Who can you photograph?

MUCH confusion has been spread about who and what you can photograph. Alarmist postings to bulletin boards even led to someone putting a petition up on the Downing Street website, adding spurious authority by association to the fears. It's time to clear it all up.

There is no restriction on taking pictures of people in the street in the UK. Children have no special rights in this regard. Our source for this is Christina Michalos' The Law of Photography and Digital Images.

This freedom almost certainly extends to all pictures taken from places "accessible to the public". Some see UK judges moving toward imposing restrictions (for example on long-lens pictures) - but it hasn't happened yet and there is no UK law restricting photography in public (except for pics of Official Secrets).

Things are different, though, when it comes to photographing in or from places not accessible to the public. The owners of land and buildings can put conditions on your entry to their premises. Museums use this power - not any other - to bar photography. Given concerns about child protection, schools and leisure facilities may similarly impose conditions on entry, such as criminal record checks. You should be alright if you are accompanied at all times by a criminal-record-checked member of staff.

If you are going to licence any picture for a non-news purpose - advertising for example - then you will need a model release form signed by each person in it, or their parent or guardian. Suggestions that model release forms be obtained for news pictures are dangerous to freedom of expression and news reporting.

Rumours have also circulated about photographing buildings, abetted by some excessive enthusiasm by their owners or designers or their lawyers. This is one to watch when the Olympics come to London. UK law specifically permits photography of buildings - though, again, if you're licensing a photo for commercial, non-news purposes - tea-towels, say - it'd be wise to check further.

  • For those who need them, the Freelance Office has model release forms in packs of 40 at £10 to members; there are also sample forms forms in Beyond the Lens - £20 to members.

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