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Photography on the South Bank


One of the many things that annoys me is the recent upping of incidents of security guards getting pissy about people taking photos on their patches. However, what annoys me even more is people getting pissy back at them, making the security guards even pissier in the future. Yes, you get a lot of jobsworths who shout to try and make their boring days better, but you also get a lot of people who have been told to stop people taking photos for various reasons, mainly annoying and spurious, but still just doing their jobs.

As a consequence there’s a lot of misinformation about photographer’s rights that people bandy around with various levels of hysteria and a recent flickr thread with some mild hand waving inspired to me to do something about it – I sent two emails…

Anyways, the nice folks of Southwark Council and FilmLondon got back to me with some links and details about the South Bank as well as some advice about how to make sure that amateurs can get things sorted out in advance so as not to get hassled by security guards. I haven’t got round to emailing the folks at Lambeth council yet (mainly as I don’t really shoot much at that end of the South Bank), but if I do I’ll stick what they say up here as well. I’ve had a few requests for the details so I thought I’d put them up here in a blog post, as I’m crap at sending email.

Firstly, the general photographer’s rights PDF can be found up on It’s useful to have but remember that your rights on private land are different – as sod’s law demands, most of the South Bank is private land.

Secondly, at the Southwark end of the South Bank there are some areas owned by the council, and as long as you are not doing commercial photography I have been told by them that “Southwark Council will allow amateur photographers to use their land for free, whether together, or on their own, either with or without a tripod”. Also, “In Southwark, (East of the Oxo Tower) the private areas are east of London Bridge, Southwark Council looks after the areas between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge” – FilmLondon has a map of who owns which areas on their site.

Thirdly, you do not need a ‘license’ to shoot with a tripod on the South Bank. From the emails I received: “Its about commercial activity on the Southbank, not whether or not you have a tripod”. He continues: “In order to make things simpler, we do issue licences for free to amateur photographers, just go to However, we need to have proof of liability insurance, and sometimes amateur photographers don’t have this. If you cannot provide insurance, we can’t issue a licence”. So, basically, the license is just to give you something to flash at security guards – you don’t actually need one if you are shooting on Southwark Council’s property.

If you are going to shoot and wander in to private property (even if it has public access) then if you are wandering in a group or will be hanging around for a while with a tripod or just want to make sure that you have something to talk to security guards about, then give the management office of the area a call beforehand – there are contact details on the FilmLondon website.

Overall, it seems fairly simple:

  • Check to see who owns where you are shooting
  • Give them a call/email as a courtesy in advance
  • Carry one of the maps from the FilmLondon website to help you check and to show anyone who challenges you
  • Be polite to security guards – getting angry helps noone, especially not the next photographer that guard meets
  • Be generally considerate – a lot of the hassle that photographers get is justified by the attitude of the few who spoil it for the rest of us.
  • If you have questions, call/email FilmLondon, the relevant council or the property owners.

Yes, you will get pissy security guards. Yes, this is not infallible. But, keep a civil tongue in your head, be reasonable and be prepared – if you do then there’s a better chance of getting through an evening without be chased by a portly chap who’s been dragged out of his warm control room because his boss’s haven’t briefed him well enough.

One other question I got after posting on the flickr thread was ‘How is it best to approach them about shooting?’ – I can’t answer this authorititavely, but I’d guess (and sorry if this sounds patronising) that being honest, accurate and reasonable is a good start. Just like with almost everything else in life.

Many thanks to Andrew Pavord at Southwark Coucil and Melinda Knowles at FilmLondon for taking the time to send me over the information – keep an eye on the FilmLondon site as it’s in the process of being redesigned.

In context


Comment from Lorissa
Time 4th January 2009 at 11:15 am

Great post. Yeah, I’ve found that being polite gets you a long way. Sometimes pissy security guards can really change their attitude to you when you smile and treat them respectfully.

Comment from Chris Beaumont
Time 4th January 2009 at 3:45 pm

Many thanks for doing this investigation – the information you provide is very useful.

I was stopped outside the GLA building a couple of years ago by some security guards – they were pretty nice about it, and told me that because I had a professional camera and tripod (Canon 20D & a cheap Velbon) that I was breaking rules to do with rights for producing commercial images. They made me go into a little office and sign a form saying I wouldn’t use any of the images commercially and then let me on my way.

The most annoying thing about it was that I missed the good evening light by the time I’d signed the form!

Politeness and common courtesy go a long way with people in general, though sometimes you’re onto a loser from the off with security guards. It’s much worse outside of London, I find, though i couldn’t really give you a good reason why.

Comment from Will
Time 18th March 2013 at 12:33 pm

Surprise! The FilmLondon map isn’t there anymore. Could someone post a copy please? Try putting it on this site

Comment from billy
Time 10th July 2013 at 8:00 pm

The map is over four years out of date – best to contact FilmLondon themselves and see if they have a new one. A lot of development has happened in the last few years and they will hopefully have a more up to date one available.

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