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Friday, 17 July 2015


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Peoples' reactions to photographers are - as we all know only too well - often difficult to fathom. Although this was not quite the same as Steve Rosenblum's experience he reminded me of an experience that I had.
At the invitation of the organizer I was photographing at a local Blues and Jazz Festival - mainly the stage but also the crowd for general 'atmosphere' and specific 'character'.
A woman in the crowd was (literally) pushing her ?six/seven? year old son at me to photograph and then said to me "which newspaper are you from ?"
When I told her - rather like Steve in his example - that I was just getting a general impression of the event and not from the Press she turned quite nasty and suggested that I was probably some kind of a 'pervert' for photographing children and she thought that she should call the police ! All of this in full view of several hundred people.
I only thought too late of pointing out to her that publication in the local newspaper would have 'exposed' her child to a far greater audience than just me.
I suspect that Steve's artist would have reacted far more positively had he been from the Press and thus implicitly at least offering the possibility of publicity for her work.
Interestingly reactions !

Soliciting comments on copyright will bring out all manner of opinions (some informed, some not) and many statements about what the law should be, or the law in the UK, Germany, Quebec, New Mexico, etc. If you want advice to apply to photographing in Michigan, you'll have to parse the comments carefully.

I would add that engaging with belligerent and misinformed members of the public is not worth your time.

Fear, and the idea that one should squeeze money out of anything, are strong themes today. The artist you met is obviously having some problems and you've been a temporary target for expressing/relieving her bad mood. Add ignorance QB (Quanto Basta, meaning "as needed/desired").
When you felt angry, you should have thought of her partner.

This is typical for second and third rate art. My worldwide experience is: the poorer the art, the more difficult it often is to photograph. In most of the important museums here in Europe for example it no problem when you want to take pictures as long as you don’t use flash or other artificial light. Tripods are not welcome either and recently selfie sticks are banned. So you can make your own copy of Vermeer, Velázquez or Picasso and reproduce them at home in any possible way. (On the right: me, on the left: Rembrandt). Of course these guys won’t protest, especially since they are dead, but I am sure that most living top artist don’t mind either. Legal heirs can be a pain though.

I don't do much 'street photography' but I have noted an increased sensitivity in recent years. There is the whole terrorism thing that has been pumped up to frantic levels by politicians and I suspect the copyright concerns are in part the product of recent efforts to weaken copyright laws to allow Google and others to capture large libraries of "orphan" works without compensating the artists.

When I do photograph in public places I am especially careful if there are small children in the image, always talking to the parents and making clear my intent. Again it is a response to events of the last few decades. I have been photographing for over 57 years now. Over that time attitudes, perhaps I should say fears, have changed and grown. It is a lot more suspicious, less open and friendly world out there in a number of ways.

I could not help but laugh after I reached the bottom of this article and read: "©2015 by Stephen Rosenblum, all rights reserved." Perhaps the title of this article should be: "Please do not ignore my copyright and reserved rights, as I write about ignoring yours."

As a working news photographer I have had plenty of "encounters" with angry people in public places.
One benefit to the news part of this is that often there is also a police presence. More than once I have had the cops step in and remind folks that I have a right to be there and if they try to stop me or touch me someone is going to jail.
I have had security people tell me that I can't photograph a building in public view and if I try they will call the police. My response is to offer to call the police for them.
This is why most of my personal pictures are landscapes. There are very few deciduous a**holes out there.

There are many varieties of hassle. No one solution applies to all. Within the prevailing local customs and culture, the hasslers are either within their rights to complain, or they aren't.
Two hassles I've had in California, USA: I shoot some frames while standing on private property that is open to the public in the sense that it not fenced off, and after I move to the public sidewalk, the IQ-challenged guards, drunk with the post-9/11 security industry power fantasy, tell me I "Can't shoot pictures here". Whatever. I usually end up deleting most of the shots...because they aren't very interesting anyway.
My favorite hassle is when the disheveled or criminally-styled guy(sometimes, but rarely, it's a woman) comes out of the house and in a somewhat belligerent way asks me "Why are you taking pictures of that car?" A car parked on a public street, by the way.
I realize, at that point, several things: This guy is not having a good day. In fact, he hasn't a good day in ten years. He's deluded himself into thinking that his automobile has a right to privacy, and that he's so important that that the Interpol and the CIA(or, maybe, the local tax assessor?) wants a picture of his car for some intriguing, TV plot-worthy reason.

This reminds me of one time I was in London. There was this street market happening, where some stalls were selling photo prints and drawings. They all had a sign stating that photography was not allowed. I can understand that, since I could use my photos as a source to copy their drawings, for example. The artists don't know what your intentions are, and even after explaining that we only want a photo for personal work, without any ill intentions, they could still think you are a liar.

I once was asked what the hell I was doing taking a picture of a house, by somebody I did not recognise. I replied in no uncertain terms that it was my house. Since I didn't know him he obviously wasn't my neighbour so what had it to do with him? I suspect from this and very few other incidents that their attitude towards photographers is a reflection of their own mental state.

On the other hand, my main problem with people occurs when I line up a shot, then wait until the person I've just seen approaching appears in the frame to complete the composition. They don't appear so after a while I look over the top of the camera to see them politely waiting for me to take my picture. This happens more often than being accosted by complainers.

This is one case where asking permission works better than asking for forgiveness. And if permission is denied move on. Life is too short and the opportunities are too great.

Alternatively, use a phone. There are so many that they've become almost invisible. And no serious photographer would use a phone :)

Partly, people are confusing taking a photo with the various uses you can put a photo to. You can't use your shot of the woman's artwork for advertising without getting her permission; but you can use it "editorially" (to illustrate a story) within reasonable bounds, and you can sell it as "art". When somebody sees you taking a photo, they can't know all the possible uses (any more than you can; the future is uncertain!).

(And copyright is complicated and there are fascinating edge cases, many not solidly decided yet.)

"engaging with belligerent and misinformed members of the public is not worth your time."

Quite. I would advise any member of the public who believes a crime is in progress to call the police.

As a long-time photographer I feel street photography has become a real nuisance, and photographers are often putting their own egos ahead of the feelings of the people they photograph.

Twenty years ago some of this could be written off as just rudeness, as the photos rarely caused any real harm or embarrassment. Today, when a person's stumble or wardrobe malfunction can go viral in a matter of hours, things are different.

Back in my newspaper days we never published a photo without some though as to how it would affect the people in the picture: Would they be embarrassed? Would it show them in a false light? Would publication serve the community, or was that photo just a "cheap shot" to get a quick laugh?

Street photography demands tremendous respect from the photographer toward the subjects, and a real regard for the subjects' feelings and rights (both legal and moral). There are a lot of people on the streets with cameras who seem to be thinking of nothing beyond their own ends.

It is funny you wrote about street photography perceptions today.

Coincidentally, one of my favorite comic strips addressed this topic today as well:


I've only been hassled once, by an overzealous security guard in a Chicago train station, for taking pictures of the trains. I was using my phone to take the picture, but I guess that's enough.

My advice to avoid being hassled: dress like a tourist, act like a tourist, and smile a lot. In my opinion, trying to be "discreet" as a street photographer just makes you look sneaky and dishonest.

