Hey Walt Disney Company, Photography Is Not a Crime

Rocketship 2

I have to say that all of my own interactions with the Disney company have been enormously positive. I’ve shot both Disneyland and Downtown Disney in Anaheim and never had any trouble myself. When I shot Disneyland a few years back, I set up my tripod and shot several long exposure shots of the rides and was never hassled once. One time a Disney employee came up to me to ask me about my photography, but he was super pleasant and only was curious personally as to how I was making my photos. All in all I have a high regard from my own experiences of shooting on Disney property and their Magical Kingdom.

Disney does in fact allow personal photography on their various properties and goes so far as to even allow folding tripods that can fit inside a backpack (what I used when I shot at both Disneyland and Downtown Disney in Anaheim).

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco doesn’t allow photography, which kind of sucks, but the entertainment properties personally have always been pleasant for me. Of course *everyone* typically takes photos at Disneyland and Disneyworld and there are millions of photos online.

So I was very disappointed to learn today from photographer William Beem that he had a terrible experience recently while shooting Downtown Disney at Disney World in Florida. Based on his report, I’d say that Beem was treated very unfairly in light of Disney’s open photo policy and I hope that Disney issues him an apology and offers him a free pass or something to their parks.

In a post entitled, “Disney Thinks Photographers are Terrorists,” Beem chronicles in detail his frustration with Disney security officials after being confronted by them repeatedly and having them threaten to call the Sheriff’s Department on him for not providing them identification.

From Beem:

“At this point, I let Don know that Iím not comfortable providing him with more detailed information about me. Heís never told me where that information will be recorded. Heís all but directly accused me of being a terrorist and, quite frankly, I donít see how handing him my driverís license is going to thwart the terrorist attack heís generated in his mind. I told Don, twice during our conversation, that Iíll be happy to leave the property if he feels Iím some sort of threat. Don tells me that if I donít provide him with more identification that heís going to call the Orange County Sheriffís Office.

Itís frustrating to deal with this kind of mentality. Photography is not a crime, even on private property. At best, all a security guard can do is ask you to leave the property. They have no right to tell you that you canít take photographs, confiscate your camera or other property, or even lay a hand on you. Fortunately, Don didnít try anything physical at all. However, his demeanor definitely changed once I declined to give him my license. His approach changed from the friendly, but concerned security manager into one of threats and intimidation. While he repeatedly told me that he was going to call for a deputy if I didnít provide my ID, I couldnít help but wonder exactly what crime he was going to report to the deputies.

My plan for the evening was to shoot my photos and have dinner at House of Blues, but Don had definitely turned me away from wanting to give any business to Disney that night. I had also planned to renew my Annual Pass to take more HDR shots in the parks, but I can only imagine more intimidation and humiliation from Disney Security as a result. After roughly twenty minutes of dealing with Don, I told him that I was just going to leave. He was welcome to walk with me if he was concerned.

Don followed me, as did another uniformed guard, Eugene. During the walk out to my car, Don was on the phone calling in more guards and, I presume, the Sheriffís office. By the time I arrived at my car, at least two more guards swiftly arrived on bicycles, a couple more had walked up, and there was a Disney Security car.

I took my time walking out. I took my time putting my gear away in the back of my car so he had plenty of time to let the deputy arrive, but I never saw one. While I packed up my gear, I asked Eugene if this happened often. He didnít respond and seemed somewhat uncomfortable. I mentioned that he probably wasnít allowed to say anything and he told me that he just preferred not to speak. Thatís understandable, since his boss was right there. Eugene moved from Maryland to Orlando and started working at Disney eleven years ago. We talked a little about the weather and he mentioned that he liked the cold, but Disney was here. I can apprecate that Eugene wanted to work there. Maybe itís still ďmagicalĒ for him.

While I was packing up, I overheard Eugene on the phone. Although I donít know who was on the other end of the call, I presume he was speaking to someone at the Sheriffís office. Don said that he asked for my name and I was unresponsive. Well, that was a blatant lie and I told him it was untrue. I reminded him that Iíd given him my full name, where I lived and even where I worked. Don seemed annoyed. It was bad enough that he lied about that (I understand that lying to the police is a crime), but then a few minutes later he told the same lie again. Clearly, this guy was working the phone to make me look like as bad as he possibly could. A few lies here or there were probably OK if it helps catch a terrorist; perhaps thatís how he rationalized it.

Once I closed the car I told them I was ready to leave, unless they planned to detain me against my will. Don said they wouldnít do that and I was free to go. He then instructed the several security guards around me to take plenty of pictures and get everything. I found this somewhat ironic. Iím sure that I was captured on security video while on-site. Donís guards likely took photos of me, my vehicle, my license plate and property. Then I drove off slowly and a Disney Security car followed me until I left the property.”

