Getting Permission to Shoot Industrial Landscapes

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by david_corwin, Dec 8, 1998.

  1. How do I go about getting permission to shoot certain subjects, such
    as fenced-off buildings, factories and industrial landscapes? Just
    when is permission needed?

    <p>

    Last month I was shooting on the Santa Monica Pier, when I was
    approached by three security men in uniform, informing me that I'd
    have to get permission from the "marketing office", because the image
    of the pier is copyrighted (copywritten?). Despite the pro-looking
    nature of my rig (P67 on tripod), I told them I'm a student (currently
    not true- however, I'm strickly amateur-shoot for the sheer love of
    it). They said fine, show us a full-time student photo ID. Since I
    couldn't produce an ID, and there was no time to go to "the office"
    (the light was fading fast), I dejectedly packed up all my gear and
    left.

    <p>

    Two weeks ago while in New York I was almost arrested for shooting the
    exterior of an abandoned GM plant. The place was an amazing subject,
    and it being a holiday weekend, there was no way I could get
    "permission" to shoot these incredible piles of twisted machinery. I
    took a risk and climbed through an opening in the fence (cut by
    someone else). Needless to say, an heroic, bored Pinkerton guard was
    overjoyed to find me walking around the piles of rusted steel. He
    ordered me to open the P67's back and expose the film, or face the
    police for trespassing (which, I'll admit I was doing).

    <p>

    So, when one is travelling, how and when does one get permission to
    shoot certain subjects? What's off limits and how is one to know?
    (obviously trespassing is risky) When you chance upon a scene, and the
    light is just right, what's the point if you have to go and search out
    the proper authority, when the light will be gone...What do you do on
    weekends when there are only officious security guards wandering
    around...And if I am to seek advance permission, what do I tell them?
    That I'm an artist, interested only in the image, or a student working
    on a project? Should I have a card printed up that says "artist", or
    take a class just to get the student ID? But what if some day I turn
    pro and want to sell the image? What about shooting people in street
    photography? I would love to hear from anyone who has experience in
    shooting buildings, factories, public places (that have copywritten
    images). Is there a solution, or is the fun in spontaneous image
    creation gone? Or am I just naive in this litigious, fear-filled world? Thanks in advance, David C
     
  2. This is the same problem I had when I was photographing Navy ships in January this year. Fortunately, the security guard was nice enough to "go have a cup of coffee" while I was shooting. (The ships were beautifully sillouetted, and they were open to the public in an hour anyways)
    A security guard can only perform a "citizens arrest". Security guards have exactly as much police powers as you and I. They can really only tell you to get lost. Consult a lawyer on what actually constitutes criminal trespass.
    Yes, you have to get permission to be on private property. This doesn't mean that you can't photograph it. Unless something is actually a work of art, I don't think that it can be copyrighted.
    Here in Seattle, there is a "Troll Under the Bridge" sculpture. One of the local papers published a picture without prior authorization, so the sculpture's owners decided to have a problem about it. There is some "loophole" in the copyright law for news organizations to publish current news (something like that). This doesn't mean it can't be photographed, just that publishing the photograph can get you into legal trouble.
    As far as the pier goes, the security guys could not stop you unless you were on their property. If you were definitely on public property, then they can't do anything. And you can file harrassment charges against them.
     
  3. A thought just occurred to me: Do what one photographer did in Tibet: Tell the authority figure that they look great, and would you please step into the picture?
    I don't remember where I read the story. What happened is that he wanted to photograph a platoon clearing a roadway. Well, photographing the military is forbidden by the Chinese. So what he did was that he went up to the captain and asked to photograph him against his troops, b.s.-ing him about how it would be captioned.
    The only thing that I can think of with the security guard at the abandoned plant would be to look overjoyed that he showed up, stick him in front of the camera, shoot at least one of him, and then shoot around him. Flattery and b.s. can go a long way with people. Oh, yes: get yourself one of those Photoflex Litedisc folding reflectors ("Could you please hold it here"), and business cards with model release form on the back.
     
