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Is Street Photography Legal in New Zealand?

Is Street Photography Legal in New Zealand, yes or no? The short answer is yes. Street Photography is allowed in New Zealand but you need to follow some rules to remain outside the grey area. Let’s have a closer look.

There are two key factors which helped Street Photography to gain mainstream popularity in recent years. One is the rise of social media platforms that focus on sharing images, like Instagram. And second, thanks to smartphones and phablet, nowadays almost everyone carries some sort of camera device in their pockets.

People are hungry for entertainment. A chance for (short lasting) Internet fame through a perfectly timed street shot. Both contribute further to the street photography trend. People don´t stop anymore at using the cameras for selfies only.

Every day thousands of new photos of funny events or unflattering situations find their way onto social media platforms. Some of them are being shared millions of times. Only a few of the “lucky” photographers have thought about potential legal issues with their photos. New Zealand is not different from that.

All this leads to the question if Street Photography is allowed in New Zealand, is Street Photography Legal? After doing some research, I found the following rules and laws that regulate Street Photography to a certain degree.

Let’s first have a look what the Copyright Council of New Zealand has to say about Street Photography in NZ. There are two main copyright concerns that could have an effect on your photos and might cause them to be illegal, which are:

  • That your photos were taken under a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • And that publicity in such circumstances the photos you have taken could be considered highly offensive to any reasonable person.

These two regulations are unfortunately not very clear on their own. The question “Is Street Photography Legal?” has not been answered yet. Luckily the Street Photography rules of the New Zealand police are more descriptive. In their FAQ article “What are the rules around taking photos or filming in a public place?” it says that it is in general lawful to take photos of people in public places without their consent. However, there are specific situations under which this rule is not to be applied, especially when:

  • a person is naked, in underclothes, showering, toileting etc.
  • a person is unaware of being filmed or photographed
  • a person has not given consent to be filmed or photographed.
  • in places where people would expect reasonable privacy and publication would be offensive to an objective and reasonable person
  • taking the photo has the potential of stopping other people from using and enjoying the same place
  • one does not have a legitimate reason for taking photos or film

Some of these rules are straight forward and leave no doubt and answer the question “is Street Photography Legal” with a clear no under the respective circumstances. Others again give room for interpretation. In the following I address and clarify each of the six rules based on my personal understanding of them:

* A person is naked, in underclothes, showering or toileting:

I guess this rule is very clear and shouldn´t leave much room for arguments. I assume most of us don´t want to be photographed naked or on the toilet; simply don´t do that to others either. What is allowed though is to publish photos or film taken in areas without expectation of privacy? Such areas would be shopping malls, the park or even on the beach, as long as there is no nudity. Pictures taken on the beach need some extra care in my opinion.

It’s fine to take landscape photos at the beach, even with people wearing their swimming suits somewhere in the background. It gets problematic if your photo focusses on a person in their bathing suit, in other words, if you zoomed in on a person on purpose. When the person becomes the main object of your photo. Not everybody is comfortable with people taking photos of them in their swimming suits. Please be discrete and don´t do any close-up photos; more importantly always avoid taking photos of children.

* A person is unaware of being filmed or photographed:

I understand this rule as a measure to prevent voyeur photos. If you are actively hiding behind a bush or a wall in order to take a sneaky photo of a person in an unflattering moment or situation …. Firstly, consider yourself a pervert, what is wrong with you? Secondly, your photo would likely not hold up in court.

I recommend to be on the safe side and stand open with your camera visible. That allows people who don´t want to be photographed to recognise you. It gives them a chance to turn around, hide their face or do what is necessary to avoid being photographed.

* A person has not given consent to be filmed or photographed:

This rule is also a bit unclear. Imagine you want to take a photo of the Viaduct harbour bridge or the Skytower. It is almost impossible to take a shot without people walking into the frame. Obviously, none of them has given their verbal consent to be in your photo.

It is my understanding that as long as you don´t focus on the people (their faces) and make them the highlight of your shot, you will be fine. Again, show your camera and be visible and people who really don´t want to be recorded generally try to avoid it.

* In places where people would expect reasonable privacy:

A person can always expect privacy on their private property, house or garden. The key to this rule is the location of the object/person of your photo. For example, if you are on the other side of the fence, outside of someone’s garden and you take a photo of a person while the person is within their house or garden, is a clear violation of privacy.

As long as someone is on their private property they deserve 100% privacy, avoid photographing private property. The privacy rule also applies on or in any property or building of a company or organisation. If a company or organisation holds a public event on their premises, still always ask for permission.

* Taking the photo has the potential of stopping other people from using and enjoying the same place:

There is always the chance that someone is offended by people with big cameras taking photos. Being offended doesn´t mean that you are stopping them from being able to enjoy the place. A different scenario is if you were to setup multiple tripods on a train stain or at a bus stop, blocking the access or way for other people.

Is in this case Street Photography Legal yes or no? It might still seem like a grey zone for some people. The law would likely support the claim of the complainant, that you are stopping them from using a place. Be always very considered, especially in crowded places.

* One doesn’t have a legitimate reason for taking photos or film:

This last rule is the most unclear of them all. When does one have a legitimate reason for taking photos? Being a photographer? Being a tourist on vacation taking photos for the family album? Being a mother on a playground with her kids? There is always a reason to take photos and any of the above mentioned should be enough to justify what you do.

If you wonder why this rule exists at all, imagine a guy with a camera next to a children’s playground, but not having own children … This might be an extreme example but shows why there is a need for street photography laws. Law enforcement needs a framework in which they can operate and protect people and their privacy.

Is Street Photography Legal in New Zealand, yes or no?

What is the verdict? Is Street Photography Legal in New Zealand? Is street photography prohibited in NZ? The overall message is that Street Photography is not forbidden in New Zealand, as long as you follow some rules. Some of these rules can be filed under common sense.

You will come across great street shots, which clearly ignore or violate some of the above street photography rules. Please keep in mind that every country has its own rules and regulations for street photography. Just because one person was able to take a delicate street shot without getting into legal trouble, doesn´t mean you can do the same in New Zealand.

Also, not every person would right away sue you for a photo that has been taken of them, but why risk it? I recommend abiding by the local street photography laws. Even if that means that you might miss out on the eventual great shot. Other people’s right to privacy should always come first. Street Photography is something beautiful. Please don´t ruin it for everybody else by “being a dick about it”.

I hope that this article was helpful for some of you and that your question “Is Street Photography Legal” has been answered.


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  • Jonathan Kubiak

    You’ve misread the police’s advice.

    “However, you must not film or take photos of people if they are in a place where they can expect privacy (such as a public changing area or toilet) and that person:
    – is naked, in underclothes, showering, toileting etc
    – is unaware of being filmed or photographed
    – has not given consent to be filmed or photographed.”

    Those points therefore apply only where a person is in a place where they can expect privacy.
    If you walk naked down Queen Street, you can be photographed.
    If you hang out in Aotea Square, someone might take your photo from the other side of the square and you won’t know.
    If you chill on the beach, and someone takes a photo, they aren’t going to run around with consent forms.

    The police clarify this with: “However, you can take and/or publish photos or film of people where there is no expectation of privacy, such as a beach, shopping mall, park or other public place.”

    • Daniel

      Thanks Jonathan for your comment. I had interpreted it the same as you but it wasn’t 100% sure. That’s why I decided to remain cautious; better safe than sorry 🙂

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