Sunday, October 7, 2012

Secret Service, Security, and the Police

It seems that every single time I go out to take photos, I am getting into trouble.  It's not like I have a menacing look about me.  I generally get the opposite reaction from people.  But for some reason, when I have a camera in hand, I am a target from security guards, police, and yes, Secret Service.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I live in Washington D.C. and there are just more Secret Service here or maybe I get too close to monuments for their comfort level.  Oh, I know ~ they must think that I am in disguise and I am trying to plan a sneak attack with my green camera bag, ponytail, and flip flops.  I'm not really sure.  But in the process of seemingly always getting in trouble, I start to expect it.  I was always the one who didn't break the rules, was on time, and tried to blend into walls so that I didn't get singled out.  So, at first this new source of attention (negative at that) was a little unsettling to me.... but now I am starting to find it hilarious....

It seems that when you are out shooting, there are all kinds of "unspoken rules."  Don't photograph this, don't stand there, no flash, no tripod, spin around in a circle three times before taking a photo... I mean they seem to get rediculous.  Some of the rules are obvious because there are signs.  Other rules are not so obvious.  I've been in situations where I can see out of my peripheral that I am being watched by security.  And you can tell they are wagering whether to say something to me or not.  Before I would catch their eye and ask if what I was doing was okay.  They almost always said "NO!!"  So I stopped asking.  Not to be rebellious, but I just got tired of asking.  I figure if I am doing something they don't like, they will come and let me know... and that they do.

My most common infraction is climbing on stuff to get a better angle.  I'm not talking about climbing on buildings or anything.  Just maybe a bench or the side of a tall curb.  Seriously ~ this is what gets me in trouble.  I was in Rockefeller Plaza in August taking photos and I wanted to get a better vantage point to photograph the plaza.

Rockefeller Center Plaza
ISO 100 ~ 20mm ~ f/13 ~ 1/60 sec
© Corrie M Avila

I climbed up on a bench and was about to take a photo and a guard came over and told me to get down.  So of course I did.  Then I asked him if I could stand on the other side of the bench (which would still give me a better view than where I was standing) and he said "no."  I'm like, okayyyyy.  I then give up the idea of trying to get that specific spot and moved to take some photos of these gorgeous flowers that were in the channel garden (the spot where the angels are during Christmastime and New Years). 

Rockefeller Center Channel Garden
ISO 100 ~ 60mm ~ f/3.5 ~ 1/100 sec
© Corrie M Avila

While I'm taking photos of the flowers, sitting on a bench, I see the guard come back over and stand about two feet from me... he was just standing there.  I'm not sure what he thought I was going to do... yank all the flowers out and run away with them?  He was ruining my creative flow... so I gave him the hairy eyeball.  He eventually wandered away.

So now for my three isolated incidents with the Secret Service. I've been in trouble with them at the White House (I was taking a photo too close to an imaginary line during a tour outside on the South Lawn), I was followed by them at the US Capitol Building, and then was watched very closely by them during a Presidential Motorcade.  And these were just the instances where I noticed the Secret Service...

Presidential Motorcade along Pennsylvania Ave, DC
ISO 100 ~ 135mm ~ f/8.0 ~ 1/200 sec
© Corrie M Avila

I then got in trouble with security at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island.  I was taking this photo and then got booted out of the area.  Thankfully I already got the shot, because this is one of my favorite photos from the event.  (To see the full portfolio click here

Jazz Age Lawn Party, NYC
ISO 200 ~ 105mm ~ f/5.6 ~ 1/160 sec
© Corrie M Avila

So the moral of this story is to do your homework before going.  Do a general search of where you will be and see if there are any rules.  When you are out, be respectful of posted rules regarding photography, but don't be obsessive about "asking" for any further rules.  Even though I imagine I am on the Secret Service black list of photographers, I've never had any real issues as long as I adhere to their "requests" while in the field.  There are some other rules regarding tripods that are equally as confusing and non clear.  In many major cities you need a permit to use a tripod (which is an entirely different ordeal).  Many museums don't allow tripods at all inside... so it pays to check it out before lugging all your equipment out there only to have to lug it all back home without the shot you were hoping for.

With all that being said ~ Never question the Secret Service and Happy Shooting!

Corrie <3

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