I've only had that happen twice, and both involved pottery so I started to assume people who did pottery must have issues. Then I met more potters at other fairs who didn't seem to mind. There seemed to be a fear of copying a potter's design.
In one case, it lost the potter a potential customer. I was at a small street fair and I saw pieces that reminded me of the folk art my father did on Easter eggs. I wanted to ask her to make some plates for me. She was with another customer and I didn't want to interrupt the sale. So I took a picture to remember which booth she was at and started to walk away. She left the customer to come after me and was very upset! I didn't have the heart to tell her that her unique designs were in an Ukrainian Easter egg decorating book. But she was so aggressive I didn't go back to order anything since I would always remember the first experience when I used them.

I've had the opportunity to sit on an art fair committee for several years, and while walking the booths I've seen a surprising number of signs that state something to the effect of "no photography allowed." It isn't limited to just photographers. I've seen the signs in booths of other craftspeople as well. I was surprised when I saw a sign like that in the booth of a metalworker. I liked his art and was considering buying a piece for the garden, but I couldn't take a picture to send to my partner. I ended up forgetting about the piece until after the show.

As far as artist owning their booth space, I find that laughable. Our fair is on public streets and operates under a permit from the local government. Even if the artist by "renting" the space owned her 10'x10' space, the area around it would still be public property being used under a permit. I wouldn't consider a booth fee as renting the space though. It's more like a fee paid the participate in the fair.

As I recall from a recent article, you are no longer allowed to take pictures at all in Hungary without getting everyone's permission.

I've changed my feeling about this process over the years. I used to think via the letter of the law: that if people were on the street, and view-able by the general public, you had every right to take their picture, as long as it was used in a photo-journalistic capacity (or maybe art, you actually have no right to use it in a commercial vehicle without a model release with an exchange of something of value). I believed that because it was better for me as a photographer to believe that.

But now that I actually have a life-time of personal education, I think that there is an "implied" privacy in a big crowd. People run their lives thinking some "snoop" (or, God forbid, some 'artist') isn't going to be singling them out in a crowd and shooting their picture. But they do, and actually, they do more than ever. I have a bigger problem with this today because cell phone cameras and digital, and the amount of people constantly shooting pictures and calling themselves "street photographers" (whatever that means), etc., etc. is just getting to be too, too much.

It kind of falls under the same category, as a professional photographer, when you've actually matured enough to understand that you don't need to document everything in your life, and every time you've stubbed your toe. maybe you should just experience it, because the photos you take are just not that valuable to society at large. Maybe doing every thing with a camera around your neck is a huge drag, and keeps you from actually experiencing life.

I wonder how many people that read this site are 1. Actually professional photographers who are 'street photographers' and make their sole living taking those type of photos. 2. If they're doing it as art, are working at the level that their street work is valuable to society on the same level that HCB's was.

Even as a professional photographer, I take great exception to a "art-hobby-snapper" making me their subject when I'm walking down the street.

I am probably not qualified to give any advice on this matter: I am a lawyer, sure, but an European one who has no idea what statutes are into force in Michigan on copyright matters.
However, since the main source of copyright law is the Bern Convention, which is fairly universal, I'll just assume its principles apply in this case.
First we must investigate whether the woman's pictures are really copyrighted, i. e. whether they deserve legal protection. In order to ensure author rights, a photograph needs to be original and a genuine creation of the artist's mind. Copyright protection of photographs has, for obvious reasons (it'd be gruesome if selfies were copyrighted, right?), a narrower breadth than the one concerning other works of art. Were her pictures, as well as the other artist's, truly original, being emanations of their creative spirit? If so, she might be right (though it is fair to say that it's hard to concur with someone who employs that kind of language): you can't reproduce a work of art without the artist's consent.
Because there is - or there might be - a copyright-protected work at stake, the now so-called 'freedom of panorama' does not apply. It's true you can shoot people freely in the streets without their consent, but shooting a copyright-protected work of art is a different matter. In this case you really needed to ask for permission.
Chances are, however, the pictures were of a nondescript quality. (And I could bet they were.) In that case her claims of copyright protection are just pretentious and silly - but have you thought you might be hurting her feelings by shooting her pictures without permission? Most people are wrong about their pictures' real worth, but let's face it: none of us would like to have our photographs pictured by someone else. Here we're clearly outside the orbit of law and into the realm of ethics (or, at least, of mere courtesy).
The question you must ask yourself, Steve, is how you'd react if you were in her shoes. Chances are you'd take it quite adversely. No matter how good or bad her pictures were, she felt proud of them (otherwise she wouldn't be displaying them) and regarded them as her creations. That should deserve our respect, no matter how pathetic that might appear to be.
I'm sorry if I'm eventually swimming against the tide here, but that's my viewpoint on the matter. As for me, if I were showing my pictures in a booth, I'd be quite angry if someone photographed them. (I'd be a touch more polite, though: being legally right doesn't give anyone the right to insult other people.)

I have been photographing people for over 40 years and have noticed a recent increase in these situations over the past 5 years. I have been called a "pervert" because I have taken pictures of children, and a "terrorist" for taking pictures of public buildings and a "thief" for taking pictures of people in public spaces. I all those instances, the person accusing me had no idea what I was photographing and based their accusations solely on assumptions. I call it the "Twitter Syndrome" where people can feel free to rant, accuse, and flame others without any regard for consequences. It started online and has now spread to the real world. It always bothered me but slowly over the years I have developed a thicker skin. If necessary, naw all I can say is that if they have problem they should call a cop. We do have the right to take pictures of what we want in public spaces as long as their is no commercial intent and that is all there is to it. Incidentally, my favorite story happened in France where a guy protested that I took a picture of his dog without his permission. Sometimes I think we experiencing the rise of the moron.

I have always lived by the rule. If I'm able to see it, I'm able to photograph it. Of course use is another matter. Check out this short video about my current project. Talk about opening yourself up!


As someone who has photographed for nearly fifty years now I have been asked, and told, to not take pictures in public places of people, their work, and their property. I respect their wish, even though I may have "legal rights" to do so. I believe their right to decide if they, or their property is to be photographed trumps any "legal right" I might have. And its just the right thing to do.

My understanding of the law is the same as yours, with the one addition that you could be sued if you publish a picture of a person in public if that picture is degrading to that person because of the context of the picture, even if the purpose is editorial, rather than commercial. Hence, no faces of fat people in public when the local news talks about obesity.

But knowledge of the law won't help in confrontations like this. I've had my share of encounters and generally try to be pleasant, stand on my rights and move on. That includes threats of having my camera smashed to pieces and cops telling me not to take pictures. At least the cop generally knows he can't back up his claim...

Sometimes I like to go to county or state fairs to make pictures. Generally I use a "short" telephoto lens for a number of reasons One of which is that it tends to limit the unpleasant interactions with subjects. Standoff distance helps. I use a DSLR so 'stealth' is not an option. I did have one nasty experience, many years ago, back in the film era, at a county fair in New Jersey. It was at night, and I took a picture (Nikon FM2) of some carnys back of an exhibit. A couple of them got upset and approached me, wanting to know why I took their picture. So I explained that I was not going to publish or give the pictures to the police, and they backed off. I suspect that they didn't want their presence to be known to the authorities. It didn't hurt that I am big and clearly wasn't going to be bullied. Other than that I occasionally get dirty looks but nothing more.
Using a short tele lens has other advantages in these situations. First, sometimes I can't get as physically close to the subject as I would need with a shorter lens, and sometimes when it involves dynamic action, I don't have time to move closer, or I lose the shot.
But especially in my old age, there are some places and times its better to avoid, or physical attack is a possibility.

