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Safeguarding in Photography | What Portrait Photographers Need to Know About Working with Children

Taking pictures of children is a key part of many photographers’ roles. Whether you’re an official headshot photographer shooting child actors or shoot in settings where children sometimes appear, there are several things you need to know about photographing children concerning things like safeguarding, data protection and consent.

What Does the Law Say?

The law states that it is illegal to take, share or digitally create any photographs of people under 18, and anyone found to be doing so will be severely punished. As long as you avoid capturing any images that might be viewed as ‘indecent’ you are not breaking the law, so you just need to be careful about protecting your photographs so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Understanding the Risks

One risk of photographing children is that any images that get shared or posted online can leave a child susceptible to grooming. This is particularly relevant for school photographs, where a uniform could let a predator know where a child lives and give them more information about how to find them.

There is also the risk that an innocent and decent photo of a child could be found by a criminal and digitally edited so that it becomes inappropriate. Whilst you will not have taken a photo that is ‘indecent’, you will be partly responsible for an indecent image being created which can lead to legal problems.

Finally, photographing children and distributing the images online could accidentally make them the property of certain networks which means that external sites could end up owning your images and sharing them with others without permission.

Consent And Permission

Photographs and images of children are covered by the Data Protection Act, which means that permission needs to be obtained before any photographs are used in places such as your website. Safeguarding photography guidance also recommends that you get consent before taking any photos of children, usually from their parents or legal guardians.

If you are specifically photographing children for portraits then getting consent is simple, although you will have to get permission if you wish to share these photos anywhere else afterwards. If you are photographing an event where children may appear in the images, additional consent to publish these images may be required if the event doesn’t have a general statement about consenting to be photographed.

Supervision

If you are photographing children you must ensure that they are supervised by their parents or another responsible adult the entire time. Getting left alone with a child you do not know can be considered a safeguarding issue, and you should avoid these scenarios by making it clear that children must be accompanied at all times whilst having their photographs taken.

Reason And Purpose – Portraits

A key aspect of following the data protection act photographs guidance is that the images you take must be for a clear reason and purpose. As a portrait photographer, it is unlikely that this will cause any problems for you, as in the majority of cases you will have been hired to take photographs of children specifically.

If you are going into an educational establishment or extra-curricular activity centre to photograph children, parents and carers need to be made aware that these photos are being taken before the event in case they don’t want their children to take part, so always organise your sessions in advance.

Whether in the studio or in schools as part of a portrait session, you should remember only to take photos that you have been asked to. It can often be tempting to snap behind the scenes shots, but without explicit permission or purpose, these images could end up getting you into trouble.

Appropriateness of Images

Whilst this point should just be common sense, you should always bear in mind whether the images you are taking of children are appropriate. Some scenarios or shots can seem perfectly innocent or funny when you’re taking them, but bear in mind that images can be manipulated to look very different if they fall into the wrong hands, so you want to steer clear of anything that could be misconstrued.

If you’re taking children’s portraits, it is usually best to check with the parent or guardian if they think the image setup is appropriate, as well as using your own judgment. If you are even the slightest bit unsure, you shouldn’t take the photo.

Guidance on Posting and Sharing Images

As previously discussed, photos of another person fall in the category of ‘personal data’ under the Data Protection Act 2018, which means that you cannot distribute or share these images without their permission. As well as getting consent to take the photographs, if you plan on using any in your publicity material or on your website then you will have to gain written permission from the child’s parent or guardian before doing so.

Creating a Child Photography Safeguarding Policy Statement

One of the best ways you can be sure that you are adhering to all the safeguarding photography guidance is by creating a child protection photography policy. This will be a written statement proving that you are taking all the necessary steps to protect the children you photograph and explaining the procedures you will follow before sharing any images.

A photographer’s safeguarding policy should include: 

  • A statement explaining the duty of care you have to children and how you will protect them whilst they are being photographed 
  • The steps you have taken to ensure that the children you photograph will be safe at your studio or during sessions
  • The actions parents or carers must take during photography sessions to adhere to safeguarding rules
  • How you will ensure that the images you take will be kept safe during editing and distribution
  • Details of any consent forms that parents or guardians will need to sign and why they are necessary

Conclusion

Ensuring that your photography business adheres to safeguarding and data protection regulations is not a difficult process. Once you understand the rules and procedures you have to follow, creating a safeguarding photography policy is simple and will ensure that people feel more comfortable when asking you to take photos of their children.

One of the best ways to ensure you are up to date on relevant safeguarding information is to take a safeguarding training course that covers all the necessary considerations and legislation that protects children. Many of these are available online, allowing you to complete them at a time convenient for you and giving you a certification that will endorse your photography business and reassure parents and carers.

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