How to Avoid Dealing With the Police When Shooting in Public

Are you a photographer in the US? Congratulations. In the eyes of some of your more dimwitted fellow citizens, you are now potentially a member of al Qaida.

Thanks to ridiculous government posters like the one above, people are now conditioned to be suspicious of photographers. And photographers using flashes on location are all the more noticeable to people who are predisposed to phone in anything out of the ordinary, just in case.

Don't think so? True story: I actually had an interaction with the police for photographing … a maple tree.

If You See Something, Say Something

That's the slogan. But it is, of course, overly broad and simplistic. Which means that your average mouth breather can interpret it however he or she wants. And the einstein who reported me as a "suspicious person" called me in while I was making this benign photo as part of a multimedia time-lapse on autumn:

I was called in as, and I quote, "Somebody suspicious and lots of flashes of light going off."

At least that is how the cop described it when she pulled up to me, bubble gum lights blazing, to ask me what I was doing. And anyone who knows me knows that my immediate reaction was to resort to humor laced with sarcasm.

"Well, I am either a photographer taking an innocuous photo of a maple tree," I said, "or I'm al Qaida, casing our critical deciduous infrastructure."

This did not go over well.

She looked at me sternly and told me not to even joke about that sort of thing. (Really? Don't joke about 'critical deciduous infrastructure?, I thought.) Long story short, she spent 5 minutes sorting me out. The gist was, as a previously described suspicious person, I had to convince her I was, in fact, not. It was all I could do not to go completely smart-ass on her.

I know my rights. I carry The Card. But I also know that on the street, the police have the ability to wreck a shoot. This one was not time-sensitive, but many are. And even worse, they can write you up, take you in -- and even put you on any of a number of secret lists in our new DHS Secret Police State.

I know this because a very good friend of mine asserted his rights to -- get this -- a rent-a-cop private security consultant while shooting a twilight shot of a hotel during a commercial job. He made the mistake of being near train tracks where, according to the private security guy, the Constitution was no longer in effect.

My friend won the argument, but lost the war. The security guard/terrorist detection specialist turned out to be a vindictive jerk. The photog is now on an "increased scrutiny list" that adds a long and special wait at TSA any time he flies.

That sucks. And it's not right -- or even legal. But that is the environment we are now in. Like it or not, we have to deal with ignorant bystanders and/or ultimately, uniformed police officers potentially screwing up our shoots. Or worse.

So any time I know I am going to shoot in a public space, this is how I hack the system.

Prime Directive: Avoid Interacting with the Police While Shooting

If the police get called to check me out during a shoot, best case, we will be interrupted. Unfortunately, this could be during the five minutes of good mix light and ruin a shoot. Worst case, tempers can flare because I know my rights and will assert them, even to a "It's Different Since 9/11" kinda cop. So I just avoid the issue all together.

Fair warning, some of you will not like my solution because you think I am caving. I'm not. I am simply short circuiting the likelihood of interacting with the cops while I am trying to shoot. If you are against my solution on principle, don't use it. I don't care.

Step One: Check In

This will piss some of you off. I don't care. Here's what I do. And bear in mind, I live in a suburban area where we do not have a permitting process and where police are not used to dealing with location photography that might involve stands, lights, etc.

Generally, the police aren't gonna just happen upon you. What happens is somebody calls you in. They call 911 (seriously -- they did that for the tree terrorist) and the call is routed to the duty officer at the appropriate precinct. But by the time I am shooting, I have already been in contact with that person.

Before I shoot (a couple hours, usually) I call into the duty officer of the local precinct. I tell them my name, that I am a photographer, and where/when I will be shooting. I explain that, just in case some overenthusiastic passerby calls me in as a suspicious person, I just want to save them a call. I offer them my cell number, and ask if they want my sosh or driver's license number. I have never been taken up on this, but I would happily give it.

Why? Because al Qaida never does this.

Joking aside, this positions me as the rational person in the equation should some idiot phone me in. And if they do call me in, there almost certainly will not be a visit to the scene. ("We already know about him, sir.")

I also get the duty officer's name, in the tiny chance a cop just happens upon me and decides to stop. That way I can say that I checked in with [Officer Whoever] on the desk, hoping to keep them from wasting a call. That's never happened, but I have a known name to drop just in case.

Step Two: These Are Not The Droids You're Looking For

Next line of defense is to keep the call to the cops from happening in the first place. This is especially important when I am going to be shooting flash in the woods in the evening or night, which I do a lot.

I print up a sheet and stick it in everyone's door who is within eyeshot of the shoot at night. Because believe-you-me, it you are popping flashes in the woods at 2am, some idiot will absolutely call your butt in. To them, it's gotta look pretty much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The flyer basically says not to be alarmed if you see flashes in the woods overnight on such-and-such a date. It's not aliens. (Humor is important here.) It's not al Qaida (I really say that). It's just photos for [whatever generic thing I want to put down.]

Any questions? Call my cell at this number on the scene. And hey, while you're at it, check out my work at [URL]! Now I am not a terrorist and I am at least somewhat legitimate -- self promoting, actually.

Knock Wood

The tree interaction between cop and smart-ass was in 2006. It was then that I realized I needed to short-circuit any chance of me dealing with cops in a public shooting situation. Because I know me and I know my rights and I know that I am very likely to smart-ass myself right into a visit to the police station. Or a permanent slot in the cavity search line at the airport.

So far, with lots of night-flashing woods shots under my belt since, it has worked like a charm. One day it won't. And if you are reading this and you are in the TSA, be gentle. And maybe buy me dinner first.


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Blogger said...

God bless I'm not living in stupid USA ;D

February 27, 2012 2:45 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Heh. Yeah, but looking at your profile photo, I am guessing you would raise eyebrows in *most* countries if the po-po saw you shooting on the street.


February 27, 2012 2:51 AM  
Blogger Jumpthesnark said...

I don't know how many readers might click on the thumbnail of the TSA poster at the top of the post, but you should go ahead and do it.

February 27, 2012 3:09 AM  
Blogger Glimpse said...

You are not alone Mr Hobby! I live and work as a photographer in New Zealand, not exactly ground zero for all things terrorist unless the Froggies are involved. I've been stopped from photographing on a number of occasions by overzealous renta cops. I too have the gene that makes me incapable of not taking the piss out of someone who stands there and wants to know I'm doing. "Does the camera and tripod not give it away mate" I'm quite staggered by the lengths you have had to go too to avoid getting your shoots stuffed up. Sadly the times we live in my friend.

February 27, 2012 3:29 AM  
Blogger Matt Hunt said...

Sadly uk police are also lacking in common sense, although here you can also be a paedophile AND a terrorist. One thing that always gets me: in the hills of Pakistan, the villages of Yemen, a pub in the al_Dappy cell leader going to spend 3,000 of his budget on (and please listen UK police) a. one non_descript car, some diesel, some fertilser, a trigger and lots of rustry nails OR b. a 5D MkII and 70_200 IS because then we can resolve really fine detail like door locks before using our remaining 2.45gbp to make a really small banger....


February 27, 2012 3:46 AM  
Blogger Hindrim said...

Being a traveller, I know what it is to raise eyebrows when just carrying a DSLR camera. Thank god they're becoming more common, but pulling out a flash, even the accessory ones to add on the camera will get a second glance from most people in the area.

February 27, 2012 3:53 AM  
Blogger Sang Kim said...

I am glad I am not living in country olesku's living... wow.. brings shooting to another level. lol

February 27, 2012 4:16 AM  
Blogger Michelle Jones said...

Have you seen the vid on fstoppers yet? I live in the UK so I can pretty much photograph anything without having the police breathing down my neck but there have been a few late night sessions where the public have come up to me and been suspicious of what I was doing. I don't envy you your Big Brother state of affairs.

February 27, 2012 4:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Olesku, you're not an spotter. The prohibition is doing for people like you, guns and cameras.... I cant understand this actitude.

February 27, 2012 4:38 AM  
Blogger Christian said...

Well, I´m not living in the US but in Germany.
I already had some interaction with
private smarta$$es (usually well misinformed),
private security (usually friendly ones so far, sometimes asking me to leave and/or stop shooting, once pointing out good picture oportunities in the area),
twice with police officers (one friendly, one of the firm hollywood-style).

My usual deescalation-response is to explain what I´m doing and handing out a card ("See, I don´t hide, I´m a good guy").

And I´m only shooting for my own pleasure! It´s easy to be percived as a potential terrorist here too.


February 27, 2012 4:51 AM  
Blogger Chiel said...

David, for me, living in the Netherlands, there is some comfort in that there is a vast ocean between your continent and mine. However, history learns that any trend started in the US eventually finds it's way to the rest of the world and someday I will ask you for a copy of that flyer...
And to be clear: it's not all bad that comes from the USA....

February 27, 2012 5:27 AM  
Blogger Neox said...

hahahha seriously Olesku, who keeps that type of profile photo, btw i live in India, my main problem is not good citizens calling in police, my worst situation is i get surrunded by a a huge group of onlookers, 10-20, as if i'm shooting a celebrity, or making a film. and by seeing the crowd the police joins in to question me, but they never create troble, infact once when i was assisting another photographers shot, the police infact managed the onlookers for us :P (sorry for bad english)

February 27, 2012 5:56 AM  
Blogger Wout Overkamp said...

Haha fantastic, "in *most* countries" :)
Great article. My favourite spot to shoot is in a park near my home and I've never realized it might appear to the people living nearby as Close Encounters of the Third Kind..

For me luckily no Close Encounters that-might-be-not-so-kind, yet! I like the idea of the printed sheet though, self-promoting, but not too spammy.

February 27, 2012 6:00 AM  
Blogger Andy Price said...

I live in the UK and am a retired cop. The advice is good, but I would not be surprised if the call to the duty officer prompted a visit, just to see what was doing.

My advice to fellow snappers avoid confrontation, even if you are right, as you are likely to lose in the short term!

