Laws About Taking Photos in Ireland

Selective focus of woman photographing friends in foreground through smart phone
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What is the legal situation regarding the taking of photos in Ireland - is it a free-for-all, or are there strict rules to be adhered to? If you are heading for a vacation, you pack your camera, easy-peasy. But what are you actually allowed to photograph, and how can you use it afterward? While casual photography in Ireland is seen very, well, casual, there are some rules to keep in mind. I have tried to sum up a few here.

Please take note that these are my personal interpretations of the law, from daily practice as a “snapper” - if you are looking for legal advice you should contact a solicitor. And these rules mainly apply to hobbyists and tourists, professional (commercial) photography is a totally different kettle of fish ... if you want to make money out of your holiday snapshots, and these are of people, you might want to ask for legal advice before landing yourself in hot water.

Photography in Public Places

Generally speaking, you may take photographs to your heart's content as long as you are in a public place. The definition of "public place" here being a place not in private ownership, which you may enter freely and without conditions imposed. A museum e.g. may be in public ownership, but upon entering it you implicitly agree to obey by any "house rules" - in effect making it "private property" (see below).

Note that all this refers to you yourself being in a public place, not to the object of your photographic desire being there. Snapping a private place from public space is actually legal. As long as you are in a public place, you may take images of private property such as buildings or artworks ... but the owner may object and even threaten to call the guards.

Avoid a confrontation, say "Sorry!", smile and calmly walk away.

Trespassing and Obstructing

One thing you may not do while taking photos in public places is trespassing (obvious) and cause an obstruction. The latter is interesting as it includes not only walking out in front of traffic, but may also affect the use of tripods. "Causing an obstruction" also refers to the effect your snapping may have on the work of a police officer. As this is very much open to interpretation it is advisable to cease and desist if you are asked by police.

Photography on Private Property

You may take photos on private property - provided the owner or occupier agrees with you being there (otherwise you are trespassing), and tolerates your activity. By entering the private property you implicitly agree to obey by any rules set by the owner or occupier and made known to you. "Made known" includes house rules posted in shopping malls or similar.

If the owner, the occupier or their representatives (mostly security staff) ask you to stop taking photos, do so - disobey and you may be guilty of trespassing. They do, however, have no right to confiscate (or damage) any of your equipment.

Two special mentions - the Airport Police at Dublin Airport seem to be very negative towards anybody not obviously just taking a snapshot of a loved one.

On the other hand, the National Museum of Ireland has relaxed the rules and abandoned the strict "no photography" dictum in favor of "no flash, no tripod".

Photographing People

Yes, you may, in an open and non-invasive way - unless people object or objections are made on their behalf. Then again privacy laws are very iffy and it might be better to refrain. If you restrict your photography to groups, officials, and those participating in some sort of public performance or ceremony you should be okay. On the other hand, snapping away with an unobtrusive telephoto lens while walking through Dublin is no problem. Note that if you want to sell images of people, you should get a model release form signed.

Photography of Children

One thing worth mentioning are the über-careful rules and regulations laid down mainly in Northern Irish museums regarding photography.

In effect, you will be asked not to take any pictures of children, a backlash of the prevalent pedophilia hysteria. Many places also ask you to fill in a form and sign it, agreeing to these conditions (though I have never been asked for ID when doing this, leading me to the thought that one could easily use fake names here).

I would also caution against strolling into a park or playground and then starting to take images of children. “Concerned citizens” will, more than likely, soon be onto your case.

Professional or Amateur?

Take note that "professional photography" is more closely regulated in most places - though what actually constitutes professional photography is open to interpretation at times. If you want to sell your images, consider yourself a professional.

Candids and "Indecency"

As long as you are doing your photography openly, you are in safe territory. However, once you start hiding in bushes to take candid pictures you may be attracting unwanted attention and hostile reactions.

Another way to attract attention is posing for risqué or even nude shots in public - don't, or at least only do so on Ireland's few (and unofficial) nude beaches.

Northern Ireland - A Few Words of Warning

Northern Irish subjects should be treated with care by the avid photographer - it is still easy to arouse suspicions and even hostility.

Even more of an explanation might be required if one causes suspicions among the population of "flashpoint areas". While taking pictures of murals has become a normal "touristy" activity, taking pictures of individuals or even groups may be seen as "intelligence gathering" for whoever is "the enemy" today. Avoid. Or, again, expect the attention of "concerned citizens".

Publication

In general, you may publish your photos, unless you were told explicitly that they are to be taken for private use only. Note that this is a rule of thumb only and that local laws, as well as privacy laws, may govern your publication. Also, consider the phrase "non-commercial use only" often found in rules regarding photography at attractions and in museums.