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Street Photographers test freedom to shoot in London

By dpreview staff on Jul 21, 2011 at 20:42 GMT

A group of photographers in London have investigated how easy it is to shoot around the city. The six photographers, backed up with six videographer, attempted to take photographs around the City of London (the city's financial district), to see what resistance they encountered. The experiment, conducted as part of the London Street Photography Festival, showed several private security guards trying to impede the photographers (often with vague allusions to 'security and 'terrorism'). The Police were called in three cases, but, in each instance, the Officers were well aware of the laws concerning photography and appear to have resolved the situations amicably. (via PetaPixel)

Comments

Total comments: 186
12
dave_bass5
By dave_bass5 (Jul 22, 2011)

I live in the city of london and quite often walk around that area at the weekends taking shots. Ive never had any problems.
This just seems like a publicity stunt. It porves nothing other than certain members of the police force are more clued up than others.

0 upvotes
Stretchf
By Stretchf (Jul 22, 2011)

Fantastic doco. I'm sure we'd have the same reaction from security workers in Sydney (CBD), Australia. Good to see common sense prevail over there.

0 upvotes
maninthestreet
By maninthestreet (Jul 22, 2011)

"Everyone has a British accent" - well, some of the 'security guards' certainly didn't! By the way, that wasn't an accent - that's how English sounds like when it's spoken properly.

13 upvotes
slaybells
By slaybells (Jul 22, 2011)

'well, some of the 'security guards' certainly didn't!' - 'Therein the irony of the situation...

you have to admit the photographers were very well spoken. not every photographer has the same vocal skills...

0 upvotes
TechOutsider
By TechOutsider (Jul 22, 2011)

Is this a true test? Hardly.

1) Try discrete cameras next time. People tend to behave when they know they are on video. If I was a security guard, I wouldn't get fired up with someone pointing a video camera at me unless it was really really serious.

2) Everyone has a British accent. If the photographers were clearly tourists, then things would have turned out differently. Tourists, who cares about them? They'll be back in their own country in a couple weeks. Harass them while we can ...

1 upvote
Marty4650
By Marty4650 (Jul 22, 2011)

It seems obvious that the London Police Department has done a good job of training and educating their officers. They seem to be a lot more aware of the law than they were in similar videos done a year ago.

Security guards are a different matter, and their training is highly variable. Some didn't seem to understand the difference between "the law" and "what my boss told me to do."

In the USA we call them "rent-a-cops" and they are usually not that well trained. I suppose the same can be said for other countries as well.

14 upvotes
mhike
By mhike (Jul 22, 2011)

In the US, if security guards call the cops for nonsense like this, they would be chastised and the management informed by the police department. That rent a cop wouldn't have a job because then this would cause them to have lower priority status de facto because they call about nonsense.

6 upvotes
Lukas0101
By Lukas0101 (Jul 22, 2011)

I just googled: arrested for taking pictures usa

http://www.longislandlawyerblog.com/mother-of-3-arrested-for-taking-pictures-of-tourist-attraction-at-airport

1 upvote
Sebastian Z
By Sebastian Z (Jul 22, 2011)

Look how the world has changed, 15 years ago everyone would say these photographers were harassed like no tomorrow. Today everyone congratulates London how polite and Photographer welcoming London is.

Those guys were just taking pictures, and they were all stopped and questioned. Were they threat? Anyone with backpack can be threat but photographers? Why system is so afraid people with cameras, what are they hiding? Don’t tell me they afraid somebody is planning the attack; anyone can use Google maps for that from the camphor of their apartments.

I think somebody is really afraid any one of those photographers could potentially snap something they should not, so they approach the photographer to make sure they have his face recorded from various angles probably taking voice samples as well then doing facial recognition identification and let them go. They can always get them in a matter of few minutes if something should be taken off of their cameras…

1 upvote
453C
By 453C (Jul 22, 2011)

It's not clear from the video, but I don't believe anyone was detained. Private security guards can certainly ask questions, and the photographers decided to engage them in conversation. They could've told the guards to pound sand, walked off, or called the police themselves. One of the police officers even made a point of _not_ asking what was photographed because he had no grounds to do so.