Cops and private security do not seem to understand snappers!

February 27, 2012 6:03 AM  
Blogger Sascha Rheker said...

"Before I shoot (a couple hours, usually) I call into the duty officer of the local precinct. I tell them my name, that I am a photographer, and where/when I will be shooting. (...)
Why? Because al Qaida never does this."

But that is exactly what the really clever al Qaida guy would do to fool the police in not reacting!

So it's only an matter of time until some clever cop will figure out what your call really means.

February 27, 2012 6:04 AM  
Blogger typingtalker said...

To be fair, it's not just a TSA/Terrorist thing. Reasonable rationable people call the police when strange and unusual things happen near their homes ... and flashes in the woods are both strange and unusual. Where I live, the police find this useful and sometimes interesting and in my experience are friendly, professional and polite. They know who the bad guys are and what they look like. Doin' their job.

I've been stopped for driving through the parking lot of a medical building on Sunday. The officer said that a neighbor had called it in and they had to respond. He was pleasant and polite.

There are a few idiots in uniform and they spend their time (off duty and on) following David Hobby around. I know. I heard it on my scanner.

February 27, 2012 6:36 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Hehe, I saw what you did there, Mr Hobby.

February 27, 2012 6:39 AM  
Blogger GrumpyOldMan said...

It's just as bad down here in AU, unfortunately.

February 27, 2012 7:14 AM  
Blogger budrowilson said...

Law enforcement authorities should be educated about normal, innocuous photographers...because I can guarantee you that there are a hell of a lot more strobists out there photographing than Al-Qaeda operatives. Don't you think it would be beneficial for authorities to quickly identity persons that aren't a threat so they can spend their time on persons that are?

Hint: Al-Qaeda's smart enough not to want the attention that comes along with a light stand and strobe...

February 27, 2012 7:39 AM  
Blogger paplaz said...

The trouble here is that the general public don't understand what you are doing, and anything out of the norm will look suspicious. In the UK we have different laws, and lucky I know what will land me in trouble. I did a shoot with a marine the other week in the woods, and I'm surprised I did'nt get the police turn up, as we had some funny looks with him in full cammo.

February 27, 2012 7:44 AM  
Blogger Dennis Pike said...

I have a unique perspective on this. I am a photographer FIRST. I am a 911 operator 3rd. I know there should be a 2nd in there, but there isn't I just hate being a 911 operator/ police dispatcher that much.

Anyway, I have received COUNTLESS calls from concerned citizens about "suspicious people" with their "big lenses" Being knowledgable about the law regarding this issue, I usually try to explain it to the caller that they are doing nothing illegal or wrong. The callers still insist that the terrorist (photographers) be checked out. At that point, I have no choice but to dispatch police to check the person out. It pains me every time.

I have gotten in arguments with the police I work with and my supervisors regarding this subject. Usually to no avail.

I have also gotten in arguments with police and (ha) security guards while shooting. I've never been a fan of authority over stepping their bounds.

The absolute best thing you can do in the described situation is know your rights, have the laws printed out and with you. And try to remain calm and respectful.

February 27, 2012 7:44 AM  
Blogger James McCall said...

Great advice David. I have been planning to do some landscape shots over at the airport. Taking the time to call ahead to the local PD and the Airport might help make this trouble free.

February 27, 2012 7:46 AM  
Blogger Silver Image said...

I was shooting some buildings for a sign company at a local business last year; I called the cops ahead of time. A good practice nowadays.

Since I shoot on the street a lot, I have had the cops give me grief, askin what I'm shooting ("anything that moves"). The next question was "is that bank moving?" Since there was a bank across the street, my first response was "don't know, I'm not a seismologist," which didn't go over so well and led to more questioning, id check, etc..

Dave's right, let the blue-clad bastions of safety do their thing and get on with it, hoping that their overly assiduous ignorance might prevent someone stealing your gear while you're busy.

February 27, 2012 7:57 AM  
Blogger gizmologic said...

Why not organize a national "shoot a plane" day where anyone with a camera tries to imitate the guy in the poster. Call in the media to every airport to raise awareness of jut how crazy this is!

February 27, 2012 7:57 AM  
Blogger jmac said...

it's the shorts, David...

February 27, 2012 8:09 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks David.
Your advice is quite useful everywhere right now. I'm a chilean photographer based in northern Iraq and you bet security is an issue here. Well, when I'm shooting in public I follow a similar strategy. The only thing I'd add to the list (if the shoot requires it), is to hire a cop off-duty or a security guard so that he can speak to the police once they show up.


February 27, 2012 8:14 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

Really enjoyed this post, David. There's some good advice in there for anyone that cares to take it. I particularly liked the 'tree terrorist' story you used to illustrate the point. Here in the UK, I know that official advice for individuals that intend to phot (in) certain installations, e.g. railway stations is to check in with the transport police security office on site first and this seems to work well. On the flip slide there are many stories of officers or officials challenging photogs while they aim their (only if a) SLR at public building. BTW, a story made the national TV news here recently about some of the crazy things people would call the emergency services about, so I am not surprised by someone with a hair-trigger finger putting you in the frame. When are you putting your stories in a book? :-)

February 27, 2012 8:29 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I used to shoot planes through the fence at the observation spot at the Las Vegas airport almost just like in the poster. good thing I never tried to steel the planes too. any way someone should tell those dimwhits that spies and terrorists should be using small discreet cameras if they use one at all.

February 27, 2012 8:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A reasonable approach form an experienced professional. I'm convinced that most people that have had confrontations with the police around photography provoke them just to blog about it.

February 27, 2012 8:31 AM  
Blogger gizmologic said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 27, 2012 8:32 AM  
Blogger gizmologic said...

Why not organize a national "shoot a plane" day where anyone with a camera tries to imitate the guy in the poster. Call in the media to every airport to raise awareness of jut how crazy this is!

February 27, 2012 8:33 AM  
Blogger Jacob Vorpahl said...

I'm just throwing this out there. I've been building my photography business up since 2008 and WAS a police officer until October of last year, when I was laid off due to city budget cuts. Now I'm a full time photographer. I can tell you that, at least here where I'm at, no cop cares that you're taking photos AS A photographer. We HAVE to check you out to make sure you're not some crazed out peeping Tom or something else. I know other officers would have rolled up to check you out, but if there was no one around that you could be disturbing, they'd give a courtesy hello, let you know they got a call about you, and be on there way. Nothing for them to do, no reason to waste your time or theirs.

It seems that on photo blogs, in particular, the police get a bad wrap. Guess what, it's like ANY profession or group of people anywhere in the world: you're going to have some that are jerks, some that are typical average humans, and some that will go out of their way to help out a citizen/people in any way they can. Despite what you might think, the latter category FAR outweighs the former when it comes to police. Don't let one bad egg ruin the reputation of so many. I'm sure, at one point in time, there was a prick photographer out there that ruined MANY photographers reputations by doing something stupid or shady.

As an aside, I got lots of love for you Hobby. I met you at one of the Flash Bus tours and it was great. And thanks for having a rational mindset with your preplanning.

February 27, 2012 8:37 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Really dude? You say or insinuate that all the rest of the cast of characters is dim-witted because they're doing their jobs or don't get your jokes...

...and you tell a police officer you might be a member of Al Qaeda.

Grow some situational awareness. You're lucky you didn't spend more time with the police.

February 27, 2012 8:37 AM  
Blogger tabaluga72 said...

Hello :-)

Here in Poland I so often have problems photographing buildings, always some security guard coming out and asking whatever I'm doing, which must be so difficult for them to guess...

Usually after a couple of minutes talking with the guards, there is no problem, sometimes, the big boss comes out, and then, usually, they want to call the police. In which case I tell them to go on, let's call them. They never do as they know I'm on right to take pictures of buildings.

One thing I realized though, don't use humor with these guys, they take everything so seriously.

And to Olesku, America is not stupid, laws are sometimes.

February 27, 2012 8:44 AM  
Blogger Jambo said...

London has been gripped by a very similar idea. The Police (or, more usually volunteer / community support officers) tend to over-reach their remit. This is despite the head of the police force actually issuing guidelines that having a camera larger than a compact is not suspicious ibn of itself.

The following site has been setup here:

It's a pain in the bum, but I tend to agree that being friendly is the way forwards. I have been on protests about it and sent in letters to try and rectify the situation. Fight it at source, not police person by police person.

February 27, 2012 8:47 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

A few years back I was shooting a surprise engagement proposal on the US Capitol steps.

I got there five minutes early with my camera bag and camera in hand. The couple ended up being pretty late. I was in position and didn't want to break position to go talk to the armed guards. I was trying to act busy, which was making me look more suspicious. Thirty minutes later the armed guards went from two on each side of the steps to about ten, all chattering on their radios, guns out, people on the roof... It was getting out of control... but still, I didn't want to miss the proposal! That would have been terrible.

Finally the couple came around the corner. The guards were awesome once I could get over there to talk to them. They invited us up to the top of the steps which have been blocked off for a long time.

It could have ended badly very quickly.

February 27, 2012 9:03 AM  
Blogger Spotpuff said...

Land of the free against all terrorists.

In all seriousness though, you guys are nuts down there. We are up here in Canada too but just not quite as nuts... yet.

February 27, 2012 9:04 AM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

I would suspect that we would be more likely to have trouble with suburban/rural police simply because they aren't trained for this. It doesn't happen very often and they don't know what to do. Training is everything and poorly trained officers are more likely to do the wrong thing. It doesn't hurt to get to know the local police or sheriff's deputies. Your approach is probably the most practical.

February 27, 2012 9:08 AM  
Blogger Siddharth Sirohi said...

In India the situation is kinda tricky, some cops get very abusive, some might even get physical, some are just looking for some bribe. The trick is to figure out which category the cop fall in.
I've got away a few times just by telling the curious bystander or the cops that I'm a press photographer, it works but not all the time.

