GDPR & architectural photography

GDPR & architectural photography


First. Privacy.
Privacy laws have existed for many years about taking photographs in public. The law states that it is not illegal to take photos of people in the public realm. No consent required (in the UK). We believe that common sense should be that the images are not used out of context, and there must be no reason to believe that damage or distress could potentially be caused to the people appearing in the photographs. 

What is it and if you have never heard of it go here 

Personal data
Taking and retaining photographs of people could potentially be considered as personal data. Where the name (or other personal detail/fact) and image of a person are linked, or are capable of being linked, then the person can be identified and the image should be regarded as personal data.

Do I need to have a person’s consent to lawfully process any personal data on them at all?

No. Under GDPR we must identify the reason for collecting and handling personal data so that we can then decide which lawful basis we are using to do so. Consent is just one lawful basis, You can read about them all here. Another is legitimate interests. The ICO (UK's independent body set up to uphold information rights) say: ‘’Legitimate Interests is likely to be most appropriate where you use people’s data in ways they would reasonably expect and which have a minimal privacy impact, or where there is a compelling justification for the processing.’’ If you feel confident that you can rely on legitimate interests to process personal data then you do not need consent. 

An example here is an architectural photograph of a building, photography commissioned by an architect. The legitimate interest here is capturing the building/project for the architect. If this building is in a public space then of course there may well be people walking by; they are not the focus, may well be very small in the frame or in fact slightly blurred from movement. We do not need their permission/consent to photograph them within this context. 

What if they are easily identifiable?

If they appear very close in the image frame and you can easily see their face? Slightly more tricky; yes we can see who that person is; but refer to ‘personal data’ above. Do you have the other factor, their name or other personal identifier that links to them?

Ideally here, to cover all aspects we should try to obtain permission or consent of that particular person. In real life photography situations this may not be possible. Blurring people, making them less identifiable is another option. Common sense if no consent - the photographs must not be used out of context, and there must be no reason to believe that damage or distress could potentially be caused to the people appearing in the photographs. 

What about internal spaces?

Public or private space? Again under Legitimate Interest we could photograph people within these spaces. However, it would be more likely that the people here could be more prominent in the frame and thus more potentially visible/identifiable. It is advisable that the anyone visiting or attending the space are informed of the photographer’s presence. This could be made apparent by displaying appropriate notice signs at the space or if a private venue, informing the occupants in advance.

The notice should identify the photographer, how the photographs will be used, and that people should make themselves known if they do not want to appear in the images. If in doubt, then consent should be obtained. Some places (Schools / Universities) obtain prior consent to photography at the start of their year. Blurring people, making them less identifiable is another option.

What if the people are more prominent?

Like a sports centre for example, where the focus is on the lifestyle/people aspect and the building providing the backdrop. Consent to be photographed should be gained. Simple as that. Pre-arranged before photography. GDPR states that this cannot be gained after the image is taken; the person must be aware before the shot is taken.


I really want consent/permission. How many people? Options.

Example. A busy café in a new art gallery we are photographing; public space; 30+ people. Possible to gain consent from all these people? Possibly but very doubtful – especially if people are coming and going. Explaining and getting everyone to sign a document would take longer than the architectural shoot; our experience is that people will say no when faced with a model release form – it looks very scary, with ‘all media use’, ‘worldwide’ and ‘social media’ etc. tick boxes. Who in their right mind without payment would say yes to signing this document?

Here again we should take a common sense approach. The notice method above would be good. Blurring people; choosing a time when only a few people are there and thus obtaining their permission potentially easier; photographing when the space is empty; bringing in the people that already know what the images are for and have agreed to be photographed (models!). These things need considering before the shoot.


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