Voice samples, face recognition, "get them" later? I think you've been watching too many movies. BTW, if the photographers are on public property, the security guards have every right to photographem them right back! :)

2 upvotes
householddog
By householddog (Jul 22, 2011)

Perhaps they thought you worked for News Ltd. :-)

0 upvotes
tigrebleu
By tigrebleu (Jul 22, 2011)

Good to see the London Police is actually doing a great job and that the London policemen are well aware of the laws regarding photography in public places. London policemen are in a class apart, IMHO.

The security guards were also quite polite, although some did call the police, something that wasn't needed in any of these situations, I believe. Even subtely threatening to call the police, like some of them did, was uncalled for. Overall, I think they handled these situations pretty well, without resorting to violence or agressive behavior. Good job.

As some posters commented, the whole thing could have been quite different if the photographers had been alone or if they had an Arabic accent and Middle Eastern features: unfortunately, racial profiling is still being used by security guards and police forces all around the world.

Still, things seem to be improving for photographers practicing their passion in public places.

Very good work: this video is a very useful tool!

1 upvote
gonzalu
By gonzalu (Jul 22, 2011)

The reputation of London Police Officers is sound and alive! I witnessed an incident once where some young men were drunk and making quite a ruckus downtown London. An unarmed London Bobby approached the men and simply asked ... "Hello lads, don't you think is kind of late? Shouldn't you go home now?" and all the men complied and went on their way. I only wish for half that engagement in NYC!

6 upvotes
skimble
By skimble (Jul 22, 2011)

Good to see in this report that the police at least were up to scratch and the security behaved in a reasonable manner.
Congratulation London for being able to handle peoples liberty in such a good manner after the terrorists attacks.

5 upvotes
slaybells
By slaybells (Jul 22, 2011)

I thought everyone was fairly reasonable? No shouting, threatening, and breaking of cameras?

However, if you wanted a real test, you should have got some Asians to do the filming.

Caucasians with English accents is not a true test.

1 upvote
slaybells
By slaybells (Jul 22, 2011)

Test of the reasonable attitude, I mean.

Other point is, they were reasonable because someone else had a camera on them. If it was a single photographer, the response might have been a bit tougher.

5 upvotes
Rriley
By Rriley (Jul 22, 2011)

i had that impression too. In one instance they had the dog squad on standby and parked a Police bus between the photographer and the complainants.

All of the Police seem to have a more than a passing interest in the video being taken and acknowledged the presence of the video camera

1 upvote
slaybells
By slaybells (Jul 22, 2011)

Yeah, people are wise to DLSR's being used for video now. I bet tge videographer had scary looking attachments like a Zacuto, and a boom mic..which does kind of give it away....

0 upvotes
Jimmy Lai
By Jimmy Lai (Jul 22, 2011)

You have done great services to your readers, is this law also apply to other countries; like United States of America; Canada; Hong Kong; South America Countries and China and Taiwan? It’s nice to know, we photographer often kick by some Security people.

1 upvote
samyb123
By samyb123 (Jul 22, 2011)

Also from what this video shows they just took photos of the buildings with security guards, which would be suspicious to a security guard.

0 upvotes
tim73
By tim73 (Jul 22, 2011)

Put yourself in the shoes of a bad guy for a minute. Is he going to use an SLR on a tripod? No, like every spy who ever lived, he's going to use a miniature camera. A ordinary compact superzoom will do the job nicely, with a 500mm equivalent telephoto lens in a discrete and inexpensive package.

A security guard, who spends his professional working day looking for bad guys, really ought to be able to distinguish suspicious behaviour from merely unusual behaviour.

1 upvote
Angelfire
By Angelfire (Jul 22, 2011)

Can't say I know anyone who can tell a terrorist form an ordinary citizen. I don't think security guards are blessed with such powers either.

1 upvote
newmikey
By newmikey (Jul 22, 2011)

@tim73

Come on! If you want to blow up a building you need something better than a compact superzoom. The IQ on those is terrible! You can't really blow that up beyond A4 and even then it's not going to look good.

