Old 11-26-2014, 02:58 AM   #1
Andrew787
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Default Problem with authorities about taking pictures.

I do a lot of aviation photography, but I really enjoy looking at all the beautiful rail pictures on this site. I live in an area that has a tremendous amount of train traffic, but no scenery to speak of, so the shots would be on the boring side. I was just wondering if you rail photographers ever get approached by the authorities, police etc. about why you are taking pictures of trains. I have had all kinds of encounters with different authorities. Of course this was all after 9/11. I never had a problem before that. Keep up the good work guys!
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Old 11-26-2014, 03:53 AM   #2
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I'd say most of us who go out regularly have some "problems" of some kind with some authority. I was stopped twice in two weeks on a well used spot that I and others shoot from just this fall. I've been stopped for shooting trains at a Visitor's Center in Spartanburg, SC, stopped twice in Monroe, NC from another well known spot and, well, we won't even mention the South Carolina Central.

Thick skin. Develop it. It'll come in handy.

Oh, no outstand warrants, make sure license, plates and tags are up to date, no burned out headlights, etc. etc.
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Old 11-26-2014, 04:12 AM   #3
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Hi Andrew,

I shoot primarily preserved steam....which means mostly tourist railroads and museums. Around those kinds of places, you look out of place if you DON'T have a camera!

I've only been accosted by the police once. I was on public properly, the trooper knew it, and he didn't really give me a hard time. He wanted to know why I was standing beside the railroad tracks with a camera, and he informed me that this was a "suspicious activity." I was photographing "transportation infrastructure." I informed him that the only train running on that track was a steam-powered private charter, and that I had prearranged with the engineer for a little "show" at this particular location. Seemingly satisfied, the trooper went back to his cruiser, but he didn't leave until the train came and went. I guess when he saw the locomotive puking out a big black plume and running with the cylinder cocks open, and the whistle blowing, he figured my story pretty much checked out.
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Old 11-26-2014, 05:12 AM   #4
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I've been contacted by law enforcement on several occasions, though not as much recently as I did in the few years immediately after 9/11. As I tend not to trespass blatantly (and if I'm in a grey area, I exercise the utmost caution and respect for the property), and try not to hang around suspicious areas, most of these encounters are basically a simple question about what I'm doing. The cop may or may not run my license, but in all my experiences they have concluded I'm no threat and let me be. It has always been my philosophy to be respectful and cooperative, and I've never had a negative encounter.

On rare occasions, railroad employees have informed me that I'm not somewhere I'm supposed to be, or that they simply don't like me being there. As this has always happened on Class I railroads (i.e. nothing special or unique), I simply move on - just not worth a confrontation in my opinion.
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Old 11-26-2014, 06:19 AM   #5
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I still have never rarely been approached by the police, RR police, security, ect, ect.

Maybe its where I live, or maybe I just don't take pictures from any grey areas as John was talking about.

If you do get stopped don't be a pain. Calmly explain what you're doing and if they ask you to leave or stop, you probably should.


EDIT: I do remember a couple times sitting in my town's police department parking lot (just watching, no pics), which is just a dirt driveway next to the tracks, and having them come up and ask what I'm doing. Explained and they went on their way. Small town, nice cops. Lol.
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Old 11-26-2014, 11:26 AM   #6
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These pages and a printable guide will come in very handy:

The Photographer’s Right
A Downloadable Flyer Explaining Your Rights When Stopped or Confronted for Photography
http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

ACLU page
https://www.aclu.org/kyr-photo

Shooting a lot of mass transit /Amtrak, I get "interviewed" often enough.

There are good cops that genuinely care and then there are the others - ego and power trips as well as those that simply have discovered it's much easier to do their job when there's no job to do (ie; They unlawfully make you leave freeing themselves of any responsibility).

I'll typically bend over backwards for most security stops but if I detect arrogance and ignorance, I'll stand my ground when the shot /opportunity merits.

