Tricks for Avoiding the Police When Shooting in Public Locations

David Hobby has written up a great post over at Strobist on how he avoids shoot-ruining confrontations with police officers when shooting in public locations (we shared an example of a confrontation yesterday). His tricks include calling the police ahead of time and leaving notes on the doors of houses nearby:

Before I shoot (a couple hours, usually) I call into the duty officer of the local precinct. I tell them my name, that I am a photographer, and where/when I will be shooting. I explain that, just in case some overenthusiastic passerby calls me in as a suspicious person, I just want to save them a call. I offer them my cell number, and ask if they want my sosh or driver’s license number. I have never been taken up on this, but I would happily give it.

[…] I print up a sheet and stick it in everyone’s door who is within eyeshot of the shoot at night. Because believe-you-me, it you are popping flashes in the woods at 2am, some idiot will absolutely call your butt in. To them, it’s gotta look pretty much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some of you might not like these tips because they appear to be the equivalent of putting up a white flag in the fight for photographers’ rights, but they may come in handy if one day you have a critical photo shoot that you can’t afford to have interrupted.

How to Avoid Dealing With the Police When Shooting in Public [Strobist]

Image credit: police officers by torbakhopper

  • tibo

    always carry a bag of donuts

  • Corry Davis

    yup. just offer them donuts. 

  • Matt from Cohen-Photo

    It’s a sad society today where we have to avoid the police while doing our jobs or carrying out our 100% legal hobbies

  • Concerned Citizen

    It stinks that you feel that you need to literally contact the police before you go use your camera. And even in public spaces. The FAA just approves American air space for domestic spy drones and we can’t even take pictures of a tree without John Q. Law harassing and even arresting you.

  • Markb

    Remember a criminal’s lookout man could also pose as a photographer. Another reason cops should ask for ID and information.

  • Waleed Alzuhair

    So if you call the precinct, the location police officers will not ask you to stop what you’re doing until they verify what you claim? And that verification won’t take a couple of hours?

  • WriterWriter1

    As much as photographers are not required to do this, it is a nice, very professional, collaborative touch.

    I like it.

  • WriterWriter1

     Yeah, that’s true and that is certainly one of the results of the “be scared all the time” type security ‘measures’ in place in some countries…

    But it is a pretty professional move to inform the police in advance. Collaboration does make for better relationships in the long term.

  • Steve

    I would rather the confrontations continued, so we can get more of those funny videos on youtube.  Eventually the police and security people will learn that there’s nothing wrong with taking photos in public places.

    Informing them in advance isn’t a good idea because then they will tell every photographer that they need to be informed in advance if they want to take photos.  How does that help?

  • Jep


  • TAPman

    And this:
    is the new reality in the USA, folks.

  • Bob Dunkin

    This is all well and good for anyone on a ‘actual’ photoshoot.  However, that is NOT where a good majority of the problem lies.  From what I’ve seen, it is usually the ‘single’ person who is stopped… and are ‘more than likely’ to not be a professional on a shoot, which is REALLY what seems to be case here.  
    If a good portion of people were to take up this plan, I foresee MORE people getting stopped and harassed by police officers for NOT calling them first…

  • Through Painted Eyes

    This isn’t about shooting in a public location, it’s about shooting in the woods at night, and observers only seeing flashing lights. This doesn’t translate at all to the majority of situations, and is horrible advice if it’s intended to apply to shooters on public property where the observer knows they are taking pictures.

  • Andrew Bowness

    I feel like the recent wave of “police saying it’s illegal to take pictures when it isn’t” won’t be combated much by these tips since they’re different situations. It seems like the officers just happen to be around and think you look suspicious and so create a BS excuse to hassle you. The tips seem to be more aimed that helping save the police time when a member of the public decides that you’re up to no good and get the police involved.

  • Concerned Citizen

     Why is it better to collaborate with the police long term instead of exercising your rights as a citizen?

  • Marja

    It’s crazy that photographers should have to clear it with cops in order to go out and take pictures.  There was one story I read on I think Cracked’s website about a guy that got arrested for taking photos at an airport.  That could be suspicious, except he was taking pictures for their “photograph our airport!” contest.  It might have been of an airline or something similar, but it was that same thing, getting arrested for participating in their own contest.

  • Romanium

    generally, collaborating with the police allows you to make dietary provisions if and when you get maced in the face. prolonged facial macings can create a high sodium intake

  • Jason

    I decided I dislike most photographers. Really? Is it that bad for a cop to come out and see what the strange activity is about, regardless if it is in the woods or on a street corner?
    You can be an ass. You have that right. You refuse to explain, and you can refuse to show id. You may also get pulled over leaving the scene for speeding cause one mile an hour over is illegal.
    Letting someone know you are going to be working in there back yard when a concerned party is for sure going to inform them is not throwing up a white flag; it is just curteous.
    Not everyone takes pictures or understands photography as an art. A lot of people use cameras to spy and report. You wanna go out and practise your art without arrousing suspicion take up painting.

  • Bartman2003

    You might want to “take up” Spelling! :)

  • bruhinb

    Strangely, I have never been approached. I shoot architecture shots in various neighborhoods of Philadelphia on an amateur basis almost every day, and have never been approached by any police officers. I’ve been doing this for around four years without serious incident. Other than one frustrating but legal, “no photos please,” from a security guard on private shopping center property, the closest I ever came was when I was shooting from the public walkways on the Benjamin Franklin bridge. One of the officers patrolling the walkway was watching me work in a way that made me think he was considering approaching me, but he never did.

    I wish I could think of what I might be doing to avoid the kinds of harassment I read about here and other places every week or so, but I really haven’t a clue why things have been so different for me. 

    I hope it’s not just been good luck.

  • PaulJay

    This is like kneeling down to a fascist reality.
    Just admit that America has become a police state.
    Fear of terror and accepting less liberty as a consequence is the purpose of terrorism.

    Terrorism – ‘Free’ America 1-0

  • Xxx

    This is crazy, capitulating behavior. I won’t do it.

  • bob cooley

    No, all officers have radios.  If you have the duty officer’s name, the cops on location can verify in seconds; and if you are offering up the duty officers name, they may not even bother with the call in.

  • Trausti Hraunfjörð

    What’s next?  Notify the police when you are going to drive your car to work, because otherwise you might be arrested or suspected of planning a terror attack?  Notify the police when you need to use the toilet, because someone might think you were making stink-bombs or some other crap in there?

    No way that one should bow down to a fascist society this way.

  • Teoh Yi Chie

    If you know your rights, can’t you call 911 to send in another policeman to stop the current one from harassing you?

  • Mantis

    Land of the Free.
    Home of the Brave.