Beware of Police Officers When Shooting Time-Lapse Photographs

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania-based photographer Jason Macchioni was recently shooting a time-lapse project from an overpass at night when he was approached by police officers who demanded his ID and threatened to arrest him for wiretapping (Macchioni was recording video of the encounter). Macchioni tells us,

I was shooting a time-lapse which I’m still working on, I arrived at this site around 9 and was there for about 3 hours until these two cops rolled up! At first I was calm and refused to give ID, After the second cop was breathing down my neck and really threatening me. I gave in and tried to get them to leave. Then stuff got heated.

Macchioni has enlisted the help of the ACLU in filing a complaint with the police department. Want to learn more about your rights as a photographer in the US? Check out this short cartoon the ACLU released earlier this month.

  • William

    i am all for photographer’s rights, but as i listen to the audio i can’t help but hear the combative tone in this photog’s voice. show the officers a sample of your work – a sample of what you’re doing. show your business cards. make friends with the local and state film offices and get the names of the local law enforcement film contacts. every run in with LE doesn’t have to be a confrontation. these officers are rolling up on a suspicious person/activity call. they don’t know what to expect, then they encounter a hostile photog spouting off about the ACLU? come on, a little proactive cooperation goes a long way.

  • zizzybaloobah

    He wasn’t being combative. He knew and was asserting his rights. These cops are ignorant, abusive idiots.

  • MrRocking

    The cops have never heard of Vimeo.

  • itinko

    When video taping these altercations best to turn your mic off. That way they can’t apply the wiretapping laws.

  • Mantis

    What the hell is wrong with this country???

  • Senen L

    I agree with you, the photog was right but it never helps to adopt a confrontational tone, answering “because I can” was a mistake..telling them “my dad knows your boss” was just asking for trouble.

  • Buggle

    This guy is my hero.

  • Lesley Storm

    He’s not doing anything wrong but he actually does have to show them ID if they ask. If he’d just given them what they wanted and not made a fuss about it than it would have been over in a couple of minutes- with no harm done.

  • Anatole Klapouch

    I think this guy is an idiot. The photographer, not the cop.
    Damn, just show the f***g id and be polite.

    “My father knows your boss”… pff, asshole.

  • JMaccPhotography

    you can video and audio record public officials proforming their public duties. in PA

  • JMaccPhotography

    I’ve been on and off the phone with the ACLU and they said I did everything I was supposed too, though caving into the ID and Putting the video away, You don’t have to show ID, In Pa, 

  • JMaccPhotography

    Well thats nice! 

  • Leo

     When did the ACLU and using the name become a bad thing?  I am sorry that some of us don’t want to live in a country where we have to carry our papers and always be ready to prove our innocence.

  • SilentMoose


  • William

    starting at 13 sec, “cause I can” he just comes off as being a know it all to me … yes, he’s being assertive – but imho, the wrong way. how about, “here, officer, this is what i am doing” and show a bit of time-lapse on your laptop or mobile device? these are cops, not photogs. How about, “i’ve spoken with Officer So-So, your film liason contact, here’s his card – he says I can photograph here as long as i, etc etc.” 

    there’s an easy way and hard way to prove a point and in many cases, LE is clearly in the wrong when i comes to photog’s rights. in this case, i think the photog pushed the cops into a confrontation.

  • B E. L

    There’s cctv everywhere in public that the public cannot access, but when the public use (video)cameras it can be an arrestable offense… interesting.

  • Mike

    I think he was being respectful but asserting his rights, why give them  ID or show them? You have rights in this country why give them up to make it easier for them?

  • Buggle

    Nope.  That’s how we let tyrants get what they want and bully law abiding citizens into submission.

    Civil Disobedience, my friend.

    I wish this guy would have let the cops arrest him, then he’d have a civil rights lawsuit on his hands since he was well within his rights & the law.

  • Buggle


  • Returnofsid

    Photography and Audio recording fall under completely different laws.  While you do have a right to photograph, you do NOT have a right to audio record, without permission, in public or not…

  • Returnofsid

    If a law enforcement officer gives you a legal command, you comply, plain and simple.  An officer has the right to see your ID, at any time…

  • Jim Lundgren

    I have to wonder what the point was here. It seemed as if the photographer switched the goal of the evening to this confrontation and not to continue shooting the traffic. Nobody can say for certain, but I am willing to bet a more gracious attitude would have had them on their way in a minute. If he wanted a video to post of a confrontation with police “bothering” photographers, then his techniques worked perfectly. If he wanted to continue to shoot time-lapse photography on overpasses, his techniques failed him miserably. 