My advice to would be terrorists: if you want to blow something up, go for large-format camera's like the Pentax645D or at least a full-frame DSLR. The little-bitty spy cameras will not do the job!

1 upvote
tim73
By tim73 (Jul 22, 2011)

Great job by the photographers and videographers. That was not an easy outing, arguing with security guards who clearly don't know or care about the law. The mention of "covert surveillance" made me chuckle. Covert, with an SLR, a tripod and a pink jumper?

1 upvote
samyb123
By samyb123 (Jul 22, 2011)

Not really fair on the security, their just doing what they've been told to do.

2 upvotes
tim73
By tim73 (Jul 22, 2011)

...which is incompatible with UK law. Security guards have no right to harass photographers on public property.

4 upvotes
householddog
By householddog (Jul 22, 2011)

Quite a few of them accepted that they were just doing their job. One simply said he needed to pass the message on. He acknowledged, there was nothing he could do about it.

The ones who called the police, over stepped the mark. That is intimidation. Knowing the law, but trying to threaten people with police action, for something that is perfectly legal.

3 upvotes
Ron Scubadiver
By Ron Scubadiver (Jul 22, 2011)

In a recent thread here I found myself being flamed for taking street shots. There is a faction out there that believes street photography somehow victimizes the subjects of the images.

0 upvotes
JEPH
By JEPH (Jul 22, 2011)

Please-your photos have nothing to do with the subject under discussion here. You were not flamed. Interested readers can visit relevant threads. Some writers identified what they thought was an unhealthy obsession on your part of targeting women with cameras. A creepy obsession doesn't have anything to do with street photography.

2 upvotes
CriticalI
By CriticalI (Jul 22, 2011)

Well, this does mirror my experiences to a tee. Usually, when confronted with security guards I just ask them to call the Police and they back off.

I have only had a couple of strange encounters with PCSOs, but they were mainly asking silly questions rather than stopping me shooting.

Security guards are a menace, but it would be a lot easier if they were allowed a little discretion. Most feel quite embarassed about it but the boss is monitoring them via CCTV. Some irony.

0 upvotes
osage_archer
By osage_archer (Jul 22, 2011)

The desire to suppress other people's freedom lives in the hearts of many and is never far from expression and action, is it? If some people had their way we'd all be living in a police state a la SS and Gestapo, all for the public good of course. Of course. We all must give up some freedom for security, that's it! What, you don't want to cooperate? Let me see your papers, please!

0 upvotes
453C
By 453C (Jul 22, 2011)

In that video, I saw a few security dudes that clearly were out of their depth, and a well reasoned response by the true authorities. One of the security folks even invited the photographer onto their private property once he knew they were only taking photos for non-profit use (11:00).

I'm not saying abuses don't happen, but nothing of the sort you described happened in that video.

2 upvotes
ScottieC
By ScottieC (Jul 22, 2011)

Nice, I want to do that in Sacramento and see what happens....

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (Jul 22, 2011)

This all well and good but you need to try this in Manhattan. Decades before 9/11 I disovered that Grand Cental Station was in fact, not a public place--at least where tripods were concerned.

0 upvotes
Paulo Ferreira
By Paulo Ferreira (Jul 21, 2011)

Very interesting this and somewhat not. The results are expected, behaviour of security guards police, etc... this was an "easy gig" to pass on the information that you can photograph in public spaces. However all these photographers have forgotten that they cannot / should not use tripods without prior warning or authorisation from the local authority. The same applies to temporary fruit stalls and other semi-fixed apparatti. They are an obstruction to the public and a possible health and safety issue. In the end most of the photographers were slightly breaking the law.

1 upvote
nicolas guilbert
By nicolas guilbert (Jul 22, 2011)

Whenever i was stopped, interrogated while taking photographs with a tripod in france or SE Asia, the reason was not health and safety, It was because photography with a tripod is considered as professional photography and then requires authorization.

