WHAT CAN YOU PHOTOGRAPH?
If you take photos outside of your own home or studio, this is an important question. As I wander the country and take photos, the answer to the above question keeps changing. I have taken a number of photos from bridges in late evening light. I like the look of long steaks of the car lights in the deep blue evening light. I have had law enforcement officers drive by without a second thought. One Sheriff stopped one night where Bob, my brother-in-law, and I were taking photos from a bridge over I-80 in Oklahoma. He chatted a bit, asked us to be careful not to step in front of any traffic, and drove on. This was all before 9/11. Setting up a tripod on a bridge is a different matter today.
I have a nice set of photos of the Lincoln Memorial. They were all taken at night, using a tripod, over a span of two hours time. Park Service rangers were around. I am told you can no longer use a tripod in and around the major monuments and memorials in Washington D.C. unless you have a special permit. This was changed long before 9/11.
I have not had an unhappy run-in with the authorities over taking pictures, but some photographers have had serious incidents with overzealous authorities while taking photos that were completely legal. I have watched a few grumpy people go up and challenge photographers who were taking pictures of landscape scenes in National Parks, or public buildings in public places. What prompts this behavior? Unfortunately, I have witnessed a few photographers climbing fences, ignoring signs, and wandering on private property with clearly posted warning signs. This may explain why some people react to photographers the way they do.
A few bad egg photographers who disregard what is legal and proper have made things more difficult for the rest of us. I should add that the vast majority of photographers are thoughtful, responsible folks. During classes and workshops I have conducted, I have taken pictures in the wild with dozens of nature photographers over the years and found virtually all of them to be respectful and protective of the environement.
I have photographed persons unknown to me in public places, in several different countries, with their knowledge and without incident. Lots of folks do not regard photographers with suspicion, but some do and make their feelings known.
National Park Rangers have always treated me well. I was deep in the dunes at White Sands, New Mexico taking photos at sunset and by late evening light and lost track of time. The lateness of the hour finally hit me, so I huffed over the dunes to get back to my car and found a ranger waiting for me. She pleasantly asked me if I got some nice photos. I told her I certainly hoped so and I apologized for being there so late. She followed me to the entrance and unlocked the gate to let me out. I understand you can now pay for a permit to stay overnight at Whites Sands to catch the best light.
What you CAN
legally photograph is different from what some folks, including law enforcement officers, THINK
you can legally photograph.
Mike Johnson has written an interesting article
about this on Michael Reichmann's website, the Luminous Landscape