February 27, 2012 9:12 AM  
Blogger William Long said...

HAHAHA. Those 2 comments started today off on the right foot. The internet is amazing...

February 27, 2012 9:12 AM  
Blogger Don Risi said...

I, too, have had the cops called on my while I was shooting from provate property. It wasn't even the people I was shooting, it was just a scared nutcase.

As I think about all of this, I am reminded of something Benjamin Franklin said in the Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

February 27, 2012 9:13 AM  
Blogger Shaun Raney said...

Who let Carlos Miller on the Srobist blog?

Great article. Living outside of NYC, hearing of photogs getting detained, roughed up, or fined is an all too common occurrence.

February 27, 2012 9:21 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

This guy has a good printable rights guide you can keep with you.

February 27, 2012 9:22 AM  
Blogger HeroFoto said...

Excellent ideas, was looking for ways to avoid this. I'm in the same boat, no permit process, etc ... Here we have the largest population of DoD personnel and contractors, with that comes a LOT of hot headed testosterone with the LEOs ... I always offer up the free "hero" shot of said responder .. works occasionally ...

February 27, 2012 9:22 AM  
Blogger James Davidson said...

If I got a flyer on my door that said "this is not Al-Qaeda", I would think....what an Al-Qaedaean thing to say.....hmmmm

Around here, we are more likely to get accused of shining deer than trying to decimate the conifer population of the Southern-US. :)

February 27, 2012 9:53 AM  
Blogger jamayr said...


I live in Colombia, a third world nation at -somehow- war for the last 50 years. We citizens have practically no effective rights, and we photographers are the most suspicious people for the police and for private security guards -and there are lots of them here: poorly educated males who make less than 500 a month. With guns.
I am used to have to deal almost every week with those guys: as soon as they see you pointing your camera to any (mostly commercial) building they are supposed to protect, you will find yourself at interrogation. "It´s forbidden to take photos here" "Who authorized you?" "What are the photos for?" "May I see your ID?"

I used to be a nice guy, talk a lot to them, wait for 15 minutes until the "authorization" came through their radios... but not any more. Now I tell them "I have the right to be here and shoot the outside of this building, I am in public space, you should learn the law, sir. And go call the police if you want."
And sometimes they call the police... and the police is even dumber -most of the time- but after a fight, they know the written law allows you to take the photos you want in the public space.

We as free citizens -you and I- have to right to be left alone if we are not violating any law. We are not guilty until our innocence is proved! It´s the opposite!

I lived for 2 years in Boulder, CO. I used to admire the Civil Rights you had in your country, and I am really sad watching how the government takes those rights away from the People, "for the sake of security".
But you the People don´t do anything. You keep watching TV.

It´s better to have to deal against 25 numb police officers or private guards or TSA agents -or paranoid neighbours- who THINK have the right to violate your rights, than to have to prove your innocence in advance for taking a photo. It´s a small price to pay for your freedom.

Sorry David, I have to disagree with you on your method.


February 27, 2012 9:55 AM  

I totally agree with you David. I carry the same card with me along with my city's public transportation photographers rights card. Even though you inform yourself of your rights and all, it's best not to get on the laws bad side. You will be on their s#%t list for a while and will hassle you all the time. I know it sounds like we are giving in but it is what it is. I just want to shoot in peace and create awesome imagery. Peace!

February 27, 2012 9:57 AM  
Blogger adamei said...

Seems like your way to "avoid dealing with the police" is to deal with the police pre-emptively.

I have had several run-ins and usually just submit. Did you know that taking a picture of bulrushes by the side of a parking lot at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike is illegal according to turnpike police? They actually made me delete the images. I could have argued but it was just a few casual snaps and I wasn't about to hold up the family for hours while I asserted my rights.

February 27, 2012 10:00 AM  
Blogger Mrakor said...

On the other hand, dealing with police on legimate shoot is better, that dealing with private security, that doesn't care about rights/legitimacy.

February 27, 2012 10:20 AM  
Blogger William Beem said...

I just spent a week shooting in D.C. and expected the worst. Much to my surprise, every encounter I had with police (Capitol, Secret Service, DC cops, even NPS) was very polite and without issue. Mostly, it was just about them telling me I couldn't use my tripod. A few of them were even nice enough to point out some other photo opportunities I didn't know about. (Maybe they were sending me to piss off someone else). In any case, I got my shots and a few more. Then again, I didn't try to shoot any trees.

February 27, 2012 10:28 AM  
Blogger Sebastian Mastrocola said...

Each country with his own shit. In mine, Argentina, apart from paranoid neighbors and police, the biggest problem are the thieves. Unfortunately if you paste flyers announcing that you're going to take pictures somewhere. It's probably a call to being robbed, and may even cost you your life.

February 27, 2012 10:30 AM  
Blogger Felipe Curvello Anciaes said...

Are you really in America in 2012?! The democracy country?! This seams to be Brazil in the early 70's !!! During the military government!!

February 27, 2012 10:51 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

This makes interesting reading. We're not far behind the US in terms of paranoia about photography in public places, especially in the larger cities.

Part of me agrees with your stance, it's far better to head off any potential disruption to the shoot in this manner. Most clients won't take "sorry we didn't get the photos we discussed, I got interrupted by the fuzz trying to erode my civil liberties" as an excuse for not bringing in the goods.

On the other hand the idea of tacitly accepting that I need to put myself out and jump through hoops just to do something I have a legal entitlement to do is extremely rancorous.

It is sad that it has come to this. After all amongst the aims of those that are terrorists is to restrict the freedoms of the west and it seems that we fight this by restricting everyone's freedoms in society and building a culture of fear and suspicion within our own communities.

February 27, 2012 10:57 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

This post doesn't piss me off, it just makes me sick to my stomach that this is what the US has come down to. A followup on constitutional issues and a plea to each shooter to carry the card (i carry it) might be good for folks...

February 27, 2012 11:02 AM  
Blogger wtlloyd said...

Great advice.
Did you ever own a dog? If so, wasn't it just a lot less hassle when you could control it just by the tone of your voice when you command it to do something? Better than running down the street, chasing after the dog?
Well, that's what a cop prefers, too.
Respect their authority. Don't raise the ante by wisecracking. Realize that they are on the clock, at work right now, when you meet them in their uniform.
It's a poor cop who loses the argument, right or wrong doesn't figure into it.
And, they can always shoot you.

February 27, 2012 11:24 AM  
Blogger londonblue007 said...

I prefer the "notify the police prior to shooting so idiots don't ruin my day" method. I have done it on more than one occasion and it has always worked out in my favor.
I've even informed MPs on/around military bases about the shoots I am doing only to have them show up, hang out and then offer access to places I normally wouldn't have access to on base.
Just sending out that friendly FYI can sometimes open more doors for you.

February 27, 2012 11:43 AM  
Blogger Clement said...

Holy sh** Olesku!!! Are you getting any client with such a profile picture? You know that robbing grandmas in the street doesn't count as a photo assignment right?

February 27, 2012 12:34 PM  
Blogger my3demise said...

The weirdest one I've encountered so far was in the Vatican, in St. Peter's. I'm happily shooting away with my SB-600 on the camera, no problems. But I was just starting out with Strobist, and I wanted to practice. I had my friend there as a VAL, and had him lighting statues with my sb. Within a couple minutes, a security guard comes up to me and says I can't do that, as it qualifies as "professional" photography... I didn't know whether to be flattered (as I was still so new to photography) or baffled that on camera flash was fine but off camera was prohibited... I still don't get it.
Oh, referencing a comment above, are tripods a problem?

February 27, 2012 12:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, that could be worse... remember this press photographer shot by a USAF drone in Irak ? At least 911 come and speak to you before they open fire.

February 27, 2012 12:44 PM  
Blogger RP said...

In 2006, as an art director, I went on an 8-day photoshoot with a NYC-based photographer to get images of my client's office buildings in NYC, DC and Los Angeles. No problems shooting on the street in NYC or DC.

In Los Angeles, we had good success getting to shoot from the rooftops of nearby office buildings of our client's downtown properties. No luck shooting in Culver City though, running into two different security guards who just were not going to let us shoot. One of the security guards was from the company we were working for.

Advance notice, if possible, is the way to go. When security, police, authority figures know exactly what you're doing, the situation changes in your favor.

February 27, 2012 1:04 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

The signs and the program they represent are much more acceptable than the alternative the TSA proposed in their place. The TSA originally wanted international airport security at all airports throughout the country. That's right - screening and security guards on duty 24-7 at every airport. To see how ridiculous this is, find your local general aviation or reliever airport and take a look. In the Houston area, there are several, including Weiser Airpark, West Houston, Sugarland, and David Wayne Hooks. Many communities have similar county-run airports with from a few to a few dozen singles or twins based there.

Only the outcry from a few knowledgeable legislators, 600,000 plus general aviation pilots, airport managers, and AOPA put a halt to this unreasonable demand. Had it been implemented as proposed, virtually every small reliever airport in the country would have been forced out of business or had to raise costs to unsupportable levels. General aviation in America would have become impossible, affecting thousands of businesses who depend on general aviation to function. For more information the Airport Watch program, visit

In addition to the steps set forth in the article, I'm offering one additional idea - register as a professional photographer. At least you will have some credibility if you are stopped. Two organizations provide credentials - the NPPA ( and the International Freelance Photographers Organization. Costs are minimal ($80 to $150) per year and both offer verification that you are a photographer on assignment. You don't actually have to be employed by someone - you can be on an assignment you give yourself...

February 27, 2012 1:04 PM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

I am always ready to be kicked out of a shooting location due the ignorance of anyone with a badge (real or from the rent-a-cop vending machine).

My technique, which many won't like, is to play uber nice, and comply--NEVER argue. The trick is to agree in confidence and throw in a lot of yesirs and nosirs. No disrepsect to the good men and women in blue, but there are plenty of badges--especially rent-a-cops--that just want to overpower someone. If you take that away from the situation, they pretty much give up.

