Photography and Privacy – a guide

Nowadays nearly everyone owns a smartphone. Typically, these fabulous pieces of tech boast high-quality cameras; making photography a more popular pastime than ever before. We’ve all become dedicated snappers, whether it’s selfies, landscapes, or holiday pictures to share on social media.

However, this has prompted a significant conversation over people’s right to privacy, especially on the issue of taking pictures in public.

Where Does the Law Stand on This?

If you’re taking photos from someone’s private land, you need the owner’s permission. Conversely, if you’re on a public right of way, for example, a highway or a pavement, then you’re permitted to take photos for both commercial and personal use. However, you can’t cause any obstruction to others. Otherwise, you could be liable for ‘nuisance’.

As an extension to this point, you’re allowed to take pictures of people in public spaces (as creepy as that sounds). However, this has to be within reason. Naturally, you can’t behave in any way that constitutes harassment.

What’s Harassment?

For you to harass someone, the act must occur at least twice which results in someone else’s ‘alarm or distress.’ If you’re a member of the paparazzi, you should take note of this.

On the flip side, if you’re experiencing someone continually taking your photo in public without your permission, and against your will; you might be the victim of stalking, and their behaviour might constitute harassment. If you feel uncomfortable, speak to the police.

What About the Concept of Privacy?

The law is relatively ambiguous when it comes to defining an ‘invasion of privacy’.

The principal thing to bear in mind is that people have a reasonable right to privacy. However, taking snaps without someone’s consent is usually a civil matter, not criminal (unless the pictures are indecent).

Further issues typically arise over what’s done with the pictures after they’re taken.

In light of this, you should always ask the subject of the image whether they’re happy for you to publish the snap. You should let them know where you intend on posting the photographs.

It’s best to err on the side of caution if someone’s readily identified in the photo. Get them to sign a media release form. This omits the likelihood of any complications arising in the future, especially if the snap is defamatory. Remember, too, that depending on which platform you post the pictures, the platform provider may have a clause in their T&Cs that allows them to use any picture you publish. This could further complicate things, and leave you open to action by the person you’ve photographed, even if you haven’t shared the image beyond your own timeline or feed.


Check Local Laws

Occasionally, professional photography is banned in particular public places. Trafalgar Square, London’s Royal Parks, and Parliament Square are all excellent examples.

Additionally, there are spaces you can access as a member of the public, but you’ll need to check you’re allowed to take pictures. For example:

  • Churches
  • Stores
  • Galleries and museums
  • Government buildings What About Public Transport?On the whole, you can take photos for personal use at train stations. However, flash photography is prohibited. If these photos are for business purposes, you’ll need to seek permission in advance. Airports and Planes Final ThoughtsSocial Media Tags
  • As a general rule, no one can request a photographer to stop taking pictures, to delete them, or for a copy. However, if the photos are explicit, the person in the film has every right to make the requests we’ve just highlighted.
  • Not many people know this, but airports are considered private property. Therefore, limitations apply. However, you should be allowed to take personal photos inside the terminal.
  • If you’re taking snaps at a tube station, you won’t be allowed to use a tripod. Also, if you’re shooting for more than quarter of an hour, you’ll need to apply for a permit; the same goes for using these snaps commercially.
  • The Tube and Trains
  • If in doubt, ask someone who works there to double check.
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