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Thread: Photography in public places

  1. #1
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Photography in public places

    Hi everyone,
    I'm new here but I was curious about how our world has changed as it relates to taking pictures in "public places".

    If you respond to this post, would you mind telling us where you are in the world and if the local law enforcement has become more heavy handed to the point of impeding on our love for taking pictures.

    So far I've established that in UK, US and even Australia, photographers are being harrassed.

    http://peterphun.com/blog/2008/09/07...d-photography/

  2. #2
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    Re: Photography in public places

    I wouldn't go so far as to say I've been harassed but yes, I've been "stop-searched" a number of times. I find it goes easier if you are friendly and polite. I've never been moved on but I've heard of people being asked to leave certain premises (shopping centres and the like) by security guards and I've even heard of a guy being told to delete his images!

    Mark

  3. #3
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    Mark,
    I think most folks assume shopping malls are public places but there really aren't. It's not like in the market in a public street. Shopping centres and malls are in buildings that are private.

    Forced to delete your images seem excessive especially if all you're doing is taking pictures of people and no one seems to object. Like in a public park like this little event I shot.

    Let's see if there other horror stories from folks who would like to share their experiences. Thanks Mark

  4. #4
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    You might want to check out this group on flickr;

    http://flickr.com/groups/photography_is_not_a_crime/

    Mark

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    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    Mark,
    Thanks for sharing that. I'll be looking at that group closely. It will give me more material as I continue writing about the topic in my blog.

    http://peterphun.com/blog

  6. #6

    Re: Photography in public places

    Hi! Newbie here...!

    I live in Essex and commute to London Mon-Fri. I also like to do a bit of street photography and, believe me, it's becoming increasingly difficult as the years go by. The area around Liverpool Street station is crawling with police and what I call 'territorial plod' (Police Community Support Officers). I have been stopped on numerous occasions and asked what I'm doing. I've also told them, on numerous occasions, to go fly a kite.

    The thing is that photography in truly public place is NOT illegal in the UK. Neither can anyone force you to stop. Nor can they confiscate your equipment or insist you delete images (which would be difficult for me as I often use film!).

    My approach is that if you're doing nothing wrong, do not be brow-beaten by these robots. You are paying their wages, and they are there for your benefit. I insist that they tell me precisely what law I'm breaking (I've never yet had a sensible reply) and, under no circumstances would I ever hand over any equipment. As I understand it, even the police has to get a court order to examine it, let alone confiscate it.

    As mentioned earlier in the thread, you can be stopped from photographing in private property; shopping centres, railway stations, airports and, most frustratingly, National Trust properties - but, I suspect, that's because they want to sell you their photos.

    What really gets to me is the rapid demonisation of photographers the world over. Governmentally-driven security paranoia has permeated the national psyche worldwide to the point where anyone carrying a camera is either automatically viewed as either a pervert or a terrorist. I'm neither and I think we should all refuse to be treated as such until the authorities get the message, stop taking the easy option and do what they're meant to be doing - go look for the REAL bad guys.

  7. #7
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    So far it seems like the photographers in the UK, the US, and Australia are having a hard time. I'm wondering what the situation is like in Spain or Japan where they've been terrorist attacks.

    And what about the South Asia, the Indian sub-continent. Too may of our civil liberties are being eroded under the guise of security.

    If the authorities can mount close circuit cameras in public places to watch us. What we can't do the same?

    Thanks Analog Kid for your poignant reply... Let's hear from folks from other lands. Middle East?

  8. #8
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    @Analog kid

    Is it bad in London? I've heard rumours of harassment but live in Manchester.

