Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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Yesterday, I've been to the Britomart train station in Auckland, New Zealand, to take some pictures of that place. To do so, I carried my tripod with me. Aware of the fact, that some places don't like tripods I double checked their really huge sign of things that are forbidden in that place (busking, smoking, running etc.), using tripods was not among these things, so I thought I was fine.

Well, that was a misconception after I got told by a security guard that tripods are forbidden at the train station. Since it makes no sense to discuss with these people, I tucked it away.

I know, legal questions are totally country related, but in general I always wonder why such facilities are so apprehensive towards tripods. Anyone has an idea? After that incident I put my camera on the ground with some books and other pieces to get an appropriate angle for my shot and the sec guy was totally fine with that.

Furthermore how do you deal with it? Do you try and get something like a official permission of the owner to use it? Is that even worth the hassle? How do you deal with restrictions in (Semi-)public spaces? Especially when you think that they are wrong and you should have the right to use it in a certain place?

This question is not so much headed to get a answer in the sense of law, rather than how to deal with it while out there in the wild.

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So... tripods are evil, books are ok? –  Andres May 23 '11 at 22:02
12  
Power-tripping security guards seems to be the (almost) universal cause. –  Fake Name May 23 '11 at 22:04
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If tripods are banned you can always use a quadropod: novoflex.com/en/products/camera-support-systems/quadropod –  Matt Grum May 23 '11 at 22:41
    
This looks like it might be better split into multiple questions –  ChrisFletcher May 24 '11 at 10:41

12 Answers 12

If it's a crowded, public place - it's often perceived as a tripping hazard by many a security guard, possibly even a weapon. Its also possible that if its photographing public art, they don't want you to "steal" it.

There are times were it makes sense to try to get permission if you need to a long exposure. Depending on the person, they may ask you to take other precautions (caution tape, cones, etc) to ward off potential trippers or they may just tell you no.

If you don't need really long exposures, but just some more stability, try a monopod (this confuses enough people because they don't know what it is, that you can often get away with it). If you need the stability, try a Gorillapod or other clamping system.

If they don't want you to "steal" it, then you may just be out of luck unless you obtain special permission.

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Same answer as me, but earlier, so I guess I should vote up. ;) –  John Cavan May 23 '11 at 23:06
    
Was about to say pretty much the same, this explains things pretty well really! Gorillapod-type systems can be ok if you've got a light enough camera, and monopod for a faster option. –  Endareth May 23 '11 at 23:58

I have also run in to this problem a couple of times, again security guards asking me to clear the tripod away when no signage indicated they were not permitted. In both situations I complied as requested and then went home and followed up by finding the management of the establishment online and emailing them to ask why. In both circumstances they apologised and said the security guard was being over zealous (there's a surprise) and invited me back to photograph their place. Took some patience and return trips, but the results were worth the effort. So if denied use of a tripod, politely check with the real bosses if it is possible in any way.

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I've seen a collegue of mine go a bit further and tell the guard right away that he's called the management office before and some lady there told him it's okay to use a tripod. It did work. –  che May 24 '11 at 21:33

I belive that tripods in general are understood as a sign that you take photography seriously, especially in museums and culturally important places, where tripod-equipped (=professional) photographers may be considered a threat to the ability of institutions to sell postcards. (Or by stealing the soul of art they possess.)

And of course you have to bear in mind that people with tripods may be terrorists.

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3  
People with bananas may be terrorists too... –  ysap May 24 '11 at 0:24
    
@ysap Hollywood taught us that suspicious looking people with cameras must be terrorists. Whereas bananas and bandanas are optional for terrorism. –  Leonidas May 24 '11 at 8:41
    
@ysap - Or watches. –  neilfein May 24 '11 at 13:50
    
Insert "Gorillapod + banana" joke here. –  BBischof May 24 '11 at 14:26
    
@Leonidas - surely you want to watch this: youtube.com/watch?v=piWCBOsJr-w –  ysap May 24 '11 at 19:47

Another reason yet to be mentioned is that some tripods have spikes which can damage floors or walls if you're careless manuoevering with the 'pod.

If they wont let you use a monopod even then a piece of string with a loop that goes round your foot and attaches to the tripod mount (via a bolt with a eye hole) can work well. Or bracing your lens hood against a vertical structure like a wall or pillar. The latter might get you told off as well, but it's easy enough to stop doing it until they go away...

