The Hornswoggling Of An Amateur

I just could not think of anything specific to photograph today so I started driving around randomly until I came across an office park that had some pretty cool architecture. It was all glass with angles and curves with a cerulean tone and it glistened majestically in the sun. Cumulus clouds hovered above it and were colored by the low hanging sun. So, given that this is a photography blog, you may be wondering why I am painting a word picture instead of actually showing one. It’s because, as I was wrapping up, a woman emerged from the building. I am used to being approached, so I instinctively knew she was headed for me. She introduced herself and asked if I was taking pictures for the bank, which is what the building was. I had several brackets of different exposures from at least three angles. I told her that it was for my portfolio but that I was not hired by the bank to take any pictures.

Then she told me something I had not heard: “Federal regulations make it illegal to take pictures of banks.” I was nonplussed. Never heard that before, and I told her so, politely. “Well unfortunately, I have to ask you to delete your photos in front of me”. I was incredulous. I paused for a second, not even really thinking about it. Then I walked her through my menu where I formatted my memory card and deleted all my images from the last 5 minutes. She thanked me for being nice, and then I thanked her for… having me delete my pictures. I didn’t say that but thank her I did. It’s just my style. But when I got home and looked it up, I found no real legal grounds, based on her reasoning, for what she told me. As a matter of fact, there are several outspoken groups that are against just such a thing. Google “photographer’s rights” and you will find reasoned arguments as well as a few loose cannons who rail against overstepping security guards, building tenants, and even law enforcement for infringement on the rights of photographers. I don’t want to use this site as a bully pulpit for political arguments or constitutionality, it’s not creative. But I will say there appears to be an ongoing tug of war between perceived laws and the convoluted actual law governing photographing public places in public. Has I know what I know now, I would have politely agreed to stop photographing (because I had what I needed) but kept my pictures.

The one thing I’m sure of is that I would not, as some have, acted like a jerk to tell her what I knew to be right. Remember, most people are just relaying information they have heard. Don’t shoot the messenger. Be calm and polite and listen. If you are within your rights, explain it intelligently. If they still won’t let you shoot, best advice, pick your battles. The police may be called and then they can explain to your confronter what your rights are, but that seems like a lot of drama for a picture. Just be sure that you are within your rights and not standing on private property or something, because that would be embarrassing.

Please tell me if I’ve missed something about photographing banks. I know different states have different privacy laws. I’m in California, which is where I took this picture of a different building.


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