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Thread: problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

  1. #1

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    For the last 6 months or so, I have had many difficulties photographing downtown Phoenix. I have been approached by uniformed officers at least half of the times I have been out shooting. I have been made to stop photographing on three occaisions, and had my ID taken and called in to headquarters two times as well.

    The city police have told me that photographing the transportation system is illegal, and me shooting it raises a "red flag". This includes trains as well as the "flight paths of airplanes" (which includes nearly the entire sky in Phoenix). Today I was told by a Maricopa Protection Services (or "Security Services" or something - he had a badge and a gun) officer that all government buildings are off limits. He also told me to pack it up because I was shooting from a privately owned parking structure, and needed permission from the owner (who was of course not available to give permission).

    As soon as I set up my tripod, I know it is a matter of time before I will be approached and questioned. Even if I am shooting from public property, and photographing buildings which are fair game, I have been told that I am "loitering".

    Without starting a political debate, does anyone know what is really off limits, and what is fair game? Any tips on getting a permit, or some kind of card that certifies that I am not a Terrorist?

    I found this link, but it does not go into great detail : Photographer's Rights. I also have an email in to the Phoenix Mayor's office requesting info. I will repost here anything I find.

  2. #2
    Beverly Hills, California
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    Beverly Hills, CA

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    Craig, the tripod is where they get us. Bullshit on their part on the " It's illegal to... " What is the problem for us is that it is often against city ordinances to set up a tripod, even on public property, without a permit. City officials know they are limited to stopping handheld public photography. So it's the tripod for us large formaters that's our achilles heal.

    One thing that can help a little is to don't put your camera bag down on the sidewalk when your using a tripod.

    Speech: This country is only "free" for corporate barron's to cash in on us peasants. You must live with the attitudeto "Live Free or Die". Don't back down if you're in the right. Document each encounter through a paper trail and consider contacting the ACLU after you build up a number of incidences.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2004

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    I agree with Craig, even though I live in a very rural area. I'm scared half the time to go and set up near someone's property who I don't know. I've also been told to leave, had my ID copied, and have been questioned many times. What is it about a tripod that makes people so on edge? I'd love to be able to just approach people and ask for permission to take a photograph without them thinking I'm out to ruin something of theirs.

  4. #4

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    First off, IANAL, nor do I play one on TV...

    Go get a copy of the City's municipal code. That's where you'll find whtat the deal with with tripods and public property. Outside of tripod laws, if you're on public property, photographing something that's visible from where you are and you're not obstructing a vehicle or pedestrian right of way, you are most probably acting legally. If a non-police officer tells you to move, politely tell him to bugger off. If a police officer tells you to stop, politely inform him that you believe you are acting legally. If he persists, well, then what to do next depends on whether you're willing to get arrested or not. If you've checked the tripod laws and you're acting legally but get arrested anyway, then you probably have a good lawsuit against the city.

  5. #5
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    brooklyn, nyc

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    this probably won't work with anyone who's truly paranoid or commited to making you miserable, but in general i've found that being friendly with security people and cops helps a lot ... so does having some materials that you can show as evidence of what you're up to. old show invitations with your pictures on them, or anything like that. something that shows you're just a harmless weirdo with a camea hobby.

    someone told me that when people approach lee friedlander and demand to know what he's doing he says something like, "oh, i'm just an old guy who likes taking pictures for a hobby." which is technically true! and it diffuses most people's paranoia.

    it would be helpful to know your actual rights, though. please do post whatever you find out.

  6. #6

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    The whole "ID copied" thing confuses me. Who's doing the copying? Why did you produce ID? You *do* have to tell a cop who asks what your name is. You do not have to carry, nor do you have to produce 'ID' when asked. If someone asks you for ID just say "no". Note, this is not the same as a cop asking you for your license at a traffic stop. Driving requires you to have proof of being licensed, that proof happens to function as photo ID in most places.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    SF Bay Area, California, USA

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    I'm not familiar with Arizona state law or Phoenix ordinances, but with one
    possible exception, everything you have mentioned sounds like total

    A quick search of the Phoenix City Code finds nothing for 'tripod,' and
    seems to indicate that a permit is needed for motion pictures or television
    production, but not for still photography (Sec. 10-60, Permits and
    Exemptions). I've never heard of a law anywhere that prohibits photography
    of government buildings (except for certain designated military
    installations). Ditto for "tripod ordinances." They are the stuff of
    urban legend; I've yet to actually see one, though I obviously haven't
    examined every state and local law in the United States. Unless something
    has changed recently, Arizona doesn't have a "stop and identify" law, so
    the police have no legal right to demand your ID even if they do have legal
    basis for a "Terry stop" (Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District of Nevada,
    2004). How far to actually push this probably depends on what kind of nut
    you're dealing with.