It is definitely legal to take photos of people and things that are in public without permission. The artwork throws me off a bit. Yes, it would be courteous to ask but I am not sure it is legally required.

A lot of artists I encounter at street fairs are sensibly paranoid about other artists stealing their designs, so I sometimes get questioned about why I'm photographing their booth at a street fair. I explain what I'm doing, and that's usually the end of it.

But if it gets down to the hard nub, I remind them that copyright deals with what I do with a photo after I've taken it, not whether I can take it in the first place. If someone asks me to not to take any photos, I respect that; if they want me to delete a photo already taken (or demand my film), I tell them to piss off, in varying degrees of politeness. Exception made if they're armed.

I think there are two issues here: 1) the legal rights in the situation and 2) the ethics of your interaction with a difficult person in a public place. Legally, you are in the right and your understanding is correct. Copyrighted or trademarked material in a public space when combined with other graphic elements as I assume you have done when incorporating the artist's work in a "street" photograph, is not a violation of the copyright. Reinforcing this is that you are not presenting the artist's work as your own, or profiting from the work, which is really what the copyright prohibits. The subject of the photograph is not the copyrighted material, it is the combination of the public and the copyrighted material. No one is forcing the artist to sell her work on the street; she has chosen to put her work in full view of the public and in a public place. She doesn't like it: too bad. Think about the number of advertisements that wind up in the background of photographs, or trademarks like logos on soda cans, or proprietary designs, like cars or buildings.

Don't get me wrong, I can see her objection -- in the sense that I understand her feelings. She has an innovative product and she wants to protect her intellectual property. But when she sells it on the street she can't avoid it being seen and recorded by anyone else who has a right to be there. You couldn't sell her work as yours, but you can photograph the street with her work in it, just as you could sketch the scene, or describe it verbally in excruciating detail, or review it in a local magazine.

As for the encounter, I think you are bound by the dictates of your conscience. In theory, if someone inaccurately calls you a thief in public, she may be liable for damages slander to the extent her behavior has met the definition of the tort. In practice, discretion may be the better part of valor. In my case, when in your situation, I have simply left.

What a compliment it was when someone stole some of my designs at the final exhibition at art school. In my professional life it also happened twice that something was stolen. Gave me a kick (and some extra turnover because it had to be replaced).

Sol LeWitt is one of my heroes, not only as an artist. When he heard that people were busy copying his work he faxed them the exact specifications to be sure that they were doing it right.

It's worth noting that laws are one thing, people another. Sure the guy that was taking people pics with a telephoto lens had the legal right to shoot anyone on the street(bad wording, that), but when he starting taking pictures of my daughter, he became a creep, and I stepped in front of her and made eye contact with the guy, who hurriedly shuffled off. "Don't be a creep" is a good watchword, and arguing about your rights, when you've abridged someone else's right to privacy and ownership of their image. just make ya a jerk.

What about photojournalists? Well, sometimes they're jerks. Sometimes they have to be. But shooting for yourself, there's no need to be.

I've been hassled by prison guards when taking photos of prisons in the landscape. I would have thought that taking a photo of a public building from a public road is no crime. I did manage to take a number of photos before giving up the project. You can see the results of "Prison Scene" at www.efn.org/~hkrieger/prison.htm

When I did work as a news photographer I had a few issues with people questioning my working. The crossing guard wondering why I was walking down the street carrying several cameras and if I was photographing school children. No, going to a news event.
People wanting to be or not be in the newspaper and even some complaints about why their photo was not in the paper. Answer, I wasn't the editor, picture was supplied but it was someone else's choice.
Security guards are the worst, stating that I, standing on a public sidewalk could not photograph the front of 'their' building. Set them straight, yes, I had the legal right, and no, I was photographing the building down the street.
Now, I prefer to photograph rocks and trees, they don't complain as much.

Yes, over the years I have been "hassled" a few times...but only a few. I've never had quite the same confrontation as you related with that art fair artist. (Mine tend to be with security guards.) Sounds like you handled it about as well as could be handled.

If I've learned anything about such situations it's that your "knowledge of the law" means zero. In the heat of the moment it's no time to try to hold a symposium on civil rights. Even if you "win" a confrontation you've lost the moment and perhaps even the whole day due to emotional eruption.

These scenes are just part of the dues of candid public photography.

She is right that the artist has certain rights to their work, though she is not right (assuming that this is actually a public location) that the work cannot be photographed.

The legal issue is not about making photographs in which the work appears, per se, though there clearly is an issue regarding what the photographer might do with that work.

On the other hand, the ethical (as somewhat differentiated from legal) boundaries are a bit more gray. As a photographer I would not be pleased if someone started making close-up photographs of my prints without even asking. There are a number of reasons for this concern, but among them would be that appearance that the person with the camera doesn't really respect me or my work enough to at least ask.

I've only been harassed once, and not even that bad. I was photographing some undulus asperatus clouds over our local airport, in front of a large office building - which I still can't identify. The security guard approached me, asked if I was having car trouble. I told him no, then told me he saw me taking pictures and asked what I was photographing (but you said...)

Anyway, I pointed out what I was doing, he mentioned that the building across the street was a federal building.

That is - a federal building with an Audi R8 and Tesla in the lot...I need a government job! My assumption is that a portion of the building was being leased out to the Feds.

Anyway, I told him I wouldn't be there long, and he went back to the building. Whatever.

Time 2 was during an art fair, my father had a booth, and a guy with an SLR and macro lens started shooting my dad's work. My father objected, the guy huffed and puffed and said it was his right as he was on public property.

I corrected the man, and pointed out this is was a private shopping mall. I found the organizer of the event, and they brought mall security over to shut him down.

Turned out we found one of the images on a local travel agency's website, through TinEye. We alerted the agency that said they bought it from a friend of one of the employees. We discussed the situation, showed proof and the agency not only paid us (and demanded money back from the original 'thief') but commissioned father produce a custom poster with the image.

I have had a few encounters, with security, and with "concerned" subjects. My basic response is to explain what I'm doing, and my right to do so, once. After that, if a person gives me a hassle I tell them they are incorrect, and ignore them. I don't usually take photos of kids, not because I think there is a moral issue, but 1) I don't usually care about other people's kids, and 2) there are just too many perverts out there, and I would rather just avoid giving the wrong impression.

In the case of the lady at the booth, I might have admonished her a little further, given that she herself is a photographer.

Why oh why, do "street photographers" think they have a God Given Right to interfere with the lives of people they don't know??

You really don't want to get me started ...

Yes, I've been "hassled" a little. A security guard, a "management representative", a church member when photographing a country church (yes, a church member), etc. Fortunately, I am not a street photographer, so this happens to me very little. And when it does, I do not take it personally and I do not engage the people. As someone already said, that is a waste of time.

There are just too many other things to photograph. No one image is going to make or break my body of work. A crazy person doesn't want me to photograph a building they work in, then their building is not worth photographing. But, that's just me ...