Steve Barry of Railfan and Railroad Magazine stood his ground here and we can
thank him as his actions will likely make it easier for the rest of us:
https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/nyc...-subway-system

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Old 11-26-2014, 01:17 PM   #7
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see next thread

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Old 11-26-2014, 01:26 PM   #8
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Thanks for the response guys. Believe me I have developed thick skin! I can't even tell you how many encounters I have had with law enforcement with the aviation photography. Most of the time it turns out just fine. I guess my worst encounter was someone called the FBI on me, I guess they got my plate number. The FBI contacted the Texas DPS, and I got a visit from a DPS officer. Everything turned out fine, he said when they get a report of so called "suspicious" activity they have to investigate it. Thanks for all the information.
View the photos by Andrew Compolo on Airliners.net!

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Old 11-26-2014, 01:48 PM   #9
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Given your interest in aviation photography and the current climate of suspicion I would have guessed your encounters with officialdom would be far greater than those of a railfan. Like others on this thread I've been reported and checked out numerous times. I've been polite and courteous and I have received the same kind of treatment in return.

There is one bright side to all of this...you can now put a check next to those three points in the checklist ..."You know you are a railfan if...."

6.You don't realize how stupid or suspicious you look to passing motorists as you stand out in the middle of nowhere with a camera around your neck.

7.Summer weekends for most men: Beer, Babes, Boats, and Barbecue; Summer weekends for you: refer to #6.

36.You have been successfully mis-identified as a terrorist while standing trackside.
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Old 11-26-2014, 02:16 PM   #10
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No issues with the legal side. A few situations with ill-informed citizens that defuse quickly. I was once threatened by a fellow who 'was going back to his house and get his gun'. I merely replied I already had mine on me. He didn't return.

So it goes

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Old 11-26-2014, 02:21 PM   #11
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A few months ago I pulled onto the shoulder of I-81 to take a few pictures of a hot air balloon that appeared to be making an unplanned landing in a farm field beside the road. I had only taken three or four shots when I became aware a trooper had pulled up and stopped behind me. I had not even gotten out of my car to take these pictures. I was shooting from the driver's seat! My hazard lights were on. So he wanted to know what I was doing. He really didn't give me a hard time, but told me to get moving. I was a little sarcastic with him. He had to know hot air balloons seldom if ever land beside the interstate. I wasn't really mad or anything. I figured ultimately I was in the wrong, as the shoulder of an interstate is in fact for emergency stopping only.

And also pretty recently the night security guard at the nearby Amtrak station stopped me from taking photos of the waiting room. That seemed ridiculous, but I didn't have the need or desire to make an issue out of it at the time.

Once I took a picture of a historic aircraft (T-1 trainer) on static display outdoors at the entrance to the local airport. I was detained for an hour, my camera was confiscated, reports were filed, and my camera was returned damaged six weeks later.

Once I took some photos of railroad track construction equipment through a fence near my home. That act resulted in a big confrontation complete with snarling dogs and six cop cars, and the story made local and national newspapers.

And there were a few more incidents, plus countless times ordinary fellow citizens on the street began harassing me just for having a camera around my neck, wondering what I was doing, or sometimes thinking I was photographing them in particular. I overhead a young woman watching me take pictures of musicians at a classical music concert at a nearby college say to her friend in a suspicious tone, "Look at that weirdo with the camera!" and I couldn't understand what made me or what I was doing strike her as weird.

Many people seem to think cameras are for family gatherings and events, or maybe innocuous, pastoral things, like flowers or the ducks in the park, and their use anywhere else is bizarre and suspicious. Who would want a picture of some building downtown, or a plane overhead, or a rusty old diesel engine?

