The Problem of Self-Appointed Photography Police

The Problem of Self-Appointed Photography Police

Have you ever been in that moment when you’ve composed the scene just how you wanted, you’ve nailed your focus, you’ve placed your grad perfectly to balance the exposure and you’re about to take the photograph when you’re interrupted by someone telling you that you’re not allowed to use a tripod at the location?

On closer inspection, you notice that the person isn’t even in security, they’re just a self-appointed tripod policeman. In this article, I’ll examine this photography policing phenomenon in an attempt to stop it.

I remember doing a commercial travel photography job in Turkey. I had a permit to photograph with a tripod in a cave church in Cappadocia. The rules of the church clearly stated that tripods were not allowed. Even so, members of the public tried their luck. The security guards told the public to put away their tripods and then a voice whined out, “how come he is allowed to use a tripod?”. I turned around, shocked to see a fully formed adult man pointing at me. I was dismayed because logically, there were only two explanations for why I was using my tripod. I either had permission or I was trying my luck and getting away with it. What did this man hope to achieve by reporting me? Did he imagine the security guard was going to roll over and allow him to also use his tripod? More likely, this man was annoyed that he couldn’t use his tripod, so he wanted to prevent all others from doing so.

No tripods

Both this and the lead photograph were taken either side of Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is one of the most photographed icon in London, however, both locations are privately owned and the owners have chosen to ban tripods. At both locations, I've been told by other photographers not to use my tripod.

Since owning a drone, I’ve had to deal with similar issues: self-appointed drone police constantly telling me what I can and can’t do. Worse still, whenever I post a photo or video from a drone, certain people are outraged, convinced that I’ve broken the law to get the shot.

I appreciate this video by Tech Drone Media because it provokes the drone police and highlights the futility of the practice. To some extent, I understand why some photographers feel compelled to police other photographers. When photographers willful break the law and annoy the general public, it can make it more difficult for law abiding photographers. However, there are three issues facing even the most well intentioned photography policeman:

  1. The photographer has a permit and is operating within the law. In this case, confronting the photographer distracts them from doing their job.
  2. The photographer is aware of the law and is taking a chance, hoping to get away with it. In this case, the photographer will simply move to another location and will continue to take the chance.
  3. The photographer is ignorant of the law. This is a common occurrence with drones available from most stores sold to the general public without any education. This group does not represent the serious photographer group and if you're going to try police this group, you've got an uphill battle now that just about every person in the world has a camera in their hands.

Have you ever found yourself acting in some sort of photographic policing role and if so, what were you hoping to achieve? To the self appointed photography police out there, I suggest making a decision to make your life easier and just let other photographers practice their craft without interference.

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63 Comments

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Keith Meinhold's picture

A person could stand all day with an smartphone and take pictures without getting any attention, but let that same person haul out a DSLR or worse yet a tripod and the photography police loose it. Yet essentially the results are the same: a photograph of something.

Other than heft, this is the reason I moved from DSLR to Sony mirrorless. Even so, it still isn't as circumspect as the smartphone.

Sean Sauer's picture

Police yourself and don't waste your time worrying about others. You have no idea what someone else is doing. They could be doing everything legal and by the book and even if they aren't it's not your business.