Stop Forbidden Picture

March 27, 2014

Stop Forbidden Picture FinalStop Forbidden Picture FinalStop Forbidden Picture

I was out photographing round Canary Wharf on Saturday. I spotted this good composition with reflections in the skyscraper glass, I got lined up right just as a security guard came rushing over to me shouting Stop, Stop, Stop …(click, click, Click) ….Stop. Bear in mind this was not Beijing but a financial district in London. The really hilarious bit was that when I pointed out that I was entitled to take a picture in a public place he got a bit desperate and said it was a very special building. In fact it was not MI5 or similar but an ordinary Bank.

The problem with Canary Wharf is that it is a purpose built development and the developers retained ownership of the streets and pavements rather than having them publically maintained. However they give free access to 10’s of thousands of members of the public daily. There may well be vehicle restrictions but most people arrive through 2 public train lines part of the London underground network. The Jubilee line has one station and the Docklands Light Railway has 2 stations. A fourth station is under construction for the new Crossrail line project. Apart from the office workers many thousands of tourists arrive in the area plus many others arrive to shop at the retail areas. No notices or restrictions are posted anywhere and any visitor seeing a large financial district with streets, pavements and squares would make a reasonable assumption that these outside areas were public. I suspect if this were ever tested in court a Judge with any common sense would rule such a location to be effectively a public area for the purpose of freedom to take photographs. At the very least under English law by leading the public to assume they were in a public place they would be prevented from succeeding in any action against a photographer.( a legal principal called estopple) For this reason I rather doubt that the owners of Canary Wharf would ever want to risk the point ever being tested in a court.

Knowing the definition of a public space is important to photographers because if you are on a public space you are entitled to photograph anything including buildings located on a private place without obtaining permission. The same applies to people. These rules though do differ with different countries so this is a general view for western democracies except France where the strict privacy criminal code prevents the photographing of individuals even in a public place without permission.

Areas which are technically private but have been thrown open to free use by the public are the places where security guard problems are the most likely. The other area of London like this is a location of skyscrapers near City Hall called More London.

Until a few years ago security guards and even police officers seemed delighted to take advantage of laws relating to terrorism whereby they made the assumption that anybody taking photographs in London was a potential scout for terrorist. Perversely the most obvious photographers those with a large SLR camera and especially a tripod were the most targeted. After a lot of protests about pretty clear misuse of the powers the law was changed. Both police officers and security guards received training about the strict limits of the security powers and that more was needed to raise suspicions than just taking photographs.

My own experience since then is that approaches from security guards now tend to be quite polite and usually use the tactic of what are you taking the photograph for and are you a professional. One point here is that the definition of a professional photographer is quite nebulous. It is generally somebody who earns a living from photography. If like me you are mainly amateur but offer your pictures for sale and occasionally sell one you are not a professional.

There is a little confusion here both by Photographers and especially by security guards and those who instruct them. The assumption seems to be that if you take a picture of a building with the intention of offering it for sale for commercial purposes you must have the consent of the building owner. This is NOT correct. Taking a picture from a public space and offering it for sale is not commercial use. The same applies to taking pictures of people in a public space for possible sale. Commercial purposes means to use the image to promote or advertise another person, company or product. Only then is a building or model release required. Effectively it is up to the purchaser to decide if they want a release. If a picture is current you might sell it to a newspaper, no release is required. You might sell the picture for use as an illustration within a book. No release is required. If the image is sold for the cover of a book a release is required because the use there is to promote a product.

There is no point in getting into legal argument with ignorant security guards so I would say that the picture is for my own use and to enter into photographic competitions such as my local camera club, which is true enough. Even more to the point though is that the vast majority of the pictures I take, like most people I suspect, stay on my hard drive and are never used for anything. Only the best are processed.

One important point to note when photographing people is that in some countries including the UK you can take photos of police and security personnel in a public place but in some places this is illegal including Italy as an example.

Disclaimer – this article is not intended as legal advice to be relied upon but is the Authors opinion based on legal principals within the public domain.

Going back to the forbidden photo which started all this. The picture was taken handheld with a Sony A700 with a Sigma 10-20 wide angle lens at 10mm. 3 raw images 2EV spacing. Opened in Photoshop first and each image noise reduced with Noiseware Pro and saved as tiffs. The picture was enhanced with HDR processing, Topaz and Photoshop to bring in more detail. The Contrast Optimiser setting was used in Photomatix for a natural look. The image was converted to Mono in Photoshop with the Black and White adjustment layer. To correct distortions caused by the wide angle and being so close to the building I made use of the transform – puppet warp tool to pull things roughly straight.


Below are the Before and After images. First the original. Then the tonemapped image and then the final result.

Original at 0EV

Stop Forbidden Picture originalStop Forbidden Picture originalStop Forbidden Picture

Tonemapped image

Stop Forbidden Picture TonemappedStop Forbidden Picture TonemappedStop Forbidden Picture

Final Image

Stop Forbidden Picture FinalStop Forbidden Picture FinalStop Forbidden Picture

Edwin Jones

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