Be very respectful and tread cautiously when taking photographs of people or property if you don't want to risk getting into a conflict. I almost got into hot water recently by forgetting some rules of conduct--and not realizing how even an amateur photographer with gear can appear to others.
I wandered around my town last weekend, looking to gain more experience using my camera, get some good texture shots to post on T3DS, and just find interesting things to practice with in Photoshop.
I know better than to take shots of recognizeable people (and especially children) without permission and a signed release. I took shots of trees, street signs, and then I found a house for sale by owner. I took shots of the For Sale sign on the lawn, the front of the house, and then (BIG MISTAKE) moved in closer to take a shot of the lockbox on the door. I thought the three shots put together in a montage would make a generic statement on the economy, mortgage crisis, that sort of thing. But I forgot that an image of property should be treated like that of a person.
The owner opened the door and wanted to know why I was taking photographs. I told him I was just an amateur, explained I wanted shots of a home for sale for a personal project, and asked it it was all right. I even said I intended to delete the phone number off the sign, in case that was his concern. He thought about it for a few seconds and then said no. "I don't want to be on the news, I just want to sell my house." I remained cheery and polite, but let him watch as I deleted the photos. And then I got the heck out of there. At least he didn't call the police.
I know, I should have rung the bell and asked permission first, and then asked him to sign a property release. Brazenly walking up onto his property and asking permission after the fact (that is, after I got caught) showed disrespect, and is probably illegal. I admit it, I was chagrined, and I won't do it again. I understand that he felt his privacy was invaded. But what I couldn't understand was why he was thought I could (or would) ever put his house...on the news.
Anyone driving by with a camera phone could take a picture of a For Sale sign, so that surely wasn't the issue. I had my Canon Rebel XSi with the okay-for-now-but-not-great 18-55 mm lens, a sunshield, and an inexpensive monopod. Even though I'm a 5-foot-tall, middle-aged woman, and not even close to looking like Geraldo Rivera, with that stuff attached to the camera and walking up to the door to take photographs, I surely appeared like a rag-tag member of the paparazzi. Maybe it was the Princeton t-shirt?
Okay, I learned from that and didn't get arrested. Close call--no harm, no foul.
The next day I went to a boarding stable in town, and based on the previous experience (and not wearing the Princeton t-shirt), sought out the owner, introduced myself, explained my purpose for being there, and asked permission to take some shots in the barn and around the pasture. She was very sweet and agreed, and I took pictures of the tack, sunlight streaming in, a close-up of a woman brushing her horse's butt, with her permission, of course.
I got a grand idea and gave the stable owner some cards and proposed I could be available to take photos of horses with their owners--practice for me, free photos for them. She said yes, but added: "...as long as they're not going to be in the National Enquirer or anything."
You've got to be kidding me. Here we go again. I said, smiling, "Not unless the horse is with Brad Pitt or Madonna adopting another baby." She laughed and accepted my cards.
These incidents got me thinking about how it has become more difficult to find (live) subjects to photograph, especially now that I have a decent DSLR. People who see me out taking shots of inanimate objects sometimes approach and ask if I am a photographer, meaning professional photographer. I don't think my gear looks professional at all, but I guess it does to those who only take snaps at family gatherings and wouldn't consider a higher-end consumer camera.
But what's with all the paranoia? If people are concerned about ending up on YouTube or the news
, or having their family photo used as an ad for a Czech grocery store, when they see anyone point a camera at them or their "stuff", they're going to freak. The bigger the lens, the more attention that gets called to the photographer trying to work. Maybe because I'm small, I make the camera look bigger.
Our job is to make subjects feel at ease, not feel like their privacy is being invaded. (Where are all the people who used to like getting their picture taken? I miss them.)
So what can we do to get some good property shots, and not get shot at? No, it isn't hide in the bushes! Be nice. Ask permission first. Have model/property releases ready to be signed. Offer to provide a print of the subject (remember what's foremost in people's minds: what's in it for me). Keep a sense of humor. Be prepared that some people will say no. Say thank you. Move on to the next subject.
It might take more attempts, but you will get your shot eventually. And then you won't end up on the news!