Example: I'm at an empty church parking lot and know I will be kicked out--here comes the golf cart. The grumpy person barks at me and I just am gushing with niceness and facts, along with a little, "oooh, I didn't realize..." In the end he told me to leave, I said, The sun was almost gone (peeerfect light, of course) could I just finish up really quickly?" He grumbled away and I shot for another 1/2 hour.

I needed those shots and I was out to win the battle, not prove a point.

February 27, 2012 1:05 PM  
Blogger Richard Cave LBPPA said...

so some stupid ass phones in something suspicious.

Police, hello caller how may we help

Caller, yes there is something suspicious in the woods

Police, what do you mean suspicious?

Caller, lights flashing and a what appears a sasquatch wearing shorts!

Police, thats Dave, hes alright!

Caller, he could be a terrorist!

Police, no its Dave

Caller, arrest him arrest him

Police, caller please hang up the phone, before we arrest you for trespass

Caller, Me arrested for trespass how?

Police, slipping past the genepool whilst the lifeguard wasnt watching!

Caller, uh!

Police ___________________

there are some morons out there Dave, we have our fair share in the UK,

February 27, 2012 1:39 PM  
Blogger Moose135 said...

That's me in the poster...well, not really, but I could be. My hobby is aviation photography, and I'm out photographing near the local NYC airports much of the time.

I've met representatives of 8 different police agencies plus the FBI, and have never been arrested or detained. Know your rights, but also be friendly, polite, and professional. Resist the urge to be a "smart ass" - the police don't like it, and that rarely works in life in general.

February 27, 2012 1:44 PM  
Blogger Richard Kimbrough Photography said...

This isn't a new thing. Back in high school in the late 80's I had a cop bug me at 2:30 PM on a Saturday while shooting an American Flag from the middle of a dirt lot 3 blocks from my house in the suburbs. Said they had "reports of a suspicious character with a camera". Been bugged a lot since then, but that was one of the more memorable and ridiculous ones.

I did recently have a cop go out of his way to help me by actually getting me by getting me access to the city shop on a Saturday to weld up my exhaust on my car while shooting a VW off road trip. That was above and beyond and made up for a lot of the harassment I've gotten over the years.

And to the guy who mentioned getting pulled over in the medical building parking lot. I still remember getting pulled over while turning around in a middle school parking lot in Killeen, TX. The cop asked me what I was doing in the parking lot and actually asked me "What are you doing in Killeen, Texas?" Then proceeded to pretty much tell me to be out of town by sunrise. Reminded me a bit of the way the whole Rambo series started out with him being escorted to the edge of town LOL.

February 27, 2012 2:08 PM  
Blogger Hard Rock Photo Politics said...


Thanks for your blog and for this article. Difficult subject I find, though you're suggestions how to avoid issues by using some common sense proactively sound good to me. Yes, it's annoying and I wish things were different - both, from an actual threat concern view as well as what some idiots are making out of it and how we've resorted to some security-kabuki-dance by trying not to "offend" people or giving some sense of (false) security.

What bugs me a bit is to reduce this to being a US issue - and how some readers here are responding. I've been around a bit and I'm actually an immigrant to the US and a naturalized citizen. I can guarantee you that things aren't perfect anywhere and this is still one of the most free places in the world. Yes, we want to make sure that it stays like that and any transgression of our rights gets addressed as vocally as reasonably possible. But we also should make sure that it doesn't lead to wrong perceptions in the rest of the world (if not here). We may not always be happy what some cop, TSA person or even some of the changed laws say. But compared to what you're rights are in 95% of the rest of the world we are pretty golden. And I personally say that as someone growing up in Western Europe. No reason for anyone there to sit on any high horse when it comes to these issues. I always cringe when, e.g. one of my former fellow countrymen in Germany are lecturing me on the effects of the HS act. Well, we may not like some parts of it (and as a libertarian leaning person, believe me, I'd like to change a few things) but compared to the rules and restrictions over there - that were in place already in a pre-9/11 world - this is cake.

The rest comes down to personal interactions and some dopes taking themselves way too serious. Humor and sarcasm doesn't fly with those folks so I find your advice and precautions pretty reasonable - and some of them are actually just the courteous thing to do anyway.

None of this explains why photographers with pro equipment are being harassed or why anyone thinks that terrorists would be concerned with full frame high ISO noise free resolution when for their purposes any iPhone or P&S might be better. But then we'd be back to the common sense questions.

February 27, 2012 2:09 PM  
Blogger Jason M said...

Sadly your advise might have helped out this guy:

February 27, 2012 2:10 PM  
Blogger Paul Glover said...

I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and there was NEVER this degree of paranoia amongst the general public despite there being actual, continual acts of terrorism taking place.

Of course I don't recall the news media being sensationalist about it, nor do I recall seeing politicians indulge in the sort of self-serving threat elevation which has been all too common lately.

February 27, 2012 2:22 PM  
Blogger Rusty said...

I live in Israel, and whilst the country is very liberal, in terms of publishing photos (of people) taken in public, there are those places that one is not allowed to take photos.

Some security people take it upon themselves to be very conscientious about their jobs.

I have been stopped whilst walking with a camera around my neck in a supermarket!

Silly thing is, with today's cellphone technology, it's possible to photograph virtually anything surreptitiously and nobody would ever be any the wiser!

February 27, 2012 2:26 PM  
Blogger David Solo said...

Remember when you were in Edinburgh recently ? We were all wandering the streets at all hours shooting? Less than half a mile from the Scottish parliament . Did anyone get stopped? No. You should expect no less in a free country. I Will GO TO JAIL BFORE I AM PREVENTED FROM GOING ABOUT MY MY LAWFUL BUSINESS, man up David!!!!!

February 27, 2012 2:28 PM  
Blogger said...

David, one more suggestion I would make is to put any type of advertisement or signs on the car you are driving. If you have a van and the van says "Joe's Plumming" then people BELIEVE you are a plummer. In the movies, bad people (usually robbers!) abuse this and use it as a cover, but it really does work. Especially when you are telling the truth!!! Put a sign on your car that says "Tree Photographer" It'll work!

February 27, 2012 2:32 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I compiled a group of incidents to highlight the rights of photographers. They can be seen here with links to related articles.

Oh and here are two links to survival as a photographer and the need to let somebody know where you are, no matter how harmless the situation.

February 27, 2012 3:01 PM  
Blogger BC said...

No, I don't like that the sign implies that photographers could be dangerous. It's connecting dots that are too far apart. But just as photographers are not the problem, neither is General Aviation. The "dimwitted" citizens that think GA pilots are terrorists drove general aviation organizations to develop strategies to calm the public and be proactive in securing airports yet keep them accessible. In other words, just as we photographers don't like being considered as terrorists, neither do we general aviation pilots. The GA-SECURE program is the result. As I said, while I don't like the implications of this particular sign, in some ways it's part of GA's response to being attacked by the same citizens calling the police on photographers.

February 27, 2012 3:01 PM  
Blogger Missy B. said...

Still LMAO at this: "Prime Directive: Avoid Interacting with the Police While Shooting."

LOLOL Thanks David! Great post!!!

February 27, 2012 3:08 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I guess I can't show this shot of the NC State Capital publicly !!!

February 27, 2012 3:11 PM  
Blogger -FD- said...

One other thing that helps is to have a brag book along that shows some examples of your work. Think of it as a mini portfolio. It is silly but security and police (and people in general) tend to hassle you less when they feel you are a "real" photographer. I have two small photo albums, one for landscapes and one for portraits, that I keep in my camera bag along with business cards. It is amazing how that little book of pictures can turn the focus of the conversation from perceived trespassing to photography. Doesn't always work but it is another tool at your disposal.

February 27, 2012 3:32 PM  
Blogger Bianca Franco Scherer said...

My dad always gets offensive and angry when being questioned at airport security. I find the best way to deal with these situations is to be polite and answer their questions respectfully. For the most part, these are just people who are doing their job and don't mean any harm-but if you treat them with hostility, they will react likewise and we'll just be giving them an excuse to go on a power trip.
A teacher gave me some good advice once – if anyone gives you crap about shooting, just tell them you are photography student and this is an assignment for your class. There are really no age limitations for students, and you'll probably be left alone.

February 27, 2012 3:52 PM  
Blogger Southern Skies Coffee Roasters said...

Baltimore police just had to re-clarify their policy in regards to photographer's rights. In case after case, the police got their butts handed to them by the court.

February 27, 2012 4:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not sure if anyone else has sent you this link, but it is an appropriate and timely cartoon about "Knowing your rights as a photographer"

February 27, 2012 4:36 PM  
Blogger mikeca said...

About a year ago my wife and I were at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts just after sunset to take some night pictures for a class my wife was taking. There was an event just ending and large number of people leaving, so we had to wait for them to leave. We noticed some interesting lights on the outside of the Adobe headquarters building across the street and went over to photograph the lights. We were on what looked like the sidewalk in front of the Adobe building, when a security guard approached us and told us we were trespassing on private property and not allowed to photograph there. Since this looked like the sidewalk, I asked how far out the Adobe private property extended. The security guard was vague, but seemed to think it included most of the sidewalk. We left and didn't argue with him.

I wrote a letter to the president of Adobe pointing out that photographers are their customers and accusing your customers trespassing on the sidewalk in front of your headquarters is not a good business practice. I got a reply a few weeks later from the head of Adobe security apologizing for the way we were treated and claiming that the security guard was be retrained.

February 27, 2012 4:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Read David du Chemin's blog about not being allowed into the U.S.

Now I know American is being run by a bunch of pansies. Were afraid of Canadians?

February 27, 2012 4:57 PM  
Blogger As Seen by Janine said...

Hey David, I really appreciated this post on avoiding close police encounters [of any kind].

Some of my favorite shooting locations are "no longer accessible" under the US Constitution, such as this shot of Colorado's famous Moffat Train Tunnel with the Union Pacific comin' through under the Continental Divide.

