View Full Version : Permission to Photograph?
Have any of you out there experienced difficulty in getting permission to photograph architecture? On a recent trip to Wisconsin I planned to get some images of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Johnson Wax building. After finding it I was approached by the security folks there and told that photographs were not allowed....period. I contacted the PR dept. later and after several e-mails was told that indeed photo's are not allowed except when for specific "designated publications". What has been your experience out there? I was frankly very depressed to the point of minor outrage. In a way I can understand but it seems that some of these folks are a bit selfish.
There have been several previous discussions of this matter. You might do a search.
It was my impression that as long as you are not trespassing on their property, they can't legally prevent you from photographing the building. After all, if you can look at it, you should be able to photograph it. Similarly, presumably they can't prevent you from writing an article describing the architecture. There is really no difference between that and photographing it. but of course, if they use muscle to interfere, it may be difficult for an individual photographer without a team of lawyers to do anything about it.
More and more private corporations are trying to encroach on the rights of the public in these matters by claiming ownership of their images. It may be that they have rights to commercial use of the image, so you may have difficulty using the image that way without permission. But it would seem to me that if you used it simply for your own use or even to display as art, there would be First Amendment issues.
The whole thing is rather silly. Anyone with a picture phone or other small hidden camera can photograph such a building without anyone being the wiser. It is only those of us who use large cameras on tripods whom they can actually interfere with.
Better to ask forgiveness than permission ;)
I will admit to travelling with a hardhat, earplugs, boots and safety glasses so that when I walk around a construction or industrial facility I look like I belong there. I have also written and called public relations people at corporations asking for access to do "editorial work" for an obscure publication. Most are very helpful.
Yes, it's a silly policy, loosely based on owning the copyright to the building design, that an increasing number of building owners seem to be adopting. While the owner of a building may have the right to restrict commercial usage of such images, it seems clear they really don't have the right to restrict photographs made from public property.
The security guards, of course, are just doing what they've been told to do. I'm of the opinion that we should politely inform such security guards that we're on public property (assuming, of course, that's true) and the owner of the building does not have the right to restrict photography from that location. Then, let them know that if they continue to harrass and intimidate us, both they and the building owner will be sued for violating our civil rights. I'm confident that there are plenty of young, hungry, firebrand attorneys out there who would love to take on big corporations on a contingency-fee basis. It would only take a couple of multi-million dollar civil rights judgements to turn the trend around.
I was denied permission at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Washington DC (at least without a free permit that I couldn't get until Monday and it was Friday) and the Capitol Bldg from the steps (both pre 9/11 by 10 years). The Capitol can only be photo'd from one side and then only with a permit that they were happy to provide. I've also been denied some buildings in San Francisco from their property and the J. Paul Getty Mueseum. I should say that all of these were 'tripod' photography. People don't like tripods. Can't blame them, I don't like them either.
I was chased from the Lucent Technology building property one Sunday morning about three years ago. I was on their property, but no one was around except the security guard. I heard him talking on the radio that "he has a tripod and everything". It`s a 4x5 Zone VI and a heavy wood tripod. I suppose it was impressive to a rent a cop.
H e told me I could call security for permission to photograph, but I never could get a return phone call. I left their property without a hassle. The whole thing was stupid though as there is a clear view from the road and any picture necessary for subversive use could be take from public land, but it would not show the flowers etc as the building is on a slight hill.
The problem is really one of political attitude and not legality. We are in a climate now of such negativity that being in the right is of no benefit. I was recently run off of the National Arboretum grounds because I didn't "have a permit". I went to inquire about obtaining one and was given the application. The FIRST THING on the application was a statement to the effect that no permit for photography is necessary anywhere on Arboretum property (unless it would impede pedestrian traffic flow, such as in the bonsai pavilion) if the photography is for non-commercial use.
I've never sold a picture. I don't work for any company that sell pictures. Nobody paid me to set up my view camera to photograph cherry blossoms that day, but the rent-a-cop who told me to pack up my equipment flagged me as "commercial" because of the large format equipment and tripod. The lady at the information desk who gave me the application was no more enlightened. When I pointed out the disclaimer on the application welcoming any and all to do personal photography anywhere on the grounds for free, she said: "I can see from the equipment you're toting there that they'll want you to have a permit." And around and around we go.
It may not be hopeless as I could have demanded to see a decision maker about the situation, someone who could instruct the guard to leave me alone. But, it's just not worth the time and trouble. I packed up my stuff, drove 15 minutes to the Franciscan Monastery and spent the rest of the afternoon making some lovely photographs. The end result was a splendid day.
