Photography & the Law: Know Your Rights

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
The news that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger recently got stopped by police for using a tripod on Hampstead Heath in London shows that even the great and good aren’t immune from hassle when it comes to photography.
So, here’s a quick update of what you can and can’t do as a photographer in the UK. Please note this is written as general advice only for readers in the UK, and is NOT legal advice or guidance.
While other countries like the USA may have similar laws, if you need clarification of your rights as a photographer, you need to consult a solicitor or your professional body.

Photographing on the Street

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
The good news is that you are generally allowed to take photographs on a public right of way, including the pavement or road, on the condition that you don’t cause an obstruction or break the law in other ways (including anti-terrorism laws).
You are also free to take photographs of people in public places, so long as you don’t harass them – how the law defines ‘harassment’ is a complex issue, but if you shoot like US photographer Bruce Gilden, shoving lenses and flashes right up in somebody’s face, you can expect to get a hard time (although paparazzi don’t seem to get prosecuted that much).
You may also get into trouble for invading people’s privacy if you snap them in their houses with a long lens.
People may ask why you are photographing children, too, although there is nothing illegal at all about this. If people do ask to see your photographs, you are under no obligation to show them.
If you shoot a demonstration or public disturbance, make sure you don’t get in the way of the police (obstruction), or, god forbid, get mistaken for a troublemaker.
If you have a press pass or some other accreditation that identifies you as a photographer, make sure it can be seen.

Photographing Buildings

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
You are allowed to shoot buildings if you are standing in a public place such as on a public pavement.
Property owners have no right to stop people taking photos of their buildings, so long as the photographer is standing in a public place (e.g. the road outside).
That said, you are not allowed to take photos ‘professionally’ in London’s Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Royal parks. Now, you are likely to get nobbled for this even if you are an amateur with pro-looking gear, including a tripod.
Try to shoot a police station, armed-forces base or a school, even from a public place, and you are also likely to get grilled sooner or later.
If so, be polite and clear about why are you there, but there is certainly no need to feel guilty or defensive. Once you enter privately owned land – e.g. a shopping centre – you have no automatic right to take photos without the owner’s permission.
You are allowed to take pictures of art in public spaces, such as sculpture, without infringing any copyright laws.

Museums, Art Galleries etc.

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
As these are classed as private property, even if they owned by the local council, you have no automatic right to take pictures.
It’s very much a case by case situation, and you may need to buy a photography pass (many big churches now ask for this). Or, some photography might be allowed, but you may not be allowed to use flash or a selfie stick.

Transport Hubs

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
Most train companies are OK about you taking photos so long as you don’t get in the way of passengers by erecting a tripod (they seem to be a red rag to a bull…).
If you intend to spend any time in a train or tube station, it’s worth asking permission from the manager to avoid being hassled by security jobsworth.
Airports, being much more security conscious, are another matter, but most will allow plane spotters to take photos so long as you are well away from any sensitive areas, such as passenger security checks or customs.
Military air bases are much stricter so don’t expect to get anywhere close to the aircraft without permission.

Deleting Images

Photography & The Law: Know Your Rights
Interestingly, even the police can’t force you to delete your images – they can grab your memory card as evidence, but they can’t stand there and insist you erase the images contained on it.
So, security guards or the general public certainly don’t have the right to get you to delete images either, and you should stand your ground if they demand that you do.
If you get forced by some heavies on the street to delete some images, you can actually report them to the police (or if that seems like too much bother, just take the card out once you have deleted the images and you should be able to recover the pictures with special software).

Profile Yourselfie: Creating the Best Profile Pic

If your time on the web is focused on more than just email and searching, chances are you’ve got a page on a social networking site where a profile pic shows your fabulous face. But does that profile pic represent you well? If it looks low-quality or tattered, it’s time to create a new one and put your best foot forward. We’re going to take a look at a PicMonkey staffer’s profile pic, and show you how a thoughtful re-take and some easy effects can really boost her online presence on professional networks like Linkedin, and social networks like Facebook.
photo of Karen's old profile pic

This is Karen’s old Linkedin profile picture. There are a few things we want to do, to help her hit a high note, here. First, she’s not really letting her bubbly personality shine through with that bad-girl serious expression. Also, the selfie arm-holding-camera thing is okay for social profile pics, but we shouldn’t be seeing it in a professional profile pic. And lastly, her photo is over-edited — too many effects! Now let’s begin the revamp…

Things to Remember When Shooting your Profile Photo

  • Use a neutral or muted color background. White backgrounds can wash out lighter skin tones, and brightly colored backgrounds can cast an uncomplimentary hue across the skin.
  • Use your best, most natural smile. Don’t be afraid to show your pearly whites!
  • If possible, use a self-timer to take the photo, to get rid of the arm in the picture. This will reduce the chances of a blurry photo, and give you a shot you can use in both professional and personal spheres.


