Reference Photos for Artists – Taking your own Photos – Potential Legal Issues

I have also done a YouTube Video Slideshow on this topic:


Artists are often told that the easy way to avoid copyright issues with your reference photos is to take your own.

Whilst that is surely true, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can do what you like with your photos. There may be other legal considerations.

So this short article is for UK artists who take their own reference photos. It tells you about some of these potential legal issues.


The information provided here is intended to give artists in the UK general information on legal issues that may be of interest to them when taking their own reference photos. It is based on my research of UK rules.

Readers are advised to confirm any information obtained here with other sources.

The information given here does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice and is no substitute for obtaining professional legal advice. You should always consult with appropriate legal professionals for advice concerning your personal situation in any legal matter.

Taking Photos whilst on Public Land

In the UK you are legally entitled to take photos in all public places without the need to seek permission, including photos of people. But you must not harass members of the public to obtain your photos.

And if you want to use your images of people commercially it would be best to request their permission first.

Also bear in mind that the context in which you use a person’s image matters. If it could be considered defamatory to their character you risk being sued.

Obviously you need to be sure that you’re on public land whilst taking your photos so you can do so without the need to ask permission. This may not be as simple as it sounds because many spaces that are open to the public are actually privately owned.

Museums, public attractions, shopping centres, art galleries, churches, parks and the like may well be on private land, so you would need the permission of the landowner to take photos there.

Sometimes you have to think about whether it’s worth any future hassle that might arise despite where you stand with the law.

Taking Photos whilst on Private Land

If you wish to take reference photos on private land you need the permission of the landowner.

Many galleries, museums, stately homes and theatres etc that are open to the public are actually privately owned so you will need permission to freely take pictures in them. 

In fact many such places may have a ‘no-photography’ rule on display. You should respect their wishes or you may be asked to leave

Taking Photos of a subject on Private Land whilst you’re on Public Land

The grey area is when you are taking pictures of people on private land whilst you are on public land. If you are standing on public property when taking your photographs then you wouldn’t need permission to take them.

However, you wouldn’t be able to use the photographs commercially without permission from both the land owner and the subject. So, even though you are not trespassing on their land, you could still be sued for breaching their privacy.


The objective of this short article was to alert artists in the UK to potential legal issues involving reference photos they’ve taken themselves.

If you use your common sense and show respect for others then you should have no problems.

But if in any doubt either ask permission or move on to another subject, there’s plenty out there to choose from.

Sometimes you have to think about whether it’s worth any future hassle that might arise, despite where you stand with the law.

I hope you found this helpful.

I have also done a YouTube Video Slideshow on this topic:

Please visit my Etsy shop, to see the full range of prints and original watercolours I currently have for sale.

If you can collect your purchase directly from me, in the Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, please email me at with details of your order instead of going through the Etsy checkout and you’ll get a 20% discount on my normal Etsy prices. Payment by cash on collection or bank transfer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s