One time some high-end Fifth Avenue jeweler gave me a hard time for photographing an impressive necklace on display in his shop window. Too bad the picture came out blurry. He was a very upscale jeweler I guess, and thought I was photographing customers inside the shop. But I was really captivated by the shining emeralds and rubies and diamonds on display, not the who-knows-who's in inside the place. I had not even considerd that. So when he burst outside and started yelling and flailing his arms hysterically at me in front of hundreds of people on the sidewalk, I was fairly flabbergasted and found myself unable to even stutter a coherent explanation. I mean, I was in the middle of a nice, innocent afternoon strolling about the city! And there he was now, quite suddenly basically having a tantrum himself and telling me to fuck off and beat it! The outburst was as unexpected as it was humiliating! I was 40 years old at the time, and he was yelling at me like some wayward kid! Who wants to be scolded in front of strangers, especially when I was not doing what he thought I was doing? I was just trying out my new Nikon D70 on subjects in a window on a public street and very much on public display. I was mad and wanted to quit photography for quite a few days after. Mistaken for a paparazzi, I guess.

Looking back, it's sad and discouraging. All the incidents. Maybe my curiosity about things in the world, and my desire to capture images of them, is odd or perhaps childish to some people, but it's what I like to do. And I grew up in a time when "illustrated" magazines showing everyday things were quite popular. Anyone remember Life Magazine? Life...

Last summer a farmer on a tractor far across an open field came all the way across the field at five miles per hour just to ask me why I was taking photos of his machine plowing the fields. I explained he was not visible in the photos, and why I thought his fields and his tractor were great ingredients for a beautiful photo. And honestly, the tractor was just a far off speck in the fields, in a beautiful summertime country setting. Nobody could ever make out who was driving it. He was doubtful I think, but kept his ire well-measured, and so, since it didn't matter, I obliged him, and deleted the photos right in front of him to ease his suspicions. I'd like to say I really didn't care, but I did. He was being ridiculous. Also last summer, a lady in Vermont came out of her house wanting to know why I was photographing the afternoon sunlight falling on an old truck in high grass near her house beside the silent pleasant country road. Wasn't it obvious I was harmless? I guess even plain old rural shots will get you in trouble with people nowadays!

More incidents keep coming to mind. But I've got things to do this morning. But basically, the professional thing to do is let people know what you're doing in advance wherever possible, even if you're within your rights, given the times we now live in...
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Old 11-26-2014, 08:12 PM   #12
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I was stopped once sitting on the side of the road and they asked for ID and what I was doing. They didn't do anything they just said there was a history of drug dealing in the area.

Some things I've found help:

1.) Know the photo policy before you go, and bring a copy.

2.) Get business cards made up.

3.) Be polite. If you get run out or get treated poorly, make sure to get their badge number and file a complaint through proper channels.
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Old 11-27-2014, 05:41 AM   #13
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I was once threatened by a fellow who 'was going back to his house and get his gun'. I merely replied I already had mine on me. He didn't return.
If I didn't know any better, I would say you ran into the "God of the West Slope"
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Old 11-27-2014, 07:47 PM   #14
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No issues with the legal side. A few situations with ill-informed citizens that defuse quickly. I was once threatened by a fellow who 'was going back to his house and get his gun'. I merely replied I already had mine on me. He didn't return.
Had my camera up on my 25 ft tripod a couple of months ago while waiting for a train. I was set up near a grade crossing with my car parked on the side of the road (well away from the tracks). As I stood there there waiting for the train and wasting time on my phone, a local a-hole drove by slowly, and then after about getting down about a hundred yards, threw his redneck pickup truck in reverse and backed up quickly to where I was. He rolled his window down and asked if I was a cop, I said no and then he said, "Well, I'm going to call the cops and tell them that you are photographing the inside of peoples' cars."

Right at that moment I got a call from a friend and proceeded to ignore this country bumpkin. He waited about 30 seconds and drove away. Good thing my buddy called or else I would have pointed and laughed uncontrollably at him. Who knows what kind of wacko he could have turned out to be had I done that.

10 minutes later I got my shot and never saw him again.
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Old 11-27-2014, 07:58 PM   #15
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Old 11-28-2014, 04:12 PM   #16
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If I didn't know any better, I would say you ran into the "God of the West Slope"
No desire to railfan up there.

