Chasing, photography and property issues

Dan Robinson

While scrambling to film yesterday's severe storms in downtown Charleston, I pulled off of a downtown street into the driveway of the then-closed Clay Center of the Arts and Sciences, the city's new science museum/planetarium/concert hall. CGs and heavy rain were crashing down all around and I rushed to set up my cameras. I had been there five minutes when an executive from the building, along with a security guard, came out and asked me if I ever sold any of my video. Of course, I said yes. At that, they demanded that I leave, after taking my name and phone number. They 'would get back to me', the exec said. (To sue? who knows.) The intense storm didn't keep them from coming out and confronting me.

I had always thought that this place was a public facility, as a large portion of the building's funding was by the city. Not so, according to them. Thankfully, I didn't get any useable video from that spot and I wouldn't have kept or used it anyway after they objected. It was the first time in 11 years that I've had this type of problem when filming storms.

That incident brought up some questions - just how careful does a chaser have to be when filming storms or severe weather? Of course, filming on private property is clearly not legal nor adviseable, but it turns out that there are many places that we end up filming from that may be private, like parking lots, etc. From what I can ascertain, as long as you are filming on public property you are OK even if you sell the video. Wondered what others experiences on this were.
I see alot of beautiful cloud pic's I wish I could bring my camera on base but it is illegal to take pic's here on base.
I could see and understand someone reprimanding you for taking pictures around natural sites and areas of "interest" to terrorists overseas, but a simple art museum - grief.....
of course that's better than what I'm afraid I'll come up against in the area that I live...

Redneck with a 12 gauge, pump-action, 30 years of experience and 20 8 pointers hangin' from his living room wall....

I'd like to buy the brown pants, if you will!!!!
I'm certainly not a lawyer -- just a somewhat keen reader who's been in similar situations a few times, however.... my understanding is that a private property may ask and even compel you to leave under penalty of trespass, may allow you stay on condition you abide by restrictions on photography or other non-discriminatory reasons, and is entitled to redress or compensation if their location is identifiable and used in a non-incidental and non-newsworthy way for commercial gain.

In your case you were using their parking lot. They had a right to ask you to leave, or allow you to stay but not take pictures, etc. They could also come to a legal agreement with you to get some compensation in return for allowing you to film from their property, but that would have to be negotiated and agreed to by you and a proper agent of the property owner.

AFA suing you, I wish I were a lawyer to take your side in that case! You sought refuge in a parking lot during a severe storm for the purpose of making a newsworthy video of the storm. If they'd happened to have had sheltered parking and they told you to leave under the circumstances as I understand them, you'd have the better case in court against them. IMO, FWIW.
As the May 2000 Los Alamos fire approached the town, I went onto the Los Alamos National Labratory property to film it.

A lab security guard walked over and told me I was not permitted to film on lab property. He was nice about it. I stopped.

In late May, 2002, on a non-chase day I and my now-wife were traveling around the OK and TX panhandles shooting this-and-that, but especially water towers and such. West of Slapout there was an interesting site just off the main road with a big Enron water tower and a fenced-in area with big, rusty pipes, etc. This was just after Enron went BK ... well, you get the idea.

We pulled off the roadway onto the shoulder and were shooting merrily away in the public ROW. Well, the county sheriff drives up, and we had to endure about a half-hour of questionning, to make sure we weren't terrorists (or if we were, to -- as the rather apologetic officer put it -- make a note of the incident) so if it blew up the FBI knew who to question. The officer assured us we weren't doing anything illegal.

So far as we know it hasn't blown up and the FBI hasn't questionned us. Given the sorry condition of that Enron gas pipeline pressurization plant, it's a minor miracle.

The main lesson for me from this story is a lot of things are weirded out after 9/11. But if we don't try to continue to behave like Americans, the bad guys have won. However, when we return to that site to update the photos, I'll give the sheriff a call to tell them we're coming.
The law on this is clear, but the post 9-11 world has become fraught with difficulties for stringers, photographers and videographers. It is now common when obtaining video for TWC for me to be stopped by police and building management MULTIPLE times. Last week in one morning I was stopped twice in two different places. Some things to help: carry your press I.D. with you identifying you as someone who is obtaining video for professional use. Even if you are just working to build stock footage, this is completely acceptable. The law is that the press may film in any open public place ... on any sidewalk ... you can film anyone who is in public as well. Hence we have the existence of the papparazzi. No laws as yet regulate their ability to obtain photographs of any public figure while they appear in public. If this building was government property, they may be concerned with terrorist targeting - who knows. Sounds like it's probably just an over-zealous security guard, which is usually the case.

There is no need to make a big issue of this normally, however. Usually I'll just cross the street and film whatever I want from the other sidewalk. However, if they want to make an issue of it, allow them to contact the police. Whatever. Or have them call the company who markets your ideo to verify your credentials. I also make sure to have business cards with me at all times and try to dress like I look the part.

