I’m a Professional because I use a tripod

Sino Reflection, Santana Row - San Jose, California

Sino Reflection, Santana Row – San Jose, California

I took these photographs last week in San Jose, California at a place called Santana Row, an upscale, city like development. The detailing there was terrific and I decided to use a tripod to take my usual night-time urban landscapes. Just as I setup my tripod, a security guard came over and dashed my plans.

“I’m sorry you can’t take photographs here”, she said nicely but with some hesitation. I was a bit confused because I’ve shot there many times without interference. Then I realized that she was taking issue with the tripod. Yes, “You have to get permission first” before taking professional photographs. I smiled and played dumb and said, a professional, with this camera?, as I pointed to my Olympus E-PM2. For the uninitiated, the E-PM2 is a small camera barely larger than a point and shoot.

This kind of incident is actually fairly common for tripod photographers. Police and Security are trained, for ease of identification, that people who use tripods are professional photographs and must be dealt with in a different manner. They usually give bogus reasons such as “protecting privacy” to restrict tripod use which, of course, is equally an issue with photographs shot freehand.

Vintage Wine Bar, Santana Row - San Jose, California

Vintage Wine Bar, Santana Row – San Jose, California

I didn’t make a fuss in this case. You see Santana Row, despite looking city like is, most likely, private property. It is basically a shopping mall development wrapped in a faux-city fabric. Kind of ironic since, in many ways, Santana Row looks more urban than the real downtown San Jose. On private property, the owners can impose photography restrictions. Undeterred however, I complied with the no tripod request but still took my long exposures by placing my camera on tables and railings. I was a bit restricted on the compositions that I could create but I still managed to take the type of photographs that I wanted.

Pinkberry, Santana Row - San Jose, California

Pinkberry, Santana Row – San Jose, California

Unlike my previous outings where I shot free hand, I wanted to do some HDRs this time, which require multiple images precisely aligned. A tripod is usually best for alignment but as you can see, there are ways around this. The general aversion towards tripods is a source of frustration for photographs and especially people who like to shoot HDRs. It is one thing for private property owners to restrict use but It is more distressing when public cities also limit tripods. I’ve heard cities such as Washington DC and New York are not very tripod friendly.

What’s been your experience? Have you been asked not to use tripods? Share your thoughts below.

Photographs taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

29 thoughts on “I’m a Professional because I use a tripod

  1. I’ve run into the tripod restriction in semi-public places — those which are thought of by people using them as public spaces but actually are owned by someone responsible for liability in the case of injuries.

    It is astonishing how many people can see a person using a camera but remain oblivious to the tripod legs extending a couple of feet in each direction. Stumble, trip, and lawsuit!

    The property owner, having the deeper pockets and greater depth of insurance, is usually on the hook for damages — real or opportunistically imagined.

    This is particularly frustrating for one plagued by an essential tremor which readily defeats the E-PL1’s image stabilization.

    I think it’s time to try a stealth monopod. Maybe the camera and that kind of platform can learn to work together.

    Lovely HDR work, as usual. Proving once again that in some situations less is more.

    1. Thanks Mike. I think there is some merit to the lawsuit worries give how litigious it is in the U.S., however, common sense says that if you are out late at night and there is no body around, perhaps security will have take that into account. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to judgement calls here.

      I might have to try doing HDR brackets on a monopod, see how that works out. Long exposures may work better but I still see alignment challenges for HDR use. I wonder if monopods are accepted where tripod are not? Are monopod users less professional? πŸ˜‰

      1. I have taken many handheld HDR shots during the day. While they’re usually not publication worthy, Photomatix Pro does a pretty good job with the alignment. It’ll often do in a pinch. This was shot handheld in Smith Rock park, Oregon:

        In case that embed didn’t work: http://smu.gs/XI2MXD

  2. Nice shots πŸ™‚ I live in Europe and have never had any trouble with security or police due to photographing. I know that in England it is a problem, like in many city’s in US. Maybe I’ve just have been lucky πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Cato. Are the European countries fine about tripod use too and not just regular photography?

      Yeah, I heard that it might even be worse in the U.K. than in the U.S. I don’t have any first hand knowledge though.

    2. That makes sense, England has embraced closed circuit cameras in a Big Brother, 1984 sort of way. They’re paranoid of potential terrorists. Not like they would be setting up tripods though.

  3. I like the Pinkberry shot very much.

    Haven’t had any trouble with tripods in NYC. It depends a lot there on what is going on around you. If you’re setting up in front of Penn Station at rush hour, yeah, they’re going to boot you. You need to be very wary there of not impeding pedestrian traffic because there’s just so much of it.

