Public Photography And The Law?

One of the topics that seems to be causing a lot of discussion in the Photography forums and at a number of online photographic communities is the concept of legislation, here in the UK, to restrict the taking of photographs in public places. This purported Law would require the photographer to carry an ID card, which is to be presented when challenged. Whilst a Law such as this would be of concern to all of us, try as I might to find out more about the proposal, I can't find the proposal anywhere.

A lot of the problems photographers have been experienced have been as a result of ill considered or truly ignorant action by members of the public, security officers and others. In fact the actions of a certain group of photographers (paparazzi) has also raised some concerns about what photographers have the right to shoot in public and also about the right to privacy.

Whilst I agree, that we need to protect our children, protect against potential terrorists and be on guard against the violation of our right to privacy. We also need to understand that real photographers also have the right to use their cameras in public. In fact there are no laws preventing photography in public except in a very few specific circumstances.

The problem with Laws like this, is that they don’t affect the very people it is aimed against, as much as they do the rest of us ... The Laws prohibiting handgun ownership have done nothing to stop the criminal from getting and using one on the rest of us. There are many such examples of similar failures in the Law.

I'm an avid photographer, and enjoy shooting urban and rural landscapes. I also enjoy shooting photos of people going about their normal lives, with the hope of capturing the essence of a moment, or of some aspect of humanity. Would a law such as this make a criminal of me and the very work I do? Quite possibly. Instead of requiring me to carry an ID card they should instead look at the criminals and how to deal with them more effectively.

As a photographer, I also have to be considerate of the world around me, and not just wander around blithely pointing my lenses at everything I see. Some well considered advice is, to be a conscious photographer and not a snap happy fool. Am I aware of what I'm shooting? If there are children involved, do I have the permission of the childrens' parents or guardians amongst other factors ... this last activity requires the utmost sensitivity and dare I say, due care and consideration, as to whether or not in this current climate is actually a wise thing to do at all.

I take care to ensure, that if I'm taking photos in public, I do so in full light of day, as the saying goes ... I act as though I am supposed to be there, and I avoid raising my camera around children, if I can help it. If approached, I show people what I am doing. I will even show my photos to people on camera so that they are put at ease. Full disclosure... I also make no attempt to be defensive, unless of course I have to, because of self defence reasons. Some people will try to attack you and for no other reason other than ignorance and fear.

Unfortunately as a species, we've lost our innocence, and all because of factors like child abuse, terrorism, other sad and tragic circumstances and even the actions of the paparazzi and other press hounds.
The reality is that there are those out there who don't act based on any other reason than they think they know the law. As a photographer learn the Law and your rights under it. Also learn to be considerate and to respect that with rights come responsibilities and that your rights and freedoms mean nothing if you trespass on those of your fellows.

Our Governments are right about the idea of penalising criminal activity, but not with laws that are ill considered and nothing more than reactionary. Especially laws which would severely impact on our freedoms and which criminals would readily flout.

There is a petition if you are interested at proposed restrictions regarding photography in public places on the 10 Downing Street website. Visit, and if you feel strongly, sign it ... For more information, Simon Taylor, the individual who started the petition has expanded on his reasons for doing so at http://www.phooto.co.uk/rights.shtml, where there are some very good links.

For a good summary of your rights as a photographer, here in the UK, visit Sirimo, which has an excellent PDF on the subject. There is also a good take on the whole petition and the issues at hand on Spiked-online and Amateur Photographer.