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Old 11-28-2014, 04:13 PM   #17
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Had my camera up on my 25 ft tripod a couple of months ago while waiting for a train. I was set up near a grade crossing with my car parked on the side of the road (well away from the tracks). As I stood there there waiting for the train and wasting time on my phone, a local a-hole drove by slowly, and then after about getting down about a hundred yards, threw his redneck pickup truck in reverse and backed up quickly to where I was. He rolled his window down and asked if I was a cop, I said no and then he said, "Well, I'm going to call the cops and tell them that you are photographing the inside of peoples' cars."

Right at that moment I got a call from a friend and proceeded to ignore this country bumpkin. He waited about 30 seconds and drove away. Good thing my buddy called or else I would have pointed and laughed uncontrollably at him. Who knows what kind of wacko he could have turned out to be had I done that.

10 minutes later I got my shot and never saw him again.
I try to act crazier than the person I'm dealing with. Nobody wants to mess with a crazy person.

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Old 11-28-2014, 05:15 PM   #18
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The only time I came seriously close to being arrested was in Fort Morgan, Colorado. There were, at that time, three ex-Great Western sugar 0-4-0Ts displayed in town, including one at the still-active sugar plant near the freeway exit. I stepped out of the car alongside the parking lot and took one photo - just one - before the general manager came STORMING out of the building, calling me a terrorist and screaming that I was going to be arrested (you can just see his arm at the far left of the photo). He'd already called the police. I think the fact that I had my 2-year-old daughter and wife with me, and plenty of other railroad photos on the camera, saved me from being arrested. I never really understood what the issue was, but the plant manager REALLY wanted me arrested, despite the fact that the officer told him I wasn't trespassing and the locomotive had been put on static display, complete with an informational sign and picnic tables in something of a park setting, for the public to enjoy.

During that same trip I was detained by Casino security in Blackhawk, Colorado, for taking a photo of 2-8-0 71 on display. They did not like my SLR, and told me that I could not take photos of casino equipment (!?) with a "professional camera." While they were talking to me a Japanese couple with a small point and shoot digital camera took all the photos of the engine they wanted...

The bottom line? It's safer to shoot the Class 1s than static steam!
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Old 11-28-2014, 05:47 PM   #19
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Sometimes you just come across idiots. I had one guy scream at me so strenuously I was kind of worried he was going to stroke out right in front of me. When I finally explained everything to him and showed him my pictures, he actually calmed down so much that he invited me to come back any time I wanted to take more train photos from the street in front of his property (which is where I was all along).

What I have found with that and other incidents is probably 99% of the time I really get hassled it is because someone thinks I'm taking a photo of something other than the train.

On the other hand, shooting down in the Long Beach/Los Angeles port area, you will get questioned by the police pretty much every time - but again, once they establish you are on public property and shooting train pics, they move on and let you be.
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Old 11-29-2014, 06:20 PM   #20
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Business cards with links to your photos help, especially when asked for your ID. I also explain that railroad photography is a hobby, and I'll show the shots on my camera or bring up my shots on RP or Flickr on my phone to show whoever is asking. It can certainly be annoying and a time waster having to explain yourself when you're not doing anything wrong, but it's also an opportunity to educate others about our hobby.

I'm more annoyed at the faceless morons looking to be the hero of the day who call me in as suspicious than I ever am at the cops. I know they're just doing their job, and I make sure I let them know I appreciate that. Fortunately, I've never had to defend my actions or quote my rights back to anyone trying to shoo me along...
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Old 11-30-2014, 04:22 PM   #21
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Ive had a few interesting run ins with LEO's.