(Feel free to delete this link from my comment if you prefer, but I wanted you to see what I'm talking about).

Why is this historic site, which has been a photo favorite of pros and amateurs alike for decades no longer a location I may freely shoot? Because this tunnel is the gateway to the west, a serious stretch of 6.2 miles of train tunnel UNDER the Continental Divide. The UP Trains passing through it bring more coal back and forth each day than is possible to imagine even still exists on earth. TSA has deemed that if I'm photographing this tunnel, my goal might surely be to analyze its structure in order to successfully to blow it up.

In fact, I'm lucky I got this shot when I did, which was the summer before the giant loudspeakers began announcing in a very threatening voice "You have entered a restricted zone, leave the area at once!!!"

My plan for continued photos of this, one of my favorite photo scenes, and one I absolutely WILL continue to shoot is a very high quality LONG tele lens. And now, thanks to you, I will also follow your advice about making first contact BEFORE somebody reports me, or God forbid, I accidentally get too close and set off the TSA loudspeakers!

I never thought to do what you advised, but from now on, I'll first contact the local Moffat Sheriff, who lives and works just up the road, prior to my shoots. He knows me; he is the guy who told me I can't stand in the middle of the tracks anymore last summer. I was like, "Awwwww, come on, that is the best Point of View" but he didn't care. He was, however, happy to let me photograph the train from the middle of the public dirt road which runs across it. :-)

Keep on shooting & don't get a BCS or any other kind of search!


February 27, 2012 5:43 PM  
Blogger Carlos D'Hoy said...

Here in Venezuela the things are worst, the police and the army dont let you make photos in parks, hospitals, bridges, building, and so far. the people who are with the goverment (followers) dont like the photographers, and the journalist, and the street gangs make a robery every minute, is a real pain be an photographer, but its no problem for people like me whom loved this art and work... Cheers from Los Teques

February 27, 2012 5:44 PM  
Blogger Da Weasel said...

The New McCarthyism: If you see anything, say anything."

February 27, 2012 7:18 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

It's a damn sad thing that your rights are violated...nay... RAPED on such occasions.

Those "patriot act" laws (as in families of laws) are an abomination and NO american should put up with them... Your way is diplomatic and right. Sadly, the cops CLEARLY have left their good sense and general culture to not be able to do the difference between a shoot and terrorists... no wonder it took years to catch an old man in a cave... -_- Sad.

I wish there was a "CARD" for canadian photogs!

February 27, 2012 7:56 PM  
Blogger Dave's Rants said...

Last summer I was taking night photos of a P-51 Mustang on display outside the perimeter fence of our airport. I was painting it with light and was waving some pretty bright lights all over it for about 10 minutes before an Air National Guard jeep and two cop cars simultaneously pulled up.

I put down my light and smiled as they approached (and surrounded) me. They of course asked what I was doing and I gave them a quick overview of what I was up to. I mentioned that I had my iPad in my backpack and slowly took it out and showed them my stuff. Almost immediately they came down from DEFCON 1 and relaxed.

They explained that they always check out people around the fence at night and I agreed with them. I want them to check out things that are out of the ordinary. That's their job.

One of the officers wrote down the number of the duty officer and said that if I told them when I was going to shoot, they'd put a notice on the radio and I'd not be interrupted again. They were polite and professional and said good night. I finished taking my photos.

I do a lot of night photography and I want the police to know who I am and what I'm up to. I'm not going to avoid them because I'm less likely to get mugged with them around. I've come to know a few of the local PD by name and they wave when they drive by at night. I've even considered going on a ride-along to maybe get some really interesting shots.

I've never had a bad interaction with the police because I've never put them in the position of having to prove their reasons for taking an interest in what I'm doing. I smile, I'm friendly and I'm the easiest interaction they are going to have all shift. These people deal with a lot of jerks and appreciate dealing with someone reasonable. I'm not doing anything wrong or suspicious, so I'm open and never defensive. If I do ever run into a cop on a power trip, I can drop some names and his/her colleagues will vouch for the fact that I'm nothing to worry about.

I've never called the duty officer before shooting, but I will if I'm going to be in a sketchy part of town. It's likely the cops on duty will drive by out of curiosity. I'll safer that way, and less likely to be interrupted.

If you are going to be shooting around town, why not make the police your ally instead of a problem? I really can go anywhere in my city and shoot anything I want with the feeling that I've got total freedom and elbow room.

February 27, 2012 8:40 PM  
Blogger kk parker said...

I live in New Orleans and often shoot destination weddings in the French Quarter. One day maybe a year ago, I was quietly photographing a couple in St Louis Cathedral and later in Jackson Square, where I had the week before photographed a bride in the fountain--barefoot, etc. Lo and behold a green shirted and panted National Park Guard comes chasing after me, yelling that I am breaking some law that has been forever on the books... no photographing of your couples in these places. I have a smart mouth on me sometimes, too, and tried to bite my tongue in front of my couple. Later I talked to the groundskeeper of the square and he told me this was new and had not been this way at all until these green dressed men showed up that week. Now there is a visible "no photograhing without a permit" sign in the square. I don't know what has happened, but it surely surprised me and hacked me off at the same time. Big Brother stuff. I hate it! I think telling the police you will be doing a shoot is a good idea, esp if it is at odd hours and if it garners attention.

February 27, 2012 9:06 PM  
Blogger Silas said...

I'm from Brazil, and travel to the USA a lot, I always worry about that.
I'm a hobbyist photog.
I think you guys are still on the win, here in Brazil you can't shoot on the streets like that, I actually had a cop come up to me and say:
"Be careful with your equipment, you know that you are taking a great risk in being robed."

I rather have to deal with the cops because I was doing nothing than having to talk to them because I have nothing else left on me...
Think about this...

In one of my connections, to and from Brazil, I was at JFK, inside the terminal, after security, waiting for my flight for about 7 hours. While there I had nothing to do but take some shots of all those airplanes taking-off and landing.
Some lady that works at the airport, with probably no one under her command, in her lunch break, wanted to feel important and with some authority. She came up to me and said: "Sir, you cannot take pictures outside the window."
I asked her why not, she said: "Because you can't."
So being from Brazil, not really knowing the cans and cants inside an airport, and in order to avoid any type of confrontation or problems for me, I said: "ok, sorry."
I did put my camera away, waited for some time, went to another gate, found a security guard and asked him if there is a problem to take pictures of the airplanes, he said and I quote: "Of course not, go ahead."

So my point is, like you all said, I had a 7D with 17-55mm 2.8, in the middle of the crowd on a place right by an escalator, I wasn't the most discrete person, I actually wanted people to see me there, doing what I was doing.

But I still had this one person that toke it to the next level.

Just one more thing:

Does the The First Amendment apply to visitors? like me?

And thank you for the tips, I will print out "The Card" and the 1st amdnt and out it in my bag.

Take care.

February 27, 2012 9:33 PM  
Blogger 28moons said...

A friend of mine was in the woods with his camea and took out a recording device to sample the sounds of water bubbling in the stream. A ranger approached him and asked him if it was a bomb. LOL - and how many people walk around town with hand held electronics that could trigger a bomb and nobody's worried about that stuff?

February 27, 2012 9:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

funny thing - I've shot time-lapses and stills all over the public-accessible areas of the airport here (PHX) with NO issues... but been stopped more than once 'out in the boonies' by the Forest Service rangers tho... "you got a permit for that professional looking camera, sonny?" and out here in teh Wild West of AZ we don't even need a permit for CCW these days!

You have more rights to carry a concealed weapon than you do a 'pro-looking' black camera, long lens and, heaven forbid.. a TRIPOD!
(snap-click go the cuffs)

February 27, 2012 9:56 PM  
Blogger Vince Edward said...

I will agree that much of the alarm over photographers is totally unwarranted. However, at the risk of drawing the ire of the strobist community I have to disagree with the vitriol you display for people who feel concern, especially about lights going off in the woods at 2AM. There are a great number of things in this world that can cause us harm that aren't aliens or Al Qaeda. Persons can be suspicious in a lot of ways that don't involve hatching plots to cause massive damage to the infrastructure of the US.

I am not married nor do I have kids at this point in my life, but I do know that if I see someone around my neighborhood that isn't usually there and they're creeping around the woods at 2AM, it's going to make me uncomfortable. And when I have my family they're going to come before anyone's perceived rights to photograph what they want where they want. You take care of things on your end and I'll take care of mine. That won't make me a mouthbreather. Quite the contrary. My prudence will be grounded in the firm reality of the world we live in and what MY rights are as a citizen of the US.

No one has a right to tell me that it's "idiotic" for me to be uncomfortable about strange flashes in the woods behind my house at 2 in the morning. For that matter, no one has the right to tell me that I'm an idiot for feeling uncomfortable about anything. That's completely subjective and a judgment call. It's really disingenuous to say it's idiot for someone to find flashes in the woods at night a little odd. I'm sure there are plenty of people that would call it idiotic for a photographer to think they can run around setting up equipment or lingering in certain areas WITHOUT informing people.

Unless I misread the post, there's a lot of context missing. Context is everything and I would wager that you know nothing about the life of the "mouthbreather" that would make him react the way he did. So it's not really fair to pass judgment. A little more information about the setting would be needed for me to determine whether I really think someone overreacted or if they were just being cautious.

I think the officer that approached you seriously overreacted to your sarcasm, but I think first and foremost there was no reason to be sarcastic with someone doing their job to investigate the report of a threat to public welfare. It's not her job to sit back and say "is there any chance it's just a photographer making a multimedia time lapse on autumn?" and it would be irresponsible of her if she did. You probably could've ended the encounter by saying "I'm a photographer. The flashes are flashes."

Do I think it's right that we have to sometimes answer to cops for taking pictures of inanimate objects? No. But I recognize that just as I feel I have the right to take the picture, someone else has the right to call it in if I'm making them uncomfortable.

