Filming in Public Places

I get asked this question A LOT. How do I get away with filming in public places all the time? Easy…because most of the time it is completely legal to do so!

There is a common misconception that you need permits to film in London, this is generally not the case. There are times where permits are essential, especially if you have a large crew and are causing a hazard…but if it’s just you and an assitant/ producer/ whatever and you are on a public highway, film away. 

You normally get grief from two main types of people. Security guards and the Community Support Officers (affectionately know as plastic policeman). These people are normally really uneducated about the law. 

The law is the same for photographers as well as for video camera operators. 

The Bureau of freelance photographers in the UK have issued this card to all their memebers:

Layout 1So let me give you real world examples…

You are filming a shop from the outside on a street. A security guard comes out and asks you whose permission you asked to do this. You say I don’t need permission, I am on a public highway and I can film this shop. They say I am calling the police, you say please do. Police turn up and tell security guard to go away. 

I was filming in Victoria for Discovery Channel HD last year, doing a timelapse. One community support officer came up to me and said. Hi mate, what you filming? I explained, he said cool and walked off. 60 seconds later another CSO came up and asked if I had permission to film here. I said no and didn’t need it. She then said please show me your identification. I told her I left my man bag in the car and was not going to stop my time lapse for her so I could get it AND she had no right to see my ID. There is no law in the UK to provide ID on request. We have no ID card scheme. So I told her I was not going to get my ID card, she had no right to see my ID card and I was going to finish my shot and then do another one down the road. She was left speechless and walked  off, spoke into her radio, then a minute later walked away. Now this shows you how one CSO knew the law and the other didn’t. Basically, stand up for yourself!

There are more sensitive areas due to the threat of terrorism like Westminster and there is now a law saying you cannot film police officers. But even there you should be OK to film. Austin Mitchell a member of Parliament for labour has launched a petition to educate the CSOs and others like them so photographers don’t get stopped, even him…an MP gets stopped by the CSOs and asked to stop shooting!!

Now as a member of the Union BECTU I do have a press card and I could easily show it to people when challenged. Often I do just because it is less grief, but often I just tell them I don’t need permission and try to educate them…then get out my press card as my patience runs out!

There are places you CANNOT film. These are generally privately owned land. Take the Covent Garden Piazza. I was filming an interview a few years back in a cafe outside. The owners of the restaurant said it was fine to film but the yellow coated security guards descended on me quickly and told me I couldn’t film there. I said why and they told me it was because I was on private land. I asked what is private land as the restaurant gave me permission? They said doesn’t matter. They lease the space from a private company and I don’t have permission to film there…I then asked them where exactly was the private land? They pointed to the floor at the paving slabs where the cafe table and chairs were. I had one leg of the tripod on the paving slab and two legs on the cobbled part of the Piazza. So I said to them, so it’s the paving slabs are the bits you are “policing” then and that is the only private part? They said yes. So I moved my offending leg off of the paving slab and put it on the cobbled part, but my presenter and guest were still on the private land which my camera was pointing at. They told me, not good enough and I couldn’t point the camera that way. I said nonsense. They called the police. The police came. Told them off for wasting their time and I finished the interview. The point of this story is there is parts of London, which although are public, are owned privately. Here you cannot film without permission BUT you can film the private land from a public place!

A major place where you cannot film is London’s South Bank. It’s a nightmare area. There are almost as many security guards as there are tourists. You can be guerilla and try it and sometimes you can get lucky like I did when filming my South Bank short film. Now I had permission for Waterloo station but not the South Bank. The South Bank is owned by various different people. For example the land by the London Eye is owned by one company but the land just next to that is owned by the company that owns county hall so you need permission from two different companies. Further down East it’s owned by more companies. it’s a nightmare. If filming “guerilla” style with minimal gear you often can get away with it. On Thursday I am taking the new JVC HM100 to all the private places I can’t film and will film as I have what looks like a consumer camera that shoots pro pictures. Just me, the camera and my baby cinesaddle!

Going back to the London Eye that was my worst experience for filming in London for hassle, I had 6 security guards surround my camera as I had permission from the wrong office. My friend had it even worse, he is Indian and PAID  to film at the Eye including going in a pod twice round. But, because he is Indian he was pounced on by security and asked to stop, despite having paid to be there! Nothing you can say will stop them sometimes and in situations like that, best to give up! it’s a sad fact but in today’s climate you are more likely to be stopped filming and hassled if you are of Asian appearance. Because I am sure if you were a terrorist doing a recce you would take your ex3 and 35mm adaptor or RED and take some nice shots of the places with shallow depth of field and film in overcrank. I am sure the cell you were working for would be very impressed and have no problem if you were to post it on Vimeo!

Filming people is completely legal but obviously respect them, if they ask you not to film, don’t film .If you plan to use them for commercial purposes it is advisable to get a release form signed, but that’s only for things like commercials, docs etc…general filming for yourself you don’t need anything signed. 