0 upvotes
Nognlite
By Nognlite (Jul 22, 2011)

Slightly? Yeah, "Your Honour I was only slightly breaking the speed limit but everone else was going as fast as me!" They would be less of a health or safety issue than every bloke or chick that walks down a street texting on their phones. oblivious to all that is infront of them.

0 upvotes
Malcolm Turner
By Malcolm Turner (Jul 21, 2011)

I think everyone comes out of this surprisingly well. Especially the police/PCSOs who seemed to know that the photographers were within their rights and were (almost surprisingly) unfazed by being filmed. That's what I would hope all our police are like. The photographers were reasonable - just stating their rights without being objectionable. The "security" bods were shown to be over-reacting, but not in a hostile sense - as someone else commented, in most cases it seemed to be "I've been sent out to stop/question you". So things have improved greatly over some of the previous "incidents" highlighted here.
Very glad to see that.

1 upvote
Hugo600si
By Hugo600si (Jul 21, 2011)

Even though the police now seem better informed I'm still avoiding discussion altogether and no longer visit London.

0 upvotes
CarlPH
By CarlPH (Jul 21, 2011)

Great video indeed, here in the Philippines photography is in a bit of a mix, when they spot you lugging your SLR around(or anything that in their understanding resembles a pro camera) your going to get stopped by security guys. They''ll go asking for a permit or just stop you where you stand. But not when your using your cellphone camera or any small compact camera.

Bottom line: SLR guys are profiled as threats and Compact and cellphone camera photogs are nothing serious and likewise ignored.

0 upvotes
Nognlite
By Nognlite (Jul 22, 2011)

What is going to happen when people start using that new adapter for their iPhones and Canon and Nikon lenses? Threat or no threat?
I think a better question would be geek or supergeek?

0 upvotes
sadwitch
By sadwitch (Jul 21, 2011)

Great vid. But from a tourist point of view without much local knowledge of where's public and where's private it might be prohibitive to 'take in' and enjoy photographing the city with all the security eyes on yer. And i do think it might just be a different story to have different races as part of the filming group

1 upvote
Tormenborba
By Tormenborba (Jul 21, 2011)

Congratulation to the Bobbies! this is a case of police defending the public as it would be natural against the bold security guards and their corporations!

0 upvotes
Cailean Gallimore
By Cailean Gallimore (Jul 21, 2011)

Great project.

0 upvotes
Don Fraser
By Don Fraser (Jul 21, 2011)

Absolutely fascinating.

I think the rule of law is alive and well in London, in that the police were rational, balanced, and acting in accordance with the law.

The property manager were not too bad, considering they are not legal experts.

Given what terrorism can do without warning, it's a tough call, and I think everyone came off reasonably well in this instance.

1 upvote
ashfaque
By ashfaque (Jul 21, 2011)

Would've been even more interesting if someone with a Muslim dress or with big beard or Hizab was part of the group.

5 upvotes
jto555
By jto555 (Jul 21, 2011)

Well done to all. At least the police seemed to be well informed.

As for the security guards, well in fairness to them they seemed to have been sent out to investigate by their managers. Most security is outsourced to security companies and the staff will not be as well trained as the police. So the police been called should be in the photographers favor.

0 upvotes
G Davidson
By G Davidson (Jul 21, 2011)

It's reassuring to see how professional and decent the police were. I understand the security guards concerns, but these are obviously photographers here.

0 upvotes
nicolas guilbert
By nicolas guilbert (Jul 21, 2011)

What is often tiresome is knowing you are doing a photoshoot in accordance with the law, and it gets ruined with a lot of discussions with all kind of people thinking they know better and want to show some authority.

1 upvote
mhike
By mhike (Jul 21, 2011)

This would have been a real test if the photographers were brown, but I have a feeling that the topic is too controversial to touch upon.

9 upvotes
Tim in upstate NY
By Tim in upstate NY (Jul 21, 2011)

That's a good point. There is a lot of unspoken 'profiling' going on these days and if you look suspicious to someone who thinks that all terrorists come from the middle east, it might not be enough to simply stand your ground and insist on a fair application of the law.