And of course a post on photographers rights vis a vis law enforcement brings out all the commenters that are secretly expert consultants on law enforcement training programs and national security concerns...

February 27, 2012 9:59 PM  
Blogger Doug McEwen said...

Hah! Good stories. Three weeks ago I was photographing landscapes in the mountains in Alberta. I arrived well before dawn, left my car parked on the highway, hiked in the darkness by flashlight down a steep embankment. Put on my chest waders (it was about -15C), climbed over the ice floes and waded across the Kannanaskis river, then set up tripod about a quarter mile away. Golden Hour was just arriving when I see flashing red lights behind my car, way off in the distance. Zero road traffic at that time so this cannot be a good sign. Sigh. Do I just keep doing pictures, and risk that they decide to tow away my car or something? I hike back downstream, cross the river, climb the ice floes and scramble back up the steep embankment, slipping and sliding in the snow in my chest waders. Arrive huffing and puffing out of breath. It was a game warden who noticed I had a small cart with wheels tied to the roof of the car, and he thought I was a hunter poaching game and using the cart to haul the dead anmimals out. "No sir, I just use it to carry photography gear - I am taking pictures way over there" and I point to my tripod, probably hardly visible in the distance. He smiles and says, "Sorry about that - but at least you got some exercise hiking back here!" I recross the highway, slide down the embankment, and on the third river crossing the chest waders decide to quit, and spring a leak in one leg, which fills with ice-cold water. Sigh.

Pictures turned out OK, but when I took the waders off back an hour later at the car, my wet sock froze to the highway and it took an hour holding my bare foot to a vent on the dashboard of the car to get some feeling back in my toes.

I think the tree David Hobby was taking pictures of looks pretty suspicious. Sometimes you just can't be too careful.

February 27, 2012 10:06 PM  
Blogger lecycliste said...

I was photographing industrial architecture here in Silicon Valley a couple years ago, just to add to my portfolio. When I took one step onto corporate property, the company's guard appeared and told me to take it elsewhere.

It all depends on expectations of privacy on privately-owned real property. I could have argued, but probably would have ended up at the Fremont, California police station. It wasn't worth it.

The company whose architecture I was photographing was Solyndra, who've been in the news a bit over the last 6 months.

February 27, 2012 10:18 PM  
Blogger michael margolies said...

I was shooting in Yosemite down on a valley with a really long lens at one of the turn-outs. I had it on a tripod and up rolls a DEA officer in a 4X4. He asked what I was doing and photographing and I said just looking for a good shot but did not like the light so I was just exploring the hill side since I was already set up.

He asked if he could look through the lens at a van he was keeping an eye on and he caught them in the act of moving drugs to another car. He asked me to shoot it as he did not have a lens that could get anywhere as close as mine.

We were too far for him to race down the mountain and catch them but he was able to get the plate numbers of both vehicles and call it in so others could pull them over down below.

He asked politely if he could have my CF card and that I would get it back in the mail someday (of coarse I never did).

Anyway it was all very polite and professional. I have had negative encounters with police in the past, and twice had them take my CF cards, one threatening to trash my camera on the spot.

I'm not confrontational or sarcastic but that did not matter. Sometimes the police can be nice (like when they need you) but I've had too many negative experiences to pass it off as an occasional bad apple. It has become the norm the last few years as more government and police feel they have unlimited and unchecked power to continue to abuse it.

February 27, 2012 11:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Don't forget to wear your "Being a Photographer is Not A Crime" shirt...

A couple of years ago in Anchorage, AK, I was doing night photography with a 4x5 camera. I was on the steps of a federal building and shooting a scene of a building across the street. A guard came over and informed me that I was on private property. Since he was being polite, I engaged him in conversation and let him look through the camera. He ended up letting me stay for a few minutes and finish my shot.

He escorted me off the private property and as we stepped onto the sidewalk, he told me that I could photograph anything from public property, including the federal building.

Alot of people have been pushing this issue, especially videographers. Though I hate the nanny and police state we live in, I can see the need to inform the police.

Thanks for the good content and funny delivery as always...

February 28, 2012 4:13 AM  
Blogger John said...

Man, after reading your post and so many of the comments, I have to say I must be pretty lucky in my city.

I live in Louisville, Ky. (actually in the 'burbs) and I have walked all around the city shooting federal buildings, bridges and every thing else and have never been harassed once. There is a fairly large and thriving photographer community in the city so I guess the authorities expect it and leave the photographers alone.

I've had a few run-ins with ignorant security guards in the area, but not once by a police officer and fortunately, the times I have had to speak with the police, they are usually always somewhat friendly.

Its a shame so many have had bad experiences in this country ...again, I think it has to be hacked up to lack of education by the authorities.

February 28, 2012 9:01 AM  
Blogger ryan said...

um.......police should respond to shots fired right? the flashbus was awesome in madison, wi last year! you're way funnier than mcnally.

February 28, 2012 9:50 AM  
Blogger kwyjibo said...

This is the third such article I've read in recent weeks about the same subject. As someone who is still learning photography in the US, it makes me wonder if I should just take up another hobby.

I'm getting so sick of the nonsense in this country. They say they don't want the terrorists to 'win', and change our way of life. And yet, guess what? The terrorists have won, because all our freedoms are disappearing faster than you can take a time-lapse of a maple tree.

This country is descending into the garbage. I think I'm ready to move.

February 28, 2012 9:59 AM  
Blogger PBrosnanPhoto said...

If Only I had read this before my morning of community photography! got to speak to the chief himself for trying for a 'community shot' of the train station in town from an overlooking bridge. You try to do something creative so people won't bitch about recognizable likeness and you get nailed for being on the side of the bridge. (You need to be close to the chain link if you are going to shoot through it.) SIGH live and learn.

February 28, 2012 10:10 AM  
Blogger kmhwildlife said...

Because nothing says clandestine like a multiple speedlight set up......

February 28, 2012 10:24 AM  
Blogger Kevin Camp Photography said...

I have been asked what I was doing by police, and I just tell them matter of factly everything I am doing. Occasionally you will run into a jerk officer, but its super easy to defuse the situation by just being polite and forthright. Most officers are not looking to be a jerk, they just have a job to do that they usually receive little appreciation for and if you act like an ass, then you deserve to get treated in a hostile manner. If I know that I may run into a security officer I will seek them out to let them know what I am doing. These guys are nto police and some of them enjoy their little power trips and if you act decent to them and acknowlege their little fiefdom, they will be your best buddy and help you. I've had them dim their headlights when driving by so they don't spoil my lighting just because I was decent to them instead of being an ass. If you go out looking to confront "The Man" then you better never be pissed about it when "The Man" shows you where true power lies. Your asking for it then.

February 28, 2012 10:34 AM  
Blogger corky2023 said...

I was reported by a 'security-conscious' citizen several years ago while taking an innocent photograph and spent several hours in a police substation. They confiscated my SD card and did not return it, even though there was nothing of any value to them on it. The not-so-subtle message was 'give it up or we can keep you here a lot longer'. I've had other, less-serious problems in Manhattan. I was once confronted by a rabbi for walking near a synagogue with a camera inside a closed camera-bag. If a legitimate security threat wanted to take a surreptitious picture of most anything, GoPro would turn the trick and no one would be the wiser.

I understand security. At some point, common sense should prevail.

February 28, 2012 10:34 AM  
Blogger Fraction Magazine said...

I was stopped and questioned by the FBI in 2008.

February 28, 2012 10:57 AM  
Blogger The Wanna Be Photographer said...

Part 1
Well, since I am a cop and a photographer I feel I am more than educated on this subject and would like to point out some things you should do. First of all don't be smart ass and claim "I know my rights" more often than not I've found that people really don't know and even if they actually do know they have committed a violation not even realizing it. (Even if David has a "Card" he may not realize other things he is doing that could be a violation of City or State ordinances. Being a smart ass will only ensure that whatever violation may have happened is addressed with a citation. Treating the officer the way you would like them to treat you goes a long way.) Case in point: I have been dispatched to countless photographers many of which are not doing anything illegal, are in a public place where they have right to be simply taking photos. (There are times I get sent to these people and as soon as I see what is going on I don't even stop to bother them and just clear the call out unfounded. they don't even know I was sent to check them out) It doesn't matter what time of day it is, if you have lawful right to be there you can take photographs. The only time I stopped a photographer when not being dispatched was the middle of the night and he was photographing a gas refinery which had received recent threats. I just talked with him a few moments and left.

The problem I've seen over and over again when being sent to a photographer is often times they are not in a place they have a lawful right to be. They climb fences posted no trespassing. Go on railroad tracks that are private property, stay in city parks past the city park curfew, photograph around abandoned buildings and hang out near closed businesses, which are also private property and are often posted as such. Not to mention most business have a signed letter of intent with the city indicating they want anyone found on their property not conducting business cited. All of the above incidents are situations where you can be cited. However, by simply treating the officer the same way you wish to be treated you will more than likely be leaving without a citation.(cont'd)

February 28, 2012 11:19 AM  
Blogger The Wanna Be Photographer said...

Part 2
1. Make sure you have right to be where you are. If this is a park, are you within the park hours? If this is a business, do you have permission from a representative to be there? If the business is closed do you have written proof to be there or a contact number for the representative of the business so the police can verify you can be on site.

2. Some cities require a permit for commercial photography projects. Do you know your cities policy on this? Is any of your equipment blocking a city sidewalk which could be a violation? If it is do you have a permit to do so?

3. Without permission to be on a property the only places you can lawfully be without permission is public property or your own property (Not counting national forest area) of this public property be aware that some of areas have hours you are not allowed to be there. Just because its public property does not always mean it is a free for all at any hour. Parks are a great example of this. So photographing a tree at two a.m. is fine as long as you are not in a public park and are on property you have permission to be on. Just because the business is closed and you cannot ask does not mean you can trespass. So you can photograph the tree from a public sidewalk or your car window at 2 a.m. without asking permission. As soon as you step into a park or onto private property you are no longer in a place you have lawful right to be. So acting like a prick to the cop will only make them want to cite you. Think about it, do you want some person giving you a bunch of crap for simply doing your job? Neither do the police.

