'Heavy-Handed' Security Prompt Photography Appeal

James Drury
By James Drury Last edited 45 months ago
'Heavy-Handed' Security Prompt Photography Appeal

Photo by Sean Batten from the Londonist Flickr Pool

Few things irritate a photographer more than being told that they can't take a photo of something when they're well within their rights to do so.

Sean Batten has appealed to fellow snappers to stand up for their rights, following a particularly irking experience at the hands of security staff from the Shell Centre on the South Bank.

In a post in the Londonist Flickr pool, he said: "I was on my way to Leake Street this evening via the Southbank and ended up on the pavement opposite the Shell building. I had my camera with me with a 35mm lens on it, so rattled off a couple of shots and thought nothing of it. However, as I crossed the road, one of the Shell security guards started walking towards me. Since he was obviously going to intercept me I saved him the trouble and went over to see what he wanted.

"He asked me what I was doing (duh!) and then asked why. Since it's none of his business I told him so. He then proceeded to ask me several times which organisation I was from and if the pictures were for commercial use. I pointed out several times that I was stood in a public space taking photos, and that I'm well within my rights to do so. He kept replying that he knew it was my right to do so, but then kept asking the same questions over and over again.

"He also insisted that the building was a 'high security' building, and that's why people shouldn't take pictures. I pointed out that if it's that sort of building then it's probably not a good idea to have it surrounded by public pavement."

Now Batten is urging people to stand up for their right to take photos in public space by taking photos of the building from a public space, within eye-shot of a security guard.

"It's entertaining for a few minutes, and it's important that we stand up for our rights," he says.

Photographers have increasingly been subject to unfair treatment at the hands of overly-officious security staff, either in public areas, or having fallen foul of private land laws such as at Canary Wharf.

Last Updated 14 August 2014

Paul Corfield

I wouldn't term having to deal with moronic, misinformed security staff and PCSOs as "entertaining". As a photographer I am utterly fed up with being told I can't take photos in public places or being interrogated as if I am a terrorist. The police, security industry and building owners need a massive "kick up the backside" to get their act together. The politicians, whose ludicrous over exaggeration of "terrorism" got us into this mess, deserve to be lambasted for the impact on what used to be a simple, uncontroversial hobby.


Ridiculous. I can't imagine anyone LESS like a terrorist than Sean Batten.

John Tomkins

Sounds like a good reason/subject for a photographic flashmob

paul gannon

'irking' is that a euphemism?

S. Tyru

Shared with the UK 'Taking Photographs is Not a Crime' facebook group...


Andrew McDonald

Just be careful you're not 'too tall' or you might be arrested



Someone from the NHS tried this with me 2 weeks ago and I said if they tried to coerce me in to not taking photographs in a public place, I would call the police to settle the matter there and then.A call to their line manager halted the aggression and an apology was offered, which I refused. Coercement is the real crime here.

Kris Wood

I've had this happen a few times at Canary Wharf, they got especially enraged when I pointed out I was outside of their land boundaries. Another security guy took offence when he made his presence known as I was getting my camera out and I just said "who'd want to photograph that monstrosity?" and turned my back to him.


its called hostile recognisance and should not be slated.

Stuart Dean

I'm no photographer but I'd implore you lot to go and "do" the Gherkin. The pathetic, anal moron who "polices" the outside of that building is truly beyond words.


I might wander past and when they ask me what I’m doing I will say someone told me it was made of seashells and I’m just checking to see if there’s any truth in that.


I got bad experience at the Westfield village at Stratford, about 8-10
security coming to me, pretty fast and at first they told me that I was
supposed to give them my camera for anti terrorism things and they could
call the police risking a lot, they kept telling me that several time
and they never take on hands the phone, but strangely when I said that I
knew my rights and I was calling the police, taking my phone in my
hands they change drastically attitude, how weird is that?