The Royal Parks in London are also an interesting grey area. You need a permit to film there for News and special permission for things like Dolly and Track and large crews. But if you take your RED camera down there and film for yourself, as in, not for commercial use you are legally allowed to do this. Download this link to read more. Basically it’s the use of the phrase “amateur”. As far as I am concerned I am only professional when getting paid to film. The rest of the time I am “amateur”. So if I chose to go to Richmond Park or Hyde Park and take my EX3 with adaptor and film for my own use I have every right to.

It’s a complicated situation in London and it’s worth researching what is public and what is private beforehand, but print off the BFP image above and keep it with you to show uneducated CSOs. 

Hopefully with time we can educate people enough to make this a thing of the past. 

I don’t know what the law is in other countries, certainly if someone has a gun and asks me to stop filming I generally do. When I filmed Deer Vegas last year I got lots of hassle, as most of the sidewalks outside the hotels are owned by the hotels, so I was generally quite quick, a bit sneaky and used my “superior English linguistic skills to fool them” (from a family guy episode where the English take over the Clam)

What is the law where you live? Please inform people below so we can make this a useful page.

Best, 

Philip

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41 comments

  1. Hi Philip,

    I managed to find a bit of info for Canada from the Government of Canada’s website:

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

    The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees basic rights and freedoms for all Canadians. However, the Charter only dictates the government’s role (ie: the police can’t stop you from taking photos, just because they feel like it). The charter does not:

    * Relieve you of breaking other laws
    * Relieve you of breaking civil law (you vs. another person or company)
    * Dictate what you are allowed to do on someone else’s property

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 32.:
    This Charter applies:
    a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament including all matters relating to the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories; and
    b) to the legislature and government of each province in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of each province.
    You are guaranteed the right to take photographs, and publish them

    You are guaranteed the right to express yourself through photography, and you have the freedom to publish the photos you take. Unless you are arrested, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees your right to take photographs of anything you want, as well as publish them.
    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 2.b):
    freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 7.:
    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
    No interference from Police

    The Police can not interfere with your lawful enjoyment of property. They can not search you, detain you, nor imprison you without legal reason.
    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
    7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
    8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
    9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
    Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also says that every Canadian is guaranteed a reasonable expectation of privacy. This protects your privacy against unreasonable search, and seizure of your property by the government.

    Hopefully this may help those wanting to shoot in Canada.

  2. Hi Philip,

    I managed to find a bit of info for Canada from the following website:

    http://ambientlight.ca/laws.php#You_are_guaranteed_the_right_to_take_photographs

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

    The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees basic rights and freedoms for all Canadians. However, the Charter only dictates the government’s role (ie: the police can’t stop you from taking photos, just because they feel like it). The charter does not:

    * Relieve you of breaking other laws
    * Relieve you of breaking civil law (you vs. another person or company)
    * Dictate what you are allowed to do on someone else’s property

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 32.:
    This Charter applies:
    a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament including all matters relating to the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories; and
    b) to the legislature and government of each province in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of each province.
    You are guaranteed the right to take photographs, and publish them

    You are guaranteed the right to express yourself through photography, and you have the freedom to publish the photos you take. Unless you are arrested, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees your right to take photographs of anything you want, as well as publish them.
    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 2.b):
    freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 7.:
    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
    No interference from Police

    The Police can not interfere with your lawful enjoyment of property. They can not search you, detain you, nor imprison you without legal reason.
    Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
    7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
    8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
    9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
    Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also says that every Canadian is guaranteed a reasonable expectation of privacy. This protects your privacy against unreasonable search, and seizure of your property by the government.

    Hopefully this may help those wanting to shoot in Canada.

  3. Hello Philip

    Thanks for this, it’s helped alot. As I live and work in London it’s great to film on those rare occasional sunny days, but I’ve always have been put off by basically what I assumed, but didn’t actually know. I’ll provide a link to this page the next time I’m filming up west as I’ll probably get asked the same questions as you did.

    Cheers

    Woody

    P.S
    Any tutorials on lighting in the pipeline?

  4. Interesting stuff Philip! Although it is worth knowing that the London Eye is now owned by Merlin Entertainments. I have filmed on their premises before and they seem a fair company to deal with.

  5. Phil this will give you a good laugh, I needed some Edinburgh cutaways for a demo reel about a year ago and a bit like London, Edinburgh is impossible to park so I parked I kid you not right outside Holy Rood house the queens residence in SCotland to get a shot of the Scottish Parliament, I had left my poor wife Susan in the car so when I got back 5 mins later one of the queens guards was talking to to my wife and I strolled up big smile on my face and told the guard (Cobbled Road) “sorry am I not allowed to park here but I don’t see any yellow lines” I was told to hot foot it politely. I don’t quite know what I was thinking of that day but sadly my lack of time gave me a less than satisfactory shot of the Scottish Parliament. PS. The Royal Police never approached me when filming the Parliament.

  6. In Florida, generally you don’t need a permit/permission unless you are on private land or have a crew of 3 or more. In regards to Orlando, you can film downtown as long as you are by yourself (up to 3) and have no wires running anywhere. Nothing obtrusive.

  7. I have only once been stopped filming by security. After a long day of filming all around the city including the International Conference Centre, Castle, Parliament etc without once being approached, we went to film outside one of the main Edinburgh University buildings.
    The University security swooped down to stop us, revealing their security badge on their chest from under their jacket as if it were a sheriff’s star. Classic comedy moment.

