Photographers fight to snap in public

Freelance photographers were yesterday invited to carry a small pocket-sized card that spells out their rights as professionals to take pictures in public places.

The invitation, from the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, came as over 200 MPs signed an Early Day Motion condemning police harassment of photographers. 


The political and industry backlash follows the story of an independent photographer who was ordered by a community support officer to erase the photos on his digital camera.

Amateur snapper John Kelly said he felt like a crook when the officer stopped him in Blackpool town centre, and told him he needed people’s permission to snap them.

In fact, there is no law preventing photography in a public place, although its practitioners must realise how courts are interpreting the right to privacy, warned John Toner, freelance organiser at the NUJ.

However, if the photographer is causing a public nuisance by blocking traffic in the public road by staging or taking the shot, then they may face legal problems, according to the AOP.  


It is for this reason that when organising a shoot in a public place, the industry association said photographers should notify the police first and follow any recommendations they make.

“We have written to the police, we have lobbied MPs, but ultimately, whether a photographer is prevented from taking pictures, is down to the individual officer on the ground,” John Tracy, the BFP’s chief executive said yesterday.


The bureau’s ‘Blue card’ has come about because the number of freelance photographers being stopped by police, or more commonly community support officers, is on the increase.

Mr Tracy reflected: “We feel that the card, if used with tact and discretion, may have the desired effect of emphasising to an officer the fact that photography in public places is a legitimate and, in 99 cases out of 100, legal activity.”


The card, which is enclosed with the June issue of the BFP's monthly newsletter, is written in simple language; it is short, to the point and has been legally validated.

Card-holders are asked to report back all their experiences of using it in public, in other words the association wants to know the good and bad effects of producing it upon being questioned.

The forum said it hopes to be in a delegation being put together by Austin Mitchell MP to meet Tony McNulty, the Home Office minister, to urge that clear instructions be issued to police “to make it clear that there is a right to take photographs in public places.”


Regardless of how the card fares, photographers are reminded that they must obtain a permit before shooting in royal parks, such as Hyde Park and WindsorPark.

Similarly, the Association of Photographers advises that owners of public monuments and private landowners will normally permit photography if asked and if a payment is made.


Positively for photographers, the National Trust does not charge for permission to shoot on its landscape and coastline properties, the AOP said.

However, photographers must contact the National Trust Photographic Library if they wish to snap listed species or land inside a sight of specific scientific interest (SSSI).  


Photographers should also note that buildings can be registered as trade marks, although this remains rare in the UK, despite reported talk that the Church of England wanted to trademark Cathedrals.

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Reflecting the sentiments of industry practitioners, and now 200 MPs, the National Union of Journalists said it does not believe any legislation should be amended, or brought in, to restrict what people can photograph in public.



3rd June 2008

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