It pays to check

Updated: Aug 23, 2018

As a location portrait photographer, I get used to scouting locations, thinking of great concepts, turning up and shooting away. But, I learnt last weekend of something else to consider.

Some open spaces that you’d assume are public, given that you can drive there, park up and go for a wander across them, are in fact private land. Mostly (I guess), this isn’t a problem. You can walk across it, sit on it, play on it, admire the views and take photos, or can you..?

I was at Dungeness on Sunday doing a model shoot with Freya (my model for the evening), we’d lugged my kit bag, light stand and soft box, a table and chair and a box of props across the stoney beach for what felt like miles. We we’re setting up a shot of Freya, sitting at a table all dressed up in the middle of a wide open Dungeness beach, and then planned to wander about getting some shots of her with the various boats, huts, etc in the background. Sounded great.

However, half an hour into the shoot, along comes a warden to tell us that we couldn’t take photos on the beach without a permit. Oh - okay.

I had no idea that the beach was private and hadn’t even considered any need to check for a permit. He mentioned that all the residents had seen us and rang him as soon as I started using my flash and soft box. I looked back, squinting at the single row of houses along the beach to see if I could see any curtains twitching. I couldn’t; I could barely see the houses in the distance.

Apparently, at Dungeness, there’s an ongoing problem with professional film crews and photographers. Apparently, they can get in the way of the vast numbers of the public especially at the weekends (so there’s no photography permitted on Sundays). I pointed out that we’re not doing anything professionally, for all intents, we were just friends taking photos. I looked around for a vast number of the public. There wasn’t a vast number, just us three.

Well, okay I though, I suppose I’d better be good, pack up and drag everything back to the car, that seemed way, way further down the road to where I’d left it. But, whilst packing up I got into a debate:

Me: ‘So, if I turn up and wander about taking photos with my iPhone, that’s okay’

Warden: “Yes, of course.”

Me: “And could I take photos of Freya here?”

Warden: “Yea, that’s fine.”

Me: “What about if I have a big camera?”

Warden: “Yes, that’s okay too.”

At this point the conversation felt a bit like a game of Kerplunk.

Me: “And what if I have a light.”


That was the thing, apparently... Having a light stand and a flash, is what makes the difference, and the warden added, that I had ‘props’.

So if you’re a photographer doing a shoot on private land, assuming you’re allowed access to it of course, make sure you use natural light, or check for permits.

So, off we trundled, back to the car. Lesson learned.

I’ve got a shoot at the Barbican in London coming up, I checked today and what would you know! I need a permit to shoot there too. More preparations to think about when planing a shoot.

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