    @pixelpete

    Have you noticed they never even aproach tourists? I got stopped yesterday and they (albeit politly) asked if they could search through my kitbag, which has only happened once before when I was carrying a benbo tripod. Obviously I agreed, joked that I could show off a new lens & asked them (1 male 1 female) what the difference was between me and & the other 20 odd people around us taking pictures with mobile phones & silver thingys? (centre of manchester, about 30 yards from where the bomb went off funnily enough) The answer? "Good question, I've never thought about it like that before" from the male officer! Well says I, if I were a terrorist don't you think I would be alot more covert than this? (D80, Lowepro Nova 4 and a manfrotto tripod) It was at this point that a pro (I know the guy) walked past and said to me "tell 'em to get f8!%^d". So now I have to wonder wether the problem started with arrogant people like that and the current situation. I was getting somewhere yesterday with those officers and that idiot ruined it, I don't know what happened as I walked away as they got a grip of him.

    Mark

    P.S. Sorry for the long post.

  9. #9

    Re: Photography in public places

    Hi Mark.

    I suppose it depends where you are in London. I commute daily and Liverpool Street is THE mainline station and one of the busiest tube stations serving the City of London. At peak hours, there are hi-viz jacketed cops and PCSOs all over the place - let alone British Transport Police on trains riding shotgun alongside the National Express ticket checkers.

    If you're down the West End - particuarly near Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye or any of the big, touristy places, it's a similar story.

    Ironically, when I had my Leica M6, it wasn't so bad. Perhaps it's a 'size' issue. If I have my D300 / 17-55mm f2.8 round my neck, it's like having to swat files off jam.

    I accept what you say when you mentioned 'arrogance' concerning the pro advising you to tell the police officers to 'go away' (sic) but there comes a point where we do have to stand up for our rights. If we are in a public place and we're doing nothing wrong, no-one has the right to quiz us or interfere with our business in any way.

    I read a report recently (I think it was an an excerpt printed in The Independent or one of the less gutteral papers) that even the authorities accept that no act of terrorism has ever involved photgraphic reconnaisance. My point is that too much time is wasted harrassing photographers going about their lawful endeavours - to absolutely no avail. The time could (and should) be better spent chasing real criminals or even apprehending my other pet hate.......psycho-cyclists who ignore red lights, ignore pedestrian crossings, go the wrong way down one-way streets and turn the wrong way at junctions to avoid having to go round the block like other road users.

    Rant over. All the best. Paul.

  10. #10
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    Again the proverbial to the windmill;

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/central...7610611873114/

    Mark

  11. #11
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Photography in public places

    Seriously bloody annoyed as this is where I work.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/manches...7612109956427/

  12. #12

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    Re: Photography in public places

    Here in New Zealand I can't imagine anyone being detained and "patted down" by the police, unless there were extenuating circumstances.

    Although shooting in public places isn't against our laws (thus permitted), you'd probably find (as in many cultures) many people just don't like having their photo taken, thus - personally, although no-doubt within my rights - I'd consider it impoliteness to use a camera in a public place in a manner that caused anyone discomfort.

    Wee bit of "give and take there" - if I'm setup for a wide-angle scene (complete with tripod) and I'm there for quite some time, I don't go too far out of my way to avoid capturing people who walk into the field of view - and they in turn don't usually seem particularly bothered by my presence. Usually the main reason I am avoiding them is simply because they're ruining the shot - but then again, I'm primarily a landscape shooter.

    If I were a street shooter I suspect that - regardless of my legal rights - I'd be inclined to work with the people around me, not in conflict with them (especially when most of them seem to be a lot younger and tougher than I am!).

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th January 2009 at 05:38 AM.

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    Re: Photography in public places

    I agree completely with Colin's view above about including people in shot.

    I also agree with what Mark wrote in the flickr thread link from the 1st December post; i.e. if you treat them with respect, they'll return the courtesy. At least, that's what I have found (in any situation) with the police here, I have yet to experience a private security guard, I see no reason to treat them differently, unless they start something over aggresively. I guess the thing is to open dialogue with consideration of their POV. Of course, one maybe unlucky and encounter the odd one out who shouldn't be doing the job!

