Getting Permission to Photograph a Stranger's Land

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by richterjw, Jun 7, 2012.

  1. There are a couple of farmsteads in my area that I would like to photograph. I don't know the owners and haven't ever approached someone with a request like this. How would you go about it? Just knock on their door with a business card and an explanation of what I'd like to photograph, and an asking of permission? I'm a bit timid about this sort of thing, so any words of wisdom are appreciated. Thanks.
  2. Do you need to walk on their land? Otherwise, I think anything you photograph from a public right of way is OK. But as a courtesy it might be good to speak with them and maybe give them a print fom time to time. This topic has been covered extensively here and a search may rturn up other opinions.
  3. I would definitely need to be on their land.
  4. Watch American Pickers on the History channel--seriously, those guys see something that interests them and they just drive right up to the house and ask.
    When I am out and expect to talk to people regarding permissions of any type, I just carry a small print portfolio--cheap and small sleeved type--in my camera bag. If they draw a blank when I ask them or they ask what I intend to do, I pull it out and get them involved. Some have said no at first and I acknowledge that I understand but find a way to pull out the book. So far, everyone has reconsidered and let me do what I wanted. I try to find reasons to laugh a lot and show a lot of excitement for what I want to do, that puts them at ease.
  5. Jeremy:
    Although I generally photograph barns from the road / public land (which is totally permissible by law), I have on a couple of occasions knocked on a farmer's door in order to get a closer pic of a barn or other item. I've always been met with openness, never had a problem.
    Two things to remember (and I guess these are life's lessons, too!), a bit of conversation and earnest attention never hurts your efforts (plus you meet some interesting people, and you might get an American Pickers type story in the process), and make sure not to disturb or damage anything at all while photographing. I am painfully careful to say, "I'd like to take a picture from *here* so that the farmer doesn't think I am trying to steal something or whatever.
  6. Jeremy, just knock on their door at a reasonable time, introduce yourself, and pitch your request. Being
    able to show some representative work from the past would be great. Though the circumstances are
    different, I've found people will say yes and go out of their way to help when approached straight-up.
  7. If you really knew all that goes on out in the boonies...! Be safe. Go with a friend.
  8. Thanks for the advice, fellas. These are the sorts of things I was expecting to hear.

    And Alan, I know all too well the goings on out there in the sticks. I blogged about a run-in with some drunken hillbillies on a camping trip, here. And I'm always wary for banjos.
  9. These days, I'd be more worried about the barn containing a meth lab and bear traps under the hay. It's crazy out there.

    On the other hand, I only hear about that (frequently apocryphal) stuff from the farmers I actually talk to, and they're always willing to let me shoot their grounds, their critters, vehicles, etc. Most don't want to get sued if you trip on some bailing twine and hit your head on a rusty plow blade, so exude your interest in being careful, and come across as physically comfortable in your surroundings. When you give off the "city slicker" vibe, it's mostly alarming because the farmer will be wondering what sort of didn't-know-better trouble you're going to get yourself into around a stock pond, barbed wire, an intact bull, or a protective farm dog.

    I've never met a farmer in the "Git off my land!" mode who was testy because he just didn't want pictures taken. Mostly, they work very hard all day, and don't want to put energy into keeping you out of trouble and keeping you from spooking their livestock. Just remember that when you're on the farm, you're visiting someone's office. It's like having someone prowl around your studio or darkroom, or asking to poke around your basement to look for interesting things to shoot. Just put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself what you'd want to hear to put you at ease and get you involved.
  10. In my area (east/middle Tennessee), if you stop on a public road to get a shot of an old barn or abandoned house, there's a better than even chance that someone will stop and talk to you. In some cases they're the owners, in others just neighbors looking out for their friends. Either way, I usually learn a lot from them about the history of the place, often going back to the mid-19th century. It adds a lot to the meaning of the shot. The point is, it's worthwhile to talk to the owners, even if you technically don't need permission. It's always a matter of courtesy, often a source of information, and, sometimes, getting unsolicited suggestions for other good shots in the area.
    By the way: Jeremy, maybe you need one of these... :)
  11. One of my graduate students just finished his thesis project--a conservation photography project that looked at the status and future of the endangered Palouse Prairie. We knocked on hundreds of doors, drove up to 100's farmers and other landowners and never once were we turned down. While some were puzzled by our request, most were curious and all were encouraging.
  12. Another question: One the of the places is about a 60-mile round trip; if the homeowner isn't home, would you leave a note and contact info or just chance it and return another time?
  13. Just knock on their door with a business card and an explanation of what you would like to photograph, and ask permission? Also taking them a couple of good sized prints afterwards is a good touch. This approach has never failed me.
  14. William, I think that's pretty apt advice on that shirt.
  15. Put yourself in their shoes. Someone photographing their property often indicates legal trouble, land developers, tax authorities, or some other form of trouble. You want to establish with them that you're not any of the above. Wear a smile, be friendly, present a card, show your work, etc. If they feel they can trust you, they'll likely not object to your photographing something on their land, even if they don't understand why the hair-brained city person with the fancy camera would want to photograph it. (An experience on an Amish farm comes to mind. While I photographed their horses in the pasture, they sat on a fence and watched in amusement.)
  16. SCL