BTW, the fee for a photogaphy permit is $500.00/day. Yeah, right. Better give me two so that my daughter can take pictures as well.
I was recently in Asheville, NC and toured the Biltmore House. They are very specific about the rights to the image of the House. You are granted the right to photograph the exterior of the house, but only for personal use. The interior of the house is off limits to both personal use and commercial use photography. I did follow one guy around on the tour who held his video camera as his side. He got a knee high view of the house.
When you are on private property, you play by the owner's rules.....
I've been stopped by a security guard at a bank building and at a local art museum. In both cases I was on their property though the art museum is a public building funded by the city, county, and state so that one irritated me more than the bank. In neither case was the work commercial.
"Yes, it's a silly policy, loosely based on owning the copyright to the building design, that an increasing number of building owners seem to be adopting. While the owner of a building may have the right to restrict commercial usage of such images, it seems clear they really don't have the right to restrict photographs made from public property."
And even that is dubious - the copyright law protects architectural plans but specifically excempts buildings as a whole from copyright protection (it does, however ambiguously protect some "unique architectural details" which, on a Frank Lloyd Wright building may be an issue - but would most likely depend in part on the details with regard to the overall building).
In addition (although it wasn't fought on copyright, but rather trade mark issues - in part because it was felt that they would have failed basign the case on copyright) the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame vs Gentile case still sets the precedent in some of this area - that is the photogorpahs of buildings can certainly be taken, and there well be nothing the buildign owner can do to prevent even their commercial use.
But like all these issues, it's complicated and never clear cut.
The short answer is that you cannot be prevented from photographing the building from a public location. If you move onto their property, then all bets are off.
This is a useful link,
as is Krages book.
The only person who can prevent you from publishing (notice I said publishing...if you can view it from the street...it is legal to shoot it...after photgraphing two architecture books....the legal dept of the publishing house informed me of this....it is not heresy) a photograph of a building ....is the architect or his/her estate AND only if the building was built and designed in the last 75 years. Ownership of the building...does not give you the "veto" power. But it does give you the power to not allow the photographer to be on your property.
There is a law on the books.....yet as of this writing no law suit has been filed in the USA (similar laws exist in other parts of the world) that grants architects similar rights as photographers....copyright.
In fact....the way the law is written....the architect actually has the right to sue the owner of the building if the owner alters the design of the building without permission. This I would love to see in court....
I have gotten around "attitudes" in several ways....
If your on the street in a major city....get a tripod permit.
If you are on the street with your permit and a "rent a cop" still gives you problems....invite him/her to call the police....and let them explain to the police why they are calling them....usually this scares them....cops don't like "rent a cops" and imagine calling the police to tell them that somebody is standing on public property WITH a permit taking a photograph....if they do show up....it will an hour later and you will be finished.
The permit is a wonderful thing....nobody can stop you. I was shooting a job in NYC a few years ago...and the Secret Service tried to get me to stop.....because the president was a block away. After seeing the permit....they stood around for five minutes scratching their heads....and then left.
Another method....is to bring someone with you. Since almost nobody understands how a view camera works....you have your friend do the talking to Mr. Rubber Gun....while you finish your shot. Devious....but it works. Than you say "Sorry...we didn't know." and leave.
If the person isn't acting like an a-hole....be nice. I once took shot...and the guard told me to leave in the most amusing way. He asked if he could be my assistant. He asked....because he informed me that if he got caught letting me take the photo....he would be out of a job. I asked for 5 minutes....and he pretended to be telling me to leave....and let me get my shot.
Police have acted the same way....asked me to leave. I asked for 5 minutes to finish....and they said "we will take a twenty minute walk....if your still here when we get back....."
Just be nice.
Some extrcts from:
Circular 92 Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in T?tle 17 of the United States Code:
An “architectural work” is the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.³
§ 120 · Scope of exclusive rights in architectural works (a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.—The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.
(For James): (b) Alterations to and Destruction of Buildings.—Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106(2), the owners of a building embodying an architectural work may, without the consent of the author or copyright owner of the architectural work, make or authorize the making of alterations to such building, and destroy or authorize the destruction of such building.
for Michael Alpert. Yes I was definately on their private property. This was all pre 9/11 though. I didn`t think anybody would mind as it was a beautiful fall day and all I was photographing was the center of the building , entrance way, and some flowers. I thought the place was deserted and it was except for some guards. If it was a work day, there would have been cars all over the place and the picture ruined.
Mark...that is very interesting....now I have to dig out the article (I believe it was in PDN in 2000 or 2001) that was written in warning to photographers about the copyright of architectural work....it was in that article that I read the "alteration" clause.....