I came across an artist with 'digital' artwork (not photography, but pretty interesting, fanciful stuff) at the Art in the Park, in Plymouth, MI last weekend. He had some obnoxiously worded signs claiming his copyright forever and forever in all forms, etc., and forbidding any means of copying. It made me wonder if he forced his customers to sign an agreement to not make a snapshot of their new piece of artwork in situ in their home, to share with their relatives -- "See, look what I have in my home!".

Sometimes I think these artists are misguided in that they believe that someone that would take a picture of their work is someone that would be a customer if they were just prevented from taking the picture. That just seems so backward. I see 3 classes of folks that might take a picture:

1) Someone who could never afford the artist's work, and just wants to show it to their friends. If nothing else, that picture might reach a potential customer. Otherwise, I'm hard put to think of a way that it hurts the artist's sales. Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby. All others are poor reproductions.

2) Someone that might be thinking seriously of buying the piece, but wants to consider it outside of the high-pressure selling arena, perhaps to see (oh, horrors!) if the colors might clash with their furniture. Being an artist in business means that you are a marketer and salesperson, not a dictator.

3) A potential competitor, who is out to steal your ideas. Good luck. Showing your work in public exposes it to, guess what, the public, with all its warts and lowlife. Them's the breaks.

My attitude about someone making photos of my prints is that hopefully, they or their friends will come back to see the real thing, and they will buy based on the emotional impact they get when they experience the real print, instead of a reproduction. My success as an artist depends on communicating the emotion I felt at the point of capture with my audience, through my prints.

I have been hassled at an art fair in Washington D.C. I explained to the ranting woman that in the nations capitol, I felt free to utilize my rights freely. She responded by waving her arms and legs like a real nutcase in front of the booth whose artist she accused me of not respecting. I stopped her long enough to explain that with my wide angle lens, she was really just adding my photographing enjoyment with those antics.

But I was also just looking at the Manual to the Sigma DP-1, and right at the top of the first page was this: "This camera is intended only for personal use and should never be used in a way that infringes upon or contravenes international or domestic copyright laws and regulations. In addition, although it is intended purely for personal use, some restrictions may be applied to the photographing of demonstrations, performances, shows, exhibitions, or commercial properties, etc. Copyright or other legal rights should not be contravened."

What would cause them to even think about restricting my use of the camera I might purchase from them? Legal mumbo jumbo for sure, but more evidence that the world is indeed going to hell in a hand basket from where I sit. Are they also implying that one cannot use their camera for "professional use".

What's actually happening here is that the world is asking you a question: Are you willing to stop hiding behind your lens, your shield of anonymity, and engage with your subjects and thereby become a fully realized human being and a better artist.

In my opinion, today's "street" photographers are mostly trying to hold the world at arm's length even as they suffer from aching pangs of loneliness that drive them into the street in the first place. They're trapped in a hell of their own making.

I've taken thousands of photos of people doing their thing and really, all you have to do is ask. 99.9 percent of the people I've ever shot have been happy to sign a release as well.

And in my experience at art shows, all you have to do is explain the shot you are trying to get and most of them say yes. Some will even move stuff around in the booth to help you get a better shot.

You didn't do anything illegal or immoral or even vaguely wrong; in fact, I like seeing photographers asserting their right to photograph anything that's in public. For reasons I can't explain, some people think that taking a photo with a "real camera" is somehow threatening, while hundreds of people take pretty high-resolution photos with a cell phone all around them, and that's okay...

But, every once in a while you're going to run into somebody with an inflated impression of their "rights." I was once hassled by a woman because I was covering an election event for a newspaper, and I was wearing a neck harness on which the Republicans (I think) had hung my press credentials. The harness (which probably cost a dime, in bulk) was donated by a private utility company, and had their initials woven into the harness cloth. The woman accused me of "selling access" to the company by accepting the harness, and I hadn't even noticed the initials, and threw away the harness when the event was over. But she persisted, and followed me along for a block or so, on the protest march I was working, hassling me all the way. So, she was nuts. Nothing I can do about that. (Later, it occurred to me that I should have asked her what she'd say if somebody accused her of selling out her principles for a dime. I'm never able to think of such replies at the time.)

The odd thing in your case, though, is that it came from another photographer...

Over the years I've occasionally encountered hostility to my street photography, particularly from owners of the shops and storefronts I document. After numerous attempts at explaining myself, I finally came up with what was, in those simpler times, a reliable solution: "Sorry, I'm just doing what the lawyer told me to do."

I don't think I'd try that today.

Cheers Steve,

It's clear you were within your rights here, presuming it was a public space. Had it been private property and event rules stipulated "no photography allowed" then you'd have had to stow your gear (e.g., nearly every concert in the States, these days).

The ACLU has handy guidelines for photographer rights in public spaces, which are clearly and distinctly protected constitutionally. This has become an issue recently with citizens recording video of law enforcement.

The sole recourse an artist would have is if you had somehow profited from the images via misrepresentation. That's a tough legal hill to climb. Maybe she's just an A-type jerk or maybe she's had hipsters taking iphone closeups of her prints and using them for wallpaper on their phones.

My favorite example is Kurt Fishback portrait of Ansel Adams that includes two well-known Adams prints. A friend owns a copy, which he calls "My affordable Ansel Adams collection."

If Adams were a cranky sort, he could have rung Kurt up and told him to stop selling that print.

I was chased away from the "doping" trailer during the recent Tour of California bike race, which I was photographing on a lark. I had every right to be there as it was on a downtown street, and I half considered arguing with the guy, but the fact was I already got my shot and was moving on anyway. Folks in general are unaware of the law regarding public spaces.

Of course I've been hassled, and it seems as if the paranoia is getting a bit higher than say 8-10 years ago. The type of ill-informed copyright freakout that the art-fair photographer had at Steve is not that uncommon-- stupid is as stupid does. You just have to deal with it by threatening the idiot with an assault charge or publicly calling her a fool in front of the people she's hoping to sell her bridge/cat/mountain/selective-colored dross to.

Private security guards are often a bit much, not quite understanding, well, pretty much anything. But then again, they can't seem to answer the question "what you gonna do, arrest me?" when you ignore them. Because they can't, you know.

Urban, high-crime areas, yes, quite a lot of paranoid muttering if you're seen with a camera. I can draw some obvious conclusions as to why. You have to roll with it if you shoot there.

I rarely take a photo that includes someone's kids because it's just not worth it. The world probably doesn't mind but still, that's one area where self-censorship really affects what I do. But I don't want to either deal with some crazy mommy or a cop called by crazy mommy and explain I'm not a creep.

This topic causes me all kinds of stress to read about. I have only been hasssled once, and it gave me a lot to think about. The fellow who stopped me was concerned that I was a contract worker for the city assessment bureau, I think. There was enough doubt in his mind, because my actions, body language, and lack of confrontation didn't match the hero narrative he had built up.

For one of these situations, you need a person who feels threatened, a person who is willing to push back (the photographer), and an imagined moral high ground.

