No Photography

No Photography

When it comes to photography, attempting to balance security concerns with the public interest can sometimes be a very difficult proposition, particularly here in our nation’s capital. I am keenly aware of this fact inasmuch as the very building in which I work strictly prohibits any form of photography within the building. Even having a personally-owned camera or any other type of recording device within the building is a security violation for which an employee could be subject to disciplinary action. And anyone who is passing by the outside of the building and pauses to take a photograph is likely to be stopped and questioned by security or law enforcement personnel. This is a scenario that routinely occurs at many buildings, locations, and on public transportation throughout the D.C. area.

Over the course of the last several years of riding a bike around the D.C. area and taking photographs along the way, there have only been a handful of occasions in which I have been questioned or challenged about what I was doing. In these circumstances, I found it best to simply explain what I was doing to the security guard or police officer. If he or she still asked me to move along, then I just left. Being calm and polite can go a long way when faced with these kinds of situations. I am unaware of any confrontation which was improved by the person with the camera resisting, or declaring something like, “My tax dollars paid for this and I have a right to be here and take photographs of it.” Even if you think you are in the right, it is unlikely you will be able to convince the security or law enforcement personnel of their wrongness.

When in the D.C. area, my best advice is to diffuse this type of situation. If there is urgency involved, you could ask to speak with a security supervisor or manager. Otherwise, you have the option of following up with whoever is in charge of where you were attempting to take photos. Then, after getting clarification about what the authorities and rules are pertaining to photography at that location, you can make a return visit at another time.

It would also be wise for anyone taking photographs in this area to take into consideration your location and what it is that you are photographing. Be aware that some places are more susceptible to confrontations and problems than others, such as The White House, the U.S. Capitol Building, FBI Headquarters, and the Pentagon, to name just a few. And as a general rule, you should avoid taking photographs of security checkpoints, employee-only entrances, bag screening locations, individual security guards or police officers, and any other safety or security procedures. This type of activity is what security personnel are training to look for, and will most likely raise the type of red flags that can lead to conflicts.

With all that being said, despite normally being the type of person who follows the rules, I could not resist the opportunity to defiantly act like a rebel and take a photograph when I saw this sign on a recent ride.

  1. Good advice on this subject. As a local DC photographer, I run into this situation on occasion and have always used the approach you have outlined here. Those of us who use tripods are called down more often. We use the phrase “tripod police” but only out of their hearing range.


  2. amforte66 says:

    Very interesting. I enjoyed reading all of your tips…especially about not photographing security checkpoints, employees, etc. I would never do this, but I can absolutely see why it would be a problem.


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