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Street photography in France


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There was much debate in the other place about the legal position on photographing in public in France


This article from the New York Times provides some very useful and timely observations





Interesting article Keith - thanks. The implication of the final paragraph is that the French Privacy law can only be used if the publication of the image is also in France. Do we know if that is true?

Many of us I am sure have photos on Alamy taken in France in public which include people. Should we put in a restriction not allowing its use in France, and would that then prevent textbooks with a worldwide circulation using the image, so reducing the chances of a sale? And if such a photo was bought and used by a website in a foreign country could a french  person in the photo use French law to pursue the photographer?


Sorry to pose so many questions but as France is one of our nearest neighbours and many of us travel there frequently they would seem relevant - anyone with a greater knowledge of french law know the answers?


Kumar Sriskandan

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This is all it says:


Art. 9
(Act no 70-643 of 17 July 1970)
Everyone has the right to respect for his private life.
Without prejudice to compensation for injury suffered, the court may prescribe any measures, such as
sequestration, seizure and others, appropriate to prevent or put an end to an invasion of personal privacy; in case of
emergency those measures may be provided for by interim order.

It doesn't say anything about one's rights in public. Courts have sometimes declined to interpret it as allowing individuals to censor publication of their images taken in public. It wouldn't stop me including people incidentally in pix in France- I don't think it prevents or even seriously hampers their use.

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Flintstone, the biggest problem that you are likely to face in Paris is the use of a tripod. I have shot there frequently and no one has ever said anything.


The tripod issue usually appears if you are trying to take a view from the towers of Notre Dame, up on top of the Arc de Triomphe and possibly in the grounds of the Louvre where the pyramids are.


Train stations can pose problems as it is forbidden to photograph in them. However, I have done so many times and only once here in Tours did I have a problem.


With people, the only problem I had was in Montmartre. Where you find Place du Tertre (painter's square) I was just about to take a photo of a guy painting. The problem laid in that I had't asked him. However, after apologizing and chatting for a while, telling me his life story etc we proceeded to get on with our jobs...him painting and me taking an image of him painting.


And a cautionary word on Montmartre. If you have never been there, keep a very close eye on things and especially at the foot of the famous basilica. There are many immigrants there with small bits of thread that like to make little bracelets at YOUR huge cost. Best advice I can give there is to say "non, merci", keep things tightly held, eyes straight ahead and move swiftly on. Once at the top, these folks are not normally there but still keep a watchful eye.

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Jools, Paris sounds a nightmare at the moment especially if you think equipment might be snatched. I think it depends where in the world you go though. I found In Venice just 2 weeks ago the street traders a little annoying (but never a threat) in that they kept throwing a brightly coloured children's toy into the the air aimed to land at your feet so they could ask you to buy the "fun" toy. Not sure why they think everyone has children - I don't. Anyhow, at no time did I feel threatened by the street sellers and hey everyone wants to use the city to make a crust. I also met a guy, Hamman, on the beach at the Lido below Hotel Des Bains selling brightly coloured scarves on each out stretched arm and he asked me to buy one of his scarves for my partner. My partner did not want a scarf but I offered the scarf seller a few euros for a couple of pictures of him. Don't usually do that but I thought he was making an effort on a mostly deserted beach. The guy was friendly, smiling and I shook his hand when most either give him a wide birth or scowl. 


In the article about France I like the spirit of the appeal court that ruled for Banier

"the right to control one’s image must yield when a photograph contributes to the exchange of ideas and opinions, deemed “indispensable” to a democratic society." 

The idea that French Society may be losing something by restricting street photography is something that concerns me about London with its "chartered streets" (Blake). 


Last month at a special screening of the film The Servant at Curzon Mayfair, London a woman from Studio Canal came up to me and another snapper outside and asked for our cards and said Richard Ayoade wants to know if we have any pictures of him with his children as he does not like his children's pictures taken. I can understand that and assured her that I did not bother with Ayoade and was just there for James Fox, Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig who starred in this 1963 film. I had missed Ayoade going in and was tempted to say to the Studio Canal women "No, only looking for big names !" I was impressed by Fox, Miles and Craig as I directed them to the film poster outside for a shot and they seemed very willing. 


As to street photography, my technique now after an Alamy Forum thread, is to use a 14-24mm lens and shoot "portrait" shots at a fastish speed literally from the hip with finger on button pointing roughly in the right direction so as not to arouse suspicion. It allows me to get close without the observers paradox. I used to use a 70-200 from a shady corner like in the Covent Garden shot below. Still do not know what the best approach is for the candid shot. I guess whatever works without annoying people or the police. 







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Paris is a nightmare if you want to use a tripod. Montmartre is a typical photographic area but unfortunately you need to be on your guard.


Armed with my tripod, I've had various people stop me from using it:


Notre Dame - interior is an absolute no no. I managed to get one photo done with it and was then caught.

Notre Dame - up the towers you can get away with it if you use one of those small table top tripods. I did have a small Manfrotto one in my bag that was stolen. I got away with that up on the towers.

Notre Dame - exterior. I've never had a problem at the front of the cathedral. Right now there is a huge exhibition in front of the cathedral which will give you an elevated view. The problem when you want the light on the west front is that there are loads of people on it and it moves. Try doing it hand held or a fast shutter speed.

Eiffel Tower - never had a problem at the base of it. Never tried from the top.