In Stephen's scenario, you have to understand how precarious the position of artists is in Ann Arbor, and how cutthroat the "local art fair" market is. Ann Arbor is an expensive place to live and eat, surrounded by suburban and rural Michigan type poverty. This art fair is the best chance some people will get all year to make sales - there is lots of stress attached to that. This lady is trying to compete with self funded (ie has a good day job) hobbyists, while trying to make a buck doing something she loves, while being keenly aware that there are plenty of opportunists ready to make knockoffs of anything that seems to sell well*. So: that's the personal threat to her.

The pushback is provided in the story. I think there was some room for de-escalation. Bear in mind that most of the women I know from that part of the world have been told total BS by men who would not listen to them if you paid them. And have been treated so both at home (in some cases) and in the workplace (in most cases) for their entire lives. I'm not surprised you weren't listened to, but that's what she has to deal with all the time.

The moral high ground is a poorly thought through legal argument around dimly understood copyright and moral rights issues. It didn't have to make sense, by the way, the purpose of the quasi legal argument is ego defense. So long as she didn't have to be the bad guy who was getting bent out of shape over nothing, it was okay.

This is, by the way, why arguing back never works. The reasoning is irrelevant, and pointing out it's illogic means mounting an attack on the other person's ego defenses. Another means must be found to defuse the situation. It cannot involve the other person admitting they are wrong.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, it is important to remember that the rightness of your cause or theirs is irrelevant. Since you cannot win an argument with folks like these, understand that there is no winning or losing. Perhaps apologize vaguely, say you are going to move on, and then walk away. Don't return to their space. Even if it is a public space. You know what I mean, right? Give them room to be wrong.

I am no expert on de-escalating conflict. Perhaps some of the other readers are and can offer suggestions?

*I'll also say that sometimes it takes one to know one. People who bend the rules are pretty certain that everyone else does too, people who customarily break them are astonished that everyone doesn't.

There's a lot of armchair lawyering, and moralizing here. Bottom line is, copyright law is squishy. Look at Richard Prince. Fair use can be very broad. If you want to avoid controversy, use common sense, and respect other people's wishes for privacy the law does not in fact grant them.

When I do street photography, like these from a recent trip to Cuba


I generally get people's permission by being open that I'm shooting them and making eye contact, with the exception of the women boarding taxis and the schoolgirls on the roof, the former for practical reasons and the latter for obvious reasons. And I didn't get yelled at for that set, the school girls got yelled at -- not really yelled at but called out to by their teacher to get out my way.

But I also have friends, friends who like my photography, who find the ethics of it all rather questionable. And the ethics are questionable. I think photographers need to be honest about that and come up with methods and a practice they can live with.

I agree that the photographer's behavior was ridiculous. She should have been more calm and rational. However, I still think you may possibly be in the wrong here.

If you know for a fact that the street fair is considered public property, then you should be covered. However, I'm not convinced that it is public property. Given that the photographer had paid for her space, it could reasonably be argued that her payment made the space hers and, therefore, private. If she felt you were shooting into her space (not just the exterior), she had every right to question you and ask you to move on. She did not have the right to harrass and attempt to embarrass you, however.

Did you offer to show her the images you shot? That might have done a lot to settle her--when she was convinced you had no interest in her work, but rather in her patrons, she might have backed off. Showing the out-of-focus nature of the background might have helped, given that she was a photographer and understood (hopefully) your artistic intentions.

I'll be honest. I sympathize with her position. No matter how you tried to reassure her, she had no proof that you would not use her images or attempt to duplicate them for commercial purposes. Words are just air. I have had my work appropriated, and it sucks. You have very little recourse when someone steals your work; the ROI on enforcing copyright is way too low to be worth pursuing. Some sympathy for her might be in line, despite her obnoxious behavior.

I was shooting a picture of a glass block wall in NYC when a small woman of 60 or so started peppering me with questions. "What are you doing?" I'm taking a photograph. "Why are you doing that?" I am a photographer. "What are you taking a picture of?" None of your business. "It is my business. What are you taking a picture of?" No, it's not your business. "Why are you taking pictures in the train station?" Because I am a photographer.

And so on...we went a couple more laps with this nonsense before I leaned down (she was a foot shorter than me) and told her quietly to go pound sand.

I was shooting with an Olympus XA2.

It would be interesting to ask the person who accused you of copyright infringement if she had ever recorded a TV program, all of which are protected by copyright. You (and she), as an individual are allowed to copy a program for personal use under the Fair Use portion of the copyright law as long as your usage is personal or educational and not for commercial gain. Photographing objects on display in public is in the same category.

I've been hassled a number of times over the years, but more frequently in the last decade than in the several before.

I reply to challenges with the same level of politeness shown to me, but I no longer engage belligerent a**holes who think they're legal eagles. Since I know the law and my rights as a photographer in public, I simply tell them to call the cops if they think I'm doing something illegal. I have not yet had anyone take me up on the offer. Of course, it does help that I am large and scowly.

Unless rights are regularly asserted, they cease to exist. Indulging the overwhelming ignorance of the public is not my job.

I too sell photographs at art fairs. I don't have the popular "No Photography" sign in my booth. People often ask if they can send a photo to a friend or spouse, and I have had sales because of that. I have actually had a couple of people ask me they can take a photo of my photo to use as there desktop image or some such thing. I tell them to have the decency to like me on FaceBook, and steal it from there like a normal person! So far I don't think it's made me any more popular.

Thank you for all of the responses. First I must say that Mike, the esteemed editor, provided the title of the posting--I didn't intend to put the emphasis on whether anyone else has ever been hassled anywhere while doing street photography. My original title was "Photography at Art Fairs?" and my question was really about whether this artist's assertion that her art work, though exhibited in public, has special legal protection against any photography without permission, which is what she asserted. Not whether I could use the image commercially, but whether all photography of it is illegal.

I do usually ask artists for their permission if I enter their booth or directly shoot a photo of them or their artwork inside their booth out of courtesy. And the fact is that if this artist had not immediately started saying that I was stealing her work and "immoral", but instead engaged me constructively I would have happily deleted the photo and asked her to have a cup of coffee with me. She clearly overestimated the value of her work to me. She probably has had people actually appropriate her work from the web or elsewhere and focused all of her anger about that on me. I tend to get defensive and push back in situations where people are insulting me and calling me names. I never persist in photographing anyone who lets me know they don't want to be photographed and would gladly delete their photo if asked politely.

A few responses to other posts:

@ Darlene Almeda wrote: "I could not help but laugh after I reached the bottom of this article and read: '©2015 by Stephen Rosenblum, all rights reserved." Perhaps the title of this article should be: "Please do not ignore my copyright and reserved rights, as I write about ignoring yours.'" I did not insert the copyright notice after my posting, Mike did that without asking me about it for his own reasons. You are welcome to use what I have written for whatever you like.

@ Tracento wrote: "Bear in mind that most of the women I know from that part of the world have been told total BS by men who would not listen to them if you paid them. And have been treated so both at home (in some cases) and in the workplace (in most cases) for their entire lives. I'm not surprised you weren't listened to, but that's what she has to deal with all the time." I don't mean to scoff at your arm chair sociological observations, but, the artist in question is from Virginia, I believe, not Ann Arbor. You may want to rein in the generalizations about women a tad. And you may want to avoid women in Ann Arbor for awhile.... =)

The only time I was ever hassled was by a California Park Ranger in a California State Park. I was out photographing with my Dad and this guy asks me for my permit. I told him I did not need one and he said all professionals shooting in the park need a permit. I said I was not a professional, but he said I had to be because of my tripod and type of camera. It was a 4x5, and I explained that even by that time, most pros were not using view cameras any more. He responded by threatening me with confiscation of my equipment, etc. Eventually, he let us go. This was a Sunday and the next day I called his supervisor. We had a long talk and I received an apology.