5 upvotes
steve ohlhaber
By steve ohlhaber (Jul 21, 2011)

I have had this happen so many times, even by the police. It would be great if everyone really knew the law. Its hard to figure what is public land though. Tripods are usually a problem on sidewalks for safety reasons where the sidewalk isnt really big enough for a tripod and people, so I understand that even if it is legal. Love the video, great stuff, its a great topic.

0 upvotes
JackRoch
By JackRoch (Jul 22, 2011)

I think that here in the UK (maybe incl.Scotland too?) the tripods issue, apart from the health & safety aspect, is more a matter of causing an obstruction. Very strictly speaking, we only have the right to use footpaths, bridleways, highways to pass from one location to another - not to be actually 'on them' as such.

A friend (who is an expert to some degree!) explained it to me; you're entitled to use them to gain access to your place of work and from your home vice versa, for example.

And see my later post for a bit about how 'private property' can still be a 'public place'.

0 upvotes
JackRoch
By JackRoch (Jul 22, 2011)

sorry, that should've read:

you're entitled to use them to gain access to your place of work from your home and vice versa, for example.

0 upvotes
MiB Qc
By MiB Qc (Jul 21, 2011)

Great, while I'm not surprised by the reaction of the security people, I was positively surprised by the reaction of the policemen.

I was downtown Montréal taking a lot of pictures in front of one of the major buildings and clearly nobody cared. I beleive we're still lucky, for the moment.

0 upvotes
Peter Hayward
By Peter Hayward (Jul 21, 2011)

Brilliant, well done to all:)

0 upvotes
Jule
By Jule (Jul 21, 2011)

A wonderfull instructional (is that a word?) film!

Be polite.
Be cool.
Have arguments ready
Stand your ground

Kind Regards

4 upvotes
ashfaque
By ashfaque (Jul 21, 2011)

And always keep eye contact. ;)

0 upvotes
ju_ju
By ju_ju (Jul 21, 2011)

A good short movie.

0 upvotes
YouDidntDidYou
By YouDidntDidYou (Jul 21, 2011)

you want to try Middlesbrough, if they don't ask for you "camera license" they will accuse you having stolen your own camera!

0 upvotes
Tormenborba
By Tormenborba (Jul 21, 2011)

where is the problem?
I have name, copyright and all set in the menu!
And if they drag it on, sue me! I ve got the warranty at home with the serial number of my camera!
Is that enough?

2 upvotes
yido
By yido (Jul 21, 2011)

Looks like paranoia is alive and well in the UK.

0 upvotes
yido
By yido (Jul 21, 2011)

On second had, at least the police seem to be aware of the law now.

0 upvotes
Gordon S
By Gordon S (Jul 21, 2011)

At least in the UK you can photograph/film the police. Here in the U.S. many states have outlawed the practice on or off private property.

2 upvotes
453C
By 453C (Jul 22, 2011)

I may have missed an update, but I believe Graber v. Maryland is still working its way through the system. In the end, I believe the courts will rule that citizens can record police activities performed in publicly accessible areas, and in some private areas (but not while using the restroom, for instance). Basically, if the police are performing their duties, they should be open to scrutiny. Being able to observe and hold law enforcement personnel accountable for their actions is one of the core concepts of the American legal system.

1 upvote
Stephenbw
By Stephenbw (Jul 21, 2011)

Very interesting; thanks for that link.

I don't think I've ever seen that many ill-informed jobsworths in one place before...

0 upvotes
Tim in upstate NY
By Tim in upstate NY (Jul 21, 2011)

Yes it looks like many of these private security guards are ignorant of the law. And it's good to know that the real policemen in that video were a lot more professional and knowledgeable. I wonder how this type of thing would play out in NYC?

2 upvotes
mhike
By mhike (Jul 21, 2011)

Tazing.

0 upvotes
007peter
By 007peter (Jul 21, 2011)

OMG, we need to do the same in America. I can't use DSLR here without mall cops (security guard) getting in my face :(

0 upvotes
Tim in upstate NY
By Tim in upstate NY (Jul 21, 2011)

If you're inside a mall, you're on private property. If you're outside the mall in the parking lot, you're still on private property.

