More and more photographers are being wrongly prevented from taking pictures in public places by police who do not understand the law, a photography trade body said.

The Bureau of Freelance Photographers said it had seen a concerning increase in reports of police acting outside their powers in the past 12 months and expected a further rise in 2008.

In the latest case a member of a local photographic society had been escorted away by police after being wrongly told that he needed a "licence" to take pictures of Christmas lights being switched on in a town centre, a BFP official said.

"We are getting reports coming in all the time - not just from our members but from various sources," said Stewart Gibson, head of member services at the BFP.

"And we're just expecting these cases to keep on going up."

He said concerns about terrorism and paedophiles may be behind the problem.

"Time and time again people are being told 'you cannot take pictures here', things like that. They don't seem to worry too much about tourists, but anyone with serious equipment seems to be a target," said Mr Gibson.

"It seems now that police have all sorts of powers to stop people doing things, but officers often don't understand what they can do and can't do.

"There seems to be a feeling that people have some right of privacy in law in some way that means they can't have their picture taken.

"They don't. Basically photographers can photograph what can be seen. If you can see me standing at a bus stop you can photograph me. Even when pictures are taken of people on private property - that's not a matter for the police."