  8. Here’s a link to plenty of information regarding photography/filming in public in Australia. In my experience, taking photos in and around Sydney is just a nightmare. There is a constant hostile attitude and the automatic assumption of wrong-doing or illegal motives. I’ve long wanted to film around Sydney as Philip Bloom does around London, but so far haven’t had much success. The few times I have attempted I have been made to feel like a criminal, even though it is perfectly legal. As soon as that tripod goes up – woosh!

    http://www.4020.net/words/photorights.php

    1. it was totally illegal.

      A number of my friends were there covering this and witnessed some very aggressive tactics.

      I used to cover these sort of events a lot. I was always more scared of the police than the protestors. Been punched, knocked over by horse, pushed. Lovely, glad I don’t do that anymore!

  9. I took a grilling whilst filming on a public pavement outside Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street in London last year.

    The policeman wasn’t having any nonsense and gave me a stop and search under section 44 of the terrorism act 2000. I still have the paperwork from the search.

    I was simply getting a few cutaways of the financial district and a company owned building that I was about to do an interview with located ten meters across the street.

    The police officer asking me for a filming permit and I told him I didn’t need one. There is no law that says I can’t shoot in public but he wouldn’t accept it.

    I then showed him my building security pass printout for the interview that was about to take place but he said I needed a filming permit issued by the local council to shoot in that area. I then had to show id and he went through my gear before moving me along.

    It didn’t matter that the kit had press markings all over it and I was dressed in a suit and clearly not a terrorist.

    Apparently the City of London police are wary of people shooting in the financial district. I don’t know like what its like dealing with the Met Police in the rest of the city, maybe they know the law a bit better.

    But like Philip said a professional camera on a tripod with gear bags around isn’t exactly a terrorist choice of covert kit.

  10. I was filming all day in New York in June 2007 without a problem. I even filmed inside the Museum of Natural History.
    The problems came when I was on the train. I was accompanied by two friends. We had the entire car to ourselves, as it was a light day for rail traffic. I had my HVR-V1U pointed out the window, catching the scenery of New York as the train left the station, when the conductor arrived to punch my ticket. He immediately informed me that I could not use the video camera on the train. This was an MTA Metro North train between New York and Norwalk, Connecticut.
    I was rather irate over this, so I wrote the MTA chairman, carbon copied Fox News, the American Civil Liberties Union and the state attorney general’s office.
    A week later, received a reply from MTA stating that it was okay to shoot video on the train for non-commercial purposes.
    Another case of the MTA personnel not knowing the law.

  11. I live in Bogota, Colombia. I have encountered a rent a cop who ran me out of a public park but was within just feet of a “public park sign”. (Parque 93). However, this was when I first arrived here.

    Does anyone know of a link or guidelines for shooting video or stills in Colombia? My Spanish is not the best and I have googled for it but did not find any info. Any info would be much appreciated.
    Marsh

  12. I carry a photographer’s rights printout I got from the web. I’ve not had to use it but it might work in situations where guards feel like they need to hassle. They are asking for a piece of paper, you hand them one. Chances are they won’t really know what to do with it except maybe disappear for a few minutes to show it to someone (try and read it in private with their lips moving – they are not at the top of the job food chain).

  13. Hi i’m just wanting to enquirer what the laws are regarding footage that hat been shot in a privately owned but public location without permition from the landowner. What can this footage actually be used for and if the landowner did find the footage would he be in his rights to prosecute the film maker.

  14. Too many experts out there when it comes to filming in public; actually I heard an interesting word for one type of person, a Jobsworth, someone who’s usually in a voluntary safety role, has no authority to stop you, insufficient knowledge of the law, but still goes ahead and stops you. There’s even a short film about this, ‘Freedom to Film’, follow the link http://www.worldbytes.org/programmes/013/013_003.html

  15. Hi Philip –

    Great, informative article, thanks. I have a question for you – I have been self-shooting in the City of London, a Sony Z5 and a tripod, and have not had any bother at all, even at one point when filming police activity (my understanding is that it is not illegal to film a policeman, or anyone for that matter, from a public walkway, but that they can stop you under section 44 if they believe you may be a terrorist).

    I have been told, however, that I need public liability insurance to film in the City – is this compulsory, or just a good idea?

    I should probably add that I am not currently being paid for the film, but am hoping to sell it ultimately.

  16. It is pretty much the same thing in Romania, too ! It looks like no matter where you are if you show confidence that you are not doing anything wrong you will win. But if you show just a little weakness, they will think you are doing smt against the law and it is just the opportunity for them to fine you or just not allow you to finish your work.

    1. Hi Luchian, Do you know for sure if it is still the case that one can film in public in Romania? I am part of a small team planning to go out there and shoot some scenes relating to the dog cull. I know we won’t be popular but would this be legal? If anyone can offer any advice I’d be most grateful.
      Thanks.

  17. Hi there. I see it’s been over four years since you posted this. If you do get this comment, could you let me know if everything you mentioned here still holds true and if it applies to the whole of England? Thanks.

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