Are London’s self-appointed "tripod police" overstepping their boundaries?

Kav Dadfar
Are photographers asking too much to not have to explain themselves? (Image credit: Lauren Scott)

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon in London with the type of light that has us photographers giddy with excitement. Like anyone who has a full-time job, I occasionally try to spend a bit of my spare time doing something I enjoy. Sometimes that includes doing some photography for myself. 

On this particular afternoon I headed into London and took a walk along the river to Tower Bridge. With the light behind me, the face of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge were glowing beautifully. It looked like there was going to be a wonderful sunset.

Anyone who has photographed in this part of London will know that it is swarming with security guards. As I walked along the river snapping a few shots with my Canon 5D MK IV (opens in new tab), I was approached by the first of many security guards. 

“Hi sir, can I ask if you are going to be taking professional photographs?”. I laughed and responded with “what is a professional photograph as opposed to an unprofessional photograph”? His clarification wasn’t any better. “It’s photos taken with a professional camera”. I replied with “Well, technically an iPhone is a professional camera, so I don’t understand what you mean”.

Kav Dadfar London shots

Covent Garden, London (Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

Kav Dadfar London shots

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

I must confess, I knew exactly what he was getting at, having been asked these questions so many times in this part of London. He wanted to know if I was planning to sell the photos that I was taking of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. But I couldn’t be bothered to continue this pointless conversation, so I just ended it with “I’m just taking photos for my portfolio”.

The next encounter was not long after. I was sitting down answering emails on my phone with my camera next to me when two security guards approached with another set of uninformed questions. By this point I was getting slightly irritated, not only by the harassment but also that fact that I was trying to reply to an important email. But again, I kept calm and batted the questions away.

This whole process continued for several hours and then amplified to a new level when I set up my tripod. You would have been forgiven for thinking this was a full-scale Hollywood production that I was planning to shoot.

One guard even had the cheek to tell me that because this was private land, they could ask me to delete the photos and confiscate my camera! Fortunately, having grown up in London and having done some research into this very matter, I know my legal rights. So when I told him that the only person who can confiscate my camera (and even then, only if there is a valid security concern) is a police officer, he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

Kav Dadfar London shots

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

Kav Dadfar London shots

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

By the time I had left I counted that I had been approached on seven separate occasions. It wasn’t just me either. I saw tourists and even some people who were taking photos and videos with gimbals also approached. And this isn’t just in this part of London either. I have had similar conversations with security guards in Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square as well.

Now, I could understand if the reason behind this were to do with safety or security. I could even understand if I were trespassing on private property that I shouldn’t have been. But I wasn’t and this has nothing to do with safety or security. It’s a lack understand and education to these “self-appointed tripod police” who are spoiling people’s experience of London. But more importantly, it’s bullying, and I think it’s because they feel they can enforce that sort of rule and won’t be challenged. 

Personally, I think these encounters border on harassment and need to be looked at. Unless, the person is breaking the law, or causing security or safety issues, leave photographers alone to enjoy the capital like everyone else.

Read more

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Kav Dadfar
Professional photographer

UK-based travel and landscape pro Kav shoots on assignment for editorial and commercial clients, and stock for high-end agencies. He has written over 400 articles on photography, judges a major travel photo contest and leads tours and workshops worldwide with the company That Wild Idea. In 2021 Kav launched JRNY travel magazine with fellow photographer Jordan Banks.