It used to be that I could go to the airport to grab shots anytime with no problem. Now I absolutely HAVE to call in advance and get permission. And even then I will still be stopped by security when I get there, who will make me stop while they verify the story. So now I'm having to allow extra time for getting shots at the airport or in front of high rises, at amusement parks, etc. It's a pain in the butt ... we can all thank the terrorists of the world for basically making everyone's job more difficult. I find that the more pleasant I am with the officials ... I usually joke around with them and just try and be friendly ... the easier it is to get my job done.

Here is a good article concerning privacy and security ethics for photographers:

I'll quote the section concerning legal guidelines from this article ... it's just a good practice to use common sense and common courtesy, which will get you a lot further than if you try to make a big issue out of something or try to force your legal rights. Getting more difficult to judge just what to say and do to get the best results these days, but it can still be done.

"Where and When Pictures Can be Taken

Public Area

Street (Anytime)
Sidewalk (Anytime)
Airport (Anytime)
Beach (Anytime)
Park (Anytime)
Zoo (Anytime)
Train station (Anytime)
Bus station (Anytime)

In Public School

Preschool (Anytime)
Grade school (Anytime)
High school (Anytime)
Univ. campus (Anytime)
Class in session (Permission)

In Public Area--With Restrictions

Police headquarters (Restricted)
Govt. buildings (Restricted)
Courtroom (Permission)
Prison (Permission)
Legislative chambers (Permission)

In Medical Facilities

Hospital (Permission)
Rehab. center (Permission)
Emergency van (Permission)
Mental health center (Permission)
Doctor's office (Permission)
Clinic (Permission)

Private but Open-to-the-Public

Movie theater lobby (If No Objections)
Business office (If No Objections)
Hotel lobby (If No Objections)
Restaurant (If No Objections)
Casino (Restricted)
Museum (Restricted)

Shooting from Public Street into Private Area

Window of home (Anytime)
Porch (Anytime)
Lawn (Anytime)

In Private

Home (If No Objections)
Porch (If No Objections)
Lawn (If No Objections)
Apartment (If No Objections)
Hotel room (If No Objections)
Car (If No Objections)

The funniest time for me ... was filming a storm at the top of the hill by my own house, when one of the neighbors apparently called the police, who then came out and asked to see my credentials, called it in, etc. Now that's getting a little whack. I've been stopped or interfered with upwards of 10-15 times now altogether ... some of it may just be local attitude, don't know. I certainly don't think I look all that threatening to anyone ... but it is comforting to know that the good people of Kansas City are staying diligent anyway.
On a more general level, a few cases here in Canada have set the precident that if one cannot clearly and decisively count on privacy (ie, in the home, public washrooms, fitting rooms, etc) then filming and audio recording is permitted. To extend that to Dan's event, he would be OK here in Canada as the front of the building on a public throughway could not be clearly private. However, this does not address the issue of selling the footage for profit, and I'm not sure how that would play out...

Be well, TR
The main issue is, of course, about rights and restrictions on photographing nature or structures from private property -- not people. Storms have no rights to privacy or compensation, even after 9/11! At least I hope not!
In addition to security and terrorists, many places want to regulate commercial filming on their property and probably charge for the access. I wouldn't mind a small fee but I don't like the hassle factor. I have never had a problem, but I have had friends who stated they were filming for TWC or other commercial entity and were asked to leave. A tourist filming in the same area would not have difficulty.

In semi public areas (not airports), I would suggest going "stealth." Use a 3 CCD camcorder such as the TRV-900/950 or similar, don't wear logos of television networks, and dress nicely but not like a photojournalist. If possible, brace the camera rather than use a tripod. (tripods also cause pedestrian problems on heavily traveled sidewalks and are specifically band in some places).

My philosophy: Don't ask for permission, just do it and apologize/act innocent if guestioned.

Bill Hark
If possible, brace the camera rather than use a tripod. (tripods also cause pedestrian problems on heavily traveled sidewalks and are specifically band in some places).

My philosophy: Don't ask for permission, just do it and apologize/act innocent if guestioned.

I have to use a tripod - there's just no way around it. I've tried going without even on a brief shot or two, and the video quality level drops instantly - I've never been able to successfully get a shot without one.

For the most part - aside from getting shots at local amusement parks, the airport now, and from inside high rises, I don't need to ask permission, but can't understand why I'm getting so much hassle here. This really has become a fairly big issue these days. To the point that I can almost expect someone to at least question me at least once a week. Maybe I just have a suspicious look or something. I go stealth all the time - with little difference on getting the runaround. In some ways KC remains a really big small town, and I wonder if this might affect attitudes about stuff along this line.

David - there is even some controversy currently about media and photojournalists being allowed to obtain footage on public lands. If you perform an internet search you'll find a definite debate on the subject.
This wasn't during a storm situation, but my chase partners ran into some problems trying to take pictures of a Spangles fast food restaurant in Kansas. Apparently the Spangles chain is in a legal dispute with another company with a similar name so they didn't allow them to take any pictures.