I hope that the Walt Disney Company looks into this poor behavior on the part of their security officers. Because hearing stories like this certainly make me seriously reconsider whether or not I want to support Disney properties in the future if I’m going to be treated like a criminal with my camera.

Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime

"Sir, You Are Not Allowed To Take Pictures On Muni Property!!"
Sir, You Are Not Allowed to Take Pictures on Muni Property!! by What I’m Seeing.com

It seems like day in and day out, increasingly, idiot cops and security guards continue to try and push photographers around. This most recent case is more personal to me because it hits close to home on the SF Muni and happened to a friend of mine Plug1.

Plug1 was doing his usual thing, which is documenting the hell out of daily SF life, when he was approached by an over-zealous muni transit fare cop, Fare Inspector #32.

From Plug1:

“Before I could get the 1st shot off, Fare Inspector #32 started marching towards me, hands in the air, yelling at me to STOP TAKING PICTURES!! So I put down away camera, walked towards him and answered his statement with a question. I asked him if he could cite me the specific Muni code that prohibited a Translink Card carrying passenger from taking pictures of Muni Personal on Muni Property. He could not. Instead he responded that I needed his permission and demanded to see my credentials and the pictures on my camera. He added that in fact, if I was unwilling to turn over possession of my camera to him he would seize my camera and have me arrested.”

Now first off. There is no prohibition against taking personal photographs anywhere publicly accessible in the Muni system. Public photography is allowed on both Muni and BART in the SF public transportation system. Secondly, no cop can ever make you delete images or seize your camera. Photography is a First Amendment right and they have no legal right to demand or do this. If Plug1 was arrested in this case, in fact, he’d have great material for a wrongful arrest case against SF Muni.

It sounds to me like this cop simply didn’t want his photo taken and decided to try and illegally bully Plug1 to get his way. This is an abuse of power. I hope Fare Inspector #32 is disciplined for this.

Now my own policy about shooting strangers is that if they ask me politely, 99% of the time I won’t shoot them or I’ll agree not to publish their image. In fact, over the years I’ve also taken down many images from my Flickrstream, blog, etc. when people have contacted me and asked me to take them down. On the other hand, when someone decides to be a prick about it, like this cop did, I’ll almost always publish their image and bring attention to the fact that they were being a pig — like Fare Inspector #32.

Somebody at Muni needs to inform Fare Inspector #32 that photography is in fact allowed within the muni system and that it’s an abuse of power for him to threaten paying customers with arrest over the crime of photography. Photography is not a crime.

Is Photography Prohibited on an Airplane?


I received an interesting email yesterday from a business traveler who wanted to remain anonymous regarding a recent run in that he had with Air France Airlines and taking photographs aboard one of their flights. According to the traveler he was doing what a lot of us do and taking a photograph of the wing outside the airplane on take off. He said the way that the wings were closing reminded him of an eagle type gargoyle like on the Empire State Building and he was trying to capture that abstract photo when he was confronted by an Air France flight attendant.

According to the passenger, the flight attendant informed him that he was not allowed to take photographs once inside the plane. When he asked to see a written policy regarding the “no photos” rule the flight attendant left to retrieve one but never returned.

Now this case is not the first time that a flight attendant has admonished a passenger for in flight photography. There are numerous other cases online in internet forums and other places where passengers have been told by flight attendants that they cannot take photographs. In one of the most egregious cases a Jet Blue passenger was actually escorted off a plane in handcuffs after refusing to delete a video that she recorded of an on board altercation. Interestingly enough, Jet Blue actually had a photo contest of photos taken from their flights while appearing to prohibit photography in the case of the altercation.

Finding specific written policy information about individual airline policies is not very easy. Most airlines don’t list their in flight photo policies on their websites. I was able to reach a PR representative from Air France to ask about Air France’s specific policy given the complaint above, but have not been provided a definitive answer on this yet. The Air France PR rep asked for more information about the incident and offered to speak to the individual to clear up any misunderstandings but has yet to confirm that any such policy regarding photography on Air France flights either exists or does not exist. I’ll update this post if I hear back with a more definitive answer from Air France.

A representative from American Airlines pointed me to their policy online where it would appear that the type of photography our Air France passenger was engaged in of a wing while in flight would in fact be a prohibited act. You can find American Airlines’ policy here which reads: “Use of still and video cameras, film or digital, is permitted only for recording personal events. Photography or video recording of airline personnel, equipment, or procedures is strictly prohibited. “

I put in additional calls with both Southwest Airlines and Unite Airlines asking for information on their policies, but calls were not returned.

