The national lockdowns during 2020 acted as a catalyst for a range of photography activities as people documented their changed environment and used photography as an outlet for their creativity, and to support their own well-being. A number of our national institutions including the National Portrait Gallery and Historic England have archived some of the resulting photographs for posterity. For professional photographers, where so many are freelancers, the impact on incomes and work has been significant.
As we enter a third lockdown the Royal Photographic Society is publishing guidance specific to photography, and is also launching a new range of creative opportunities (details here) to help inspire and support people to continue their photography.
This guidance should not be considered legal advice (see more below), and is specific to England, so please check local variations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The over-arching instruction from government is that everyone should stay at home unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave, contact with others should be kept to a minimum, and, where you are in contact with others, you should take precautions to protect yourself and those you are with.
A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes for work purposes, where you are unable to work from home. Therefore, if you are a professional photographer, it is permissible for you to travel for this purpose.
You may attend a wedding, civil partnership or religious ceremony in your professional capacity and you will not count towards the limit of six permitted guests.
Journalist and broadcasters are considered key workers and this extends to accredited press photographers. As such you can work and you are exempt from travel restrictions. You should carry a valid NUJ or IFJ press card.
If you are employed or work as a photographer for the police, armed forces, or other key public service employers, you are also a key worker and your employer will determine when and how you should be working to minimise any risk to you or others.
Certain jobs within photography are exempt from normal international travel restrictions in to England, including self-isolating, subject to a clear COVID test and some form filling. These include director of photography on advertising productions, journalists, and television and film production roles. As there is a lot of specific detail and these requirements are liable to change do check the link below.
In all cases you should keep travel to a minimum, observe social distancing and ensure that your workplace – your own studio or location - is Covid secure.
If you are studying photography and have practical work to complete for your academic qualification, then you may be able to continue with that work. Check if your university or college has issued its own guidance and follow that. As with those working, you should only travel when necessary, follow local guidance, and minimise contact with others.
Your institution may make special arrangements to modify your course programme, be flexible about deadlines and you may wish to modify your own projects. Check with your course leader or tutor.
Where your photography project or academic work cannot reasonably undertaken at home then you can undertake this work. Try and keep travel to a minimum. You should undertake a risk assessment to ensure work can be done in a COVID-secure way and consistent with social-distancing guidelines, so you do not put yourself or others at risk. You should avoid working with others if at all possible. The Secretary of State for Education notes: ‘This exemption [for education] only applies if it is an essential part of the course and no alternative is available.’
If you are questioned then have a copy of your risk assessment, details of your course, a letter of permission from your institution and a summary of your project. A copy of the Secretary of State’s statement may also be helpful (the link is below)
There are clear and measurable benefits for the mental wellbeing of people who take photographs of their experiences and it is within the spirit of the guidelines to continue with practical photography.
Indoor or outdoor amateur photography as a group leisure activity is not permitted and this includes camera club meetings and face-to-face meetings with other amateur photographers. Online meetings are, of course, permissible and the RPS would encourage these.
You can undertake photography in your own home or garden by yourself, or with others within your household or support bubble.
You cannot leave home specifically for recreational or leisure purposes, such as photography, but it is permissible to leave your home once a day to exercise in public outdoor spaces (parks, beaches, countryside, forests, public gardens - whether or not you pay to enter them - the grounds of a heritage site, and playgrounds) provided you remain local. You must be by yourself, with your household, with the people you live with, with your support bubble, or, when on your own, with one person from another household. Social distancing must be respected.
When you are undertaking exercise, you can, of course, carry a camera and take photographs as you exercise in the countryside or around your city – many great photographs were created this way in 2020. You should not be setting up a tripod, lighting or ‘sets’ outdoors.
You could also have an activity cam such as a GoPro on you as you walk, run, swim or cycle and create still and moving images of your experiences.
When you return home spend time processing your images and engage online with fellow photographers to critique and review them – do the same for those you know. Upload and share your images to social media or a website. Keep engaged with fellow photographers over your shared hobby - it will help you get through this latest lockdown.
For freelancers and sole traders the Association of Photographers (AoP) has resources and links to government support. See: https://www.the-aop.org/coronavirus-guidance The British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) also has information on government support and grants. See: https://www.bipp.com/Default.aspx?tabid=1508
For the list of roles exempt from international travel restrictions see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules
General government advice and that for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is available here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
The Secretary of State for Education's statement is here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-01-15/138490
The RPS aims to support all photographers during what is a difficult and challenging time. Look out for ways you can engage with projects and activities here: https://rps.org/ If you have further questions or comment drop us an email and we will do our best to help or find out the answer for you. Email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Evan Dawson Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS
Chief Executive Officer Director, Education and Public Affairs
The advice and interpretation above is the considered opinion of senior RPS staff, and is believed to be accurate at the time of writing. However, it is not legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. We have asked the Cabinet Office to review this, and will update this page as necessary. First published: 8 January 2021 at 1124; latest update 2 February at 0928.
Top: Dollar Gill / @dollargill / Right: Justin Essah / @jstcanon / Left: Annie Spratt / @anniespratt