Tour Montparnasse - do yourself a favour and go up. It is the best view of Paris AND you can use a tripod. I emailed them a while ago and they said it was fine. However, you have to poke your lens through a gap in the perspex but it can be done.

Arc de Triomphe - if you go up it's handheld.

Galeries Lafyette - go into the shop and up to the top floor for another view across Paris. I've used a tripod here and no one said a thing.

The Louvre - never been in but outside they do seem to have relaxed a little. When I first went to Paris in 2005 a policeman stopped me using my tripod. This was way before opening time and before any throngs of tourists were around. Been there a few times this year with no problems.

Metro stations - I have used my tripod here but I tend to put it up low so as not to attract attention. Line 12 has some nice stations with the old style still there.

La Défense - do go here. You can use your metro tickets on line 1 but not on the RER. It's awesome at dusk as it can look quite futuristic.

Père Lachiase cemetary - if you're not blatant about it then you can but there are guardians keeping a watchful eye on things. However, it is so big that you can probably get what you're after.

Churches - if you like doing interiors where it demands a tripod then some will let you use it and some won't. I got a number of them in Saint Eustache before being politely asked to ask the mairie for permission.

CDG airport - it has come up before and you need to be very aware of it. If caught photographing the outside then you risk being fined!!!


Really, just be aware of your surroundings as in any place and you'll be fine!


Here is some of what awaits you


La Défense 1 - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/the-japan-bridge-in-the-la-defense-district-high-res-stock-photography/163059432



La Défense 2 - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/modern-architecture-in-the-la-defense-high-res-stock-photography/163223830



Notre Dame towers - carefully balanced through the netting - handheld - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/gargoyle-at-notre-dame-de-paris-cathedral-high-res-stock-photography/159438153

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I photograph in France regularly, though mainly in Provence and Savoie where I have never encountered a problem. I have, though, watched a harassed church official in the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris chase round telling (not asking) visitors to delete all images of the interior of that building, whether on camera or mobile phone. To be fair there was a large sign at the entrance clearly stating no photography of the interior.

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Most Swiss believe that Switzerland has the same privacy laws as France; which they don't.  But, doing street photography in Switzerland is nearly as bad as doing it in France.  One of the top street photographers that I know of in Switzerland has recently removed all his street images and deleted all of his websites.  A contact I have says the guy just decided to take a different approach to photography and have a lower profile. His transformation from noted street photographer and social media butterfly to private citizen seems odd to me.  


I've stopped taking street photography but I don't shy away from taking pictures with people in them.  There's a difference. 

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It's easy for me. No means no, no sign means yes, sign not prominent or in English means yes. A sign I don't notice means yes. being told not to take photographs means don't take any more.

I like the approach..similar to mine.



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That's a fair attitude Mark, but there are some places in the world (as Chuck Nacke will confirm) that you might want to avoid !

I really meant churches and the like, I'm a bit timid for street photography as such. Just had a decent sale from a wine festival on the Mosel but it's just a closeup with an unreleased hand.

But I'll check in here next time I go outside Europe.

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Setting up a tripod is almost impossible in the busier parts of any major city now days. But the tripod is also no longer needed what with the flexible, high quality ISO's and vibration control on the newer digital cameras. Also, using a tripod in a major tourist area opens up the possibility of someone tripping over it, and that can result in a lawsuit for damages. 

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Setting up a tripod is almost impossible in the busier parts of any major city now days. But the tripod is also no longer needed what with the flexible, high quality ISO's and vibration control on the newer digital cameras. Also, using a tripod in a major tourist area opens up the possibility of someone tripping over it, and that can result in a lawsuit for damages. 


This is my experience too ... or at least, it was, until my last trip to Singapore (just last week). I have never seen so many photographers at major tourist venues (Universal World, Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown, Sentosa) using tripods as I saw this trip to Singapore. In previous visits I don't remember it being so, or maybe I just didn't notice.


I took a tripod with a view to capturing some time-lapse (didn't eventuate unfortunately) but resisted the temptation to take it to busy spots based on past experience, only to see others using them with abandon. Next trip to Singapore, it's tripods all round :-)



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That's facinating to me, dd. When I visited Singagore in the late '70s, it was such a law-and-order city/state. I remember seeing a sign at the ticket office of a museum that said: "Men with long hair will be served last." 


And, as you point out, there are some types of shots that you just can't do without a tripod. On the main streets of SoHo, Nolita, Chinatown and Little Italy in NYC these days, I find it hard just to walk, let alone setup a tripod. 


To get back to Paris for a moment: I covered the student riots at the Sorbonne in May 1968. The riot police looked like si-fi monsters in their getups. They hated the press, and some of the students warned me not to get too near them. I spoke no French, and although I had been in Vietnam the year before, I was not ready for this assignment. (Now I take pride in being able to say, pardon, je ne parle pas français.) The students of that time took care of me, when they weren't setting fire to cars or digging up pavement stones, they looked out for me. Since then, whenever I encounter a rude Paris waiter, I think of that time and smile. I love the French. Lafayette, I was there. My stepson was the base player with Gong, for those of you who remember French fusion music. 

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It's easy for me. No means no, no sign means yes, sign not prominent or in English means yes. A sign I don't notice means yes. being told not to take photographs means don't take any more.

Yes that is exactly my approach

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  • 2 weeks later...


Just found out that from Saturday, I'm gonna spend a week in Paris.

Already packed my DSLR, monopod AND tripod.

I'll let you all know how I get on........

unless I get arrested.

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  • 3 months later...


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