Picture This?

Photographing in Public


I am very often wearing a camera when I'm moving round and about in the city. And I'm not doing that in order to look smart - on the contrary; a guy with a camera tends to look rather stupid in most cases. No, I carry a camera because I am actually photographing things. And I do that because of some urge I have inside of me. Something to do with "capturing the moment", or "framing the fascinations of life".

But sometimes I am faced with problems doing just that. There have been incidents where individuals in the street approach me demanding of me not to take their picture and asking me to identify myself.

Now, I am generally a polite kind of man, and I do not wish to offend anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable with what I'm doing - so in these cases I just tell people the rules about photographing in public, and after that agreeing to erase the particular photo on which the individual appears.

That is if I'm approached in a normal and polite fashion.

But at two occasions I have been abused by people who had apparently got the idea in their head that I was breaking a law or something. At these occasions I was shouted at and threatened - to which I could only respond with total unwillingness to do as told. One of them threatened me not only with destroying my camera, but also with kicking my head in. And then I was given the ultimate option - "Deliver your camera or I'll call the cops". At that time I could only tell the guy that I thought that was the only good suggestion I'd heard from him. Should I give him the number?

At that point he backed out in a cloud of four-letter words.

Maybe it would be a good idea to clarify what's right and what's wrong in these matters?

I am talking about Danish law, but could as well be talking about the way things are in most countries.

1. In a public place I am free to photograph anything I want. No limitations.

2. In a place owned either privately or by some public organisation or company but with general access for the public, I can photograph anything I like - until told otherwise by the owner or the owner's representative.

3. I am not allowed to photograph specifically what's happening in a private place not generally accessible by the public - even though I am standing in a public place.

4. I am not allowed to photograph anything on privately owned property without permission.

5. I can publish anything that I am allowed to photograph - with certain limitations. The court can give me an order not to photograph specific individuals if the court decide so.

These are the rules - but then there are ethic concerns. When I photograph, say a street, and people appear on the photo as a part of the street-life, I have no problems. But I would never photograph specific people, making them the main part of the photo - and recognizable - without asking in advance. I am cautious when publishing not to include children, since I know a lot of people have an issue with that. And for good reasons, too.

These are my personal rules - or rather guide-lines. Which I will be willing to clarify any time and any place when asked politely. And I would also like to add, that the fact that my camera is large and very visible doesn't make me more suspicious - on the contrary. It's the small camera-phones that could be used suspiciously - not my big, huge chunk of a camera.