How do you react to photo bans at attractions?

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Paul Farace
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How do you react to photo bans at attractions?
5 months ago

My wife and I traveled to Miami two weeks ago. Nice place for photography to say the least. One of our stops was at Vizcaya, a 100-year-old mansion built by an industrial magnate who couldn't spend money fast enough. In the end he had constructed a Venetian palace that even the Venetians could envy. Sadly he died with only 10 years later and the family donated the estate to the county which operates it as a historical site and gardens.  Since I have my own Vizcaya in Cleveland (sarcasim  alert!) I though it would be a nice place to try out my new Fuji XT-1. When we arrived at the ticket booth we paid our admission (no signs regarding photography) and walked the 100 yards to the main entrance of the building. Once inside the lobby, where you had to go to get a map of the house and grounds, I was coldly informed by the uniformed guard that NO PHOTOGRAPHY OF ANY SORT WAS ALLOWED!!! I guess the guy didn't have a good day or missed his morning coffee. I asked him if that meant no flash or no tripods (understandable in confined spaces)... he clarified his already blunt warning... NONE OF ANY KIND!

Well that toasted my coffee beans. I might have not visited this site if I had known about the ban and HOW IT WAS EXPRESSED!  As director of a confined space National Historic Landmark, I have authored my own rules on photography:  no tripods unless the visitor census is extremely low... otherwise don't spoil the visit of others.  But Vizcaya wants no use of cameras inside the building... usually this was done in the old days when some photo nudniks would schlep big tripods and flash gear everywhere... not so today. It was also done to boost sales of photo books of the site. There are nice photo books of Vizcaya in the gift shop but nothing I'd drool over.

We decided to visit the outside gardens first. Photography there is permitted... ohhhh is it permitted!

For me, I like seeing at least a dozen local photographers shooting brides, prom, and graduation photos. Looking at their technique is fun and informative. I even had a chance to talk to a few and hold a reflector for one!  But the problem here was not the small fish, but the several "big productions" going on in the gardens. Apparently a big company was shooting their new line of bridal gowns ... they even had a big RV for a dressing room. They had at least two photographers working in different areas of the gardens with gaffers, helpers, and models. In the mix were dozens of visitors walking along the same paths. TO THEIR CREDIT -- the photographers were very professional... they simply waited as the tourists finished walking by before shooting. They accepted the fact that the paying customers had as much right to the gardens as they did. I shadowed them to see how they would react to the two-legged "distractions."  In my time there I didn't witness any "get out of our way" orders. I wondered why they didn't reserve the gardens after the 5:30 p.m. closing time... not distractions and sweet light!

Sadly a video crew was there to tape an interview with some client (also clothing industry related) that didn't work the same way.  They were set up a tripod-mounted video camera on a walkway overlooking a scenic garden, between the main stairway and a lovely turret on the end of a curving walkway. My wife wanted to get a shot of the gardens from that turret, as did several other visitors. I was shooting a close-up of a flower. A few minutes later I joined her and the other visitors in the turret. We all had to pass by the video crew and their "studio" on the walkway.

After a few minutes in the turret a video crewman walked over and said to us "we are ready to begin filming, would you please leave?"  Now he said it nicely, but his manner was not the issue, rather the fact that he was telling paying customers to vacate an nice photo area so we would not foul their "shoot."  Now I am an easy going guy... I immediately thought, "you just pizzed off my wife and will suffer for that..."  Me--I concluded that a note to the director was in order. The group of three tourists immediately left ... my wife set down deep roots and informed the video crewmember that she would leave when she was ready.  I convinced her that a letter to the director might be more effective... and besides, I had to go to the bathroom!

As professional as the video crew was with their technique for videography, they needed help with dealing with people... or learn to choose a site, like nearer the turret, where people might not spoil their shot... or wait till closing!

The sad part of the issue for the site management is that they place dozens of signs around the facility (inside and outside the main structure) begging for extra money!  Not likely to happen with many photographers!

And since I am a photo terrorist, once inside the building I set my XT-1 ISO at 3,200, put my 14 mm on and set it for 1/80 at f 4 (or thereabouts) ... the dimly lit interiors of the house blazed in colorful jpegs on my display. I took less time to shoot the interiors and took up less space doing so than most of the other visitors carrying backpacks and towing children -- and holding audio tour wands to their heads (not unlike my camera).

I have yet to send my letter to the director, but this is a good template.

How would you react?

The photo terrorist is reflected in the mirror!

Nice grounds... if you don't run into the cleaning crew.

Cleaning crew should work around visiting hours!

A local photographer working in the gardens with a bride.

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Holding a camera, any camera, reduces my blood pressure, calms my nerves, and gives me a sense of opportunity!

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