Question: Can I Take Photos in the Street in London?
"I have been reading on the Internet about photographers being hassled by the police for taking pictures of public buildings. It also appears that St Paul's and probably other churches do not allow photography. Is there any kind of guide about what I can take pictures of and what I can't? I am not taking pictures for professional purposes, or for sale; I am just a serious amateur photographer. I love to make great images. This question is a real short coming of every tour book that I have (bought and) read."
Answer: There has been a lot in the news about photographers being hassled for taking photos in the streets (see I'm a Photographer, Not a Terrorist) but I'll be honest with you, I'm out around London every week with an SLR and a camera phone and no-one has ever stopped me. I always respect peoples privacy as I know I don't want to be snapped in the street and then find the photo accompanying an article about people looking miserable in the rain, or the like.
Basically, you are allowed to take photos in the street in London. If you're photographing a building and someone walks by and gets in the shot it's OK. I doubt anyone has a photo of Trafalgar Square without strangers in the shot too.
You can take photos inside many of the great London museums such as the British Museum and the V&A – both excellent for photographers – but you cannot take photos inside Places of Worship which is why St. Paul's Cathedral is a no photo zone. Many complain that they think it's so more postcards are sold but it's simply the fact it's a working church. (By the way, if you do the guided tour in St. Paul's Cathedral, they let you into some usually out of bounds areas and you can take photos there, as well as from the Galleries.)
You would be incredibly unlucky to be approached by the police when taking photos in the street in London but I think you'd get their attention if you focused on one building and took photos for a long time. This would start to look like a security risk which, I think, sounds fine.
I've been on street photography courses in the City of London – the old area with the big businesses – and the Security staff and Police are not concerned by photographers enjoying the City architecture. It's a common sight and they won't bother you.
As a general rule, if you want to take a photo of a person then ask first. Police usually oblige for snaps but when working in some situations they may have to say no. Speaking to the prospective subject of your photo can get a different reaction to the relaxed shot you may be hoping for but once you have asked you can always take another shot later which is less 'staged'.
I hope this helps and I hope you have a wonderful time in London. Do submit your favorite photo of London after your trip.
By the way, I've also tested a great compact camera which I'd recommend to city visitors. See my review of the Canon Ixus 230 HS.