Now This is Scary……..

But Not Surprising…….

As a photographer you have rights. You don’t have the right to photograph anyone or anything at any time that you wish – certainly not. However you do have certain rights and it behooves you to know what they are – and what they are not.
Unfortunately not everyone in a position to enforce the law (including private security personnel) know or understand your rights as a photographer. Also, these same people are the ones who are least likely to want to debate the issue with you when they say – “Hey, you can’t………..” At this point your best strategy is to stop what you’re doing and attempt to avoid further confrontation possibly leading to a citation or worse. It’s too bad, but it’s the reality of the times.
And note – if you’re traveling to another country you should read up on their rules for photography. England, most notably, has had some strict prohibitions put in force recently. Further, it doesn’t even take travel to a foreign country. New York City, for example, has restrictions of which you should be aware. And  in the capitol of our land of liberty with freedom of speech protections (which don’t always extend to photographers), Washington DC, you are especially at risk even when your photography is well within the limits of the law (the limits of the law don’t matter if the over zealous enforcement official, who’s in your face, doesn’t know the law – and you aren’t going to educate him/her on the spot).
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Here’s the scary part. Take a look at this Washington Post article from July 26th (and be sure to follow the links within the article) to read of the types of problems and situations you might encounter when using your camera.
Here is a site that provides a Photographer’s Bill of Rights (please don’t confuse the legal standing of this document with any other meaningful Bill of Rights you may know of as it simply gives you one man’s (lawyer’s) view of the world).
There are even restrictions in national parks, but only for commercial photography (that is, making images with the intention of selling them).
Common sense is needed – at least on the part of the photographer. I was planning to do light painting images combined with star trails in a national park. I was fairly certain that anyone, especially a ranger, would wonder “what the hell…..?” upon seeing a 3,000,000 candle power light shining for a minute or so at regular intervals at one in the morning. I could have taken my chances or I could have stopped by the district ranger office and alert them as to what I was planning. I did the latter and both parties felt good about how it was subsequently handled. Unfortunately common sense isn’t common.
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I have been questioned – and almost worse – twice and I rarely ever do street photography or spend time in cities with my camera thus making my batting average pretty darn high. Once was in Old Towne Manassas (admittedly my camera appeared to be pointing at a bank window at 4:30 in the morning 😉  ) and the other time I was photographing the Clairton Coke Works (a US Steel facility outside of Pittsburgh, PA) when approached by USS security personnel and asked to surrender my equipment. Yah right!! We negotiated a compromise which involved me packing up and leaving. See sample images from my “terrorist photographer” exploits at the bottom of this post. 😉
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A closing note at a more personal level – it’s about a pet peeve related to my rights as a photographer. This has to do with photo etiquette and not law. Do not – do not, do not, do not…. – walk into another photographer’s field of view when s/he is shooting. And caution – if they are using a wide angle lens you might not think that you’re in their field of view but you are. Please – be polite and ask before possibly inserting yourself into someone else’s image. If you go to popular venues you know how often this happens.
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From my “bank job” – I was fascinated by the three different scenes I was seeing while standing on this corner 1) into the bank, 2) reflection of the store behind me & the intersection, 3) through the near bank window and its window around the corner to the shops across the street. I never even noticed the ATM about 10 feet away – and of course my beard and photo backpack added to my sinister appearance. 😉

These next two are taken from the edge of a parking lot about 10 feet from a public street passing by this steel facility. I was accused of taking photos of possible value to a terrorist – never mind that I could have taken the same images in better light while driving by in a car. Logic doesn’t matter or count in a situation like this –

Give us your camera and film. I don’t use film. Don’t get smart………..

In both this situation and the bank, I understood the concern and did my best to acknowledge that and to defuse a potentially bad situation – not my strong suit but I succeeded.

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