    It does appear that you need to leave private property if requested to do
    so by the owner or his agent (Phoenix City Code, Sec. 23-85.01. Criminal
    trespass). This would not apply to a request from some other dildo,

    I've invested a total of about five minutes looking at the City Code, so
    I've obviously not made a very thorough search. Even after a thorough
    search, it's probably worth an hour with a local attorney if you really to
    stand up to these jerks, especially sworn officers.

    Having said that, I completely agree with paulr that a friendly approach
    (at least initially) usually works a lot better than hostility.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    May 2000
    Tamworth, Staffordshire. U.K.

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    Many thanks for the U.K. link. I've only been told once that I could not take a photograph (it was a d.i.y. warehouse and a couple of thick security guards) it didn't stop me, crappy picture anyway! There seem to be very few restrictions in the U.K. except for the fact that anybody who points a camera at a child or a group of children is automatically regarded as a pervert. Little kids get on my nerves anyway so to me this is not a problem. Kids and f9 lenses don't mix anyway. I think that we're lucky over here. I have not used a camera in London for some years but to restrict photography in a country that promotes its tourist industry to the extent that the U.K. does would be stupid. PETE.

  9. #9

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    I do try to be very friendly and explain what I am doing. I break out my employee ID from the college I work for, etc. Some officers are nice people and pretty easy going, and some are on a little power trip. Those are the ones that make it hard. I don't really mind giving them my ID, I just hate to set up and then be made to leave without getting to make an exposure.

    Jeff, I beleive you are right. My research so far indicates that it must be the owner (or their agent) that asks me to leave a privately owned property (in this case, a parking garage), and not a cop who happens to come by. I did get the # of the garage owner, and plan to call tomorrow to arrange permission. Still, most parking lots are privately owned, and there is not much public property downtown besides the sidewalk and the street. I'm really hoping I can get something that clears my way around this stupid "blocking the sidewalk" bs.

    I printed out the rights sheet, and will carry it with me now. I also sent emails to several govt agencies asking about the laws. When I get responses, I am going to print those and carry them as well. The main problem for me is not knowing what new Homeland Security types of laws have been passed, or not. A lot of the time, police have said "you can't photograph..." and not "it is illegal to photograph...". I wonder if that means anything. They were extremely serious when it came to the "transportation system", though.

  10. #10
    Beverly Hills, California
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    Beverly Hills, CA

    problems photographing city buildings, trains, etc

    "Ditto for "tripod ordinances." They are the stuff of urban legend;"

    About 3 months ago, when I was shooting with my toyo Field 4x5 of a synagogue under beautiful setting light, I was surrounded by 4 Beverl Hills police officers. I tried the friendly approach at first. That was only good enough to convince them that they didn't have to unholster their guns. They questioned me at length, ran my I.D. through a criminal background check, took numerous personal information down about me, including my place of employment, employment address and phone number there. (This all was despite that I had a portfolio on hand and showed it to them and that I was photographing from the side walk.) One officer tried to imply that I was some vagabond because I decided to place my camera bag down on the side walk.

    Another officer asked if I was the same 'gentleman who was photographing the Museum of Tolerance" (Not). I played it as chilly as I could bear because I knew cities do have an anti-loitering ordinance, and the officer hinted that he interpreted my placing the three legs of my tripod downon the public sidewalk long enough to compose, meter and photograph was grounds for a loitering ticket. This, plus I had my camera back on the sidewalk too - altogether this would be enough to write me up a nice fat ticket for loitering.

    So, I told them about some free photos I had done for a couple of their officers recently, and they were nice enough to let me continue with (just) one exposure - and they even waited around to see if I knew how to work the contraption too!

    I was actually quite pissed about the whole thing. Since I am an Arab looking African/European American, they took the time to explain that they were not racial profiling me. Such nice guys. I wanted to get really pissed, but I have t think of flip side of coin that they have a job to do too.

    A few miles down the street in the city of Los Angeles, have never been bothered by the LAPD for tripod on public sidewalk.

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