    You might just offer to send them a finished print, thanking them for allowing you access.
  17. It's crazy out there.
    I'm always wary for banjos.​
    Jeremy, Matt,
    Pole barns with "No Smoking" signs are a give-away.
    Once I was prowling around the woods looking for the spot where Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania come together. Got it into my head a pan with the axis on the brass marker would be cool. I inquired at a gas station and was told that it was on private property and to not go there. The region's history is similar to Appalachia's history with moonshine, only the Revenuers' big concern is explosives. DuPont's legacy runs deep in Delaware.
    Most obviously colorful agrarian stuff, even Amish, is photographed a lot so it isn't a big risk.
  18. "I blogged about a run-in with some drunken hillbillies on a camping trip, here. And I'm always wary for banjos."
    Dueling Banjos and the movie Deliverance was really creepy.
  19. Reminds of the time when I was a lot younger, more stupid and into fishing. So I pass over this small back-road's bridge and see this wonderfully small little ponding area in the stream, just imagining how full of fish it must be. It looked like public land it was that close to the bridge. So I pull off the road and park on the shoulder, jump out of the car, start fishing and sure enuff some guy comes out from no wheres. "You know, it would have been nice if you asked before you started fishin'" I must have turned red apologizing apoplectically . Anyway he says I might as well finish and walks off back into the woods. I stayed about 5 minutes more and think I did catch something but never did that again. Lesson learned.
  20. I have from time to time just introduced myself and chatted for a while. If I get something worthwhile, I offer to fire a copy to them by email (if they have it). I have never found anyone rude or quarrelsome: and of course we rural types think of nastiness as a trait of city folks -- a bit, I suppose, like the urbanite hearing banjos in the rustling of the leaves. : > )
    The biggest problem I've ever had is personal timidity — for some reason I tend to be a little shy. I suspect that's the only real impediment to knocking on the door. No legal or safety concern: just shyness.
  21. I've done a lot of knocking on doors in pursuit of a photo and have always been accomodated. A couple of points:
    --Even if you're on public right-of-way, taking a few shots over the fence isn't going to win you friends. If you think you want access, ask first.
    --Too many photographers fail to follow through on the promised photo. I've encountered the sceptical looks. Follow through!
    --I've been in rural areas where nobody had a clue what a medium format or view camera were. Some people thought I was surveying (!), and it didn't make them happy. That's where examples of my work really helped.
    --The first thing I say after saying I'm a photographer is that I saw something on their property that was "interesting" or "attractive." That often pleases people and helps to get things moving in the right direction. Once folks know your genuinely interested in something that's close to them, more often than not they'll go out of their way to be helpful. I've had amazing days unfold with tractor rides to the top of mountains, personal tours through orchards, etc.
    --It's a good idea to familiarize yourself about local customs. In my neck of the woods, if you knock on the front door, you might as well turn around. The front door is for ministers and undertakers. Wear boots. The point about farmers fearing you might get into trouble is a good one. They'll be happy to see the boots. Again, around here, those boots better be off before you take one step inside anyone's door.
  22. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Really serious yes to following through on photographs, especially in other cultures where hobby photography of other people and other people's things is rare. A friend promised a market stall operator some photos and never came though. The stalls have since been demolished, so getting the woman her photos now will involve me asking around the new market to see if anyone knows her, if I ever get the photographs from the friend. Probably won't happen.
    Burning DVDs works -- most people can read those on DVD players (much to my amusement, a local bar tender played one of my DVDs of his family on the bar's DVD player). Email works if they have email (and is a fairly easy thing to do if you're back home and they're several hundred or more miles away).
    Take pictures of things they're proud of and don't take pictures of stuff they'd rather not have you take pictures of no matter how colorful and highly textured it looks like to you. It's annoying to see someone looking for "poor, colorful, and weatherbeaten" over "trim, trig, and new."
    Spend some money at the local stop and shop mom and pop store and show them your photographs. By the next day, the village will know all about you.

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