved:

UK photographer John Kelly was ordered to delete all of his pictures of people in public in Blackpool by a police community support officer.

US photographer Andy Carvin was threatened with arrest at Washington DC's Union Station, despite having a press pass.

Even world renowned author Scott Kelby ran into trouble in Times Square, New York.

Last year London's Metroplitan Police force launched a "Counter-Terrorism" advertising campaign targeting photographers (see above photo).

So what can you do in response?

The most important thing is to know exactly what your rights are. Admittedly this is tricky, as every country, and even certain locations within a country, have their own rules and regulations. Here are some links to get you started:

The Photographer’s Right by lawyer Bert P. Krages II is an essential download for US photographers.

The UK Photographers Rights Guide by lecturer in law Linda Macpherson is the equivalent for UK photographers.

There are other online guides to the legal position in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

So you now know your rights back-to-front, but that doesn't necessarily apply to the member of public or the authorities who's approaching you. So here's some common sense advice:

  1. Be friendly and polite
  2. Stand your ground, but try not to be confrontational, even if you're right
  3. Try and get the name of the person or officer - you may need it later
  4. Remember your rights, and state them if challenged
  5. Make a report to the police if you feel you've been unduly hassled
  6. Always walk away if the situation escalates and threatens to become violent - no photo is worth personal injury

We'll leave you on a high note. Austin Mitchell MP recently instigated an Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament, which now has the backing of over 200 MPs:
"this House is concerned to encourage the spread and enjoyment of photography as the most genuine and accessible people's art; deplores the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography"

Have you been caught up in an unwanted confrontation? How did you handle it? Got any great advice or online resources? Share your story in the Comments section below.

Entry Tags

photos, photography, photographer, rights, attack, hassle, confrontation, terrorism, arrest, search, stop

Your Comments

22 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Billy

How about organising a mass rally / protest in London, photographers could march from landmark to landmark with cameras (and tripod!) in hand only to stop and take photos of the landmarks. This will certainly bring the problem to the attention of the police, as they would have to police the march. I’m sure many photography websites would participate in advertising the march using your influence.

11:57 am - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#2 tony3

More comprehensive guide with legal resources here:

2:37 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#3 chencassandra

if i were a terrorist who is planning to blow up a building , do you think i would make my intentions known before the public by brandishing a 2000 dollar DSLR mounted on a Manfrotto tripod for all the world to see ?
security guards tasked with keeping a close watch for saboteurs should focus more on non-descript looking individuals who SURREPTITIOUSLY conduct photographic reconnaissance by way of a COMPACT camera which is so small and easily concealable as to be easily covered with both hands while operating the said unit .
to all you paranoid security guards ....GIVE YOUR BRAINS A BREAK . your sheer ineptitude is pretty much on display by the way you conduct your security operations .

6:03 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#4 Erick @ Photocrati Photography Blog

I’ve noticed a lot more UK photography bloggers seem to write more about this, in general, than those from the US. I have the impression that UK law is less friendly (or at least is applied in a less friendly way) than the US. Particularly as it applies to public venues.

It’s an issue here too, of course. One of my fellow contributors on Photocrati, Steve Buchanan, just posted on this in late May:

Hey Photography is Legal, How About That

Knowing your rights is the big thing, your are right on that. E

7:16 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#5 Mr T

Stay one step ahead and buy an Eye-Fi card.

7:18 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#6 FSH

Really nice pictures here!
Especially the portraits!

10:21 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#7 Mei Teng

Timely article. I am an amateur who shoots as a hobby. So far, thankfully, I have never gotten in the way of the authorities. I was only questioned once what I was doing photographing outside a performing arts centre (which I thought was a public area). The security personnel spoke kindly to me and gave me permission to photography after finding out that I am just pursuing a hobby and not making $$ out of those photos.

12:02 pm - Friday, June 12, 2009

#8 Ron J

Wow, what a waste of police time. I’m sure there are enough real crimes going on at any given time. I guess that requires work, though.

I’ve been recently getting into street photography and thinking a lot about ethics, personal safety and how to stay low profile. Thankfully, in my city (Halifax, Canada) the police don’t seem to be concerned, so far, at least when they’ve seen me. I try to stay focused and not act suspicious at all. Also, the people here are all in love with themselves, so that makes things a little easier.

I’m glad photographers are fighting for their rights. Thanks for the article.

7:43 pm - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#9 Irvine Engineer

Remember too that your photos are your
copyrighted property.  Deleting them
is a destruction of that property; also,
its destroying “evidence” (nice catch-22
there… if there’s something illegal
with taking a pic, then there’s something
illegal about destroying them.)

10:51 pm - Thursday, June 18, 2009

#10 M. Meadows

I’ve been asked to delete the photos on my card before.  Five aggressive security guards convinced me so I complied.  Now that I know about retrieval software (nothing is really “deleted”) I don’t mind showing them the “no images” on the camera LCD, take the card out (as to not rewrite over it) take it home & retrieve all the images easily. Hope they don’t get wise to that one. Also dual card slots might throw them off to. Then there’s file transmitters…...

7:47 pm - Saturday, June 20, 2009

#11 Pete

What a ####### joke this is.

