This site’s semi-official title is “nutter behind the camera”. Here’s why….
In today’s Amateur Photographer a letter told how a Birmingham security guard stopped the letter-writer photographing on suspicion of being a terrorist. Having also been smeared as a potential terrorist, when I had my camera on a tripod near the London Eye, I’d like to share a few countermeasures.
Make sure you ask directly if they are actually saying that you are a terrorist. They’re already backing off, aren’t they? And if you were a terrorist, ask the guard if he seriously thinks you would carry such an obvious camera and tripod and all your other paraphernalia. If he thinks so, just tap your nose and wink “you never know, do you?”. Ask if coffee table books with full page photos, even architectural designs, are available in their shop? If you’re brave (I’m over 6 foot tall) don’t forget to enquire about procedures for vetting security guards, and see if he has heard of recent cases where journalists infiltrated airline security, and inside job robberies at high value couriers. Then see if he knows of any similar cases involving photographers. No? And see if he knows if the police ever ask photographers for pictures of incidents. They do, you know, all the time.
Even if the rent-a-uniforms do not play the terrorism card, keep up your questioning and keep them on the back foot. A good starter is to ask who they are? After all, they could be tour guides, and you’ve read in the Sun or the News of the World how many people are into wearing uniform. Or tell them you’re also into photographing uniform fetishists and try to find out if it’s their thing. Make them unsure if you’re harmless or weird and deviant. Ask exactly why they want to stop you engaging in a perfectly-legal activity, why they imagine your tripod indicates you are photographing commercially, and who you can complain to. Don’t fail to point it out if you are a customer of whatever they are protecting or if you indirectly pay their wages through your taxes.
But above all remember that, your goal is not to waste their time – they aren’t going anywhere. What you are trying to do is to make them think and make them feel awkward and so uncomfortable they lose their will to confront you and, more importantly, any future photographer….
Another great approach is to explain in mindblowing detail exactly what you’re doing. Enthuse. If lead in lines fail to excite, tell them all about your camera, raw formats, jpeg compression, white balance…. I recommend in-camera sharpening versus Photoshop CS2′s Smart Sharpen and third party tools. Of course, occasionally this can work both ways. For instance, I’ve recently been interrupted twice while shooting digital infrared and in each case explained the technique means exposures so long that I needed a tripod. One guard withdrew long before the first mention of nanometres, while the other was so impressed with the results that he hung around for a few minutes and didn’t bother me at all.
If they don’t ask you to leave, you don’t have to go. If they do, you’ll have to – but never let them feel any sense of victory. Even a pyrrhic one. Make sure they never again dare approach a nutter with a camera.
(Adapted from my letter subsequently published in AP)