Nat Geo Photographer George Steinmetz Arrested for Taking Photos of Feedlot


Photographer George Steinmetz has made a name for himself by taking spectacular aerial images from his paraglider. But a recent flight over Finney County, Kansas landed him not in the pages of National Geographic, but in jail.

For Steinmetz, a freelancer who has been on more than 31 major assignments for Nat Geo, this isn’t necessarily anything new. If you watched his talk we shared some 5 months ago (embedded below) you might remember him saying something along the lines of “I got arrested for taking this photo … I get arrested a lot.”

Many suspect that this most recent arrest happen were due to some of Kansas’ controversial “Ag-Gag” laws, which prohibit photography of any animal facility not open to the public.

steinmetzThe official word from Finney Country Sheriff Kevin Bascue, however, is that Steinmetz and his long-time paragliding instructor Wei Zhang were arrested for taking off from private land without permission and not telling anyone they intended to take photos. Steinmetz and Zhang were held in jail only briefly, each paying a $270 bond in order to walk away.

Since the incident, National Geographic‘s vice president of communications, Beth Foster, has released a statement in Steinmetz defense.

“We believe [Steinmetz] did not break any laws and have reached out to local officials about the incident,” said Foster after explaining that the photos he was taking would appear in the magazine next year. “We are awaiting more information. If the matter does require legal action, National Geographic will provide for his and his assistant’s defense.”

(via dvaphoto)

Update: Here’s a video about this story:

  • cliff claven

    Litigate Kansas out of existence please.

    Also, what are they doing about drone and satellite imagery of KS’s foul farms?

  • JP Danko

    I have been thinking of various ways to photograph a local industrial zone from the air for a while now. The whole area – hundreds of acres – are totally off limits on the ground. I get hassled by security guards for even pointing a camera towards one of the industries from a public roadway.

    I’m was thinking that if it can be photographed from a public location on the ground – surely the air also qualifies as a public location? Its not like Google Earth gets arrested for posting satellite images of the same thing.

    What about a drone – if it takes off and lands on a public right of way – but flies over private property – could you get arrested for that? Its not like you are physically trespassing.

    Interesting times when those who have something to hide have the power to keep it hidden.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Perhaps he was trying to photography Dorothy’s house before it landed on the sheriff.

  • SWKS Photog

    The fact that he was taking pictures is really irrelevant. He deployed his para-glider from private property after he parked his vehicle on the same property. This area is posted with no trespassing signs. Pics or not, the issue at hand seems to be trespassing.

  • osam

    Drones are one of those things the FAA are getting their panties in a twist about lately; I wouldn’t expect smooth sailing.

  • Banan Tarr

    And I would’ve happily been arrested and paid $270 for the kind of publicity this is getting him…

  • AdminHarald

    Notwithstanding whether he took off from private property (illegally), this whole issue of: Where and how far does private property extend into the airspace above it is an interesting one. And will be more so as Drones take over. Here’s one legal POV on it:

  • Parmenter

    Well, a) they were trespassing, b) they were taking photographs of areas that people had a reasonable hope for privacy.

    What if he had been photographing young women sunbathing in their back yards au natural? Would that change your opinion? (And farmers do have wives and daughters)

  • JP Danko

    Thx for the link! Basically I read that as – right now there is no legal definition as to what is private property from the air.

  • Eric

    The only time I’ve not been allowed to take photos here in Thailand is when I was told there was gasoline nearby, i.e. a danger of explosion.

    I can walk into storefronts, private property, mosques, temples, anywhere really and ask “Tot na khrup. Photo ok?” and 99% of the time people are totally cool with it.

    Glad I no longer live in the US and have to put up w/this BS and worry about being asked what I’m doing or worse, arrested.

  • Kate Hannon

    Sounds like Kansas farms may have a lot to hide.

  • pgb0517

    Read “The Man Who Sold the Moon” by Robert A. Heinlein. :-)

  • Ralph Hightower

    Kansas is growing dope!

  • Theranthrope

    Full stop.
    Your opinion of what constitutes “reasonable” and “private”, which is akin to Barbra Streisand; greatly differs from what I, or the law, does; she was dead wrong:

  • Theranthrope

    My read is: you can use the airspace over particular area of private property as long as you follow the law (FAA regulations) and don’t make a pest of yourself to the land owners. Recording photons being emitted or bouncing off private property (taking pictures), by itself, does not constitute pestering.

    Aerospace above a certain altitude is public domain. We no longer live in the dark ages where feudal lords own everything that lives, grows, rolls, is blown, or flies over their domain.

    Although in a way, unrestrained corporatism is beginning cause a bit of a backslide back to that: these “Ag-Gag” were written with the intent to prevent the gathering EVIDENCE of corporate lawbreaking for the sake of profit (typically dumping pollutants into the environment or inhumane treatment of animals), rather than for any legitimate privacy concern.

  • Theranthrope

    ♪I shot the sheriff♪

    …but I did not drop the house on the deputy.

  • Mori

    Can’t fly a (personal) drone over 400 ft or out of eyesight. Nor can you use it for profit.

  • Wuz nt Me

    I really do not understand how you can be arrested for taking photos… I certainly understand being arrested and/or sued for what you do with those photos.
    Perhaps some day soon billions of people will be able to sue google for photographing their property from an angle not accessible by a common pedestrian. After all, don’t we have an expectation of privacy in our own back yards?

  • iso1200magazine

    Animation and video footage to talk about this story

  • spikespeak

    Another great thing about Thailand…. you don’t see the cops harassing people over things that are inconsequential. Like taking photos in public places. Or riding a scooter the wrong way against traffic. Or jaywalking. Etc, etc.

  • Scott M.

    As much as I like the photography, this guy probably flys over alot of people who get super annoyed he is taking their photos. It sure can be invasion of privacy. I flew in a hot air ballon once and we sneaked up on quite a few surprised people who flipped us off.

  • jcadams

    The feedlot management did more damage to its goal of avoiding publicity — by insisting on the arrest of the 2 National Geographic staffers. That arrest event was nothing but great publicity for the forthcoming National Geographic photos and article. (And the mugshots are important show-and-tell items.) So what were the feedlot people trying to hide? I want to know.