11:58 pm - Saturday, June 20, 2009

#12 Syrup

Surely copy copyright of all photos should be owned by the person whose image or mroperty is portrayed in a photograph

9:59 am - Sunday, June 21, 2009

#13 Per Flaathe

Our leaders needs to show that they take firm actions against terrorism. However, the only way to do that is to harass ordinary people. Why? For show. Nothing else. They jerk us around just for the fun of it so we can believe that they actually do something useful in protecting us. Terrorists just don´t stroll along the boulevards of major cities with cameras around their necks photographing potential sites for terrorist acts. They already know what to hit. But hey, don´t let the masses know that. Anyone remember “Yes minister”? If not, look it up on the net, and all will be explained to you.

10:52 pm - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#14 James Carson

Last week, I was taking photographs in the Charlotte Square area of Edinburgh. There are some lovely Georgian doorways around there, so I took a few shots of them before heading into George Street. I saw an especially nice doorway in George Street, and took a photograph of it from the pavement.

A few moments later, a security guard emerged and asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was taking photographs, he said it wasn’t allowed to photograph that building as it was a government building, and he asked me to delete the picture.

I was so unprepared for this, I did as I was asked.  But later, I thought about how unreasonable this was and how unpleasant he had been about it.

I took a note of the address and when I got checked it on the internet. It turns out to be the offices of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

I still can’t work out why it’s not allowed to photograph this building from the street - I didn’t cross the threshold and didn’t photograph any people inside.

I’ve sent a Freedom of Information request to the HMRC website because I think it’s ludicrous to be reprimanded for taking pictures in a public place.  If tourists coming to Edinburgh are treated in the same way, it can only be a matter of time before word spreads that it’s a place to avoid. 

I might expect this kind of treatment in Moscow or Tehran. But it’s starting to feel like we’re living in East Germany.

12:53 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#15 robin

It’s the time of independent media but some people specially authoritative people are trying to restrict the lifes of photographer.One of ny friend and student of 000-253 exam also arrested due to taking photo during a protest.All photographer should interconnect with each other for protecting each other.I will also going to start photography after my 642-356 certification completion.

1:38 pm - Saturday, July 11, 2009

#16 James Carson

Following my recent posting on this page (#14), I received a response from HMRC:

“There is no law which prohibits the taking of photographs in a public place.  The person who spoke to you was not an HMRC employee, he is a security contractor. The security guard mistakenly took the view that restrictions that apply inside the building should also apply outside. In the circumstances, I can only apologise to you and trust that the incident did not cause you distress.”

Good to see that sanity is prevailing in some places.

8:36 pm - Saturday, July 11, 2009

#17 Ron J

“There is no law which prohibits the taking of photographs in a public place.  The person who spoke to you was not an HMRC employee, he is a security contractor. The security guard mistakenly took the view that restrictions that apply inside the building should also apply outside. In the circumstances, I can only apologise to you and trust that the incident did not cause you distress.”

Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for sharing.

8:48 pm - Saturday, July 11, 2009

#18 Landscape Photography

It’s just ridiculous that photographers who are doing no wrong should be made to feel like criminals.

I personally have been escorted away from numerous landmarks around sydney as photographing them is a “security threat” .. most recently I was taking a photograph of Anzac bridge, security claimed that I may be taking photos of the bridge to igure out where to plant bombs!! LOL, insanity.

9:55 am - Sunday, July 12, 2009

#19 Tony Honickberg

I was photographing an interesting building in the City of London when I was approached by a security guard from the building. He told me that under the law I was not allowed to photograph the building as it was private property. I pointed out to him that as I was on a pathway which is used as a public thoroughfare I had every right to photograph whatever building was in my view. He insisted that the pathway was also private property and the owners(same ones as the building) allow the public access to walk through. I made him aware that as the owners had granted access to the public this made it a public thoroughfare. He still insisted that I was in the wrong. I then asked if he had read the rights of the photographer and as he hadn’t to go and consult them and then come back to me. He walked away and I continued to take the pictures I wanted.

I always carry a copy of the rights with in my camera bag, to show anyone who challenges me, although I didn’t in this instance as I realised the security guard would not have understood them anyway.

4:46 pm - Sunday, January 3, 2010

#20 mr miller

i have been told i must not photograph buildings with in Kings Lynn Docks even when taken from the public road, which i kept to.. especially the No 25 shed and the large white Grain Silo. the security guard at the Docks deleted around 5 of my photos after threatening me with the Police..the Silo is visible from 15 miles away so how can they stop you?......i dont think they should delete my photos…. i will use a disposable camera next time in that area….

2:34 pm - Sunday, February 6, 2011

#21 Tony Honickberg

Mr Miller
As long as you were on a public road or where the public had access to, you had every right to take the pictures you wanted as they were visible from the pathway.

The security guard had no right to touch your equipment and certainly had no right to delete any of the images you had taken.

As in my comment above I would suggest that every photographer carry with them the rights of the photographer and show them to whoever challenges you. Also if they threaten you with calling the police, then call their bluff and tell them to do so.

1:11 am - Monday, February 7, 2011

#22 haute joaillerie

I absolutely love the pics and have shown them to EVERYONE I know. We cant wait to see the balance of the photos.keep up the incredible work.

11:39 am - Wednesday, October 3, 2012