3. You can photograph anything you see from any place you have lawful right to be...period. This includes a federal building even though their security staff does not seem to get this. I have encountered this myself. By the time it was done and over with security guard received an education and I kindly declined to sue for having my rights violated by the security guard who crossed the street to the public sidewalk I was on to try stopping me. (cont'd)

February 28, 2012 11:20 AM  
Blogger The Wanna Be Photographer said...

Part 3
Point being is that I see many photographers who have little to no respect for private property. When I have been sent to these people I often get the "I know my rights" speech in spite of the fact they are trespassing which is illegal. Now I have never cited anyone for this and probably should have given the attitude some people gave me, however I simply educated them on the laws including what right they really do have not what they think they have.

So ask yourself this: Have I ever gone onto the property of a business when it was closed and photographed anyone or anything? Have I ever been on the property of a business when it was open, photographed something or someone without permission to be there? Have I ever been in a public park after dark and photographed something? Have I ever taken a photograph on railroad tracks without contacting the railroad company first to see if I am allowed, including old abandoned tracks? Have I ever climbed a fence to take a photo? Have I ever been in an abandoned building taking photos without permission from the property owner? If you answered yes to any of these you have more than likely broken the law....and even with "The Card" you can still be cited.

Think of it this way “Photography equals; taking a picture at anytime of anything you see from Public Property during hours allowed or Private property with permission to be there.” Understand that and you don’t need the long explanation on the card. Follow this and you will be fine. By the way I read the card that David mentioned and it is very good. It covers most everything and does so in an informative way. What it doesn’t mention is that some public property has hours you cannot be there like parks. I have worked as an officer in three cities, in two different states and all had park hours. I can assume that most cities have similar policies.

February 28, 2012 11:20 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Well written article that people should pay attention to. There are a lot of places now where you need a special permit just to use a tripod. New York City is a great example. Forget trying to get a great image of a bridge.

It's issues like this that has finally made me make the switch to a Leica M9. Less obtrusive. People think I'm just walking around with an old film camera.

February 28, 2012 12:42 PM  
Blogger Tonia Mc Caskill-Johnson said...

Good Advice and great story. I live and shoot on the streets of New York. I've only been stopped once (fingers crossed) when I was near the South Street Seaport. On a dead end street mind you -- zero traffic. I think carrying "THE CARD" is a great way to cover yourself but on the flipside it's a good way to get under an officer's thumb. If possible get a permit if you expect to put down your light stand if your state or country allows for that option. And if you get a permit noone even thinks twice to bother you. I also use clamps that fit snuggly around a pole or a tree because "hey that's not a lightstand."

February 28, 2012 12:46 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Lot of comments still coming in on this one.

Just an FYI, I will be en route to Dubai over the next 24 hours or so. I'll catch up and moderate after I have found sleep and internet. Might be a bit.


February 28, 2012 12:54 PM  
Blogger J. Martin said...

I thought this was a really interesting article just because a lot of the time I like to go out and shoot at night whens it's quiet and less inhabited. Although I see both sides of the coin on this issue, common sense is constantly being depleted in the U.S.

February 28, 2012 12:57 PM  
Blogger J. Martin said...

I thought this was a really interesting article just because a lot of the time I like to go out and shoot at night whens it's quiet and less inhabited. Although I see both sides of the coin on this issue, common sense is constantly being depleted in the U.S.

February 28, 2012 12:59 PM  
Blogger John and Karen said...

In NY City last year I saw a guy drop his tripod at the Wall Street Bull, cop went over and told him he could not do that. He started to assert his rights as a photographer. While he was doing this the crowd and it is crowded around that Bull, knocked the whole thing over, lens snapped off. The cop sighed and walked off. Just use common sense.

February 28, 2012 1:02 PM  
Blogger Craig M. said...

The Occupy movement has put into question whether or not you can be in a park after any supposed closing hour especially if its a park like the ones in NYC that were required to be built by property/building owners as part of their deal with the city.

February 28, 2012 1:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I can TOTALLY relate to well as my smart-ass tendencies.

Apparently reading Mad magazine's Don Martin..."Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" instilled in me lightening quick responses and a general irreverence...for everything. Including cops when shooting in public. Just last week, atop a parking garage/open top....I had a "visit". I was running a range test with my transceivers....and didn't want to be on the street w/ I went to the empty rooftop. Squad car in ten minutes.

My bigger problem? In the summer-time, even in Seattle....I get dark. As in Al Queda dark: I LOOK LIKE A TERRORIST!!!!

February 28, 2012 2:55 PM  
Blogger Cory said...

Man, I had the exact same thing happen about three or four years ago while shooting our critical deciduous infrastructure. In the end, the police man basically said "Well, take a few more shots and then be on your way." I think he was torn between who to support me, or the weirdo who was afraid of my little flashes.

February 28, 2012 4:35 PM  
Blogger danpiano said...

A few years back I was at production of "WIcked" at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. During intermission, I whipped out my cellphone and made one shot of the ceiling, as I admired the amazing art work. Almost immediately, an attendant threatened to escort me out and confiscate my phone. Obviously, I wouldn't take my Canon 7D and shoot in a theatre without permission. But I was taken back my the abruptness of the attendant. If I hadn't been
functioning as a chaperone I would have left voluntarily, and angrily.

February 28, 2012 4:46 PM  
Blogger TxRoman said...

Just FYI you can get extra scrutiny with TSA just because of some of the batteries we carry. I travel all the time and get the dreaded SSSS on my ticket - if it's there I always go through the long process.

As far as the article, these are the normal things I've done forever as a working photog. Bigger the city the more hoops you go through. Blogger type photogs should really use this too.

Call the PD and let em know your there and get names for contacts. If your covering something like "occupy" for instance ask them about parking, contact for trouble, etc...

Be aware of private property and traffic blocking. That is the two things that will get you in trouble.

Another thing not covered here but I personally have ran into and know other photogs as well that have too. This is really true in Mexico. Watch what you are taking pictures of, and be very wary of your security and safety. Taking the pictures of the wrong person (and you probably have no idea your doing it) can be a very bad situation. I'll take the cops over that situation any day. Also alter the type of camera you use in certain places. The more you look like press the more danger you put yourself and equipment in.

And for anybody that think's any of this is new, this has always been the situation. I always put a fon number on my flyers before we shoot in a location. I do us a temp fon though, once that number is out there you can get all sorts of crazy calls. Just be smart. Its really that simple.

February 28, 2012 5:50 PM  
Blogger gizmologic said...

Why not organize a national "shoot a plane" day where anyone with a camera tries to imitate the guy in the poster. Call in the media to every airport to raise awareness of jut how crazy this is!

February 28, 2012 10:46 PM  
Blogger jamesd3rd said...

I'm really baffled that with all the static that has been generated by various photography blogs and the internet in general, that local police are not briefed regularly on this law. Shouldn't they be briefed and given the law in writing periodically at the beginning of their shift? Why is it that calls about a 'suspicious person with a camera' aren't headed off at the first level?

Every year I have to take a HIPPA test even though as an IT person at a major university with a hosptial, I never interact with any patients. It's a 'just in case' type of thing. Shouldn't law enforcement take the same position just in case they get such a call? Oh wait, that makes too much sense.

February 28, 2012 11:44 PM  
Blogger rob marshall said...

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” ― Thomas Jefferson

February 29, 2012 3:42 AM  
Blogger alan said...

Great article, David. It's unfortunate that we live in these times but, sadly, that is the way it is. This is filled with great advice.

As always, thank you for sharing your knowledge with the photographic community.


February 29, 2012 7:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

London-based photog here. Recently, I was commissioned by three of the oldest churches in The City to take photos in and around their parishes. The City is the "original" square mile of London built by the Romans, full of financial institutions and a lot of security guards (and a lot of police, semi-police, volunteer police and "I should call the police" types).

When I do work outside in London like this, I have a few strategies to ease my way (for those other UK photogs reading this, I am *very* familiar with the law and I act this way in order to protect myself).

1) I am friendly when approached. A business card goes a long way and, luckily, I retain my Canadian accent (it's useful to be a "not-dangerous" type of foreigner). I'm sure that I often get mistaken for a tourist, though I never lie about it.

2) I am happy to show someone the photos on my camera, even though they rarely ask to (showing them is not required by law). It was quite funny on this recent shoot: a security guard came _running_ up to me, shouting "stop!" and then was embarrassed to see I was shooting macros of the sandstone steps I was on (camera was pointed down, what the heck did they think I was shooting?).

3) a tripod is going to get a lot of attention. I very often bracket when shooting buildings (hard to use ND grads with buildings) and so will almost always have one, but when I do set it up, I'm ready for a visit. Being mentally prepared for a possible confrontation means that my own sarchasm gene doesn't kick in (not a spelling mistake: "Sarchasm: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it").

4) I will usually ask for my client to write me a letter explaining the commission (for those of you who don't live in the UK, you will not know the *amazing*power* of the written letter!). Pull that out and, often, even the most zealous security guard will take a moment to consider that what I'm doing might be legit. Of course, when I'm out and about shooting for fun (I tell myself I'm shooting for stock), I lack a letter, but it's nice to have when I've been commissioned.

5) I am well aware that most of the City’s buildings have rights to a certain space beyond their walls. Helpfully, in central London, this area is often (though not always) outlined by little metal circles embedded in the ground. I will often set up a tripod _just_ outside this line to get building shots, and that often brings 'em running. The smart guards will see where I am and know that they can't kick me off public land, and so far, they've all been that smart (really!). The smarter ones will smile knowingly, and still remind me where I'm allowed to be and not to be. No arguments from me, private land is private land (even if "everybody" is walking through it).

