28 Dec 2013

RedShark Winter Replay: You can't film here!

  • Written by 
Trespassing Trespassing RedShark/ Phil Rhodes


This holiday we're re-running some of our most popular articles, in case you didn't see them the first time. Today: I wouldn't be surprised if a large proportion of the people reading this have been hassled either by the police, or perhaps more frequently by private security contractors, while working on a photography or film shoot

It's not my intention to provide legal advice here, which I'm not qualified to do, although most of the more reliable sources I've read indicate that in most of the free world, there is no, or almost no, limitation on photography in public places. Exceptions tend to be things like military and nuclear installations, and in the UK it's my experience that photography of even these subjects is generally tolerated.


There are downsides; egalitarian as all this may seem, it is one of the things which causes the paparazzi problem, with the undesirable side-effect of largely innocent celebrities being hounded for compromising pictures in a way that many of us would probably agree is a bit unfair.

Limitations to Shooting in Public

The other problem, which is what I intend to discuss in this article, is that while there's few limitations on what we can shoot in public, an increasing amount of modern cities are, quite simply, no longer public property. The political dimension of this is that land can be sold to a development company at no cost (and often some benefit) to the public purse, especially taking into account the reduced or eliminated future costs of care and maintenance.

The social dimension of it is that large amounts of London around, for instance, Paddington station, the Broadgate estate just north of Liverpool Street, and most famously the entire Canary Wharf campus, are privately owned by property companies. They have roads, they have buildings, they have footpaths, and they appear to all intents and purposes to be simply part of the city. However, they're not; they're owned by companies.

Identifying Affected Areas 

One of the key concerns with this is actually identifying the affected areas. In many cases, in London at least, a line of brass studs in the pavement, or a metal strip, will indicate the border of a property. The same approach is often used to mark out the area prescribed for outdoor seating outside a restaurant. However, this isn't always the case, it's incredibly easy to miss, and even if you do happen to notice what's going on there appears to be no requirement that any rules are actually posted.

So, within their property, companies are free to impose any rules they like. And boy, do they like. Those rules typically prohibit photography entirely (despite the absurdity of this in a world where everyone has a camera phone). Companies typically charge a hefty fee (often hundreds of pounds an hour, plus staffing costs of hundreds more) as a bare minimum for even the smallest of shoots.

What Companies Expect

It's unclear to me exactly what these companies expect to get out of these rules. There are clear and legitimate concerns over inconvenience caused to the tenants – typically large, international companies – of these office complexes. These are the people who are primarily paying for the complex to exist, the main customers, and if you want to get political bout it, you could point out that the people who really own the property companies are pension plans and share portfolios, and thus all of us, very indirectly. So, the concerns about inconveniencing tenants who pay handsomely for the office space are understandable, if you're talking about upscale feature film productions, or if it became a daily occurrence with dozens of crews working.

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Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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