Funny thing was that about 300 yards down the road there was a pro photographer with a big Canon DSLR and long telephoto lens shooting a model operating unmolested. I wonder if he had a permit? Well, of course, he was not a pro because he was not using a tripod!

A few years ago, I was going to photograph the Goldman Sachs headquarters building in NYC. An NYPD uniformed officer came up to me and told me that they didn't "like" to have their building photographed.

Despite having a copy of the NYPD patrol order on not interfering with photographers, and a document from the internet by a lawyer on photographer's rights, I just walked away.

The cop was more than likely off duty (a number of NYC businesses hire off duty cops in uniform as security guards, even though my understanding is the practice is not allowed). But who needs the hassle?

Similarly, I took some photos of interesting plumbing at a NYC waste treatment plant from the sidewalk outside the gate. A rent-a-cop came running out saying I was not allowed to take photos there. I told him that as long as I was not trespassing and that there were no signs to the contrary, I could do what I wanted. He ordered me to stand where I was while he called the police on me. I walked away with him shouting after me. Turns out that what I photographed could be easily found with a google search.

I rarely take photos of people and never of people at street fairs with their artwork. Not a subject of interest to me. But lately when challenged about taking photos, I just smile broadly and pretend not to speak English except to say Thank You in a heavy Eastern European accent.

I see four issues here. One is my legal right as a photographer. The second is my responsibility as a human to not cause suffering in others. The third is being proactive. The fourth is the handling of the situation.

I have never taken a street photo that is so valuable that I couldn't delete it, whether or not the person asking was being an a**. Their attitude is their problem. I don't have anything to prove, and the chances of changing the mind of someone like that is minuscule.

OTH, if I'm on assignment, or covering something that I consider important, I will stand on my rights. I carry a couple of printed copies of photographer's rights to hand out.

Then there's the issue of being proactive when it comes to making photos. I have gone to the police department, carrying my portfolio, and stated my photographic goals and intended shots. I've never been refused, but have been warned against using a tripod, as if that makes that much difference with modern cameras. An ounce of prevention can be worth more than a pound of cure. If I had to stand on my legal rights, I would, but a polite notification of my intentions has been enough so far.

That brings up the last point. I've read accounts of self-righteous insistence on rights. Can't imagine how that would deescalate a situation like the one in the post. I've witnessed a shouting match over said rights. That almost came to blows. I intervened in that one and thankfully was able to keep the situation short of violence. I don't recommend getting into the middle of a situation like that.

The thing I do, when I anticipate a problem and haven't asked for permission, is take my iPad with me ready to show my blog site. When I show people what I've done and show them the photo in question on the back of my camera I've even had people ask me for my card. Friendliness and enthusiasm will usually work and every one in a while earn a commission. If that doesn't work, I'm happy to delete a photo to mollify someone, though I often have another on my card that I haven't shown them.

Mike Plews: "This is why most of my personal pictures are landscapes. There are very few deciduous a**holes out there."

My sentiments exactly, Mike.
And btw, I'm glad I wasn't drinking a cup of coffee when I read your post.

Whenever a situation like this happens I always try to smile right away, introduce myself, and shake their hands before anything else is said. It immediately starts off any conversation on a friendly note and the confidence to do that makes it seem to them like you didn't think you were doing anything wrong (which we're not, I don't think).

I've deleted two photos over the years and both times the person ended up pretty kindly asking if I wouldn't mind deleting it as it made them uncomfortable, after a brief conversation. My experience might be an outlier, but a big smile and handshake is a fantastic de-escalator. Explain the type of photography that you are doing from a moral and cultural perspective and not a legal perspective. Then if they're still not convinced you can mention the legal stuff.

Two recent harassment incidents for me.

The first occurred when I went to try and take some nighttime moving head- and tail-light pictures from the sidewalk on an overpass above a nearby highway. After setting up my camera and tripod, I hung around waiting for dark. Then started taking pictures. After a while a cop came by and questioned me about who I was, what I was doing, etc. I responded and told him I would be shooting for a while, but not too long a while. He left. About 15 minutes later he came by and said that the station was still getting complaints from local people that I was there, and he didn't want to have to come back and find me there again. Fortunately, I was finished before he returned a third time, so I don't know how he would have carried out the implied threat.

None of the pictures came out very well, BTW.

The second was about two years ago on a Nikonians photography workshop in Boston. Our assignment one morning was to photograph the Boston skyline at dawn from a park which runs along the harbor, by the Moakley Courthouse. After we all set up, a guard came running out telling us we couldn't take pictures of the courthouse (we weren't; all of the cameras were pointed away from the courthouse). He then said we couldn't take any pictures at all from the public promenade along the harbor. While we mostly ignored him, it was upsetting from so many angles: he was wasting our short window of great light, he was upsetting us, and he was an idiot guarding an important building.

My pictures - of the skyline, and of the courthouse - came out great.

BTW, here are a few pictures on the web of the Moakley Courthouse:


Apparently, it's not so forbidden.

It never ceases to amaze me that the paranoids amongst us think a potential terrorist is going to setup a tripod and camera, and stand around for a couple of hours taking pictures of their target.

I am surprised no one has mentioned that, at least with digital photography, if someone questions what you did, you can show the person a thumbnail of what you were photographing and explain what you are doing. Rare is the case (assuming you weren't doing something unethical) that showing what you were doing would not diffuse the tension.

That, and a smile (with eye contact and a nod before taking a picture, when possible) usually helps too. Beyond that, if the person is all up in arms, do you really want their photo anyways? I don't because I could not remove the idea of this person from the photograph, which would ruin it for me.

As an aside, I am an attorney and I know the basics of IP laws (but not much more than the basics), but I don't think I've ever had to bring up legal rights and copyrights into such a discussion. Life is too short to be a troll or to put up with trolls. Just walk away.

After a 10 day trip to Japan, shooting mostly street scenes and coming home a bit excited about the results, I was surprised to find several shots of oblivious subjects, but a concerned or even angry face in the frame.
One thing I realised is the Japanese cultural imperative to "suffer in silence" and I have been overstepping the mark without realising.

I try not to be confrontational when photographing, but that lady is an idiot and my words to her would have been: "Sue me."

I shoot architecture. I'm hassled by people wanting to stay in my frame.

Common scenario: I will wait patiently while the male photographs his wife or girlfriend in front of the building or structure, then they swap and she shoots him, and then they ask bystanders to shoot both of them together. Each of these setups can take longer to frame and take the shot than I do with my 4x5, even if - or especially if - they are using a phone. But I know they have as much right to be there as I have. It helps me if they actually do look at the building and admire it, even just for a few seconds. Then, often, they will decide to check their messages, at which point my exasperation level reaches a critical state as I check the advancing cloud that is about to cover the sun and throw the shot into shade. At that point I will usually call out in a friendly manner, smiling, and ask them to please move out of my photograph. Usually that works, but there have been some very memorable exceptions.