James Tarry

I photograph buildings for a living so get this a lot….. Canary Wharf, been told off there, down near Lots Road been shouted at there and quite often I'm stopped by bumbling community support officers. Its annoying esp as almost everything is on Google Street View! Funny this particular building has come up though as I was followed around by the security guard the other day right outside-I had stopped to make a phone call in the shade! I also know one photographer who was run off the green opposite for having their camera on a tripod photographing the London Eye….madness. Oh also be careful photographing a view from say the Shard, they own the copyright of the view apparently!!

Captain Kickarse

I for one love irking knuckle dragging dickheads who take issue with me taking photos when I know I'm on public property, or, property not belonging to the company who the security guard works for. Try taking a photo of his face inches away next time.

I had a confrontation with a security guard from The Shard once when I was in the bus station outside. He came running over with a colleague. I stated I was on land not belonging to The Shard, had the station managers permission to use my tripod in the bus station, and also pointed out the with The Shard being the tallest building in London, it was going to appear in many peoples photos, and precisely what were they (the two 'security' guards) going to do about it... You could see the cogs slowly turning... Their boss came over and basically told them to stop harassing photographers.


Interesting how defensive Shell are about people photographing their building. Makes one wonder if they have something to hide .....

James Flowers

hi all . please do a search for Photographer Bust Card , or read http://photographernotaterrori...

Aidan McManus

I was taking a picture of a building next to Paddington Green police station about a year ago and was detained by two coppers who did a full check on me and checked all the photos on my camera,the building was being demolished at the time.What they thought I was going to do with the pictures is beyond me,just think they're bored and officious,its not like I couldnt look at the building on Google maps,happens a lot,terrorism is the excuse for a lot of bullshit these days

James Cormer

As a photographer, I don't see a problem here. You have a right to take pictures. He has a right to ask you questions. You have a right to tell him to stop asking silly questions and walk away. As long as all these rights are respected, we'll all get along fine. Generally I think security guards have improved a lot in the last ten years, when they used to try to physically stop photographers. They'll always want to ask questions, because for some reason that is their job nowadays. But we photographers just need to ignore them.


I had a similar experience by the royal festival hall a few weeks back. Shooting a bride and groom. He kept demanding "What organisation is it for?" And I kept pointing to the bride and saying "It's not, it's for the bride there!" We went through this 5 or 6 times before I walked off.
security can't get it through their thick skulls that not all photographers work for the BBC.


I've had similar experiences in the UK. I've been told by Paddington Station staff that it was "illegal" to photograph on the station (not so, and I have a letter from the BTPolice to prove it) and been admonished by a building manager nearby about pix taken from a public road of "his" building.

US citizen-photographers have both the US Constitution and Supreme Court rulings to support them - we have nothing. And 90% of the UK public seems to believe (thanks to the Red Tops) that you can't photograph someone in public without their permission. What's the difference between looking and photographing?

For those who think this is a free country - please explain what law supports the prominent "No Photography" signs in London's Kensington Palace Gardens? Yes, it is home to some embassies (but other embassies have no such restrictions). More importantly, it is the home to some very, very rich contributors to various (no doubt all) political parties. So despite being a public thoroughfare, UK "law" is trampled in deference to the almighty pound/dollar/ruble/rial.



Roger that. Camera and tripod packed for Saturday.

Roger Wood

I went to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican on Sunday. It was actually great to see a sign saying "Non-flash photography encouraged."
It gave me and other people with cameras and phones a plain and clear understanding that picture taking was OK.
More over, it gave the same message to any non-photographers, which was a great way to stop them from casting disapproving stares and disdainful looks at the people taking pictures.
There should be more signs like that :)


I was stopped in Edmonton green by security when I was taking photos of architecture for my photography A level ( as a mature student) - 'the green' as we would refer to it in Edmonton was and still is in some parts wonderfully ugly 60s concrete architecture. I wanted to capture it before the plan demolition of parts and as I remembered it as a child. They told me I was breaking the law - ??? Maybe they were concerned I would run off and build another Edmonton green shopping utopia somewhere else in the world!!!

Patrick Casey


i had it taking a photo the Royal Mint near tower hill and when taking a photo of brighton rail station, "sorry mate, A1 security procedure" like im supposed to know what that is! what annoys me most is, do these security guards a) think for themselves, b) make themselves aware of google maps,streetview,earth and images!??? guess its ok for big brother google to intrude! im up for the flashmob!


