Photographing People in Public

Photographing People in Public Places

Shoreditch Street Photography

Photographing people in a public place can feel daunting at first.  When you try it’s like everyone can see you.  Once you’ve taken a few shots, step back and relax.  There comes a realisation that people are in their own world and don’t notice you at all.

Step out into locations where there are many people with cameras and phones and you will blend in with the crowd.  You won’t look obvious at all, as everyone around you is using their cameras and phones too!

If you are a keen street photographer, members of the public may have questioned you about taking their photograph.  Sometimes the questions may take the form of “You don’t have my permission to take my photograph” 

This always feels challenging, but there are ways to cope with this situation.  First off, protect your safety and never argue with a stranger on the street.  Apologise and walk away avoiding confrontation…this keeps you safe. 

So, what are your legal rights to photographing people in public places?

In the UK you can photograph anyone in a public place without needing to ask permission.  You can take photos for artistic, journalist, or editorial purposes.  A public space is considered not private.  The exceptions in a public place would be if people were doing something of a private or intimate nature.  In the UK it is illegal to photograph women who are breastfeeding in public.  You would need consent to take these images.

As long as you are photographing without harassing anyone.  It’s perfectly fine to take a couple of shots, that is not harassment.  If you stalked or followed someone continuously up a street that would be considered harassment and you could be arrested. 

So this is about treating your subjects with respect, without intimidation or threatening behaviour.  This is a sensible way to approach street photography.

Do I Need Permission to Take Photographs of  Children in Public?

In the UK you do not need permission to take photographs of children in public places. However, it is an ethical issue, as many may wonder why you wish to take photographs of children you do not know.  Again, treat this with sensitivity if you choose to photograph children.

Do I Need Permission to Take Photographs of Police Officers?

No, you don’t need permission.  Some police officers are happy to be photographed and some may look away and even tell you not to photograph.  However your legal rights allow you to stand your ground and take your shots, especially when covering an event or demonstration. 

Generally, it is fine to do so…the police do have the power to stop and search under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  They can detain and review any images taken, but the police cannot delete your images unless there is a court order giving them the right to do so.  If you are taking photos mainly to pursue your art, as a journalist or as a tourist you do not need permission to do so.

Do I Need Permission to Take Close-Ups of People?

If you are on public land you don’t need permission.  If you were photographing on private land then, yes, you would need permission.  You would require permission from the land owner to take photos of individuals on private land.  Without permission, it would be considered trespass. 

As long as you are not stalking or intimidating anyone to get a close-up then it is fine to do so.  Sometimes with portrait shots, it is best to ask permission.  In this way, you can get a few really good shots, where you can make suggestions to the subject to start to get the look and feel you want in the image. 

The individual may ask for the photo, and quite rightly give it.  After all, they have been a free model.  If you want to use the image commercially you would need a signed model release.  For your own artistic or editorial use you do not need a model release.

Do I Need Permission to Photograph Inside a Cafe or Shopping Mall?

Yes, you need to get the cafe owner’s permission.  These are private spaces and they wish to maintain the privacy of their customers.

Do I Need Permission to Sell My Images Commercially?

If you wish to use your photos for commercial gain best to get a signed model release.  Most stock image sites and media libraries will not use images of identifiable people without a signed model release.

Now You Are Ready to Photograph in a Public Place

So, with a few guidelines in place, with reference to your legal rights as a photographer you are ready to capture outstanding street photography which captures the time in which you live.  Enjoy your creative pursuit with sensitivity and safety in mind.  This gives confidence in photographing people on the street.

See more in my Street Photography Portfolio

© Lou Smith Fine Art Photography 2023, All Rights Reserved


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