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A string pod will often do the trick, it just takes practice to use it well. You also need a stable stance. I just step on the end of the string; a loop sounds like a good idea until you forget you just tied your foot to your camera the first time. –  RBerteig May 24 '11 at 8:27

Couple of reasons:

  1. We photographers, are generally not aware of our surrounding when we are framing a shot. This is an issue when you are moving around with the tripod lens extended, camera still attached to the tripod.. in a crowded area.
  2. Some public places are absurdly crowded, e.g. the every damn person in the world who goes to Agra wants to get his picture taken on a bench where princess Diana posed infront of Taj.. time taken to compose a shot and setting up a tripod is just not acceptable.
  3. It looks a lot like something you can use to hinge a sniper rifle.
  4. Hard to manually inspect (since you can't just carry them through a metal detector).

You can get a written permission of some authority incharge. I have seen people (who more or less look like pro photographers) flashing some sort of id card and moving around with an open tripod in restricted areas..

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To answer the last part of your question, one way of dealing with it is simply to setup and take the shot as quickly as you can, and by the time security (or whoever) come and tell you to stop, you're already done. Just be nice when they turn up, say that the view (or whatever) is just so amazing, smile a lot, and pack up!

Note that I wouldn't advise this if there are actually signs up saying "No tripods", as in that case your plausible deniability goes out the window! I'd also be hesitant doing this in any part of the world where security is likely to get aggressive.

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If you know you're not supposed to, and you do it anyway - this is a good way to make it more difficult for "the rest of us". –  rfusca May 24 '11 at 1:31
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If there's nothing indicating that you're not supposed to, how are you supposed to know? 'Tis easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission! :) But I do take your point. I wouldn't do this in a gallery for example. –  Endareth May 24 '11 at 2:05

I believe that some places avoid tripods because they take up a fair amount of space (as much as three people standing in close proxmity sometimes) and could represent a tripping hazard for which the public place does not wish to be held liable.

I would recommend trying a monopod at address the concerns I mentioned. If it is because they dont want "serious photography" taken there, you'll be out of luck either way.

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I agree with Nate. Plenty of train stations and other public places explicitly permit photography but forbid tripods. They stick out to the side and people are often looking up at information boards and so not really concentrating on what's in front of them. It's purely a health and safety rule, and the same applies to flash which is usually forbidden on platforms because it can disorientate the train crew. When photography in general is forbidden, then that's a different matter! –  Max Sang May 24 '11 at 16:05
    
London Science museum, several years ago (might have changed) banned "commercial photography equipment" (not "commercial photography") which included tripods but the guards didn't raise a finger about my monopod and professional looking camera. Seems sanity prevails sometimes :) –  jwenting May 26 '11 at 6:57

In some situations using a lens/camera combination that provide image stabilisation might help.

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Many of the answers are, on the face of things, sensible. Tripods do take up space. It's possible someone might trip over one. And so on. But having been up and down this particular road in places like Grand Central Station (with a permit), I have reached the conclusion that it is more about people equating tripod with professional, and then extrapolating to professional = money and then extrapolating to there's either something in this for me or that photographer isn't going to take his/her pictures.

It's become such an administrative hassle, I simply avoid taking a tripod if I am not certain I won't get into a bureaucratic fight over some meaningless rule. My rights as a photographer are simply not regarded as highly as the rights of people who want to share in whatever gain (yeah, right) I might realize from making that one great image from a vantage point they govern. It's like dealing with medieval warlords.

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Gorillapods are awesome:

http://joby.com/gorillapod

That won't help if the guard is against any photography however.

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I was in St. Michael's Cathedral at some point (in the Vatican for all you philistines). There were large signs saying tripods were not OK, but cameras were. So I happily went around snapping many a picture with no problem. But then I went in for an HDR - low light meant slow shutter speeds, and three overlapped images, meant I needed a stable surface. I found a wooden fence in the middle of the floor which many people were leaning on.. put the camera on it.. and immediately felt a rough tap on my back and an imposing security guard. Turned out they weren't just against tripods, but in fact any kind of image stabilisation. I was too surprised to argue, it was just such a wtf situation..

.. So yeah, in some places, any physical image stabilisation is a no-no. Solutions? Fast lenses, high ISOs, and image/optical electric stabilisation.

Has that happened to anyone else at all?

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Unless there's been recent construction, the only churches in Vatican City are St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Who's the philistine now? ;-) –  Caleb Sep 26 at 16:15

Short answer: if you just need stability, use a chain. I say chain because it doesn't stay curled up like a string/rope does so it's easier to step on.

These chains screw into the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera and hang down low enough so that with the camera lifted to take the shot you can step on it and hold the camera steady against the tension =)

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