  • Returnofsid

    cctv doesn’t record Audio.  That makes all the difference in the world.

  • Mike

    In the video there were no Legal Commands, Plain and simple

  • Mike

    You do have the right to record public officials proforming their public duties in PA

  • Kevinryangh

    Um… no.

  • Todd L Church

    What if a person doesn’t carry and ID? What then? An officer can ask but you aren’t required to carry one. To prevent being busted for wiretap the photog should have said at the beginning of the confrontation that he had a recording device and it was turned on. If the officer then chooses to speak after being notified then he is implying permission. They can’t force you to turn off a recording device in a public area. Personally I think it’s best to cooperate and be friendly with the police but sometimes confrontation is warranted.

  • Buggle

    Yes you do.   You have no expectation of privacy when you’re out in public.

    Are you suggesting that every single person who’s using a camcorder in public is breaking the law if they don’t get permission from everybody around them who’s voice may be incidentally recorded?

  • Buggle

    So you’re cool with living in a “Your Papers Please” society, eh there Adolf?

  • Shelby Bill

    It seems to me that the photographer is being combative. You’ll get more when you cooperate and show courtesy.You can get more with some honey than vinegar. A dumb ass like this can make it difficult for the rest of us. I had a similar situation shooting night scenes in Washingto DC (prior to 911) I was asked for a tripod permit and didn’t have one and asked if I could obain one by Capital Police. I had a permit within 30 minutes and no more hassle.

  • Rachell Mckitrick

    This guy was a complete jerk. He was immediately confrontational and just ended up making himself look like an ass.

  • JR Scotland

    The police are authorities. They are professionals; as such, the responsibility is theirs to know the law and to uphold it REGARDLESS of the tone, or ‘combativeness’ of the so-called suspect so long as the suspect is not breaking any laws. The police have no recourse but to respect the rights of the individual and move along; to do otherwise is harassment. The reason some cops get all pissy, is because they think that they are gods. They feel they have absolute authority and they are not used to being legally resisted.

  • Iam12whatsthat

    May I see your papers please?  (More fun to say in a German accent.)

  • Nate Lucchese

    this photographer is an IDIOT

  • Nate Lucchese

    the photographer handled this situation like a child.

  • Leo

    I think you are confusing the Gestapo with our police.  If he is not being detained and doing nothing that would be overtly illegal and they are just questioning he doesn’t have to answer or turn over a ID.

  • Romanium

    what dreamland are you living in??

  • Leo

    I know is no matter how much you dislike his attitude it doesn’t mean he needs
    to give up his civil liberties.  Sounds like a lot of you would walk
    blindly into some sort of Tocqueville, soft despotic state to make your lives
    a little easier.

  • Romanium

    his crummy “time lapse of traffic” didn’t make it onto the site, get lots of youtube hits, or receive any public praise….but his whiny “confrontation” did.

  • Iam12whatsthat

    Being an a**hole or an idiot aren’t against the law.

    Cops are only allowed to enforce laws, not feelings.

  • Kyoshinikon

    Reality my friend…  Reality.

  • CK

    Ok, PetaPixel, you buried the lead on this one. The story is what Macchioni said happened after the recording stopped. He claims the policeman went on some racist rant and made a couple comments eluding to violence.

    At the end of the day, I don’t care. His rights may have been infringed on, but he backed down. If you want to make a point and stand up for your rights (which I understand), then say just say no to everything, get arrested, and fight it later. That’s civil disobedience.

    What people should take away from this is that, yes, you should stand up for your rights. No, you should be a dick to the police, just to be a dick. And lastly and most importantly, a police encounter is not supposed to be convenient. You spend your nights making shitty time-lapse impressions of Koyaanisgatsi and they spend their nights trying to save lives.

    If what Macchioni claims happened after the video is true, that’s the story! Also, DO NOT try to pull rank on a cop by saying your daddy knows the police chief. If you’re going to do that, at least google the dude’s name first.

