Photographers Getting Arrested


I just got an email about another photographer that was arrested in Milwaukee. This is the second photographer in Milwaukee to be arrested for doing their job. You can see video and read the full story here: OK two incidents that happen in one city, a poorly trained pocket of police, no big deal right? Wrong. It looks like it may be becoming a pattern.


Other journalists and photographers have been arrested, beaten, and even shot (with “less lethal” rounds such as beanbags and/or rubber bullets) in Oakland. This has happened in Oakland, NY, Chicago, pick a city and it has probably happened. Police are increasingly aggressive towards those with cameras. You may be thinking that well journalists try to cross police lines, they get int he way, they violate this or that when trying to get “the shot.” Well perhaps but then why is a mother of 3 arrested for photographing a tourist attraction?


When did I move to a war zone?

Even I have been stopped and asked “who are you shooting for?”, “What are you doing with that camera?” I had a police officer ask to see all my images one when I was photographing a city skyline. At the time I was shooting from the South Street Bridge which, at the time was well traveled and known for the view of the city .

But that isn’t the only time either. Back in 2005 the city of Philadelphia paid a rather large sum of money to have City Hall lit up for the holidays. They hired some European company to measure the building, create a special lighting projector and cast pastel colored lights across City Hall (left image). Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to attract tourists and set this all up and when I go to photograph it, I am questioned by not one, not two, not even three, but five separate officers as to what and I doing and why am I photographing City Hall. Really? You do all this, you project it up there and you expect no one to photograph it? Whatever you are on I want some.


The fact is that now that there is the Occupy movement in many cities across our country our police are overreacting and in doing so they just make everyone feel a bit on edge. Whether you agree with the occupy movement or not the tactics of arresting, beating and shooting photographers is something I thought I would only see on the news or if I became a war photographer. These are things I saw early this year at the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Then we heard newscasters, politicians and other officials screaming about how wrong it was and they need freedom of speech! Now they are just a bunch of “jobless hippies.” That is far from the truth. These are working photojournalists and they are being stopped from being able to do their jobs.


What is this world coming to when we can’t take an image without being threatened, arrested or worse! It is almost impossible for me to do a photo shoot outside anymore. Will it be a crime when I want to photograph the autumn leaves and all those colors? Or will I just need a special “leaf” permit?



9 replies
  1. Doug Pruden
    Doug Pruden says:

    A truly disturbing development in a supposedly 1st world democracy. Is it the result of 10 years of living in fear after 9/11? With the US continually trying to isolate itself from the rest of the world, such extreme actions do not bode well. It is well and good that you bring these occurrences into the light of day. Perhaps under this kind of scrutiny you bring here a change in policy may happen. Sadly, however, the litigious nature of US society will likely demand that such actions be examined in a courthouse before any real changes in attitude can prevail. I am saddened for your country.

  2. Jeff Folger
    Jeff Folger says:

    I was out on Wednesday in a local seaside town, photographing a pondorosa pine that was entwined a hickory tree all leafed out in gold with a rock wall below covered in red leafed ivy. Standing on public property (a median) in the center of the road I snapped a dozen shots and went back to my care where my 85 yr old father was waiting for me. (I take him on rides on nice days)
    As I was about to leave a guy got in my way questioning my right to photograph his house and the neighbors… Now I will admit to being in a bad mood but I told him I had no interest in photographing his house (the community we were in is very affluent and they have high opinions of themselves. Anyway I decided that instead of pointing out his stupidity I would just show him that I have fall foliage shots on the card.. Not one house… I made him feel good but I did throw out a barb saying if he was going to profile me as a terrorist then he should be looking for the telltale signs of the AK-47 and RPG launcher and Maybe I should put a turban on my elderly father… Just so I can look the part… I really would have liked to argue with him but it really wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere, besides he wasn’t the police (as far as I know) just concerned that I would photograph his house??? WTF!