On a recent trip to Naples, Italy I went to the Piscina Mirabilis near Bacoli, outside of Naples. This is a huge underground storage facility for water built by the ancient Romans. It looks like a large cathedral with vaults and shafts of light. Anyway I arrived to find some engineers in the process of doing some work. They mistook me for a colleague of the head engineer and allowed me to enter. Once I had my tripod set up and ready to shoot a nice shaft of light, the head engineer arrived and asked me what I was doing here. To make a long story short, you need permission from the government to photograph national monuments. I was a few seconds away from nice shot, but had to pack up and leave. I will return next year with a permit in hand.
5 dreadlock goons tried to stop me from shooting a drum group with a 35mm sports lens this past weekend, despite that we were all out on the Venice beach in California. They tried to intimidate me physically into leaving with encircling me and posing with a tough "street" attitude. With a crazed look in my eye, I told them to "^%$^ off". Finally they left when I made the suggestion that I was legally carrying a concealed weapon in my Kinesis sports lens bag (it's large, black and looks very much like something the one of the toys the L.A.P.D. is equiped with). I know this is extreme, but as I told one of the , photography is my passion, not profession.
A few months ago a city supervisor in Bev. Hills tried to tell me that I wasn't allowed to photograph a city bldg. despite being on public property. My response was to leave, then I walked right to the Police department where I began a paper trail about the incident, and eventually wrote back to the Supervisor's supervisor. In two weeks, I got an official apology on city letterhead seen you can see here. (http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=2448487&size=lg)
To answer many questions yes i was on their property as there wasn't any public area that would provide a suitable image. I tried being nice and even begging but to the positive the PR people were very nice and responded to my e-mails promptly. If anyone is interested there is a rather stunning piece of architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright called wingspread at is ok to photograph as long as you show up with the tour group.
It helps to bring along a few postcards or samples of your work; to offer them a proof print or two; or to volunteer to photograph the people on sight.
I'm of the "ask forgiveness, not permission" school. If you are in a situation where you may be watched, don't set up the camera until necessay and don't point the camera at the subject until you are ready to go under the drop cloth.
I'll spotmeter the subject along with looking in other directions. I decide on my metering and framing and then the camera comes out. I set up the camera and lens pointing away from the subject. Typically a landowner or security gaurd won't start walking out to you until they're sure what your doing.
I'm not talking about photographing the Pentagon here. But I've grown tired of having discussions with landowners about my right to shoot a fence line and trees from public land.
It can also help to define to oneself what is ethical photography. For example, I will photograph someones barn as the main subject without permission, but not a home. I won't trespass. For me making these definitions allows to me to be relax when working and "stand up" when challenged.
I suspect that part of the problem is not a capricious whim, but the potential of having an easily identified building, and the business that owns it, associated with something that could cast the building in a bad light. Commercial photographers must take care not to allow a trademarked logo into an image without the owner's permission. You need property releases as much as you need model releases. It's actually an extension of concerns that have come up with photographs of people - even models who have signed a release have on a few occasions successfully sued for a use of their images that associated them with concepts or characteristics that they found highly offensive. They probably assumed that anyone with LF equipment was a professional who was planning to use the shot in a commercial context.
"You need property releases as much as you need model releases. It's actually an extension of concerns that have come up with photographs of people - even models who have signed a release have on a few occasions successfully sued for a use of their images that associated them with concepts or characteristics that they found highly offensive."
Well, sort of, probably (but there isn't really any serious law or case law to back this up). The main idea though is, if you are making "Commercial" use of an image of a building don't become a test case - hence a property release when you are on a commercial shoot.
Good succinct article
(it also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction - in the UK (and probably the rest of Europe now) Trademarks can be included - McDonald's signs etc - as long as they don't form the major part or focus of the photograph.
Also, in the US, the trademark issue becomes more of a grey area in editorial/news and artistic use (i.e. Time doesn't need permission for use of a photograph of McDonalds/logo in a story on McDonalds, Stephen Shore doesn't need permission when he sells a print or a book with a typical US street scene that includes a McDonalds and so on
Jim Shanesy wrote:
I was recently run off of the National Arboretum grounds because I didn’t
“have a permit”. I went to inquire about obtaining one and was given the
application. The FIRST THING on the application was a statement to the
effect that no permit for photography is necessary anywhere on Arboretum
property (unless it would impede pedestrian traffic flow, such as in the
bonsai pavilion) if the photography is for non-commercial use.
