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Thursday, 13 August 2015

Rules for photographing people and property

Do you worry about what you can and can’t take photos of while on your daily travels? You can stay safe and avoid legal issues when photographing people and property following these tips:


Laws differ from country to country but more often than not it’s illegal to take and sell an image editorially that contains people without their permission as long as the photo was taken in a public place.

Obviously, if you can get model releases for everyone in your shot then that’s great - the photo can be used commercially!

Public property

In general there's no need for permission to shoot in public places. You can take photographs of private buildings or property, as long as you do it from public land. There might be exceptions but usually, the rule is, if you can see it, you can shoot it.

Private property

If you’re taking photographs whilst on private property that’s open to the public (like museums, shopping centres, and the like) make sure you’re following the property owner's own rules on photography. If you’ve paid to get in somewhere, they most likely have a policy against commercial photography.  Look out for signs of their photography policy or ask someone.  If they allow it, get written proof of this in the form of a property release to cover your back!

These are just the basics. For more information on what rights photographers have when shooting in public, there’s a great article on the Digital Camera World website.

Remember, every country has different regulations so make sure you check out your local laws.

Top tip: when you’re selling stock photography, it’s important you annotate, or categorise, your images correctly. Is there recognisable property/people in the shot? Did you get a property/model release to sell the image commercially? It’s fine if you didn’t, it can be sold for editorial uses.  If you want more info on when you might need a release check out this handy releases guide for customers (it will help you as a photographer too!)

Disclaimer, I'm not a lawyer(!) and this advice could change.

Quick definitions…

  • Public property – Any property that is not owned by a private individual or a company
  • Private property – Any property that is owned by an individual or a company
  • Property release – A legal release form signed by the property or brand owner, giving permission for the photographer to use or sell the photo
  • Model release – A legal release form signed by the person or people in a photograph, giving permission for the photographer to use or sell the photo
  • Commercial use – Commercial use generally means that an image is used to sell a product, promote something or raise money for a cause. 
  • Editorial use – Editorial use generally means when an image is used to illustrate a newsworthy article, a critique or an educational text