  3. Richard Noe
    Richard Noe says:

    I have also been questioned sometimes as to what I am shooting and or told I can’t take a person’s photo or their house etc. Here is a tip that helps.But a lanyard and a plastic insert tag, and large type your name and website on your business card plain back before insertion. Most persons leave you alone when they see this ID “charade” and those who want to see it, simply let them gaze or whatever. Just like persons who come around neighborhoods must have in our Twp before legally knocking on home front doors. Does save some time & much less arguments…But, there will always be always some jerk who still want to tell you his 5 cents worth. Can’t help you with city halls and police…they are in bad shapes of late.

  4. Denise Birt-Romita
    Denise Birt-Romita says:

    Well now, let me ponder this a bit…. 1. We pick up our camera’s, excited for what the world will show us on any given day….2. We shoot the images to be shared whether for hire or not. 3. We shoot for the sheer joy of seeing our work come to fruition, because we love what we do –…..and now we are in line for being punished, punished for what has been a favorite past-time for generations long before us, and long before the “digital industry” came around for prof. and/or non prof. photographers; and not to mention the fact, that for some of us, it has become our bread and butter.
    No matter what level of photographer we may be, to think of going out into the field each day, and having to worry as to whether or not we’ll come back the same way we left while doing our job, is nothing short of disturbing. We all know it, the world is not what it once was, however, “photographer-pounding”, in my opinion, is a big fat NO-NO. I agree with Michael, where do I get my “leaf” permit?????

  5. Demon Lee
    Demon Lee says:

    I don’t think all the blames lays with the police officers, politicians made stupid laws that police have to try and interpret and implement to the detriment of the public and I know some press photographers have caused a scene when questioned. I used to get stopped often in London until I downloaded and laminated the Met Police Commissioners instructions and guidelines to officers on when to stop or question photographers and which law could be used and also to describe our rights as professional photographers. Since that time if stopped or questioned, I firstly display my press card in a hi vis yellow card holder on my sleeve and give them the laminated sheet to read. Some officers even admit they have not seen it so I give them a copy…

  6. Matt LaVere
    Matt LaVere says:

    I have also ran into issues with the cops all across Michigan but there are ways to handle it without being hassled and completely depends on your attitude towards them. I used to skateboard (a lot) when I was younger skating around which really is illegal in most areas, but I never got a ticket from skateboarding. Being nice goes a long way. Back to photo though…

    If any of you follow, he posted a blog post regarding this matter a while back and there are LEGAL documents from the Department of Homeland Security that I keep laminated in all of my camera bags and backpacks just in case. Here’s a link to download it from the New York Times.

    As long as you are on public property that is accessible while not causing any immediate threats to yourself or civilians (standing in the middle of the road) you have every legal right to photograph. Now if you step on your neighbors grass or are in a private parking lot without their permission, they have the right to ask you to leave the premises. Best way to overcome situations like that is simply ask before. I’m a location shooter and usually ask nicely if I can take some photos on their property for a project. I always provide examples of prints just in case as well to show what I’m creating. More times than not, they’re willing to let you do something quick.

    I may be young, but I take this profession very seriously and treat it like a true professional as I am now a full-time commercial & editorial photographer. I’m an active member in ASMP Michigan and have traveled a lot around the US while living in Rome, Italy during the summer of 2009 working on photographic projects during the past few years.

    If any of you have attended SB3 and listened to Colleen Wainwright remember to “be useful, be specific, and be nice”. If you didn’t hear her speak at any SB3 conferences, she is traveling nationally to most ASMP chapters and highly recommend attending. Check out her site at

    Being nice DOES go a long way. Just remember that when you go out photographing – NOT shooting

  7. Michael
    Michael says:

    @Matt – I actually went to answer you a few hours ago and then got a virus warning from another app I was running. Back to my thoughts…

    The document you link to is great, if someone is willing to look at it. You can also be as useful, specific and as nice as you want. Its not going to help if you have a camera up to your eye and then bang! you and your lens are bouncing off the hood of a police car. If you look at the clips referenced in the article, they are being nice and doing their jobs and bang, busted or shot. The videographer is asking the whole time, “Is this OK? Is this alright?” Then without provocation they shot him with something.

    Yes be nice, but be aware too.

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