The rules governing visitor conduct at the USNA are contained in 7 CFR 500
(it’s mentioned on the Visitor
Ground Rules (http://www.usna.usda.gov/Information/ruleguide.html) page). A proposed rule revising 7 CFR 500 appeared in the
<cite>Federal Register</cite> on 10 April 2003. Unfortunately, we all apparently
missed that notice, and no comments were submitted. Consequently, the
proposed rule was published as a final rule in the <cite>Federal Register</cite>
on 27 May 2003 (when I first learned of it).
A schedule taken from the new 7 CFR 500 reads as follows
Individual—For personal use only. Includes
hand-held cameras, recorders, small non-commercial tripods. (no charge).
Commercial and Wedding—Includes all photography which uses
professional photographer and/or involves receiving a fee for the use or
production of the photography. (half day: $250/whole day $500)
This would seem in conflict with Public Law
106-206 (http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/permits/pl106-206.html). The National Arboretum is under the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, so unless there is some obscure provision somewhere that
excludes the USNA from lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of
Agriculture, Pub. L. 106-206 would seem to apply.
As an act of Congress, Pub. L. 106-206 trumps any conflicting regulations
issued by an agency. Consequently, unless I’m really missing something,
the provisions of 7 CFR 500 cited above would appear to be invalid.
It’s possible that the USNA are claiming the exemption
“The Secretary may require a
permit, fee, or both, if such photography takes place at other locations
where members of the public are generally not allowed, or where
additional administrative costs are likely.”
The typical explanation for a location “where additional
administrative costs are likely“ is a location so popular and crowded
that it’s necessary to assign a ranger to keep things orderly. This
seems a reasonable enough policy; however, applying it at the National
Arboretum would seem a stretch. In any event, I’d wait for the
rent-a-cop to bring it up . . .
Actually, I’d be surprised if the rent-a-cop ever heard of 7 CFR 500, let
alone Pub. L. 106-206. This experience (and those of several others)
would seem to validate NANPA’s advice (http://www.nanpa.org/alerts_leg.html) to carry a copy of
Pub. L. 106-206. That law is simple enough that it ought to speak for
itself, but if for some reason that doesn’t work, the appropriate question
to ask might be, “What part of ‘the Secretary shall not
require a permit’ do you not understand?” Nicely, of course
. . .
If nothing else worked, it might be worth calling the Director of the USNA:
Thomas S. Elias Director, U.S. National Arboretum, Beltsville Area
Agricultural Research Service 3501 New York Avenue, NE., Washington, DC
Of course, contacting Tom Elias before getting hassled might be a
lot easier on everyone, especially if enough photographers did so. In any
event, it would seem a shame for other photographers to go through this
same nonsense if they visit the USNA.
i got that Ione beat by a mile
"5 dreadlock goons tried to stop me from shooting a drum group with a 35mm sports lens this past weekend, despite that we were all out on the Venice beach in California. They tried to intimidate me physically into leaving with encircling me and posing with a tough "street" attitude. "
I was in Alabama more than a few years ago, when I read in the paper they were shooting a movie locally, they needed extra as an incentive, they were allowing photographs to be taken.
It was great, I even got some shots as they shooting scenes (from behind barracade w/o flash). they really know how to light a set! Then a black female star showed up on set, she was in her trailer & people had gathered to see her. I even used the telephoto lens to get a better view ( that far away). Then this person (body guard => brother) appeared before me demanding that I should give him my film, etc. I just walked away. Note: 200mm on a 35mm, wouldn't have been worth taking.
This is the current playing field for us and it will only get worse.
Edward Abbey once told me in 1973 about him and friends hiking military bases in Nevada at night, because it was the only way to get into some great places and not get caught.
I have over the years sometimes had to get vary aggressive and creative to get my jobs done. I have in the course of the last 30 years, been run off at gun point, shot at by land owners and arrested by both tribal and federal security agents. I always consider the right approach, but if the light is right and something is not clearly posted......getting permission almost always means missing the good light.
In some circumstances, as an established professional, I have an advantage in terms of "real" projects I am actually or supposedly working on to get access. Sometimes amatuers who don't make a profit from images have the advantage. Sometimes I use the "just go for it" approach, if the light is right and I then worry about the consequences later. Frankly, I play it which ever way I have to to get what the job done. Life is short and an artists career is even shorter as a result there are images that I have which I cannot publish because I do not have property releases but I do sell them as art prints to collectors.
I once did a shoot for Forbes magazine on Superfund sites at Los Alamos Nat. Lab. We did not have permission as the Dept. of defence did not want the article done. I spent 4 days sneaking around the perimiter of secure sites photographing with long lenses. No one said a word until after the article came out and then they only wanted to know how I had evaded their security so completely for future security planning!
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