I was shooting for a local newspaper in Colorado Springs, and the assignment was to get a photo of the SuperMax prison in Florence, CO, where the Unibomber lives underground for 23-hours a day (a guard told me he gets out for an hour, and runs!).

So, I pull over across the street from the front gate just to get a photo of the front sign--you can hardly even see the prison from out there at the street. And right away a couple of guards swing over, "Hey, no photographs of the federal prison are allowed."

I said, "That's not true, I'm on a public street shooting a public building, and I'm with the press, and even if I weren't, I could shoot it legally in public."

They said, "We're going to take your information and report you." (To who, I don't know.) I said, "I'm going to report you to the bureau of prisons in Washington D.C.," which I did, and someone there sent me a polite note saying that the prison guards are in the wrong and that I have every right to photograph the prison, and they've been told, and to keep a copy of the letter that they sent me in case I need to explain it to them again.

Intimidation and not knowing your rights stop a lot of people from doing what is in their right.

Also, to the folks who say they don't respond when someone confronts them, they just walk away: That's not helping. Then it seems suspicious. Transparency to our art needs to be told to everyone so they will stop being afraid of us.

Fear is crazy in America. When was the last time a photographer was convicted of abducting some kid after taking photos on the street? Just like there's never been reported case of a razor blade in an apple at Halloween-time, but we've all heard the story. It's crazy fear. Though we're being photographed at all times in public by security cameras. We're fine with that.

You can see my street photography in the link on my name below. And yes, there are kids in it, too. Didn't HCB says kids make some of the best photos?

"I didn't know that. I was totally wrong, and I apologize.
Say, those earrings are fantastic! Did you make them? They really make your eyes light up. Where might I get something like that for my niece?"

It seems like this (shortened form) would be so hokey that anybody can see through it. Many can, but it WORKS ANYWAY. It does not even have to be a compliment. Simple talk in a friendly way about something the other person is interested in, with sincere interest, and within one or two minutes at most it will be almost impossible to for them to stay upset.

I know it works because it was used on me. A person came over and ordered me to come to a meeting with a salesperson. I pointed out she could not give me orders because I was not her junior. Very clumsily she started talking about the photo mag I was reading, and in half a minute I had no energy or interest to be upset, and accepted her invitation (no longer an order). So even when very crudely done, and on a person who is fully aware what is going on, it works.

This is all rather amusing to me. I live on the Caribbean island of St Lucia and I have a problem with taking images of my own local people. However they will often pose for visitors. I have witnessed Bob Krist and Joe McNally giving posing instructions to local people who listened and did what they asked. The reason, they always tell me, is that I want to make money by selling their images to book and postcard companies whereas the "foreigners" just want vacation pictures!

Three stories come to mind:
20 years ago I was walking through South Philly with a friend who was making Polaroid photos. We found a row house done up in aluminum siding painted in pink and white stripes. My friend took a photo and we turned to leave when the homeowner came hurtling from the front door demanding to know what we were up to. My friend immediately got his shoulders up so I stepped in. "You painted your house to look good, right?" I asked. "Well, yes," was the reply. "So we really like the way your house looks and wanted to remember it." The homeowner smiled. "Oh," he said, "I thought you were from the insurance company." We left unmolested.
In another incident, a student of mine was photographing around the refineries in far South Philly when a police car stopped him and demanded he erase his CF card. He said he did it gladly, then went home and plugged his now reformatted card into his computer, fired up his data recovery software and got all his photos back.
Finally, I'm always amused by people who sign their work with a visible copyright symbol. Most times the work isn't worth copying.

Beyond the obvious I think what you will find is a marked difference between how Americans and Europeans react to these situations. Then of course there are the Canadians who just apologize. Both the accuser and the accused.

I have a somewhat interesting perspective on this one, as I'm a (U.S.) attorney and also sell my work at street fairs.

Street-fair artist first: several times a year I have people walk into my booth and take (or attempt to take, until I see them) a close up of my work. (This, obviously, is a far cry from street photography that Steve is engaged in.) I politely ask them not to take photos of my work, and I've never had an unpleasant confrontation. I also get some street photographers who are obviously not ripping off my stuff, and I just nod my head to them.

My guess is that the photographer in Steve's story either thought that Steve was engaged in the close-up-rip-off type of photography, or the artist has had so many rip-off attempts that she simply reacts (badly) to anyone in her booth with a camera. Of course that explanation does not justify the artist's rude behavior.

Lawyer second: the close-up-of-the-work example seems like a clear-cut copyright violation. The photographer's work is copyrighted, and the second photographer is making a copy. Absent a fair use exception, the photo is illegal. There is no obvious fair use exception to copyright that would capture the close-up.

Steve's example is much more likely to constitute fair use. His incorporation of the artist's work is "transformative", he's probably not using the work for commercial purposes, his work is arguably a comment on the original work, his work will not diminish the market for the original, etc. However, fair use is based on a complex, multi-factor analysis, and so its almost always a grey area.

Note: Though I'm a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer. Please get legal advice if you confront fair use and copyright issues.

Two harassments:

Private guard told me I couldn't photograph the building he was guarding. I told him I was on a public sidewalk photographing the railroad above it and that a train was coming - would he like to be in the picture? He happily posed and I emailed him the photo that night. He admitted that he tried to stop me because he thought his boss was watching. Lesson: Have some sympathy for an underpaid guard. Most, I suspect, are not motivated by power, but by fear of harassment from those who have power over them.

A light rail (trolley) line runs behind my house on a private right-of-way. I was standing on my own property photographing an unusual piece of maintenance equipment when I notice a passing trolley slow down and the operator stare at me. Soon I hear footsteps in the ballast and an employee from the shops 2 blocks away comes to the fence and tells me he was sent by a supervisor to check out what I'm up to. I point out that I'm photographing from my own land on which I pay considerable taxes. I could see he was embarrassed, so I offered to inform the dispatcher at the shops whenever I would be conspicuous in photographing the line and thus he could reassure any frightened operators that no terrorism was at hand! That night I went to the shops and gave some printouts of my photos to the dispatcher.

My point: rather than insisting on my rights, I try to consider what might be my challenger's real motivation and then take appropriate action - while still getting the photo (most of the time).

It's clear from these excellent and insightful comments that the few facts about the legalities of street photography are greatly outnumbered by heartfelt opinions on the ethics and practicalities. In the end, we each have to decide for ourselves which path we want to take (in life and in photography) and whether the briars, stones, and potholes we encounter along the way are worth the journey.

I think it would be very interesting to hear Peter Turnley's opinion on this matter and advice on how to approach people on the street. I follow Peter Turnley's Facebook page everyday and rarely does a day go by without seeing a beautiful street scene mixed with a portrait. He seems to possess the magic gift of being able to approach strangers, make friends and create a beautiful image without the slightest of hiccups. I think many of us could do with some sound advice on how to "survive" street photography.

Taking a step back from the issue of "who's in the right", I really wonder if a couple of photographs out of millions shot over the course of a career is worth the conflict.

If Bigfoot is napping in my neighbor's yard, and the neighbor comes out to yell at me for taking photos, I might engage. You don't see Bigfoot every day! If I'm taking a photo of her roses and she confronts me, I'll just move on to someone else's garden. Nice flowers abound.

