I love to take photos of people in urban areas; buildings, houses, cars, motion, expression... everything. However, taking photos of people and taking photos of indoors without having any permission, might not be morally correct?

  • Taking a photo of another human being without his or her permission - is this ok?
  • Taking photos of interiors (like a pub, not a house) through the windows - is this ok?
  • Taking photos of street performers without permission of the actors - is this ok?
  • Taking a photo of a painting that an artist is selling on the street - is this ok?
  • Taking photos of random kids - correct or not?

From my point of view, I am not doing any harm, just looking for beauty; probably 3/4 of my photos will be deleted anyway. But I do understand that people do not feel ok to be photographed by someone. I try to ask, but you can't do that all the time; many times it is just a spontaneous moment...

Is there any 'law' I should be aware of?


I want to only publish photos on e.g. 500px, not to sell or anything, just to share them as something I find nice.

Unfortunately, I live in the country where these rules are old and everything is regulated by the statement that photo must not disturb the privacy of the subject. But than shooting two people sitting on the bench is not legal. Etc.

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    The laws relating to each of those things will be different for each thing, depending on what country you're talking about. You may also want to mention whether you intend to publish the photos in any way, since that's yet another consideration. – junkyardsparkle Nov 29 '15 at 21:13
  • Sometimes rules are not so clear, like they say "if I don't infer other man's privacy" - how one could measure this? – igor Nov 29 '15 at 21:18
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    You need to state where you live. Laws differ by country. As far as morality, why ask us? All the people here masticate. – user4894 Nov 29 '15 at 21:42
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    There are quite a few existing SE answers that touch on this area. All have overlap and each new Q&A tends to add value. Most (or all) have excellent references to other SE questions and to external material. | Morality is a hard subject. See SE question here and also my answer to it "Reclaiming the moral high ground [tm] :-)". Also my answer here – Russell McMahon Nov 30 '15 at 0:29

Laws will differ based on the country you happen to be in.

Here in the UK where I live, as of November 2015, we don’t require a permit to shoot non commercial photos in public areas. Currently, the Police in the UK do not have powers to stop you from taking photos in public areas.

As there are currently no general privacy laws in the UK, people are free to take images of other people, however, as photographers, a gentle acknowledgment such as a smile, goes some way to receiving little to no objection. Most people even smile back or hit a pose!

However, if someone does ask for their image to be deleted, then the photographer should take into account the European Convention on Human Rights and perhaps delete the image in order to respect the rights for the other persons privacy. Saying that, the photographer is not under legal obligation to delete an image if the place where the image was taken, the subject did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This also applies to children where a parent may ask for the image to be deleted, as it is not currently an illegal offence to take a decent image of a child in a public place and remains the discretion of both parties whether the image should be deleted or not.

This general policy covers people, street performers, random kids and painters and artists selling their work. As long as they are on public land with no real expectations of privacy, then you can take the image and only delete if you wish to respect the European Convention on Human Rights.

Regarding private property; you may be on a public street, however, if you happen to be standing in front of a building where the front pavement also happens to be owned by that building, then you are not allowed to take an image without prior authority as it is private land. If you refuse to leave, then that can be seen as trespassing and security can use reasonable force to remove you.

This includes most of the fields and farmland of the UK as they are pretty much all privately owned. However, you can shoot an image where the scene is made up of the farmers land, as long as you are on a public road! Similarly, the same rule applies to taking images of interiors from a public road. You can do that and only delete if you are confronted and wish to do so. Once again, if the people inside the building do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, they cannot force you to delete the image.

In the UK, certain government buildings and all airports have bylaws which can restrict any person from being a certain distance from a perimeter fence and these bylaws are quite often sign posted. However, besides Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, both of which have slightly tighter rules, you can take images of airports or government buildings from public areas.

It is also okay to take photos on public transport such as Trains and Underground Tube Network but there are restrictions such as no Flash and Tripod.

Finally, in the UK we do have stop and search Policies. Up till March 2011 the police could stop you under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which required no suspicion of an offence, and you would have to surrender your camera for inspection. Since then, this has been changed to Section 47a where the stopping officer, "reasonably suspects that an act of terrorism will take place”, and reasonably considers that the authorisation “is necessary to prevent such an act”.

Under section 43, terrorism Act 2000, where if there is reasonable doubt to suspect you, the camera can taken off you and viewed. If there is cause and reason to suspect you further, the camera can be seized. If you have taken images of a policeman or a member of armed forces, you can be arrested.

Finally, morality, well I guess that is subjective to the photographer.

  • +1 good answer. I suggest that the sens of "but it is not currently an illegal offence." would be improved by a one word change to "and it is not ...". | Most of those answer apply to New Zealand except that taking photos through windows is more constrained. If a window formed part of a scene and the scene was of no note it may be acceptable BUT [following wording is mine, not the law's]: taking photos from public property that violated, aimed to violate or could be seen to violate privacy in private property is illegal. – Russell McMahon Nov 30 '15 at 0:24
  • These laws are for England and Wales, they do not apply to Scotland. – James Snell Nov 30 '15 at 14:46
  • There is nothing in the ECHR that would guide us to delete images if people asked us to. It's entirely down to if you as a photographer are willing to, or not. – James Snell Nov 30 '15 at 14:47
  • On private property, if it is publically accessible and you are allowed access then you are allowed to photograph, unless the conditions of access say otherwise or the landowner or their agents inform you, but you are right that the rules are based on where your feet are (and not the subject). – James Snell Nov 30 '15 at 14:47
  • No matter what you photograph the police cannot ask you to delete an image. Doing so is to tamper with evidence and "Once images are recorded, [the police] have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if [the police] think they contain damaging or useful evidence.” to quote the guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers. – James Snell Nov 30 '15 at 14:49

I will try to address specifically the ethics of these scenarios. It's necessarily somewhat subjective and varies depending on the exact circumstances, so you ultimately have to use your own judgment about whether it's okay.

Taking a photo of another human being without his or her permission - is this ok?

In a public place, this is generally alright. Taking close up shots of a person's face is likely to make them very uncomfortable, but if you are shooting from an unobtrusive distance it won't bother most people. Some other pitfalls to consider:

  • It's not ethical to take sexually explicit photos of a stranger, no matter how they are dressed.
  • It's not ethical to follow someone around taking pictures of them.
  • If someone asks you to stop or asks you to delete your photos of them, you should comply.

Taking photos of interiors (like a pub, not a house) through the windows - is this ok?

Yes, that's fine for public places where you could reasonably take photos inside. The only concern here is the potential for creeping people out if they see you out the window taking photos of them as they eat lunch.

Taking photos of street performers without permission of the actors - is this ok?

In general, this is okay (if you are not selling the photos). If the performers have a sign asking you not to, you should comply. If they are collecting money for their performance, you should contribute something.

Taking a photo of a painting that an artist is selling on the street - is this ok?

Never, unless the artist explicitly tells you that it is ok. The photo is a reproduction of the artist's work, and should not be distributed or exhibited in any way (even for free) without the artist's permission.

Taking photos of random kids - correct or not?

Generally no. Children must be afforded even more privacy than adults. It's fine if you are out in a public place and children incidentally appear in your photos, but if a child is the subject of a photograph you should always get the parent's permission first.

In summary, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself "How would this person feel if I took a photograph of them?"

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