Saturday, March 16, 2013

Should You Photograph on Private Property?

Maybe. The question of whether you may photograph on private property with public access can differ quite substantially from the question of whether you ought to photograph on such property. And the two questions often yield disparate answers. There was a time when "forgiveness is easier than permission" was an idiom I employed regularly, but it certainly doesn't make for good relationships, and age and accumulated wisdom have taught me there's sometimes a better way.

There are often signs to guide you in determining whether or not you are permitted to photograph in such a place, ie: malls, churches, and government buildings. If you are on private property that is open to the public, photography is generally permitted unless indicated otherwise. But even in this situation, it may be best to seek permission from an official or someone associated with the facility.

But be mindful that taking photographs during a religious ceremony or service is unlawful in some places, and you could find yourself charged with a crime for so doing.

Where there is no one apparently around to ask and no signs for guidance, you should probably appeal to some form of common sense. Place yourself in the shoes of the property's proprietor, and consider whether you would want you around. But even this, done in good faith, can fail you.

On the north side of the town in which I live, there is a propane tank depot. And on one occasion, it seemed to me a perfectly befitting subject for my Holga. The business was closed and the property surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, but I didn't actually want or need inside the fence for the photo I had in mind. So I handed the camera to myself from over the fence and lowered it hand-under-hand by reaching through the fence. By the time I took the photograph and retrieved the camera, I noticed a woman from the business next door standing near my car and writing down information. I politely explained to her who I was and what I was doing; she was disinterested, and wouldn't even acknowledge me or that I was speaking to her. So in keeping with the British adage, I kept calm and carried on...and waited for the police to come knocking on my door (which fortunately didn't occur).

Below is the resulting photograph, though I'm certain it wouldn't have been worth any jail time.

A Propane Depot somewhere in Central Alabama

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