Maybe I'm the exception but I have a lot of pictures in my catalog that I like but very, very few worth fighting over.

I have had a couple of encounters. One was at the Jefferson Memorial. I was doing a personal project about tourists at the DC monuments, and I sat down at the top of the stairs and took photos of people walking into the monument with the lake and Washington Memorial in the background. This was during the summer when all the high school groups from around the country visit DC. That act earned a visit from the park police because some off the chaperones thought I was doing up-skirt photos. The police were polite, I showed them my photos (no point in arguing as I wasn't doing anything wrong). There response was "looks like typical tourist photos", which was a bit deflating... After running a check on me, that was that. I thus have learned to be careful around tourist groups.

Thinking about it, I sometimes imagine that I have been harassed while taking photos in public places, but actually it is mainly in my own imagination, brought on by articles and comments read online like those above. I certainly have had heated discussions with my partner about my rights to take photos and her probably sensible reasons why sometimes having the right to do something is not the best course of action.

It seems to me that if this woman was calling you a thief out loud, in public, that's slander and would be actionable. If it were me, I would pull out my phone and tell her I was calling the police myself to lay a charge of harassment. Easy for me to say, of course.

Based upon your description (her art in foreground, people bokeh in background) -- it probably looked like you were taking a macro photograph of her art. Not worth the hassle getting into an argument -- maybe just delete it and say "no problem" or tell her it's just film and figure something out. It's doubtful you'll achieve anything by arguing or debating. Or alternatively, suck it up and say "whatever" and walk on. I'd suggest just letting it go -- talking about your feelings might help but arguing right and wrong and the rule of law won't be helpful (to you, personally). I wish you well.

@ Paul said: "I think it would be very interesting to hear Peter Turnley's opinion on this matter and advice on how to approach people on the street......I think many of us could do with some sound advice on how to "survive" street photography."

I have taken two street photography workshops with Peter Turnley--one in Paris and one in Havana. He uses (at least) two techniques on the street. When doing candid street photography he almost always uses a wide angle lens and takes the photos in close. This provides the drama and special look of those photos. He does not ask for permission most of the time, but does a lot of smiling if he meets resistance. He will smile or shrug and continue on his way. He taught us that people are very sensitive to photographers who appear to be sneaking around or doing something secretively, and much better with people who are open about what they are doing and appear comfortable with it.

The second approach he uses is doing street portraits of people he finds interesting. In that case, he directly engages the person, chats them up, asks permission, and shoots the photo. He may even promise to send them a copy, I am not sure. It helps that he is fluent in several languages. These two approaches are quite distinct, though there is certainly crossover--he might start out doing a candid photo that progresses to a non-candid portrait. You can read my TOP review and description of Peter's Paris workshop here

@ Gordon Lewis said. "It's clear from these excellent and insightful comments that the few facts about the legalities of street photography are greatly outnumbered by heartfelt opinions on the ethics and practicalities. In the end, we each have to decide for ourselves which path we want to take (in life and in photography) and whether the briars, stones, and potholes we encounter along the way are worth the journey" Gordon, truer words have never been spoken. Also, I love your book!

@ Gary said: "I'd suggest just letting it go -- talking about your feelings might help but arguing right and wrong and the rule of law won't be helpful (to you, personally). I wish you well." You are so right, Gary. I wish I had read your post first rather than last. It would have saved a couple of days of working my way to the same place. Thanks for your kind and wise words.

I was out just today shooting at an art show in downtown Boulder, Colorado, for my online photo magazine, Boulder Viewfinder - [http://BoulderViewfinder.com]

There was one photographer that had a sign that said "No Photography without consent of the photographer." I wanted to go up and ask if I could photograph the sign, but so as not to be disrespectful, refrained.

I shot throughout the art show--though mostly inconspicuously with my camera at chest level, around my neck, and it's a Fuji X100T, which is completely silent--and only one artist, a painter, approached me. She said, "No photography." I said, "Hi, my name is Kenneth and I'm shooting for an online photo magazine, called Boulder Viewfinder." She said, "Hi, my name is Katherine," and we talked for five minutes about how the show was going for her. I told her I would wait until there were more folks in her booth to shoot. She was totally pleasant once we got properly introduced.

The photos will be published Monday morning at 8:30am MDT, at that link above, if you want to see them.

Bravo! to Richard (many comments above) who proposed that one simply ask, rather than hide behind the camera.

I think much fuss could be avoided by taking some pointers from the excellent Peter Turnley. He often takes his photograph, and then approaches the subject(s) for permission, engagement, and exchange of contact information (or to give a card) so that he can supply them with a photo. He generates compassion, connection, engagement and we are all the richer. He have made exceptional "street" photographs for decades.

I was approached at the markets in Hobart a few year back - by a stall owner (photographer, a very good one too) for taking a photo in a mirror in a stall opposite his. The photo was of me with my daughter on my back - the mirror was just doing it's job but he claimed it was copyrighted...

I just acted like a tourist and said "oh" - knowing my little ricoh GR had long since got the shot when he thought he'd stopped me before i'd taken it :)

So - if a mirror is copyrighted does that include the reflection thats in it?
(i'm pretty sure it was just the frame...)

Dear Greg,

"If you know for a fact that the street fair is considered public property, then you should be covered. However, I'm not convinced that it is public property. Given that the photographer had paid for her space, it could reasonably be argued that her payment made the space hers and, therefore, private."

No, that is an incorrect understanding of the law. If you can photograph something from a public space without using extraordinary** measures, it is legal to do so. It does not matter if what you are photographing is private property or even the interior of private space. If it is readily viewable from the public space, it is allowed.

There is a LOT of case law that backs this up, not just "book" law.

Regardless of where your sympathies lie, it's important to have your facts straight.

pax / Ctein

(**extraordinary is a fuzzy term, but it really has to be EXTRAORDINARY to infringe upon privacy laws and rights)

In over 40 years of shooting in public, all over Europe, Asia, and North America, I've had many encounters. Apart from the few places where there's a superstition about cameras stealing your soul, my problems have overwhelmingly been in the USA and Canada. In the 70's and 80's and probably the 90's these encounters were relatively few, occasional irritants. More recently the confrontations have become a steady and tiring distraction, while the complainers have become more aggressive. The internet is an obvious culprit, though why someone thinks I would want to put their image online I'm not sure, and why, if I did, that a snapshot of what they are already doing in public should be a problem.

None of the encounters I have ever had, to my knowledge, involved an issue of copyright. It's always been, "did you take a picture of me?" or "what are you taking pictures for?" The street or art photographer's intentions are unknown and opaque to most people. Into that gap in comprehension floods suspicion. In the days of film it would be unheard of for someone to demand you rip the film out of your camera and give it to them, but the digital age has brought a new forwardness, with people insisting that you delete the photos you just made, even though they may not be in them or appear only peripherally. I might delete the image, but I want to think about it, and make that decision later, myself. Imagine if Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa or Bruce Davidson had deleted all the images we know now, because some sensitive subject demanded it.

I don't know where this will end. Maybe every face will be handed a copyright at birth. For now the world is there for anyone to look at. What's wrong with preserving what you can freely see?

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