Ha ha what a joke! Next time (I wish everyone started doing this) just ask for his licence (if doesn't produce call the police straight away - you are going to wait for a while but they will eventually turn up - as they are obliged to produce their licence when they approach you. Once you have seen the licence, note down the details, contact their agency (usually SIA) and report the incident. Yeah I agree it takes a couple of steps but eventually such arrogant and unprofessional guys driven by their egos will loose their jobs. So next time.... just go for it :)

Geoff Marshall

I'd be most happy to take some extensive video footage too of the Shell building, if that would help ... just stand me on the public pavement!


At the end of the day this is about MONEY and not security!
If you PAY for permission all their "security" concerns evaporate!

Ronnie Robinson

Whilst waiting for his mother to come out of a shop in our local shopping mall by 7 year old son ran around a little and, as I always carry camera with me I took a few snaps of him. I was soon confronted by a burly security guy who gruffly informed me I couldn't take photos there. I told him there were no signs to indicate this and what was the reason for it. He just repeated, increasingly aggressively that it wasn't allowed and there were signs at the entrance to indicate so. I then took a photo of all the signs at the entrance (no smoking, no bicycles etc.) and there were none to indicate no photographs.

I went to the information centre and they backed up his claim of no photos policy and I asked them what kind of impression does it make on a 7 year old to see his father reprimanded for taking his photo?

We are filmed by more close-circuit cameras than any other nation yet we are harassed when we want to take photos in public places!

Richard Bryant

Having been challenged recently in the QE Olympic Park my concern now is what is 'public' if a park is no longer public.

Louis Berk

I have been challenged a few times in recent years but I always make sure that I am photographing from the public street. Most recently outside the new MTV building in Camden, btw. In the UK there is no right to privacy for anyone or anything in a public street (although you would be ill advised to stand on a public street trying to photograph young children). NOTE: the public street is the important point. I avoid photographing any buildings on private property because you are asking for trouble. My standard response when challenged in a public street is to point this out to security guards and also offer the security guard my mobile phone to call the police if they really feel they are in the right. To date, not one has taken me up on the offer. Incidentally, security guards should be properly identified in a public place. I have stopped a couple in their tracks by asking to see their 'SIA tag' (Security Industry Association). Once they realise I am a knowledgeable about best practise in private security operations they also seem to get a bit more bashful about insisting on their rights.


Can I just point out that "public place" can apply to privately owned property

For example a train station is owned by RAILTRACK but in the sense that anyone in Victoria station has no expectation of privacy they are "in a public place" and the ownership of the building is irrelevant

Malcolm Wray

I was cornered outside Barclays bank on Canary Wharf a few years ago by a
couple of large gentlemen; dark suits, ear pieces, sunglasses (it was
overcast!) they had obviously been watching the Matrix or MiB too much.
They proceeded to tell be that I "was on private property" and the
owners did not allow photographs of the building "because of security"
and that I had to delete any photographs I had taken of the building! I
pretended to delete them and they let me go.


UK Photographer Rights Guide v2 - http://www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr

Nicolas Chinardet

I went to the building this afternoon, I lingered and loitered a bit, taking pictures but nothing happened.


I could see there was a security guy inside looking anxiously out but he could simply have been worried by the group of punkish youngsters gathered in the gardens across the road. I think he was looking at me though, in which case, they may have been told off by Shell's PR people.


The problem is the private security industry has grown, is growing and ought to be diminished. Why are so many pubs closing? Because they cannot carry the additional overhead cost of burly overpaid security men where once there was just an elderly potman gathering glasses. Why do big offices have so many security men? In theory it should be as much to stop valuable kit walking out of the office and to stop drunks etc wandering in, but with the latter the guards are often OTT in their handling and with the former not alert enough to spot anything amiss. This is now a huge industry parasiting onto business, by warning of risks that may not exactly exist in the form they describe.

The argument that members of the public might be caught in your photo is feeble at best. If you do inadvertently do so, what offence, civil or criminal, have you committed?