    Since I assume terorists only form a minute (< 0.0001%) proportion of any population, surely it would benefit the police/security services to let anyone take pictures unmolested in a public place, all other things being equal, the sheer probability is that such shots may contain images of any "ne'er do wells" that could be useful.

    All the paranioa does seem counter-productive in my view.

    My tuppence worth,

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    Re: Photography in public places

    It's also been my observation is that a camera is about the only thing I know that can clear a room faster than a fire alarm!

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th January 2009 at 05:39 AM.

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    Re: Photography in public places

    I get it a lot. I don't go out with my camera that much but when I do I get stopped a lot. Of a night I can guarantee I will be stopped at least once on most nights. Saying that I've been stop/searched on a regular basis since I was about 14 (I'm 30 now). Not too bad these days but I had green hair and wore bondage pants when was younger which tended to make me perfect for police harassement hehehe.

    When they stop me now of a night I get the "what are you doing with a camera?" question, I try to reply as politely as I can (however often smirking which can upset some) "urmm...... taking pictures". Then I get treated like I'm stupid and the whole "it's dark blah blah" speech, one copper even refused to believe what I showed him on my lcd (15sec exp) as way of explaining was NOT what I had just taken because it clearly looked different and wasn't dark. That's kind of the point I explained and stated clearly why it looked different but he still treated me like I was stupid and up to no good. I find many younger police are dumb and treat anyone who has more than basic motor skills as "suspicious" because they cannot understand what they are doing. They don't seem to understand most concepts in my experience.

    Yes I do have a problem with the more aggressive younger breed who speak to you even when being polite and even have a pop if you are polite thinking you're "being funny", and OSD are the worst (they are poor coppers too and are only good in packs in vans, can't break up fights on their own etc like real coppers can). However I have a lot of respect for older experienced police since they are often polite and understanding and reasonable. They treat me with respect so I treat them accordingly, they don't need a more difficult job than they have already. I consider them very different even though the uniform is the same.
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 22nd February 2009 at 08:27 AM.

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    Re: Photography in public places

    Being a bit older (and greyer) I probably look "less suspicious" these days, but it's not often that I get approached by the police - in fact, if anything, I'd prefer to have them around as I must admit to feeling quite vulnerable when alone - in the middle of nowhere - with a lot of very expensive equipment.

    On the occasions that it has happened I've always adopted a friendly and co-operative approach - and even briefly throw in something educational if appropriate.

    I assume that police have different levels of suspicion & agression in different parts of the world - here in NZ they are not at all agressive towards people exhibiting non-threatening behaviour - they are, none-the-less, not in the least hesitant in being assertive if one says or does anything to even suggest that the police are not the ones in control of the current moment.

    My suggestion would be to conduct yourself on the basis that what you're doing is acceptable both legally and socially - be sincere and be respectful. Personally, I'd leave any wise-cracks well out of the conversation - what you may intend as an innocent jibe may well be interpreted (especially with a bit of nervousness on your part) as something disrespectful or worse. I save wisecracks for friends - the police may (or may not) be "friendly", but (and I mean this respectfully), they're not friends, and they do not want any kind of on-going relationship with us - they only want to ensure that what looks like an unusual situation (ie not something normal people would do) checks out OK - keeping in mind that probably a fair percentage of the time someone alone on the streets with expensive equipment has probably just stolen it.

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th January 2009 at 05:39 AM.

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    Re: Photography in public places

    Yeah I'd agree it is good idea to be polite and respectful and I often am, not just to police. In fact many people including police have stated I look scary but when I open my mouth then it's kind of the opposite feeling since I am soft spoken, polite and so on. I got stopped going to 24hr supermarket a fortnight ago (emergency purchases needed for 7.30am so I went at 2am) and the 20 questions thing but the coppers were fine. The younger one even joked he was hesitant to stop me as thought I looked like "fish hook guy" from a movie he couldn't remember the name of, and said he was surprised when I started talking. It was quite amusing and not a bad experience and I understand being stopped in at not so great area in the early hours, I haven't done anything wrong and don't carry drugs or weapons so I don't mind.