    I’ve been approached by police several times while actually working, and I’ll tell you what, every time I’m really nice and they don’t ask me to do anything close to what they could ask me to do.

    What’s most important? Your art or your rights? At the end of the day, if I’m documenting something truly messed up, I’ll break the law, lie about it AND happily let them violate my rights if that what it takes to keep the picture. In my eyes, the picture comes first. But I’m a working photojournalist, so very little of my time is spent making trendy time-lapse photos.

  • ennuipoet

    I see this from both sides, as a former cop and as a photographer.  Up to a point, the cops are within the scope of their duties to investigate.  This is, after all, the middle of the night on an over pass not walking down the street in broad daylight. The photographer is absolutely within his rights to photograph on public space.  Day or night, anywhere he is legally allowed to be, he can photograph. All of that being true, this could have been handled better on both sides.  The photographer comes off as confrontational, the cops were unprofessional.  Both sides could have avoided this by simply being polite, professional and clearly explaining why they were there.   Frankly, I concur that law enforcement has been heavy handed in their dealing with photographers, if not down right criminal in some cases.  Yet, we as photographers have a responsibility as well.  We must be clear, polite and concise in what we are doing, comply with any reasonable request of the police.  (In this case, I think producing identification is a reasonable request.  If this were in the middle of the day, the situation changes and it obvious what the photographer is doing there.)  Instead of forcing a confrontation, we should be doing everything in our power to avoid one whenever possible.  Pick your battles, I am willing to be arrested to stand up for my First Amendment Rights but I want that arrest to be about something more than my being stubborn.    There are plenty of times when the cops are clearly 100% wrong, this time both parties share the responsibility.

  • Richard Brown

    Actually, kissing the cops ass makes it HARDER on all of us.
    The cop should know the law, plain and simple.  It shouldn’t matter if you are polite or rude, the cop is only allowed to enforce laws, not whims.

    The easier you make it for them to bust people’s balls, you really think they’ll do it less?

  • Tobias W.

    Never, ever argue with the police at a dark street corner all by yourself facing two of them with none else around to witness the situation. When the shit hits the fan and they take away your recording, erase or destroy your recording and both have the same statements against you, you look like the criminal in the end and not even the truth can save you.

    I know the photographer didn’t do anything wrong, he was standing up for his rights. But doing so in a situation like that put him in a very vulnerable situation. A lot of cops with badges are plain assholes and give a shit about civil rights when being pissed off like that (My dad knows your boss…). Those police men kept very calm actually. They might be wrong about the legal situation, but it could have been much worse. Just imagine a non-caucasian photographer and the situation might have been a totally different one in many parts of the States (I’ve seen how San Antonio cops dealt with a mixed crowd in the past, I was glad I was not at the wrong end of their discrimination).

    I would have just shown my ID and take it from there. I’m not giving up any rights when I identify myself to law enforcement.

  • Tobias W.

    A tripod permit? In public space? This must be something specific to the area you were shooting in, right?

  • Macacadian

    In the supposed land of the free, the photographer isn’t being a dick for refusing to provide ID. The cop is being a dick by demanding it – not just asking – and straight up lying by claiming the photographer must show it.

    The simple fact is, unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being or has been committed, you are under no obligation to produce it.

    This right, to not have to show your papers to random security personnel, used to be something that separated the free western nations from the communist eastern countries.

    That seems to be forgotten now.

  • Iambuffetking

    I totally agree with the view that this photographer was being obstinate. this is no way for a professional to behave when questioned. if you know your rights then you should have the sense to assert them after you have provided an explanation. there are way to many people calling themselves photographers now who have no clue about how to conduct themselves in a professional manner. You are giving the profession a bad name.

  • pete1980

    good job. id say “fuck the police” but really these guys are just like the rest of people that understand why anyone would something just “for fun”.. hence the logic, he must be weird.. who does this for fun.. oh wait, what is he doing? i don’t know. must be bad!  if this seems bad, try doing this in panama where im from; it would take less than 10 minutes for 5 more cops to get there, steal your camera, search your car, harass your girlfriend, take you to the station and lock you up for no reason for 3 hours til they realized they’ve got nothing on you. I wish my luck was this bad. At least in the states the “i know my rights” method works for some cops. Don’t try this in central america. 

  • zero p

    what’s your point?