5 upvotes
JackRoch
By JackRoch (Jul 22, 2011)

and yet, here in the UK at least, 'private property' e.g. a shopping mall, can still be a public place. The owner is entitled to ask you to stop photographing but you were entitled to start in the first place.

Put simply, mall owners, etc., can't reasonably open their property to the public, expect them to spend their money and then not regard them as members of the public - i.e. in a 'public place'.

Even having a letter box and a doorbell on a private house gives the public 'inferred rights'; you're entitled to ask them to leave of course!

0 upvotes
Taikonaut
By Taikonaut (Jul 22, 2011)

I was taking pictures with an dSLR in a coffee shop in Amsterdam and the manager had issues with it.

0 upvotes
453C
By 453C (Jul 22, 2011)

Tim, well said.

While there are certainly some abuses on this front, more often, I see photographers getting angry over this issue, but clearly not understanding the difference between public and private spaces.

For instance, if you're inside a coffee shop, the manager can make you leave for any reason at all; no camera need be involved. If you don't agree, you can complain in a variety of ways, but at least in the U.S., at that moment, you'd best be leaving that private property. Yes, it's a publicly accessible area, but it's still private property, and it's up to the responsible party to say who stays and who goes, not law enforcement, and not the customer. Photography has nothing to do with the basic issue.

0 upvotes
Arkanor
By Arkanor (Jul 22, 2011)

It's pretty ridiculous to see a tripod-mounted DSLR suspected as a "security risk" when it's clearly so conspicuous that it's attracting attention in the first place. With all the camera phones and 14+MP compacts wouldn't that be the choice equipment of "the terrorist"?

1 upvote
Mike Ca
By Mike Ca (Jul 22, 2011)

I was in downtown San Jose just after sunset and noticed some interesting looking like fixtures on the out side of the Adobe world headquarters building. I went over to take a few pictures to kill time. I was almost immediately approached by an Adobe security guard who informed me I was trespassing on private property, even though it certainly looked like the public sidewalk in front of the building. After asking the guard where he considered Adobe private property to extend to and getting some vague response, I left because I really wasn't interested in arguing.

I did write a letter to Adobe describing the incident and explaining that photographers are major customers of Adobe, and this is no way to treat your customers. I received a reply from Adobe claiming they had retrained the security guard on proper procedures regarding photographs and admitting it makes no sense to force a photographer to move 5 feet further from the building to take pictures.

2 upvotes
F550Sucks
By F550Sucks (Jul 22, 2011)

I like to see that there is still freedom (at least in uk).
Police is much more aggressive in other countries.

0 upvotes
doofus
By doofus (Jul 22, 2011)

On the 4th of July while shooting at Desoto beach, one of Florida's most popular public beaches--where every other person was snapping away with thier I phone, a park ranger stopped me and geave a lecture on taking pics of "nature and not people"--Of couse appearing semi nude in a public place demands that a sun bather MUST not have his privacy "invaded" I was polite to the ranger--and I didn't even have my 70-200 L on my 5d!

0 upvotes
iaredatsun
By iaredatsun (Jul 22, 2011)

Street photographers! Whenever I see the term 'street photography' I lose the will to live. I think this documentary of a deliberate provocation/spectacle illustrates why.

Street photography is just some made-up term for a kind of documentary photography that existed for years without anyone blinking an eyelid. But give it a name with 'street' in it and it comes to stand for a kind militant expectation to intrude and be a public annoyance with a set of morals skewed in favour of the photographer. Just call it photography again and the whole thing might just go away. I'm sure that Vivian Maier didn't have to think of herself as a 'street photographer' she just got on with being a photographer.

Hasn't anyone got the right not to want be filmed or photographed? If I was a security guard I would want protection from them, too.

Photograph your friends, family and kids and stick them online without their permission and then you can be a so-called street photographer.

0 upvotes
Mick5
By Mick5 (Jul 22, 2011)

V nice video i believe so many of us ( Beginner photographers )didnt know about this law.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 186
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