My own experience has been that I’ve never had a problem shooting from literally dozens of flights over the years. I even had a Southwest Airlines flight attendant offer to stand up from her seat on one flight so that I could get a good shot from her window of Mt. St. Helen. Still, it is troubling to hear of flight attendants admonishing passengers for on board photography. I also think that it’s unfortunate that more airlines aren’t more forthcoming with regards to what their actual photo policies are as some really great photography has been taken over the years from commercial air flights.

Update: Andy Beal points us to a pdf of Southwest Airlines’ permitted devices which lists both a digital camera and video camera as being permitted devices above 10,000 feet. I suppose this would be one more reason to fly Southwest over either Air France or American Airlines.

When “No Photography” Really Means “No Flash Photography”

No Photography, These Animals Are Highly Sensitive

One of the things that annoys me to no end is when I see “no photography” policies that are put into place in order to restrict flash photography. Recently I encountered an example of this at the new California Academy of Sciences, a wonderful and remarkable museum where my family has purchased a family membership and which I’ve already shot pretty extensively so far.

I have to give the Academy high marks for allowing photography in the entire museum for the most part. It’s an incredible architecturally significant (and actually living) structure. The exhibits really are first rate and the fact that you can shoot there (and even wear a backpack) are really great. But I was disappointed recently when I visited and saw several “no photography” signs in the basement aquarium of the new museum.

People were ignoring these signs pretty much and shooting anyways, but that’s beside the point. I sat and watched one of the “no photography” exhibits for a while and saw several altercations between photographers and museum patrons. One patron chided another for taking a non-flash photograph, “can’t your read,” she curtly said to the photographer, “it says ‘no photography’ why do people like you always think they’re above the law.”

The photographer said that they thought that the museum meant no “flash photography,” (they were using an iPhone without a flash). The woman got agitated with the photographer and continued the altercation, “if they meant no ‘flash’ photography then it would say ‘no flash photography’,” she continued. “People like you are so rude,” she chided the photographer again.

After seeing a few altercations like this I decided to investigate this policy a bit so I went to talk to one of docents. I asked her why the signs were there and asked if it had to do with flash photography. She told me that actually it did not. She said that cameras have lasers in them and that when the shutter opens the laser in the camera can shoot out and harm the fish. Now, I know that there are not lasers in cameras, at least not in my new Canon 5D M2 that I was shooting with that day,” but I left it at that.

When I returned home from my trip I contacted the museum aquarium staff and inquired about the policy by email. The response that I got back was pretty much exactly as I expected. The museum staff confirmed what I assumed the reason why they had the “no photography” signs on certain exhibits was. They said it was to “be on the safe side, lest someone forget to turn off his/her flash.”

Now while I can see why the museum staff has this policy in place, I still don’t agree with it. My Canon 5D M2 doesn’t even have a flash on it. I couldn’t use flash on their exhibit even if I wanted to. And it sort of drives me crazy when people try to prohibit all photography based on arguments about flash.

So what’s the alternative? Well, they could easily replace the “no photography” sign with a sign that says “no photography without museum permission, or museum permit,” and point people to the staff offices for a permit. Here if there were photographers like me who really wanted to shoot those animals they could reconfirm and stress (if it’s indeed that important) that any photography must be done *without* a flash. I could then return with my simple paper permit in hand and when that batty woman who won’t mind her own business starts to chide me I could pull out my “permit” and show her that indeed I do have permission.

Of course as people mostly were just ignoring the sign anyways, while I was there at least, they could also just consider changing the sign to a more photographer friendly, “no flash photography,” with an explanation that flash really stresses the animals out to put extra emphasis on it.

They also might want to consider telling their docents that digital cameras don’t shoot laser beams. This is not Buck Rogers in the 21st Century — it’s a science museum, where it’s probably better that policies be based on real actual science, not science fiction.

Video Footage of US Bank Tower Security Guards Harassing and Threatening Photographers

The video above is an interesting one. You can read more of the backstory at Discarted, but basically a group of photographers headed out on a photowalk in Downtown L.A. only to run afoul of six security guards:

From Discarted:

“As we began photographing the US Bank Tower at 633 W. 5th Street, managed by Maguire Properties, we were approached almost immediately by a United Protective Services (UPS) security guard, and soon there were six (6!). We were told they would call the police and we would be arrested, that no pictures were allowed from their ďprivate sidewalk,Ē that they actually owned the sidewalk, and that we were idiots and jerks who should quit asking questions.

The kicker is that, when Angelo of Hollywood politely explained photographersí rights to one of the UPS guards, he responded that that was just ďdiffering points of view.Ē Yeah Ö except that one viewpoint is about the law, and one is not.”

During the altercation, as is usually the case, the Holy Name of “9/11” was brought up yet again, as rationale for not allowing the photography. Seems like nothing ever changes. Be careful out there folks and remember, even under the new Obama administration, photography is still not a crime.

Thanks, David!

Update: an update on this incident from discarted here.