Don’t wing it, know the rules

NewportAngel copy
Photo © Bob Krist

Travel photographers work on the street a lot, shooting buildings, people, events, views, you name it. That makes us very public targets for officials who somehow feel that what we do is a threat. Truth be told, this was the case even before 9/11 and the Brit’s 7/7, but since those attacks, it’s gotten even more cranked up.

Before 9/11, I was shooting a city story on Newport, Rhode Island, for National Geographic Traveler and I saw this fun situation of a young officer giving directions to a man in an angel costume during a street fair. By the time I rushed over to make the shot, the encounter was all but over, but the officer saw me take the picture and went absolutely ballistic (I’m still not sure why, it was a cute public relations moment), at first demanding my film, and then threatening me with arrest when I wouldn’t give it to him.

Even though I knew I had blown the shot, I didn’t take kindly to being bullied. You have to be careful in these situations when you confront authority, because you want to inform and explain, but be firm and not provoke. Getting arrested can really eat into your assignment time, and editors just hate wiring bail money to their people in the field….it looks so bad on the expense reports. The young officer eventually backed down, but not without a parting promise to “find you” if the picture was published.

Since 9/11 and 7/7, the police in the two great cities of New York and London have been, understandably, on high alert and photographers have often drawn their scrutiny, often for no good reason. It got to the point where the top brass of both cities’ constabularies had to issue guidelines for officers interacting with photographers, outlining just what was and wasn’t permitted.

Turns out, you can shoot a lot more than they thought. In fact, you can shoot just about anything you want, including photos of officers at work.

So, if you plan on doing shooting in either of these two wonderful cities, hit the jump and you can grab the jpegs of these memos,read them, and maybe even print them out to carry in your camera bag should you have a problem. Remember, always be polite, never be confrontational, and know da rules!


This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Great post. I thoroughly agree with your sentiments. You don’t have to be loud and agressive to be assertive.

    And, thank you for posting the extracts of the guidelines. Being informed and knowledgeable of the facts is a good starting point to creating meaningful dialogue.


  2. Bob, The same goes for DC! Here a major obstacle has been the various private guard forces rented to patrol both public and private buildings and surrounding streets. David

  3. Thanks, I shoot in NYC and never had any problem (so far), although I heard many horrible stories.


  4. Thanks for putting this up Bob. I am happy to report that the police were not a problem at all in NYC last week. We were hassled a bit by security while attempting a pano shot atop Rockefeller Center, but luckily I was armed with a tabletop tripod and your PSD story. Worked like a charm. 😉 Hudson

  5. Thanks Bob. This is a great post. And, you are right..the memos from NY and London should be in everbody’s camera bag.

  6. Heh, thanks for the jpegs of these memos. I haven’t been hassled in a long time – darn! A girl needs to have a little excitement in her life it seems…

  7. Even my home town of San Diego, CA has officers who don’t understand the law. Security guards are worse. It must be a pretty dull job, so they seem to jump at any chance to harass a photographer. But as you say, the non-confrontational approach usually works well.

  8. I have been shooting in NYC for 40 years, just don.t try a tripod without a permit. The Rock center is always a hassel, and a FYI the “Flatiron” building
    as a whole is copyrighted. They can and will try to stop you so shot and move on fast.

    1. Bill: thanks for that advice. But, it is impossible to copyright a building. It’s an urban myth. It may be trademarked, and if that’s the case, it might be a hassle to use in an ad or something, but this business of “copyrighting” a building is pretty much indefensible, legally speaking.

  9. Bob, I stand corrected it is Trademarked my mistake, but whatever the rent a cops are a main in you know where.

    1. Bill: Yup, the rent a cops don’t care if it’s trademark or copyright, but they have no right to stop you shooting a building if you are on public property, i.e. the street.

  10. The smalltown rent a cops are the worst. I was busted by a blue blazered kid with big walkie talkie for snapping tulips outside of a bank from a public walk with a crappy point & shoot. This happened in Buffalo NY. Yet with the big Nikon in NYC never had a problem. Had some routine questions, but all were courteous and professional.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu