Photography in Public Places – Your Rights as a Photographer

Well, it finally happened. I had read about it time-and-time again (in magazines and all over the web), but had been fortunate to have never experienced it first hand – until last Sunday, that is…. What am I referring to? Being approached in public and told I was not allowed to take photos.Last Sunday, I decided to spend some time in Downtown Toronto updating my portfolio of the city. I spent quite a bit of time in the Financial District shooting various buildings at both ground level and upward. Late in the afternoon when shooting one of the bank buildings from the sidewalk, I was approached by a security guard and told to stop taking pictures. When I asked why, he tried to tell me that I was on private property and that photography was not allowed. I challenged the fact that I was on the sidewalk of one of Toronto’s main downtown PUBLIC thoroughfares and that photography in public is allowed. He again tried to tell me that I was on private property, that I was not welcome there, and to immediately stop taking photos and cross the street. I again challenged the ‘public’ nature of the Toronto sidewalk on which we were standing, and he gave me a ‘warning’ that if I didn’t leave immediately he would escalate the issue (whatever that meant). At that point I walked away – not because of any wrongdoing on my part, but I didn’t want the situation to escalate any further.

So, I’m sure you want to know what building this happened at. Well, I’m not going to tell you (just yet). I decided to contact building, property, and security management of the building in question and challenge my experience. As I have yet to hear back from “The Building”, I will keep the location nameless for the time being.

So, was I legally entitled to take photos of the building in question? Absolutely. There are no laws in Canada or Ontario preventing photography in any public area. Based on my research, the only limitations are if an individual’s privacy is compromised (see below for more on this), if there is a legitimate security risk associated with the photos (eg. military installations), or the act of taking the photos would interfere with public interest (eg. shooting firefighters battling a fire and getting in their way in the process).

A web search for ‘photographer’s rights’ will return countless resources on the subject. From my research, some of the better resources are:

For photographers in the United States, The Photographer’s Right info card by Bert P. Krages (Attorney), and for us Canadians, Photography Laws at Ambient Light are great resources.

The bottom line is, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms secures one’s right to take photos in public, falling under the Fundamental “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”. This includes photos of people – where that becomes an issue is if a photo where people are recognizable is used for commercial purposes – in this case, a model release (authorization to use the image) is required. But, simply taking a public photo of people is not a problem, unless privacy is compromised. But, privacy is relative to the specific location and situation, and is limited to a ‘reasonable expectation’ of the individual’s privacy. If someone is walking down Yonge Street in Toronto, they are in a very public space and cannot reasonably expect to be ‘private’ in that environment. A public bathroom, doctor’s office, store change room, or the like, on the other hand, all do have some level of ‘expected privacy’. A photograph taken in these situations could constitute a violation of an individual’s privacy and therefore not be permitted.

So, what about private property? In general, photography on private property (eg. shopping mall, office building, etc.) IS permitted unless specifically notified otherwise. In the case of my experience last Sunday, had I been inside the building in question, or within the building’s ‘private property’ (eg. entry steps, courtyard, garden, etc.) the guard, as a representative of the property owners, would have been entitled to ask me to refrain from taking pictures and to leave. Failure to comply could be considered trespassing, and then you are no longer within the law. You cannot, however, be demanded to delete or hand over any photos already taken. As a photographer, once a photo is taken it is your property and that ownership is protected by law.

And what about “The Building” at the heart of my experience? Well, I’m hopeful (if not overly optimistic) that I’ll receive any response to my inquiry. Should that happen, I’ll be sure to give details of their response. I may decide to blow their cover depending on their response (or lack thereof), but in the meantime I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Will I stop photographing in public places? Absolutely not. Will I never photograph the building in question again? On the contrary – I plan to. And who knows…. Depending on the response (or lack thereof) from “The Building”, and feedback I may receive on the issue from other photographers, a group gathering and photographing of the building may be warranted….. Wouldn’t they love to have dozens (or hundreds) of people lined up taking photos of their building at once? It would of course all be from PUBLIC property, and a completely legal and peaceful demonstration of photographer’s rights.

So, don’t be afraid to get out there and shoot what you want, where you want. If you are approached and challenged, be polite and professional. Clearly state your legal rights, and that you are doing nothing wrong. Judge the situation and use some common sense.

Have you been approached, questioned, or harassed while taking pictures in public? You’re not alone, and unfortunately it’s becoming an all too frequent occurrence. Feel free to post a comment with your experience!

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Becoming a Stock Contributor

So you’ve decided to try your hand at (micro)stock (photography, vector, video) contribution. So, what next?

First of all, don’t expect immediate acceptance or immediate income. Getting started in stock contribution takes time, effort, and a collection of good (if not excellent) stock offerings.

I’m a stock photography contributor with a number of leading web-based stock sites. I don’t do stock vector or video, so my recommendations here will be photography based (sorry to the vector and video folks – hopefully there’s enough read-across that my info won’t be totally useless).

First, scope out the site(s) you’re interested in. Contributing to multiple services can be great, but don’t get carried away at the beginning. From my experience, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime, and Fotolia offer the best bang for the buck, but they do have high acceptance standards.

You’ll need an initial group of photos to apply to each of the stock services – most require a 10 photo submission. This initial submission will be reviewed for photo quality (focus, sharpness, noise, colour, contrast, composition, etc.) and stock applicability (will people want these photos?). Take some time to browse the various sites to see what’s there and what’s selling. From my experience, the three biggest issues are noise (if you’re not using a modern DSLR, you can probably forget about it), focus, and sales potential. Stock services are becoming quite mature, and have inventories of thousands (or millions) of high-quality photos – they don’t need (or want) another photo of a red rose….. Once you have your ‘Top-10’ cleaned and adjusted photos, go ahead and submit them. Don’t be surprises (or discouraged) if you’re rejected on your first attempt – the stock agencies are quite strict on submissions – especially application submissions. If you’re rejected, take their comments in stride, and try again.

Most sites don’t pay a great deal per photo license (typically between $0.25 and $2.00). So, to really make any money, you’re going to need a good sized portfolio. This WILL take time and effort.

Three of the most common causes for rejection are noise, focus (blurriness), and over processing. Make sure you know your camera and lens, and the ideal settings (ISO setting, aperture, etc.) to get sharp, noise-free images, and keep post-processing (noise reduction, sharpening, etc.) to a minimum. Some good rules of thumb are:

  • Shoot at low (200 and below) ISO settings
  • Use a tripod whenever possible
  • Understand and be conscious of depth-of-field
  • Know your lens sharpness “Sweet Spot”

Noise: Often considered the digital equivalent to film grain, it can make or break a photo for stock acceptance. There are lots of reasons for ‘noise’ in a digital photo, but it can generally be summarized as a poor (weak) signal when light is translated from analog-digital via the image sensor. Larger sensors (like those in higher-end digital SLR cameras) are less prone to noise. Shooting with plenty of light at low ISO settings also helps. Avoid long exposures and high ISO settings whenever possible. Even with good light and exposure with a DSLR, you may still have issues with noise. That’s where noise reduction software comes into play. There are numerous options for noise reduction ranging from freeware and shareware programs, to built-in filters in photo editing software (like PhotoShop), to third-party programs dedicated to noise reduction. My preference for noise reduction is Neat Image.

Focus: If you’re not using a tripod, use the 1/focal length rule of thumb. If your shutter speed is less that the inverse of your focal length, you’re probably going to have shake (and resulting focus) problems. For example – if you’re shotting at a 15mm focal length, don’t even think about hand holding at any shutter speeds slower than 1/15s. Likewise, at a 100mm focal length, shoot for at least a 1/100s shutter speed. But, whenever possible, use a tripod to help reduce camera shake.

Sharpness: No, this isn’t focus… Do some tests (or research your specific lens) to find your lens’s natural ‘sweet spot’ – the aperture that produces the sharpest possible image. Generally speaking, this will be around f8.0.

You probably won’t get acceptable stock photos straight of of your camera, no matter what camera you use. You may get a great photo, but most stock photography is all about impact. Even a seemingly ‘perfect’ out-of-camera photo will be more stock acceptable with some (hopefully minor) levels, contrast, hue, and saturation adjustment. Get a good photo editing program (PhotoShop Elements is adequate for most purposes), and learn how it works. Levels, brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, and sharpness adjustments will become your best friend in the world of stock photo preparation. But, don’t overdo it – it’s easy to get carried away! Try to keep adjustment to a minimum, but enough to achieve the look you want.

You may get frustrated, but the world of Stock Photography can be a lot of fun. Finding that ‘perfect’ stock shot, adjusting it so that it ‘pops’, submitting it and getting it approved, and then watching it generate sales and income is a blast! So get out there, observe the world, shoot, submit, and make some money!

Good luck!

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Stock Photography

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll continue saying it – I love photography. Being out and about without a camera nearby just feels wrong. I take a lot of pictures – probably far too many. Some of my best I make available for sale as limited edition prints at Photo Intrigue. Others I have decided to make available through cooperative on-line Stock Photography partnerships.

What is stock photography? Basically, it’s making photographs available for use under specific licensing agreements. If someone (book/magazine publishers, marketing/advertising agencies, web/graphic designers, etc.) needs a specific photo for a project, they could take it themselves if they have access to the equipment and the subject, hire a photographer to acquire the image for you (can be VERY expensive and results may not be what was desired), or use a stock agency and license (typically very affordable) an existing image for their use. Many agencies also offer stock vector illustrations and video clips.
Stock agencies typically have fairly strict application process whereby prospective contributors must submit a sample collection of images for detailed review. If the batch meets the agencies minimum requirements for quality, size, content, composition, etc., the contributor may begin submitted images. Each image is keyworded and reviewed by agency reviewers before being accepted.

Interested in becoming a Stock (Photography / Illustration / Video) contributor? See my post on Becoming a Stock Contributor.

I have partnered with some of the web’s best Stock agencies. Use the links below to visit the sites and review my portfolios.



Shutterstock Banner

Royalty Free Images

View My Portfolio

Royalty Free Stock Photography

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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2007

It’s that time of year again… The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is well underway.

I started attending the festival back in 1995 by waiting in rush line for random films I hoped would be worthwhile. Some were, and some weren’t. For a number of years, I purchased a Gala Pass – guaranteed admittance to Gala screenings for eight nights of the festival. A surefire way to see an assortment of films that, in theory anyway, achieved some level of not sucking (the ultimate ‘not sucking’ experience was the World Premiere of American Beauty in 1999 – an incredible film seen in a great theatre with an unimaginable crowd connection – pure magic). But those passes (as with many parts of the festival) have gotten overpriced – driven by the festival’s success, and the drive to fund the group’s new Festival Centre – the Bell Lightbox. So, it’s back to individual tickets for me – some advanced purchases and some rush lines.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to hit too many shows this year – so far, only 3 with tickets for one more. So, what does TIFF 2007 have in store for me? Here’s the rundown:

  • Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway): the creation of Rembrandt’s painting “The Nightwatch”.
  • Sleuth (Kenneth Branagh): Michael Caine and Jude Law match wits over a woman.
  • Dr. Plonk (Rolf de Heer): A modern incarnation of a silent B&W slapstick comedy.
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: A seemingly perfect, victimless crime gone wrong.

The festival runs from September 6th to 15th downtown Toronto. 30 screens at 13 venues throughout downtown Toronto are transformed into festival locations including the Varsity, Cumberland, and Scotiabank multiplexes, the ROM, AGO, Ryerson, Wintergarden theater & Elgin Theatre. Roy Thomson Hall continues to be transformed into a large movie theatre for the Gala screenings – a truly great venue. These venues play host to over 480 films this year.

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Welcome to Blog Intrigue!

Welcome to Blog Intrigue!

So, you’ve ended up here and are asking yourself, “What the heck is a “Blog Intrigue”? Well, yes, it *IS* another blog… So, what about “Intrigue”? Well, Oxford defines Intrigue to “arouse the curiosity or interest of“. So, this is my blog, and I’ll be posting what arouses my curiosity or interest. OK, so what’s that, exactly? Well, read on….

I am formally educated as an engineer (mechanical, manufacturing, and design) and work in the world of automotive manufacturing. So, I’ll probably talk from time-to-time of things technical, environmental, and with four wheels and an engine. I have a passion for photography, so that will undoubtedly come up as well, with the odd shameless reference to my personal photo website Photo Intrigue. I may discuss the state of the world (politics, global warming, the obscure migration routes of the Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes), what amuses me at any given moment, or just random thoughts. Hopefully, you’ll find something relevant and of interest, so that your time at Blog Intrigue isn’t a total waste of your time or bandwidth.

I appreciate and look forward to any and all feedback, so, don’t be shy! If you have something to say (like “Great Job, Dave!”, or not), SAY IT! I can’t and won’t promise to agree with you (or even necessarily respond), but please tell me what you think!

So, stay tuned, for what I hope will be an interesting and thought-provoking ride!

David (Dave) Wood

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