Editing Your Photo for Professional Sites

photos showing before and after Daguerreotype_Brady effect
You can do a (nearly) one-click edit for your professional profile picture by heading straight to the Effects tab. Click Daguerreotype and select “Brady.” This effect replicates the look of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady (Google it and you’ll sound so photo connoisseur at your next cocktail party). By sheer coincidence, it also magically wipes away skin imperfections and beautifully enhances the darks in photos. Also try Tranquil, Dusk, or Film Stock for more one-click color options that look very professional as well.


Editing Your Photo for Dating Sites

When you want a photo to show off your date-worthiness, remember that gaudy overuse of effects and too much Blush Boost can shed the wrong (somewhat humorous) light on the assets you want to promote.
photos showing before and after Intrepid efffect
Start by going to the Touch Up tab. Get rid of stray hairs using the Clone tool, soften wrinkles with Wrinkle Remover (here we used a 70% fade), and smooth out minor skin flaws using the Airbrush effect. Add subtle color to the lips using Lip Tint, for extra pout-ability. Then zoom in to add Mascara (here at a 60% fade). To add a final touch to your dating allure, try adding the Intrepid effect with a 50% fade. So Zsa Zsa, dahling!
Tip: You don’t want to look like you belong in a wax museum! When using Touch Up effects, adjust the “Fade” slider before you apply them, so you can choose the right strength for the effect.


Editing Your Photo for Social Sites

photos showing before and after light effects and tiara overlay
On Facebook and other purely social social networking sites you can go for more relaxed, candid photos of yourself. Kayaking selfies, bowling alley selfies — why not?! Or you can add fun personality notes with editing. Here’s where there are virtually no rules. Play around until you’ve created the perfect selfie for your friends and family to see!
Use Light Trails textures to set an effervescent mood. Or transport yourself to fairyland by adding pastel Clouds textures. Be sure to set “Blend Mode” to Normal and click the paintbrush to erase the clouds off your face in the original. Or be royal! Add a tiara from the Hats overlays, and some Sparkle Stars. Her majesty “likes” your post about whatever it is you commoners do!
Tip: If you do choose to play it goofy with your Facebook profile pic, just make sure your page isn’t linked to other professional websites. Many will automatically pull your Facebook profile pic into their pages, and you really don’t want Ms. Future Boss Lady to see that shot of you with your nose Scotch-taped to your forehead!

Who Owns a Photo Once It’s Put Online? – Understanding Copyright

Who actually owns a photo once you upload it to the internet? This fantastic photography cheat sheet compiled by Clifton Cameras answers some of the key questions about copyright for photographers.
From cases like David Slater’s famed monkey self-portrait to social media ownership to how to protect your photos online, this handy infographic should set you on the right path.
Who owns a photo once it's put online: free cheat sheet to understanding copyright

Selfie Science: Taking the Perfect Snap

Have you ever wished your holiday snaps looked just a little crisper, or wondered why your nose looks big in a selfie?

Two scientists from the University of Surrey are on a mission to help us make the most out of our digital cameras.


Choosing the right settings will affect how much of a landscape shot is in focus

These devices, with their automated and computerised components, represent the technical pinnacle of photography’s 200-year history – and newer, cheaper technology arrives every year.

“But it’s still remarkably easy to take a bad picture,” says Dr Radu Sporea.

Speaking at the British Science Festival, he and his colleague Dr Andrew Pye are keen to explain some of the principles that give top-notch photos that touch of class.

Perspective: the selfie problem

One key step that is often overlooked, Dr Sporea tells me, is to think about where you take the photo from.

“The way we move around the subject is important… Zooming and moving around are not the same”
Dr Radu Sporea University of Surrey

Using a normal, digital camera with a fairly wide-angle lens, being up close – say, an arm’s length away – will distort how the subject appears. That’s because the distance from the lens to the subject isn’t much bigger than the distance between its features.

If it is a portrait, the face (yours or somebody else’s) can seem slightly bulbous, with a big nose and vanishing ears.

So to avoid the shot looking a bit like the famously comical monkey selfie, stepping back can make a big difference.

This obviously isn’t much use for a quick self-portrait. But moving further away and then zooming in, so that the subject still appears nice and large, produces a “foreshortening” effect, making everything look closer together and more similar in size.

Jonathan Webb

The “bulbous selfie” (left) compared to a “distant but zoomed in” portrait (middle), tested on your correspondent; the shot on the right adds a blurrier background by enlarging the aperture (see below)

Jonathan Webb and Radu Sporea

Dr Sporea demonstrated the selfie problem by taking one for me

Even if your shot is not a portrait, this foreshortening tactic can create interesting effects, particularly if things in your photo are at different distances.

“The way we move around the subject is important,” says Dr Sporea. “What people sometimes do is just sit stationary, and zoom – but zooming and moving around are not the same.”


This up-close, wide-angle shot makes the first bench look slightly distorted


After moving backwards and zooming in, the first bench is just as big but everything seems closer together

Perspective is also the sort of trick you can think about when all you have is a smartphone camera.

