A Landscape Photographer's Legal Obligations
August 01, 2014

With publishing A Landscape Photographer's Guide I have endeavoured to ensure that I am fulfilling all legal obligations for such a publication offered for sale. In researching these obligations I have learned a few things about the photographs I make that I thought it might be beneficial to share.

Open Access Land

Many of the locations I have photographed are on Open Access Land. This is land that the public has the right to walk freely over without having to stick to paths, though there are some restrictions, as a result of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW). This right came into effect across all of England on 31st October 2005.

Natural England in England and Countryside Council for Wales in Wales are the government advisors on the natural environment and are responsible for administrating Open Access Land, as well as other other responsibilities including designating National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. and their website has interactive maps that show the areas of Open Access Land as well as any restrictions in place during specific periods of time.

As a member of the public one is free to take photographs anywhere on Open Access Land. However, only non commercial activities are allowed on Open Access Land. Any commercial photography is not allowed without the landowners permission. This includes but is not restricted to running photography workshops, selling photographic prints and selling photographic books, including A Landscape Photographer's Guide.

Rights of Way, Roads and Public Spaces

Public Rights of Way include footpaths and bridleways (they are marked by green dotted lines on Ordnance Survey 1:25000 scale Explorer maps and as pink dotted lines on Ordnance Survey 1:50000 scale Landranger maps). There is no clear legal indication whether photographs made from Public Rights of Way that cross private land can be used for commercial purposes without the landowners permission. In such instances it would be advisable to contact the landowner.

Photographs made from roads or in public spaces can be used for commercial purposes without the landowners permission though there are some restrictions including needing permission for commercial photography in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square and the Royal Parks. One thing that all photographers should be aware of though is not to cause an obstruction when photographing.

The National Trust

The National Trust is one of the largest landowners of the land that is now designated as Open Access Land. There is a bylaw that came into effect in 1965 that prohibits photography for commercial purposes anywhere on National Trust land, including Public Rights of Way. The National Trust Images website clearly states the National Trusts policy on commercial photography. However, the website does provide contact details for those wanting to conduct photography workshops on National Trust land and also explains their support for photography competitions. Some have criticised the National Trust for it's approach to photographers, but I believe the National Trust play an essential role in preserving the beautiful landscape we enjoy photographing.

Coastal Access

Coastal Access is similar in principle to Open Access Land except that it is a result of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. As with Open Access Land, Coastal Access is administrated by Natural England and details can be found on their website. Also as with Open Access Land, commercial photography is not allowed without the landowners permission.

Whilst this may not be the kind of blog post that many photographer's want to read, I would say that with a little effort it has not been too hard to find out who the landowner is of locations I have photographed from. I have also found that with polite communication by email or telephone those landowners have been extremely helpful with my request to publish the photographs taken on their land in A Landscape Photographer's Guide. Some have made requests to use the photographs themselves and others have even shown a keen interest and support in what I am doing. If you intend to use your photographs for commercial purposes I would urge you to do as I have done and contact the landowners concerned. If enough photographer's contact those landowners it may encourage them to state more obviously their policy regarding commercial photography on their land.

There are other nuances pertaining to what is permissible to photograph that I have not described in this blog post. The post is also more oriented to landscape photographers photographing the rural landscape as opposed to the urban landscape. I have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible in what I have written, but ultimately it is your responsibility to determine whether what you are doing in your photographic exploits is legal.

My thanks to The National Trust for providing advice regarding the content in this blog post and Natural England for taking the time to read the content of this blog post and verify it's accuracy.

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