Street Photography Law South Africa – Your Right to Shoot
There is no such thing as Street Photography Law in South Africa.
But Street Photography is perfectly legal in this country. As it is the case in many western countries, street photographers here are free to take pictures of anyone or anything in public spaces such as streets and parks. Please note that the emphasis is on the word public as opposed to private. You are free to photograph anyone in the street but you are not allowed to do the same if that person is in his or her own private space, such as in one’s home or in a place where any reasonable person can expect a certain amount of privacy.
The following laws apply specifically to street photographers:
- Privacy Law
- Trespassing Law
- National Key points
- Commercial Purpose
Street Photography Law South Africa – Privacy Law
According to the privacy law, every person has the right to privacy. This means that when a street photographer is taking pictures during a photo walk his or her subject has the right to say:
“Don’t take my picture.”
In the same breath, however, the photographer has the right to photograph anyone who enters or is in a public space. Public spaces include streets, parks, sports events, concerts and political rallies or conventions.
A person in any of these or similar places forfeits their rights to privacy because no reasonable person can expect privacy in such areas.
Privacy laws allow property owners to prohibit the taking of photographs in places like malls or shopping centres. Restaurants and supermarkets also have the right to prohibit photography. The same is true about theatres, stadiums and private homes.
Takeaway point: You have the right to take a picture of anyone in a public space. But if some people object, back off.
Street Photography Law South Africa – Trespass Law
I was once confronted by a farmer who found me photographing his cattle. I was standing on the side of the road and pointing my camera into his farm. There was a fence between me and the animals.
He angrily asked what I was doing. When I told him I was a photography student and needed to practice taking pictures he said to me: “Nie hierso nie!”
He then demanded that I delete those photos from the camera. I did.
Was this farmer within his rights to demand that I delete the photos?
I can understand that he worried about the safety of his cattle. But I was not standing on his farm. I had not crossed the perimeter fence between the road and his property. It was out of respect and to avoid unnecessary trouble that I agreed to delete the photos from my memory card. I was under no obligation to do so, although he threatened to smash my camera to pieces.
If you’re standing on the public space and photograph someone or something across the road, you are within your rights to do so. But if you enter someone’s property and take pictures on their premises without permission, you’re trespassing.
Trespassing: Entering unlawfully on someones property.
I took this photo in an arcade or colonnade of a privately owned property. If someone had confronted me and demanded that I delete the photo, they would have been within their right to do so. I had entered the building legally. But the owner or caretaker of the premises has every right to say:
Takeaway point: If someone asks you to stop taking pictures in a shopping mall, supermarket or restaurant, respect their rights.
Street Photography Law South Africa – Commercial Use
As a street photographer you are free to shoot anything or anyone in public spaces. What you do with those images is a completely different matter altogether.
In a nutshell:
- You may not use the photos for commercial gain.
- You may not sell them to stock libraries or agencies.
- You may not use them to advertise a product or service.
If you want to licence the images to a photo library or to a national newspaper for use in advertising or promotion of services or products, you must have a model release from the person or persons in the photo.
For educational or editorial use you don’t need a model release. This means that you are free to use those images on your blog to illustrate your posts.
Takeaway Point: You are free to shoot whatever you like. But not free to sell your work.
National Key points
You are not allowed to photograph and or publish photos of national key points.
- Military Facilities
- Police Stations
- Power Stations
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat the story of the land bank building in Middelburg. I am doing this to illustrate how important this law is.
In the mid 1980’s I worked as a waiter at a restaurant called Chuckwagon. The eatery was directly opposite the land bank building across the road. One day I was taking pictures of my colleagues in the parking bay. As I was busy directing my subjects, telling them where to stand, a White man approached and shouted at us. “What are you doing here?” He asked.
I hesitated to answer him. Partly because he obviously could see that we were taking pictures. And also because I could not understand what his problem was.
He went on to say: “You are photographing the Land Bank a government building. Are you terrorists?”
I looked up and realised that he was right. The Land Bank building was clearly visible in the background.
I immediately stopped taking photos and left.
Takeaway Point: It is up to you to know which national security structures are off-limits when it comes to street photography or photography in general. This is a serious matter that can land you in jail.
Street Photography Law in South Africa does not refer specifically to the genre. There are several laws that apply to street photographers when interpreted. These include the Privacy Law, The Trespass Law and the Commercial Use Law about photos taken in public places with or without permission.
Please feel free to share your knowledge of the law as it pertains to street photography in South Africa.
You’re also welcome to ask me any question about street photography in this country. I cannot answer any LEGAL questions as I am not a lawyer.
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Till next week,