    What I do mind is the treat me like I'm stupid, not really pay attention to anything I say, be very rude despite me being overtly polite (at last for the first 5 minutes of it after which it's difficult) and even threatening to put you in the car or van because they thing being polite means you're taking the p***. Basically ones who are more interested in bullying people than policing. I can't stand people like that, in fact most (ex)coppers I know can't stand people like that since they are the ones who get a bad rep for it too. You get jobsworths in every profession I know. I have a very long fuse so it takes a lot to get me going and I have a mouth on me but only after a long period of pushing me so it's not a simple attitude thing because like I say I agree in showing everyone respect (everyone).

    As for jokes the most I do is respond to questions about why night I say I have a rare type of haemophilia, photosensitivity of an extreme nature and allergy to garlic, but only if they seem like they have a sense of humour. I find many people in authority don't like jokes and sometimes for good reason. For instance telling airport security/customs you have a bomb is not fun for them because if you actual did and they didn't check and in the inquiry said "I didn't check because I thought he was joking" it's not so funny. Likewise for them it's a serious threat they might encounter, not an abstract joke. It might seem absurd to you that you'd have a bomb, but to them it's not absurd thinking 1 passenger might have one.

  18. #18

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    Re: Photography in public places

    Speaking of humour, I was watching the TV program Cops a few nights ago - one cop detained a guy and was about to pat him down. As usual he gave the detainee the chance to "come clean" by asking "Do you have any weapons on you"? Knives? Guns? Grenades? Rocket Launchers?

    ... Suspect looking guilty as sin (without cracking a smile) ... "No Sir!"

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern

    PS: Just thought of another episode where the cop asked the guy "Is there anything in the boot I should know about"? Drugs? Contraband? Dead bodies?
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th January 2009 at 05:39 AM.

  19. #19
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    Re: Photography in public places

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Here in New Zealand I can't imagine anyone being detained and "patted down" by the police, unless there were extenuating circumstances.
    From friends 'down under' I understand that things are a lot different in NZ compared to say parts of London both in terms of crime and paranoia over terrorists. As such there will be differing attitudes from the authorities and the public.

    The place that impressed me most however was NYC, when I was there last year. I had received all kinds of dire warnings about using a camera in public and also about carrying an expensive camera around the city.

    I couldn't have been more wrong. Obviously I was careful and avoided some of the ghettos, but everyone we met were helpful and considerate, and I was not the only photter out there doing the same. I was amazed to see a guy using a DS mkII on the subway around midnight, whilst we didn't seem to encounter any jobsworths. We might have been lucky, but talking to folk it seems they have had a massive ten year campaign to clean up the city and its crime, with spectacular results. Talking to the police over there is more likely to bring out a conversation about how good they are and what they have done rather than the dark suspicion you get here sometimes. That said, treat them right here and most of the time they leave you alone. (I don't think I look like a 'fish hook guy' mind you, whatever one of those is?)
    Last edited by shreds; 9th January 2009 at 08:05 AM.

  20. #20

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    Re: Photography in public places

    "From friends 'down under' I understand that things are a lot different in NZ compared to say parts of London both in terms of crime and paranoia over terrorists. As such there will be differing attitudes from the authorities and the public. "

    Very true I imagine. With all of the madness going on in the world I often think that in terms of safety, there's few places I'd rather be than good old Nelson, NZ.

    Taking things a step further, I'm wondering if there's any thing that could be done to help photographers and police get on a more co-operative footing? Like popping down to the station during the day and having a chat with a supervisor (so when you do get 'detained' at night you can mention the chat you've had with their boss) - or even have some business cards made up to help create the association between "photographer" and "legit"?

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 12th January 2009 at 05:39 AM.

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