My Brush With The Law (Not Really)

Countless photographers have gotten into trouble with law enforcement – when you are in the face of a potentially great shot, common sense takes a backseat to the photo. I certainly am no stranger to being in situations at the wrong place and wrong time. Let's just say I've trodden into the "gray" areas – and have used my feminine wiles more than once to get out of some pretty tricky situations. Still, all photogs get somewhat antsy when they see a cop and this immediately signals to them "something's up." Here, Photoshop Guy Dave of Kelby TV's Ask Dave recounts an interesting encounter... Follow Dave Cross on Twitter.
Post By Dave Cross There has been a number of well-publicized stories about photographers having run-ins with the police. In a number of different cases, photographers has been detained, questioned and in some cases, threatened with arrest. Here’s a couple of examples of recent cases, as reported on the Digital Wedding Forum. After watching those videos, I must say that although the police did seem to push things a little far and were pretty harsh, in two of the videos I watched, the photographers were being pretty hard to get along with and in one case, they almost seemed to be looking for a fight (Um, I think I’m going to take a photo of some cops while I happen to have my friend with me video taping). I’ve had a couple of discussions with people about this whole situation and agree with the concern many raise that law enforcement people often seem to take things a little too far, a little too quickly. So imagine my surprise when I had my own photographer/law enforcement encounter in San Jose. Here’s what unfolded… I was walking along a downtown street with my camera over my shoulder, at this point really just walking, not really thinking about shooting. I crossed the street at a point where the lightrail system runs, realizing as soon as I got to the other side that I probably shouldn’t have walked where I did. About 30 seconds later, in my peripheral vision, I saw a sheriff’s car stop, the deputy getting out and I hear “Excuse me Sir. “Oh boy”, I thought, “I’m going to get a jay-walking ticket.” Instead, the officer asked, “What are you taking pictures of?” As my mind raced, thinking about harassment stories I've heard, I find myself becoming defensive, saying, "Nothing really. Just looking for interesting things to photograph. Haven’t taken many photos actually.” He gets closer and after a brief pause, he says, “Well, you might want to check out City Hall – it has won awards for architecture and it’s a really interesting spot to photograph.” Now, I’m pretty much speechless until he asks, “What are you shooting?” (pointing at my camera), to which I mumble “D300.” Officer: ”What lens?” Me: “18 – 200.” Well, very quickly it was clear that he was a photographer whose “real” job was a Deputy Sheriff. We chatted for about 10 minutes about studios, lighting etc., at which point he mentioned that he was still trying to learn more. So I told him about D-Town TV and our other podcasts, and he pulls out his pad to write down the name (I realized later that observers probably thought I was about to get a ticket). Here’s where it gets even more interesting, from a small world perspective: I tell him all our podcasts are on KelbyTV.com to which he responds “Oh, I just bought a couple of Scott Kelby’s books and joined NAPP.” We exchange business cards; he invites me to shoot at his studio next time I’m in town and I walk away thinking, “How cool was that!” So thanks, Deputy Sheriff Robert Eng for making my law enforcement encounter have a much different ending then I imagined when I heard “Excuse me Sir.”

7 comments

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  1. Robert Coakley

    Cops are people too

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  2. Dave,
    What a fantastic story. I wish more people had examples like this. I think as a society we seem to have developed some sort of stigma around being approached by those that ‘protect and serve’. I am glad you had such a positive experience, and shared it with the rest of us! Thanks.
    ~Shannon~

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  3. Very good story, Dave :-) Concerning the videos, I must agree with you, that the photographer did not make it easy for themselves .. in video one, the police asked several times, why he was taking pictures of the subway, the photographer did not bother to answer, other than “it is not illegal”, Had he only answered the question, it might have stopped there .. common sense, and good behaviour is for all people (law enforcements guys and photographers …)

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  4. Nice post. Knock on wood, I haven’t had any bad experiences with law enforcement or security guards either. I suspect the initial interaction makes a big difference in most cases.

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  5. Kent McBee

    It’s nice to hear a positive police story. We need more of them.

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  6. Nice plot twist indeed! =]

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  7. Personally, I have been ‘stopped’ and questioned by police/security on a few occasions, and they all have been similar to your experience.

    Just this last week, we were shooting at Queens Park in Toronto (our Capitol buildings), and from behind I hear ‘Excuse me, what are you gentlemen doing here?’ which turned into a quick conversation about photography, and ended with them suggesting some other interesting locations on the grounds.

    Some cops are jerks… but some photographers are jerks too.

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