Wednesday, 6 October 2010

When Not to take a Photo

As a bus enthusiast, everyone will have some sort of experience at some point which shakes the foundations of their photographing interest, either with the public or a bus driver/company employee. My only (touch wood) incident of such ferocity came in Barnstaple during the summer. While I was innocently taking a photo of former Truronian First Devon & Cornwall Dart MPD 48312 (T12TRU), I attracted the attention of some of Barnstaple's finest residence. I had been before, and had no incidents so I was rather surprised. A gang of about 4 or 5 people came over and threatened me (physically, as well as verbally) after I took the photo, as they mistakenly thought that I was taking photos of them/their children. I was very shaken and left Barnstaple instantly. I should have called the police really - it was very scary and having studied law, could be classed as low level assault.

This has caused me to think regarding the Health and Safety issues of our hobby. All responsible enthusiasts adhere to the common 'rules' such as...
* not photographing near schools.
* not photographing on private property.
* not photographing on areas of path/road considered unsafe.
* not using the flash in inappropriate circumstances.

Despite me showing the members of the public shots from Lyme Regis, they did not accept I was a bus photographer. I came up with further ideas/trends which may help the safety of enthusiasts...
* from common experience, I find the public highway safer than bus stations, in terms of attention from drivers and the public alike.
* use street furniture. Although not always easy, using benches, lamp-posts, signs or walking away quickly after you have taken a photo often avoids issues.
* photograph a stationary bus (out of service) without the driver around, or seek permission.
* carry either the law regarding photography in public places, or something to make it clear you are a bus enthusiast or that is all. I have said I'm an employee for the bus company and have been asked to go and take photos of the buses for forthcoming publications a couple of times- this obviously works best away from the bus station.
* or follow a structured verbal exchange - address their concerns and make it clear that you have listened, say that you are not doing anything illegal and that it perfectly acceptable and that they have misinterpreted your actions, and I suggest politely leaving their prescience and carrying on.
* offer to call the police for them, if necessary.

Everyone will have their own strategy with how they will deal with their own incident. I've found the worst incidents you simply cannot prepare for - especially with members of the public. I will end this blog entry by wishing every photographer safety when hobbying - which this activity simply is, after all.


  1. That's a really good article James and sums up a lot of problems and give some good advice. I have had a number of incidents over the summer which have of course has a knock on effect. :)

  2. For some reason, this post slipped under my radar, so apologies for a (very!)late reply.

    I've come across the same issues on many an occasion in my transport related photography hobby. If the general public would realise that I'm pointing the camera at the thing with wheels, not at /them/, then all would be better - unless, of course, they've something to hide.

    Rail and bus stations are a different matter, as they may not be "public" areas, and pointing a camera in an airport is a definite no-no unless your friends are standing in front of you, singing "Viva Espana" or "Himnusz" in an alcohol-fuelled misharmony! Seeking permission is advisable.

    There's been a long-running campaign on UKR to introduce a countrywide ID scheme for photography, which would mean that genuine enthusiasts would be allowed to take photos as and when we feel, without fear of intimidation from BTP, TOC staff or anyone else. I'd sign up without a moment's hesitation. Plus, as enthusiasts, we tend to notice anything 'unusual', so we can act as a backup if anything suspicious is occurring. Network Rail endorse this policy ->

    I concur with James' comment on schools - a bloke with a camera is likely to provoke concern, but on the few times I've been asked "what are you doing?", I've willingly shown the complainant the contents of the memory card, and it's then patently obvious that the subject of my photos are the vehicle, not the brats. Still - it's a little contentious, so I'd avoid if possible (which is a pain in the butt, as I only need three Lucketts' coaches - and the Southsea school runs are inevitably outside schools!)

    Again, I concur with James - be and remain polite. Any sort of heated exchange may result in things becoming physical, and is bound to attract the attention of the law enforcement people

    Anyway - I'd better stop rambling and get on with some work (boo, hiss, etc.)

    All the best to all,

    (on a train, somewhere near Poitiers)

  3. Thanks for the reply Matt, I'm glad people are still reading my back posts. You make some excellent and sensible points.

    I would also get on the national id scheme if it came out - I have been known to make up some rubbish my grandad being in the company/know the boss/photographing for the company in the past - usually has got me out of a whole to be honest although I haven't been checked yet. In reality, I do have connections to all of the bosses of the southern companies though - although some of them are a little tenuous..... ;-)

  4. a late comment i know bus80d but I am always careful with photographing, i can understand their point of view bus were really rude about it