    Around the bridges, yes you will likely have trouble. It’s a given. Although I had a discussion with a few NYPD back in December and they agree that it’s not tripod guy who is the problem, it’s the guy where you don’t notice a camera but he’s hanging around in one spot for way too long dong just weird things. But they gotta do what they gotta do, So much of it is a judgment call. I was busted by a kid rent-a-cop in a small town for shooting tulips outside of a bank with a point & shoot.

    Shopping malls – I’ve only had trouble at Westlake in Seattle and the mall in White Plains NY

    There are places in DC where they will not only boot yo for the pod but they will also question very long lenses. That will also happen outside major federal buildings in many cities.

    And just for fun I’ll add that some galleries now are banning not only photos but SKETCHING πŸ˜‰

    1. When went to NYC and Washington I was OK with using a tripod (except for Rockefeller Center, which is private property) but I was shooting late at night and in tourist areas.

      I can see the issue if some one is impeding traffic and getting in the way. That’s just common sense, common courtesy and potentially avoiding injury. I typically shoot late at night where there is not many people around.

  4. Bruges (Belgium) is tremendously tripod-friendly. I live in the center and see thousands of them every year. It might be the influence of Chinese tourists though, I barely see those people without one πŸ˜‰

    1. I do really want to go to Europe soon. They have such wonderful old cities with great old architecture. Good to know about the tripod situation there.

  5. All my urban shots are during the day, so I haven’t needed to test this. I live near San Jose, though, so maybe I’ll give it a shot (but intended) and see how they treat me.

    It really is quite ridiculous that you can take photos without a tripod and they don’t care. Furthermore, that anyone with a tripod is a ‘pro’. However I can see the liability issue with stumbling over the legs, as Mike and Libby mentioned.

    I was at the De Young Museum (San Francisco) recently shooting flashless, 35mm f1.8. The gallery allowed photos sans flash. The exposures were good but the autofocus was having a hard time, so just to see what happened, I turned on the focus assist lamp. Sure enough, the guard came over and told me “Sir, there’s no flash photography allowed”.

    To the layperson, even that dull focus assist bulb bulb is a “flash”.

    If you can find someplace away from the crowds, you can sometimes setup a tripod and get awesome shots: http://gallery.etchedinpixels.com/Light-Art-Long-Exposure/Painting-with-Light/i-GSkszkK/0/Th/Urban%20Circulatory%20System-24_5_3_HDR-3-Edit-Th.jpg

    1. I realize that the lay people are not going to know much about photography. Imagine training people on what people can use and not. They got to make the rule simple so anyone with a basic understanding can enforce them such as:

      No Flash
      No Tripod
      No big cameras with big lenses.

  6. Last year, when the CowParade Austin 2011 event had beautifully painted cows located all over Austin, my Dad and I made it a personal project to photograph all 72 of them. Two of these cows were located in the lobby of The Frost Bank Tower on Congress Ave. We had our DSLRs and our tripods, and the security guard would not allow us to even be in the lobby, and there were only the three of us in there at that time.

    While we photographed the other three cows that were outside, I was able to see a group of college girls head into the lobby and one of them took a “group photo” of them all in front of one of the cows – using her cell phone!

    I ended up sending an email to one of the event’s public relations persons, and explained what we were attempting to do, and the problem that we had at The Frost Bank Tower. A few days later I received a response, saying that there had been some sort of misunderstanding, and that if we came back, we would be allowed to photograph those two cows.

    I haven’t had any other trouble here in Austin with using a tripod, but I am always sensitive about it, and always try to place it where it will not be in a high traffic area.

    1. In general Austin, to it credit and reputation, has been very laid back. The only place I’ve been hassled is the W Hotel. They are still a bit too proud there. They must be going crazy now that the WIllie Nelson statue is located there.

  7. Love the sino reflection. Maybe a “non professional looking” tripod could make the job? After all, the epm2 is not that heavy…….maybe a funky looking gorilla pod or something similar??

    1. You know I actually brought a gorilla pod with but left it at the hotel. It was late at night and I didn’t want to go back and get it. I have used the gorilla pod in NYC where they didn’t allow tripods. That’s a story for another post. πŸ˜‰

  8. If you haven’t read about it, the change in the way Google is displaying and finding pictures is an open invitation to the immediate universe to steal you stuff. I’ve reblogged it (A call to arms), but you … and anyone else … who publishes a lot of graphics needs to know what’s going on. Sigh. It’s always something.

    1. Google always seemed to be loose in their notion of copyright.

      Wow, just read your re-blog. I was wondering why my hits have dropped recently. Not that I get tons but even I’ve noticed it on my site. This whole blogging effort is a real uphill battle. Something that I reconsider from time to time.

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