  4. Coming from my litigious-happy school (read the address) I recently had
    a long, long talk about photographing buildings on campus.

    <p>

    I was carrying around my 4x5 (and being a student, obviously doing it
    for personal pleasure... but that's a different story altogether) and I
    was hassled by a security guard here about "illegal to photograph the
    campus for profit" until I provided ID, upon which I was not physically
    thrown out but "persuaded" to leave the building. (I just didn't have a
    class in that particular one at that time.)

    <p>

    Turns out that as it's a private property, but publically accessible
    (no fences) they can't have a problem with you photographing it per se,
    but publishing it, on the other hand, will get you thrown into a
    copyright suit so fast you won't know what hit you.

    <p>

    You need to get their permission, a fairly large fee and cut of your
    profits, as well as a $1,000,000 (!) bond (in case you don't follow
    their instructions) in order to secure copyright privileges to
    distribute for profit anything with an identifiable image of any campus
    building, campus logo, the name, any likeness... you get the idea.

    <p>

    So now when any security people come up to talk to me, I just rattle
    off some names of people higher up and tell them to talk to these
    officials. Usually that helps. I tried to get the President of the
    college to sign a little form saying that it's ok for me to be on
    campus, but he felt that wasn't necessary. *grin*

    <p>

    -jon
     
  5. I know I'm just asking another question. But... So is the general
    consensus with pros to just shoot and chance litigation, or pay? For
    example, here in Seattle the Space Needle is privately owned. But it
    is the most photographed subject in the city and I can't believe that
    every small time pro, post card, calander, etc. is paying royalties?
    Same thing for Empire State Building and similar subjects. Is all
    public property fair game? (ie: public university, park, Golden Gate
    Bridge) And do painters have to get permission to paint a building?
    And if that's okay because of abstraction, what amount to darkroom
    fun do you have to do before you're off the hook? Opinions from legal
    experts? This is just another sad example of living in a world where
    everyone always has to worry about getting sued. Sorry for more
    questions, thanks for responses!

    <p>

    -John
     
  6. How about using a long telephoto lens and shooting from off the
    property, say from a neighboring building? Luckily, here, in
    photo-happy Japan where you see scores of people carrying tripods,
    even for P&S 35mm's, the thought of something that couldn't be
    photographed by the public is virtually incomprehensible. I did run
    in to problems in Paris in front of the Louvre, in the park across
    the street, and at the Arc de Triomphe in using a tripod,
    though.Maybe it's only the lawsuit-happy US?
     
  7. One of the problems that I've had in attempting to photograph in semi-public spaces has been in obtaining permission to use a tripod. For example at the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center in NYC, they wanted $500 for a tripod permit. Needless to say I didn't purchase one. Rather, I steadied myself against a convenient pillar and got a very nice shot with a wide angle lens of the courtyard. In Washington, DC it took me a couple of weeks of telephone calls and faxes back and forth in order to obtain a tripod permit (free of charge) to use OUTDOORS on the grounds of the US Capitol. Many places will give permission, but it takes a lot of time.
     
  8. As far as I know, it's never illegal to photograph anything, as long
    as you are on public property when you take the shot and you are not
    invading anyone's privacy (shooting into their bedroom window etc.).

    <p>

    You can't USE the images for commercial purposes without a property
    release from the owner of the building, but you can take the picture
    without a problem. Of course if you are on private property, then the
    property owner makes the rules about what you can and cannot do.
     
  9. The toxic corporate-industrial world is indeed very paranoidand
    often extremely hostile to photographers. Tresspass if you must (and
    usually we must) but be prepared with a good cover story. My motto
    is, "Shoot First, Ask Pemission Never." If you're accosted by some
    zealous security guard just play dumb: "Oh, I'm an amateur
    photographer and I just love the colors reflecting off that pool of
    sludge..." "Am I really trespassing?" Etc. The absent-minded artist-
    photographer act works wonders. In general, be polite but firm. Phony
    IDs or press passes are asking for trouble. Stash exposed film in a
    hidden pocket, keep a dummy roll or two where they can find it, so if
    you have to fog it, you won't lose your real pictures. Be clever. The
    authorities usually have very little understanding of photography
    equipment and are easy to fool.
     
