‘Heavy-Handed’ Security Prompt Photography Appeal

Shell building

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.

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  • 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.

  • unslugged

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

    • Sean Batten

      Thanks :-)

  • 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


  • Ryanfoto

    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.

    • CanAmSteve

      Jobsworth/stupidity – bad combo

    • Whoeveryoucallnurse

      What were you trying to take a picture of in the NHS? I work in an NHS hospital and I personally have an issue with people taking photos on the ward (both staff and others) as a person’s hospital stay is confidential. If someone is ‘accidentally’ captured in a picture and that picture is publicised whether officially or personally then confidentiality has been breached. Whilst whomever is taking the picture is not obliged to respect and protect patients privacy I am obliged under my registration to do so. Therefore if I saw someone taking pictures on my ward that my patients hadn’t consented to I would be pretty forthcoming in stopping said pictures being taken. If, however, they were purely external shots I have no issue. If it was of one person and your had their consent then fine. I’ve had people wanting to take pics of wounds etc and as long as the patient consents fine. What bothers me is people taking so called ‘general’ shots which inadvertently capture other patients who may not want to be a part, and in a lot of cases don’t want people seeing them in hospital. Rant over lol!

      • jimbob

        Ryan stated ‘public place’ so i assumed he was outside, not inside.

  • 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.

    • Tedz Duran

      Rediculous! I often get told that. My reply, ‘ If I need informations about your building I’d go on the internet and I’d probably get an architect’s blue print of the building. So let me ask you this, why would I go on a public place and show my face to all these cameras? ‘

      • Kris Wood

        I’m tempted to start asking for their ID, address and contact details just to annoy them.

  • Security101

    its called hostile recognisance and should not be slated.

    • CanAmSteve

      Joke. right? There are video cameras that fit in a buttonhole and are totally undetectable without a pat-down. So if anyone thinks this “security theater” is effective, I fear for our safety. Authorities should assume all publicly accessible areas are already “mapped” and determine how best to protect them. Accosting innocent citizens on an ad-hoc basis only fosters mistrust among those who could help

  • 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.

  • holbornviaduct

    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.

  • Giovanni

    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!!

    • Evan

      As a pro, you’ll know that when shooting on private property you require permission to do so… I know most of the South Bank is either owned by one group or another. All the way from the Eye to the Oxo Tower is privately owned by various groups.

      • James Tarry

        Yep-it is however people are photographing this section almost every second, Its a tourist hotspot. Probably the most photographed area in London, you cannot have them all asking for permission, Common sense should prevail here.

        • Evan

          Agreed. They no doubt singled you out for the tripod use. In the minds of ‘security’, tripod = professional photographer = loads of non-royalty payments… Stupid and annoying but they’re just doing their job in that instance.

          • James Tarry

            “Architecture affects everybody, from the hospital where you’re born, to the schools and grocery stores, markets. Every part of a person’s life is based on an Architect’s presence.” -Julius Shulman

            Thats what I quote to the security guards 😉

          • Evan

            Nice one. Leave them bamboozled, then take a shot with a flash gun in their faces before legging it… Always my preferred method of fleeing 😉

          • Calmeilles

            Could you paraphrase to avoid the three and four syllable words?

    • CanAmSteve

      May I point out that issues of copyright are civil law, not criminal. This often gets muddled up by laymen. And I will offer the opinion that shooting on private ground does not necessarily require advance permission if the area is readily accessible to the public. However, if you are asked to stop photography/singing/dancing/etc. while on private ground you must cease and follow any request to leave. BUT – that does not mean you broke any law, it does not mean your photographs were “illegal” and no one has a right to review or delete any photos you took.

      • http://sliceoflondonlife.com Nicola Albon

        Taking a photo on private ground that is accessible to the public isn’t illegal – selling them without the owner’s permission is – but as CaAmSteve says, it’s a matter of civil laws and certainly not terrorism!

        • CanAmSteve

          Thanks, but I am unaware of how selling such a photo could be “illegal”, with the understanding that means breaking criminal law. I am unaware of any such law in the UK, US or Canada.

          For example, if I go onto your unfenced property – so clearly on private property but not having made any undue effort to do so (i.e. not scaled a fence) – and I then photograph your house and subsequently sell the photos through a stock agency, what “law” have I broken? And even though I was on “private” property at the time, I suspect any civil suit you might bring (for???) would fail as the house is visible from the public street. Your house is not “copyright” either.

          If I go into a shopping mall (since they figure prominently in these Plastic Plod harassment cases) and take photos of shops, somehow undetected, and then sell them – what “law” has been broken?

          About all they could do is have a solicitor (at their expense) send me a letter (best make sure it is delivered personally with proof) telling me that I may not trespass on their property, and then hope I do it again. Then I will be trespassing – which *is* illegal. Photography has nothing to do with it.

          • Barney

            Trespassing is not, in general, illegal in English Criminal Law. It’s a civil tort, which in theory you can be sued for but in practice damages would normally be so low or non-existent that it would be pointless to sue. Landowners can legally use reasonable force (i.e. violence) to remove trespassers.

            There is a crime of Aggravated Trespass, which is something like trespassing while disrupting someone else’s lawful activity, and it’s illegal to trespass in certain specific places such as railways, military areas and palaces, but I don’t believe it’s illegal to trespass in shopping centres.

            Also I’m not sure landowners have any special rights to tell you to cease doing things they don’t like on their land, but they can of course tell you to leave.

  • Evan

    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.

  • Mark Ellis

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

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/hoosiersands HoosierSands

      They don’t own it anymore. Canary Wharf Group & Qatari Diar bought It a few years ago (well a 999 yr lease).

  • James Flowers

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

  • Roger Wood
  • 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

    • CanAmSteve

      Of course, PG is reportedly the “most secure” police station in the UK, where many real terrorism suspects are held, so one can see that there could be some concern. TBH, if the coppers were professional and polite, I’d say they were just doing their job. There is a difference between photographing the Gherkin (or some other iconic but privately owned piece of architecture) and photography next to a “sensitive site”. Note my other comment re the blanket ban and “No Photography” signs on Kensington Palace Gardens. You’d think Paddington Green would warrant the same, but I suspect there is no legal basis for the signs. It’s just a form of intimidation.

  • 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.

  • xma1e

    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.

  • CanAmSteve

    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.


  • Andrew_M

    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 :)

    • HHGeek

      I have no problem with people taking photos in exhibitions or galleries if it’s a genuine reaction & a wish to record a memory. I do, however, reserve the right to cast disapproving stares and disdainful looks if they’re they’re in the majority of idiots who merely take photos to prove they were there as their first and only response. Coz those people are twats and just get in the way with their tiny screens and social meeja showing offs.

  • sp

    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!

  • SA

    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!

  • xma1e

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

  • http://www.chirontaichi.com 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!

    • Seanie

      Private security goes out of it’s way to justify it’s own existence

  • 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.

  • Seanie

    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

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/hoosiersands HoosierSands

      Railtrack is no more-it’s Network Rail. It’s a statutory corporation so a bit different than what is usually considered “privately owned”.

  • http://www.malcolmwray.com 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.

  • sirimo

    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.

  • DanFilson

    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 potmsn gathering glasses. Why do big offices have so many security men? In theory it should be as much to stop valuable kit waking 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?

  • apsLilburn

    Dress like a Muslim. You’ll have no problem or hassles at all.