One a friend and I were shooting NJ transit on the Raritan Bay Bridge, and after getting back to my car, a police officer approached us and asked for our ID and my registration and insurance because "We were on private property and vioalting "THE TERRORISM ACT". When asked what exactly that was, we got 10 seconds of stammering and then "Its illegal to take pictures of passenger trains on bridges after 9/11. I can arrest you and hold you for 48 hours for no reason at all." After about 10 minutes and another officer reporting, the first office gets out of his car and starts walking towards us, and as he does a passenger train slows down for the bridge, and the engineer leans out the window and yells "HEY! YOU GUYS GETTING GOOD SHOTS OF US TODAY????" The office whips around and gave the engineer a look that could have cut the locomotive in half. He turns back to us and we are smiling, knowing her has nothing on us, He shoves my license and paperwork into my chest and says "I dont want to see you hear again. If i do, ill arrest you." My friend asked "On what grounds?" The officer mumbled something as he walked away.

We head over to the other side of the bay for a better angle and as we are on a pier, a cop walks up to us and asks what we are doing. Tell him we are taking train pictures. Asks if we are getting good shots. We tell him yes. He says "alright. Have a good day and be safe."
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Old 12-01-2014, 03:44 AM   #22
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Business cards with links to your photos help, especially when asked for your ID. I also explain that railroad photography is a hobby, and I'll show the shots on my camera or bring up my shots on RP or Flickr on my phone to show whoever is asking.
I find myself shooting Amtrak more than anything, so I always keep some Amtrak literature in my car, especially publications with my photos in them. What is a police officer going to say when I tell him/her, "Look, I'm shooting for Amtrak. Here are some recent images of my they used..."

And using a 25 ft tripod really stands out, so I have to be ready to have answers for the curious.
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Old 12-01-2014, 04:29 AM   #23
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I find myself shooting Amtrak more than anything, so I always keep some Amtrak literature in my car, especially publications with my photos in them.
Okay, Mr. Humble Brag, for those of us who haven't cracked the nut on being (regularly) published, Flickr and/or RP will have to do!
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Old 12-01-2014, 05:34 AM   #24
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Ive had a few interesting run ins with LEO's.

One a friend and I were shooting NJ transit on the Raritan Bay Bridge, and after getting back to my car, a police officer approached us and asked for our ID and my registration and insurance because "We were on private property and vioalting "THE TERRORISM ACT". When asked what exactly that was, we got 10 seconds of stammering and then "Its illegal to take pictures of passenger trains on bridges after 9/11. I can arrest you and hold you for 48 hours for no reason at all." After about 10 minutes and another officer reporting, the first office gets out of his car and starts walking towards us, and as he does a passenger train slows down for the bridge, and the engineer leans out the window and yells "HEY! YOU GUYS GETTING GOOD SHOTS OF US TODAY????" The office whips around and gave the engineer a look that could have cut the locomotive in half. He turns back to us and we are smiling, knowing her has nothing on us, He shoves my license and paperwork into my chest and says "I dont want to see you hear again. If i do, ill arrest you." My friend asked "On what grounds?" The officer mumbled something as he walked away.

We head over to the other side of the bay for a better angle and as we are on a pier, a cop walks up to us and asks what we are doing. Tell him we are taking train pictures. Asks if we are getting good shots. We tell him yes. He says "alright. Have a good day and be safe."
That is the scariest part of all this. I know many cops so not a cop hater at all but people like this are f***ing scary. Who knows how much damage a nut like that could cause. You should have reported him.
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I personally have had a problem with those trying to tell us to turn railroad photography into an "art form." It's fine for them to do so, I welcome it in fact, but what I do have a problem with is that the practitioners of the more "arty" shots, I have found, tend to look down their nose's at others who are shooting more "mundane" shots.
Railroad photography is what you make of it, but one way is not "better" than another, IMHO. Unless you have a pole right thought the nose of the engine! -SG
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Old 12-01-2014, 01:40 PM   #25
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Okay, Mr. Humble Brag, for those of us who haven't cracked the nut on being (regularly) published, Flickr and/or RP will have to do!
Three photos over 5 years. Not much to brag about. And I'm probably one of least published photogs on this forum.
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