Photographing in Public Places

Photographing in Public Places

Earlier this week, I took a break from being a PR Photographer or Portrait Photographer to just amble around taking photographs of odd things that took my fancy, whilst walking my dog in a playing field. There I was, in the peace of my surrounds and a burley looking security man shouted at me “ You can’t photograph that” he went on to say that I “couldn’t photograph here.” I had just taken one shot not far from where he was standing. I had seen him as I walked along the path. I told him I could take photographs as I was in a public place on a public path. The featured photo is the photograph that I took that prompted him to stop me. It is of push chairs below a sign reading ‘We Are Active Kids’ outside a nursery. He was insisting that I couldn’t take any photographs, so I went on to say to him, that before he tells me I cannot take photographs he needs to know his facts. I went onto explain that as I was standing on a public path I could take photographs of what is around me. If I were to move within the property boundary of the nursery, then I would have to gain permission to take images of the building.

After a few minutes an official of the nursery came out, and very politely asked me not to take any photographs because of the children, and because of the Data Protection Act. Meanwhile there were no children in sight, and if there were I wouldn’t photograph them, but she was also wrong in quoting the Data Protection Act to me as a reason why I couldn’t take any photographs, as again I was in a public place.

Even If I were a parent in side the nursery The Data Protection Act is unlikely to apply in many cases where photographs are taken in schools and other educational institutions. Fear of breaching the provisions of the Act should not be wrongly used to stop people taking photographs or videos which provide many with much pleasure.

Where the Act does apply, a common sense approach suggests that if the photographer asks for permission to take a photograph, this will usually be enough to ensure compliance.

  • Photos taken for official school use may be covered by the Act and pupils and students should be advised why they are being taken.
  • Photos taken purely for personal use are exempt from the Act.

For more information on this see

Schools often invoke the Data Protection Act 1998, or the Children Act 2004 as the reason for photography bans. “But there is nothing in the Children Act that says ‘Thou shalt not photograph children’,” says Eleanor Coner, information officer at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. The Information Commissioner’s Office has taken to putting out bi-annual statements refuting the myth that the Data Protection Act prohibits photography. “We call it the ‘data protection duck-out’,” says David Smith, director of data protection at the Information Commissioner’s Office. “If there is something people don’t want to do, but they can’t explain it easily, they say it’s because of the Data Protection Act.”

Let me get back to photographing in public. Members of the public and the media do not need permission or a permit to film or photograph in public places and police, security officers or anyone have no power to stop them filming or photographing what’s about, incidents or police officers.

Photography and Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000

Police have the power to stop and search a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist. The purpose of the stop and search is to discover whether that person has in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are a terrorist.

Police have the power to view digital images on mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether the images constitute evidence that the person is involved in terrorism. Police also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence that the person is a terrorist. This includes any mobile telephone or camera containing such evidence.

Police do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion.

Photographing people in public

There is no ‘blanket’ law that forbids any photographer or member of the public in a public space photographing a member of the public.

If someone distressed or otherwise asks the police to stop the photographer or fellow member of the public photographing them, the request can be passed on to the person taking the photographs, but not enforced.

I’m also a Street Photographer, and common sense has to prevail. If I’m taking a general shot, I’ll not ask people if I can photograph them, most if they don’t want to be in the shot, move out of my line of vision. Often, if I’m close to a person, and they have noticed me, I’ll indicate or ask if it is OK for me to photograph them within my shot. I am rarely refused. Common sense also tells me, that I’ll be asking for trouble if I start photographing around a  military site or people withdrawing money out of an ATM.

If you would like to know more about photographing in public see or

This blog came about by one security officer not knowing the fact about people taking photographs in public, and most likely him doing what the nursery had asked of him through their own ignorance. Yes, care and responsibility do have to be taken where children are concerned, but lets not go overboard. I do believe that this consciousness of mind promotes a nation of mistrust and fear.