When someone tells you off for taking their photo in public

As a candid photographer, as well as someone who is well versed in exterior / location based portraiture, there will be times when something catches your eyes as you aimlessly wander around. This happened to me yesterday. Unusually I wasn’t sporting my normal street camera, the diminutive Lumix GX-80 as I hadn’t intended to go out or indeed, take any photos. However, having enjoyed a coffee on the harbour here I decided to take a walk to the pier and enjoy the sunshine. It’s a favourite place of mine and I have taken some great photos here both candidly as well as on photo-shoots. Anyway, during my walk I noticed a striking lady dressed in an orange pashmina / poncho having her photos taken by a friend. Remember now that we are in a public place and as such, there are no constraints, legal or otherwise as to what anyone photographs providing of course that this does not result in harassment or inappropriate behaviour. As it was, I was struck by the scene of the photographer, complete with dog and as I say, this very striking lady dressed in orange so I shot off a few of my normal candid shots. The lady in orange, noticing my interest came over to ask me if I was photographing her. In truth the answer was no as it was the overall scene that captured my attention but being polite I said yes, I had taken a photograph which had included her. She then went on to ask if I felt this was appropriate and how would I feel if my wife had been photographed in a similar way. Being used to being both behind and in front of cameras, as is my wife, and knowing full well that that day alone I would probably find myself on at least a dozen photographs, I told her that no, I didn’t find it particularly intrusive but that I did understand that she might. While I could have at this point outlined my rights with regards photography in a public place I decided that in this case, I would suggest to the lady that I was happy to delete the last photo of her as clearly this was what seemed to upset her. I duly did this although of course, as is my right, I did retain a couple of other candid shots as I didnt feel that in these in anyway compromised the lady ie it didn’t show her identity for example. While clearly she was wrong to assume that I had no rights to take her photo in this very public place, she had every right to ask me not to or to ask that I delete a specific image. It was my right then to agree to her request, to refuse or indeed to point out the law in such cases. I opted for compromise as she was very pleasant and clearly she was keen to make her point.

This situation faces photographers and non-photographers alike on a daily basis. It is therefore worth highlighting UK guidence on photography in public places so that more people are aware of their rights in such circumstances. Here’s a brilliant summary I found at https://expertphotography.com/a-summary-of-your-rights-as-a-photographer/ so it would be nice if you would visit their publication as well as read the summary here.

Here’s what the law says

  • If you’re on public property, you can take photos of whatever you like. Whether it’s property or people, you don’t need anyone’s permission.
  • Some people are going to tell you that you can’t take photos of private property, such as bank buildings and people’s houses. So long as you are on public property, you can. This means that you can take photos in public libraries, museums, government buildings, from the street and anywhere else public.
  • The only case where you can’t take pictures is if there’s a specific law that prevents such shooting.
  • You’re also allowed to take photos in private property that is open to public, such as shopping centers, malls, pubs, restaurants, etc. You will, however, have to stop if the owner/management ask you to.
  • You don’t need a person’s consent to take their photo if they are in a public place. They do, however, have a reasonable right to privacy, so you can’t be intrusive if they’re in a private place, such as their own home. This means that, if they’re walking down the street, you can take their photo. But you can’t peer through their living room window and start snapping.

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