With the introduction of low priced DSLR's this year, and Christmas approaching quickly, I am sure there will be a lot of new photographers on the streets. I want to give you all tips to make your new photographic trek a nice experience rather than one that could get you in trouble.
Just because you have a nice camera does not mean you can take photos where ever you want. Let's say you head out, the day after Christmas with your brand new camera to take pictures of the winter wonderland out there. You head downtown to take photos of the decorations and you have no problem. Suddenly, while framing a nice image of a decorated front of a office building, a security guard approaches you and tells you that you can not take pictures of the building. How do you handle this? Lately I have been reading about photographers who fly off the handle at security guards, screaming about public places, freedom of speech, etc. This is absolutely the last thing you should do. Apologize to the guard and tell him you were just taking a photo of the decorations and was unaware that this was not allowed. Ask him if there is someone in the building you can talk to about getting permission to take a photo. This is the absolute best way to handle this. So you are on a public sidewalk? Big deal. If you were taking a photo of a leaf on the sidewalk, he would have no ground to stand on, but taking the picture of a building, while it might be open to the public, it is owned by someone, and there may be actual restrictions on photography. Crazy, huh? Not really. Just because you have a camera does not give you a license to shoot anything, anywhere, at anytime. Let's say the same situation above occurs, but instead of you, it is a newspaper photographer. More than likely, either the photographer, a reporter, or someone from the newspaper has already made contact with the building management to get permission to photograph the building. Or, when the photographer got there, prior to shooting, they would make contact with the building management on site or with security letting them know who they were and why they were there. Even if they did not do this, if they were approached, they would more than likely have their press ID issued from the newspaper with them, identifying them as someone with a legitimate reason for being there.
Flying off the handle does absolutely nothing for you or other photographers. If you upset this security guard, the next time you or another photographer shows up, they may bypass talking to you at all and call the police. You can throw out all the freedom of speech that you want but, why ask for problems, when it is very easy to just ask for permission to shoot? If they say no, move on. Don't make it an issue. Not being a person with inside information at the building or whatever, means that you really do not know if there are restrictions. If it is a special architectural design, the architect may have copyrighted his design and to protect it, there is a restriction. I know it sounds silly, but it can happen. A while back in the Tacoma, Washington area, at the Tacoma Dome, there was a ridiculous rule about taking photos inside the facility. There was some real bad neon artwork that the artist did not want reproduced in any form. So, any photograph not taken for media use only, inside the dome, was not permitted. If I remember correctly, that did not last long, and I am not even sure if the neon is still there, but it was a rule, and security enforced it. A high school football championship was being televised and the TV cameras could not be in some positions that they wanted because the artwork would be in the background, so they had to shoot from less than desirable positions to avoid breaking the rule. While they were technically media, they wanted to avoid any possible infractions that may come later, like using footage to promote the event the next year and having this artwork in the video.
Basically, you just do not know, so when you don't know, ask. There are many so called public places that in reality are not public. Just because a park is public, there may be a group that has rented the park for a day and they may have restrictions on photography for a event or something.