It has happened to almost every photographer. One is taking photos in public, and a police car rolls up out of nowhere. The photographer is questioned by the officer regarding what the photographer is doing, and what the photographer is taking photos of. Most of the time, the questioning is somewhat brief, and the officer continues on. For some photographers this experience can be confusing, unsettling, and the photographer can be filled with indignation by the experience. It has been a couple of years since I have last been questioned by a police officer for taking photos in public.
Today, I was once again out on one of my roaming photo walks with my camera. Trains are my newest photograph subject of interest. Locomotives photograph much better than I expected before I started taking photos of them. There is just something about them that, I think, makes for some good photos. That is, if one can find a good spot to photograph them from. As a photographer, I take care to respect private property, and to play by the rules. This means not trespassing, or placing myself where I should not be. Trains can be dangerous to be around, so for me, safety is very important. I also do not want anyone to have a reason to give me attention I do not want.
From the overpass, I had a fantastic view of the rail yard. There was the activity of shunting below, there was lots of photo ideas, and the opportunity to take a bunch of photos. Carrying my camera in a special camera bag, I removed my camera, and I started taking photos.
My mind moved to an experience told to me about someone who had been on a overpass taking photos, and a police officer had come along and questioned her. My situation was similar, and so I decided to hurry and finish so I could move one. Just finishing some shots, from my right a police car appears coming over the hill with its lights flashing.
"You've got to be kidding me! This is unbelievable!," I thought as I prepared to explain to the officer why I was standing on the overpass taking photos of trains.*
"Photography is only one of the oldest and most popular hobbies in the world. Why is everyone with a camera a suspect for a crime?," I thought .
The police car drove past me and pulled over a driver. Relived, I crossed the street to retrieve my cap the wind had blown off a moment before. Still with my camera out, hung about my neck, I walked to the bottom of the overpass and packed my camera away in view of the officer. This was not an act of, "I have nothing to hide" it was an act of, "I am just a photographer".
Shorty after, the police car raced off in the other direction with siren blaring and lights flashing, another fast moving police car soon followed in the same manner, and I continued walking on. The time to return home had not arrived yet, and I wanted to take more photos.
* No matter how annoyed one might be about being questioned by a police officer regarding photography, one should always be calm and be polite to the officer. One should never try to throw one's weight around by expressing a defensive attitude, or arguing with the officer about 'rights' and 'the law'. One should always know one's rights, but one should also use common sense. Railway police in Canada (CNR Police and CPR Police) have the same authority as the regular police. Security guards have neither police nor peace officer powers. Although most security guards are professional, there are a few security guards who can be needlessly aggressive. One should always demand a police officer be called (or call) to attend if the security guard is overstepping his or her bounds regarding his or her authority. Prior knowledge of a police officer's authority and a security guard's authority is recommended, but one should always use common sense.
© Trevor Dailey