  10. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    >As far as I know, it's never illegal to photograph anything, as long
    as you
    >are on public property when you take the shot and you are not
    invading
    >anyone's privacy (shooting into their bedroom window etc.).

    <p>

    Note that Bob's response is specific to the United States. This is
    not true in many other countries, where there can be laws about
    photographing people and buildings. It can also be illegal to
    photograph within certain localities of countries; for example, in
    many indigenous communities in Latin America.
     
  11. peter and i employ the same tactics of disarmament. "just some
    hare-brained artist makin' pictures of junk"... i can't tell you how
    many times i've been asked if i'm with either the E.P.A or "The
    Insurance Company" or "The Newspaper".... right... with a 45 year old
    linhof tech III 4x5 and 50 lbs of beat old gitzo and an old graphlex
    case... doing survelence... pretty sneaky, huh!

    <p>

    one thing that might get you out of trouble if they do actually detain
    you is a clause called "attractive nuisance".

    <p>

    this is what saves little kids from being sued or arrested from
    sneaking onto abandoned property. if it's a restricted or dangerous
    area, then it needs to be properly fenced with clear signage. this is
    also what allows the parents of the afore-mentioned kids to sue the
    property owners of the swimming pool that kid just drowned in. it was
    not sufficiently secured.

    <p>

    as mentioned: only in america.

    <p>

    and as peter said, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.
    otherwise, plan ahead, write letters, give free prints (of previous
    work), get letters of endorsement from "important personages" and hope
    the light/weather is good when they assign you a slot....t
     
  12. Legal threat to Photographers: the French legal system has inplace the capability for people included within a photograph, innocuous or otherwise, to sue for damages. This is becoming a threat as any self styled victim of intrusion can take out legal proceeding against the photgrapher, include someone in a building or landscape shot and suddenly this person can sue the photographer.....Ridiculous but true.

    And it does not stop there, local councils in the midlands ( England) are charging for the use of parks by Wedding Photgrapher when used in the course of their chosen profession......but the guests that take the same photgraphs can do so for nothing...

    Jack
     
  13. I was recently in Modesto Ca and a marvelous tomato processing factory stimulated my nostrils as well as my artisitc inclinations. The pipes were lit perfectly in the afternoon sun. I burned 3/4 a roll and was approached by a Pinkerton who began asking personal questions. I detected a touch of frustration in her demeanor. She was a crumbling middle aged trailer park beauty who was "just doing her job" I engaged her in my appreciation of her workplace and offered to take her foto. She blushed and told me to come to the office and she could arrange a tour. The point I am making? Try to understand the guards point of view and exploit their weaknesses shamelessly so that you can take your beloved foto. Use all tricks. Dont let no rent a cop screw up your masterpiece. get the foto at all costs. ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION!
     
  14. Be careful about airfields- jumping a fence and trespassing at an airport is a felony. A friend and came close to doing such a thing, but we only trespassed an area nearby. The transit authority cops still did a thourough inspection of our bags before they gave us $20 tickets. I chose not to make them find us with a german shepherd. Nuclear weapons and national security are touchy things, of course- Barney Grienke has an interesting story to tell.
     
  15. This recently came up for me. I wanted to photograph the
    headquarters of a large US company. Nice architecture and
    many nice flowerbeds.

    About 30sec after I break out my P/S, boom no photography.
    Note to self, learn to work at the speed of HCB. The guards were
    helpful in suggesting I shoot off the sidewalk some 120ft away.
    But no; good when all you have is 35mm lens.

    My normal technique is to play the confused art student and have
    a student ID handy. (Enroll in your local comunity college and get
    one) "

    I think we should try to make some sort of FAQ for doing
    "Insertion photography." Cover story's techniques, legalities,
    eqipment, being stealthy. etc etc
     

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