Please note that the information on this website regarding photographers' rights and UK law must not be regarded as authoritative. It is written in general terms with a view to increasing general everyday understanding. However it is neither intended to provide authoritative advice nor to be used as guidance in specific cases. Anyone seeking authoritative advice regarding such matters, or anyone involved in a particular legal case, must seek the advice of a suitably qualified solicitor.
Photographing protests inevitably carries some risk - to the photographer and their photographic equipment. Feelings are often running high otherwise no protest would take place. By being present and by taking photographs a photographer becomes an active participant in the event, and the way in which the photography is undertaken may affect to some extent the conduct of the protest - or at least some section of it. Protesters may object to your presence or to being photographed, and may demand to know for what purpose the images are being taken. Particular people may also object to the presence of press photographers working for publications that they do not like, and may have all sorts of other reasons for wanting to get rid of a photographer. Participants may also feel that you are assisting the police, who spend a lot of time and effort photographing protesters, and hence object to your presence.
In terms of legal rights, a photographer may photograph a protest in any way he or she wishes provided the protest takes place in a public place, and that the photographer does not harass or obstruct the protesters or the police. However, be aware that police and protest organizers have been known to use the charge that a photographer is causing an obstruction as a way of obliging a photographer to move. Should this happen, it is best to move on. It may also be the case that angry protesters may use illegal methods to remove a photographer. In extreme circumstances equipment might be smashed or blows exchanged. It is one thing to be on the right side of the law but quite another to get physically beaten. Photographing a protester carrying out an illegal act is also unlikely to be welcomed as the image could be used in evidence against the protester. A judgement therefore has to be made about what images are taken and how they are used after the event. In theory the photographer is free to use such images in any way he or she wishes, but life may not be quite that simple.
Photographers seeking good environmental images need to get in the middle of the action - get involved. Photographically, this is an excellent technique but the risks of confrontation increase and there is always a danger of being confused by police with those who may be causing problems. The result may be that the photographer gets unwarranted rough treatment.