Anyone who’s ever tried to do some serious photography in public places has had to deal with curious, and on occasion, concerned people interested in what you’re doing. At times some of those interested parties have badges, whether official government badges, or private security badges. Sometimes those badges come with demands that you stop shooting, explain yourself, move on, hand over images, get on the ground, etc.
Now, there are a few legitimate legal issues surrounding someone asking you not to photograph someone or something. (You’re probably not going to be able to just walk into your town’s emergency operations center and start taking pictures.) Many cities, towns and parks require a permit in order to shoot commercially in their jurisdiction. Usually this is just to make sure you’re not going to disrupt the goings on, and if you are, to make sure that someone pays for that disruption (i.e., you).
But outside of legal reasons, there are all kinds of, well, just plain dumb reasons for you to be at the receiving end of a “STOP!”
Usually these are undertaken by overzealous private security guards ignorant of the legal framework involved. Usually a few polite “yes sir, no sir, thank you sirs” will move them on their way and let you get back to work. If you’ve just missed the sun being in the perfect place because you’re being hassled by a security guard, it is certainly frustrating. But if your shot is that dependent on the perfect light, you would have done well to contact the security office and inform them of what you’re doing ahead of time so you can get all this silliness out of the way.
Occasionally you’ll come across an officer who’s bored or just plain mean and it will move beyond that. For times like this, having a firm grasp of your rights is key. Attorney Bert Krages published his Photographers Bill of Rights years ago and it’s been travelling around in my camera bag for a while. Being able to confidently (and politely) explain your rights to them in a way that makes them realize you’re not going to be intimidated is very helpful. The NYPD also recently clarified New York City’s policy of photography.
Overall, remember that there are a lot of people out there who are afraid of the world and who see problems everywhere. Sometimes they will make your life difficult. Grace and civility will usually smooth things over and remember, photographers already have a pretty crappy reputation in the world, being a schmuck everytime you come across a badge isn’t going to help.