6) I usually approach security guards _before_ I start shooting in their area. Even if they don't have rights to where I am standing (see number 5), I like to alleviate their fears in advance, hand over a card and tell them what I'm going to be doing. Once in a while I'll get a guy (always male, it seems) telling me that I can't take photos of their building and I politely tell them that yes, I can, if I am on public land. So far, that's not led to the police being called. So far.

pro tip: I often wear my "I'm-allowed-to-be-here-and-do-this" outfit: a high vis vest or jacket. It's quite amazing: instead of people just ignoring me and walking in front of my camera (or looking at me like I'm a bad guy), they will often apologise if they think they are in my way! It's not uncommon for me to be totally ignored by the police when I'm wearing high vis.

These aren't foolproof (they'll just build a better fool), but it does help.

Cheers! Chas

February 29, 2012 9:45 AM  
Blogger Michael Ogden said...

I was stopped by a federal cop of some sort for taking a pic of the main bldg. on a veteran's hospital campus. He threatened to confiscate my camera and throw me in jail. According to him it is against the law to photograph any federal bldg. and I had just committed a crime.

The only thing that kept this from escalating was the fact my young daughter who had a temporary nursing position beginning the next day, was in tears, thinking we had just arrived at her first travel assignment only to be thrown in the slammer. Her crying, plus my careful effort to say nothing to indicate what I really thought of this total fascist idiot, somehow got us through his obvious need to cower innocent citizens with his cartoonish display of macho power and authority.

Had I been alone things would have been different and I would definitely have been jailed. For one thing, I would have pointed out sarcastically that the picture I was taking to show her mother where our daughter would be working for the next few months was the exact some shot prominently displayed on the hospital's own official home page, freely available to all terrorists.

I won't bother to go into detail on the abusive behavior we endured that day, along with my daughter's fear that her decision to travel to Roseburg, Oregon from her familiar home in Tennessee was a huge mistake. Suffice it to say there are apparently many Nazi-like personalities who are attracted to Homeland Security.

If this officer had carried through with his promise to hassle my daughter throughout her stay at the Veteran's hospital, I do not think I could have restrained myself from returning to Roseburg to take care of that situation on a more personal level.

Our country is in deep trouble if this officer is any example of the mentality our police forces are producing. And I say that as a government employee.

February 29, 2012 10:50 AM  
Blogger Michael Forster Rothbart said...

If you see something, say something --

I wrote about this last year in an article on being a photographer and a witness:

"To understand how to be effective and sensitive social witnesses, it is instructive to consider the opposite. The Department of Homeland Security has a new slogan: If You See Something, Say Something.

It is a call to arms, deputizing a nation to be witnesses. "We are simply asking the American people to be vigilant," said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in a February 2011 press conference. "Security is a shared responsibility and each citizen has a role to play in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats."

This rhetoric—vigilance, suspicion, threats, terror—makes everyone seem like a potential enemy. It is opposite of the call to be a social witness...

I'd rather emulate photographer Sebastião Salgado; when asked about how he chose sides while photographing both sides of wars in West Africa, he replied, "I support the side of humanity."

Whole article here:

February 29, 2012 12:16 PM  
Blogger M said...

"How to Avoid Dealing With the Police When Shooting in Public".

Sometimes "Photographing" is a better term than "Shooting".

Just say'in...

February 29, 2012 8:51 PM  
Blogger Damon said...

Enormously informative and entertaining. You probably set a new standard withnthis one davd. Judging by the quantity of comments, im not alone. Itall resonate for the depreaved wise ass in me.

February 29, 2012 10:44 PM  
Blogger Parka said...

If you know your rights, can't you call 911 to send in another policeman to stop the current one from harassing you?

March 01, 2012 5:36 AM  
Blogger Bwana The Iguana said...

Whine bitch moan. My right have been violated.

Give it a rest already.

When given authority there's always a minority that will abuse it. Know your history.

You think your biggest problem is the cops showing up at your shoot? Count your blessings.

I am a photo and an airline pilot. When showing up for my day job, in uniform, with the appropriate ID's so far I have been: Given a full body search, swabbed for explosives in full view of my own passengers, relieved of my lighter because: "I might set fire to the seat in front of me" (really now?) and get alcohol and drug tested regularly. Once I was detained for 30 minutes by 8 cops in full combat gear because the red bag with white flowers containing little girl clothes was "suspicious." Yeah. (Oh, did I mention my ten year old is on this flight to Maui officer? And that she might need something to wear when we get there?)

Show some situational awareness. Be nice. Your sharp tongue and razor sharp wit is the LAST thing you need to demonstrate to an individual whose outlook in life is shaped by a segment of society that is more than happy to see him or her get hurt.

The same cop that gets vilified for checking the girly underwear in my bag today gets vilified for not noticing the child pornographer with his bag of girly underwear tomorrow.

Spend a bit less time asserting your rights and your self importance. Be kinder and gentler.

It helps everybody.

March 01, 2012 9:15 AM  
Blogger Prisonplanet said...

Woke up already, any of you US citizens?

You are aware that you're losing (giving away) your freedom on everyday basis?

March 01, 2012 10:26 AM  
Blogger Zac said...

A useful link for Australians :

I love the word "sarchasm" and the explanation that accompanies it.

March 03, 2012 10:59 PM  
Blogger Bill Stamatis said...

Had a very similar situation on Long Island, NY when police came to my home and told me that a homeowner complained saying that I was photographing his house from across a pond. I showed the police officer that I was actually photography an osprey on a dock piling and that the house was no where to be seen in the photo. I initially laughed it off and gave the police two cards, one for the officer and another for the homeowner, and suggested that the homeowner purchase some of my photos for the trouble he created. However, I realized that the 9/11 terrorists have left a scar on the psyche of our nation.

March 04, 2012 10:00 PM  
Blogger h.linton said...

After listening to this [] it appears that you won't have much to worry about in the future - regarding the police anyway.
Muggers, robbers and the like may be a different issue . . .

March 05, 2012 2:43 PM  
Blogger ronjoli said...

I had a run-in with the Massport police recently, and for no good reason. In East Boston, there is a beautiful park with a great view across the water to the Boston skyline. It is run by Massport, the same folks that run the airport and the harbor (you can see where this is going.). I have shot it in the past while traveling solo, with no trouble. (ronjoli on flickr) When I visited with three friends from our camera club, we were told flat out that we could not take pictures. They treat the park exactly the same as Logan International Airport!! "You might post the pictures on your club's website" we were told. You can find all the pictures you want on the web already, on Google Earth, etc. No room for logic here!

March 07, 2012 11:23 AM  
Blogger strickmr said...

I actually nearly got arrested when I was trying to take pictures of 737's taking off. Even though I was outside the fense, the TSA agent told me that "even looking at the fence is a federal offence after 9/11."

March 09, 2012 3:40 PM  
Blogger Tony Baca Photography said...

Great article. Hope I will never have this problem , but its good to know.


March 11, 2012 11:36 AM  
Blogger sepp said...

And while you are it, why not use a proper camera for plane spotting assignment:

March 24, 2012 3:17 PM  
Blogger raydetwiler said...

I usually just ask the cop/security guard to use their common sense.
If I'm a terrorist, don't you think it would be less conspicuous to take photos with a point-n-shoot camera or a phone camera than to drop $3-4,000 on camera equipment(which stands out like a sore thumb)?

Also, with Google Maps, and Google Earth, why would I really need to come take photos of your building when I can probably find 60 on the internet without leaving home...?

March 31, 2012 1:13 PM  
Blogger Colin Johnson said...

I've seen the poster from the TSA before. What really makes me sad is that when I looked at it this time the first thing that I thought was "this is one of the reasons Trayvon Martin was shot." Just look at how the guy is dressed.

This kind of stuff makes me sad to be from the USA.

David, I don't think you are copping out or giving in. I think you are doing what is necessary. I'm just so sad that it is necessary.

April 22, 2012 4:22 PM  
Blogger SubliminalSeedoocer said...

I too have been called in. I live in Philadelphia, Pa and get this, I'm a police officer. I was shooting in a ball field where some junior high kids, female, and were having a scrimmage, and I was outfitted with tele lens, and I guess my presence in the vicinity of these kids alarmed someone. Okay, as I began to move on the coach, I assumed, ran over and accosted me, demanding I leave a public space! I never identified myself as a police officer, although the moment he touched me he was committed assault: I informed him I was within my rights to photograph anyone occupying a public space, but I simply let him win in front of his players and sauntered off. I had "the card" on me as well, but owing to my job I know the fourth amendment pretty darned well, particularly as it concerns not having any (reasonable).expectation of privacy in a grossly public space.

July 20, 2012 6:45 AM  
Blogger Art said...

I was on sidewalk today adjacent to a high-rise office building in downtown San Diego shooting a bicycle when a female security guard stopped me and advised that I was not allowed to shoot there. I told her she was wrong, as I am also fully aware of my constitutional rights under the first amendment. She told me she worked for the Irvine Company who owned the high-rise tower and said she was just doing what they told her to do. I advised her that she may be incurring liability and she disagreed saying essentially that she called the police and has had people arrested for trespassing there before. I chose to stop shooting to avoid escalating the contact, but I filed a complaint with the company through their website and contacted an attorney. This is not the first time I've been stopped by private security in public from shooting photos! I am no longer going to just sit back and take it. I think we all need to start standing up for ourselves and file civil complaints and civil suits; not only to protect ourselves but all Americans' first amendment rights!

October 21, 2012 3:34 AM  
Blogger CrystaljDesign said...

I was questioned by police once when taking photos for a college course. I was at a neighboring campus taking photos of new buildings they were constructing when a cop pulled over and asked me what my business was. I informed him that I was taking photos of architecture for a college course and he told me to hurry up and get going. Now I am ALWAYS nervous when I shoot anywhere in public alone or with others. Hooray America.

December 27, 2012 3:51 PM  

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