Generally, Drs Sporea and Pye are sceptical about getting really amazing photos out of smartphones: “You’re pretty much stuck, because it doesn’t let you tune anything. It’s completely automatic,” Dr Sporea says.


Chocolate-wrapper wine glasses, photographed at very close range with a smartphone

But you can add some life by completely contradicting the portrait instructions above, and getting extremely close – which can work for food or nature shots.

“Because the lens is tiny and the sensor’s tiny, you really need to get in close to get any separation.”

Exposure: timing is critical

A photograph is created when light hits a sensor. Once upon a time, that sensor was a strip of film; if there was too much light, or too little, the shot was wasted.

Digital technology means we can re-shoot without wasting film, but getting the correct amount of light onto the electronic sensor – controlling the exposure – is still crucial.

Most of us are all too familiar with the washed-out and gloomy results of over- and under-exposed photographs, respectively.

The most obvious way of controlling exposure is changing the amount of time involved: the shutter speed. Digital cameras adjust this automatically, but it is worth figuring out how to intervene if you see the relevant symptoms.


If the exposure time is too short (left) or too long (right), the results speak for themselves

A digital camera can also tweak its sensitivity directly (often labelled ISO in a camera’s settings), which can be useful to get an extra boost if the scene is fairly dark.

Dr Sporea cautions against manually meddling with ISO settings.


Boosting sensitivity (as on the right) can make images grainy

“This is not a physical control – you’re electrically amplifying what’s happening,” he says. “And that’s not without side effects.”

If sensitivity is cranked right up to detect extremely low levels of light, for example, then the tiny quantities of light hitting the sensor start to get drowned out by electrical noise within the chip. Amplifying the whole lot produces speckled images.

“So you want to use ISO as the last resort, basically.”

Aperture: expand your options

Another way to control how much light gets into the camera is by changing how much of the lens you use. This is done by widening or narrowing the “aperture”.

This has other effects besides changing the brightness of the picture – and these can be very useful for playing with the look of a photo.


You can easily see the difference between a large and small aperture setting, inside a big lens

If the aperture is very small, there is almost no limit to what can be in focus within a single shot. Light from any distance can be focussed sharply onto the sensor, because the distances involved are all much bigger than the extent of the lens being used.

“Don’t worry about what camera you have – that’s not what takes good pictures”
Dr Radu Sporea University of Surrey

This is why everything is in focus when you use a pinhole camera.

Photographers call this property “depth of field” – and using a wider aperture makes it much shallower, so that only the distance you choose will be in focus and the rest will be blurry.

Sometimes this makes for professional, atmospheric photos.

“If you’re taking portraits, you want very shallow depth of field, so only the subject is in focus,” says Dr Sporea. So in that situation, he recommends choosing a large aperture (counter-intuitively represented in camera settings by a smaller number, because the value is the denominator of a fraction).

“But if you’re doing landscapes, you want as much as possible of the depth of your scene to be in focus. So you turn the aperture down.”


One landscape shot, taken three ways: foreground in focus (wide aperture); background in focus (wide aperture); and finally – focussed halfway in between, a narrow aperture makes the whole lot crisp and clear

Lighting: soft is sweet

A final tip from Dr Sporea and Dr Pye relates to how your scene is lit – if you have a choice.

In particular, apart from thinking about light direction (for example, to avoid back-lit silhouettes), the quality of the light itself can make a big difference.

“If you have a small light – even the sun; it’s large but it’s far away, so it appears like a point – the shadows are very harsh. There’s a clear separation between light and dark,” Dr Sporea explains.


The difference between a single bright light (left – note darker shadows) and a bigger, diffuse source – illustrated by Dr Sporea and volunteer Amy Sutton

“So you don’t want to do photography in the midday sun, or in harsh light.”

Covering that light with a screen or an umbrella, or bouncing it off another surface, produces a bigger, softer light source – and its shadows are much less obtrusive.

This doesn’t have to require expensive equipment, Dr Sporea emphasises, pointing out that even fashion photographers have been known to improvise with sunlight reflected off street signs.

Experimentation for the win

In summary, the advice from these scientists – neither of whom study light or lenses, though both have been asked for photography favours by friends getting married – boils down to trying things out.

“Don’t worry about what camera you have – that’s not what takes good pictures,” says Dr Sporea. Just experiment with any digital camera that lets you tweak some of these settings.

In particular, he advises summoning the courage to leave “auto” mode behind.

“It looks at the image – and it thinks it knows what type of image it is… but it’s not always reliable.”

Instead, he suggests trying a “half-automatic” mode. Many cameras have these, which allow you to control shutter speed, or aperture, while everything else is adjusted for you.

With that starting point, the lesson is over.

“There’s no use just listening to us for an hour,” Dr Sporea concludes. “Go and press the buttons, because otherwise you’ll never know.”