My Security Pals

Another visit to London on a cold wintry day. Temperature was 27 °F  (-2 °C)  with a windchill of 26 °F  (-3 °C). Snow flurries danced their way around the city around noon, but they fizzled away quickly. I was hoping I’d get enough snow on the ground for a better winter scene but that means I’d be colder, so I guess it was just fine the way it was, for now.

It’s no secret that London is tight on security and not very photographer-friendly, but I did not know it was going to be this irksome especially if you come 80 miles away only to be told to pack up and go. I’ve never had to watch my back all the time while shooting – except maybe when I was in Manila Bay at dusk, surrounded by curious bums and squatters, but that’s another story. Taking pictures is starting to feel like a crime around here.

I did not expect to have 3 brushes with security within the next 24 hours. Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense but there’s nothing one can do, except sneak in a couple of shots when no one’s looking.

Anyway, here are my latest conversations with my security pals:

In Somerset House

It was still about half an hour before twilight and I was doing test shots handheld at the ice rink when I was approached by female security.

“Ma’am, what’s that for?” She was referring to the GND filter I had in front of my lens.

“It’s a filter,” I replied.

“Yeah, but what does it do?”

I was a little confused about why she was interested, but I explained, “It just balances the light, that’s all.”

“What are you going to do with the pictures?” She asked.  With the tone in her voice, I now know where this was going.

“They’re just tourist shots, that’s all,” I reasoned. “It’s just a hobby.”

“I need to talk to my manager,” she said. “You’re not allowed to use professional cameras here.”

And off she went to get her manager while in the meantime, I sneaked in a couple more shots until the big boss came and just further emphasized what the other woman just told me.

So off to Westminter at twilight

There were a few tripod-huggers at the promenade by London Eye up  to the steps of Westminster bridge, but of course I had to be the one spotted right away.

“You’re not allowed to use that here,” he pointed to the tripod I had already set up. “But,” he continued very reassuringly, ” you can take shots on the bridge if you want.”

It was only about 20 steps to the bridge from where I was, so is it me or, I find no logic in that?

Anyway, that was it for my rendezvous with my new friends in London, but the following day at the mall in Bluewater 20 miles outside of London, I was taking shots of the Winter Wonderland scene when I got another visit.

“Can I see your press pass, please?” my new friend asked.

Press pass – I thought to myself – that’s a pick-up line I haven’t heard before. “I’m sorry what?” I asked. I had just taken 6 shots of the scene.

She repeated herself and I innocently replied, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have one.”

“You’re not allowed to take photos here,” she said, “We have our own media people doing that.”

“I didn’t know, sorry.” And I said, with what’s becoming my new alibi-of-the-day, “It’s just a hobby.”

“Can I see what you’ve just taken?” She asked.

I turned my camera on and pressed playback. I showed her the last photo I took, “Just that one, is that okay?”  I lied, then I turned my camera off.

“I want to see you put your camera away,” she then said. A little bit too harsh, don’t you think?

So I put my camera back in the bag while she watched, folded up my tripod, and sulked.

Poor me 😦

Taken early afternoon with heavy clouds and freezing temperature. There's no shortage of double-deckers in London so it's always fun to do this. I took this handheld at CH (burst) mode, 5fps. 1/8 sec @ f/20, ISO 200.

Classic Westminster bridge and Houses of Parliament scene. It was not allowed to use a tripod from where I stood here, but it's okay on the bridge.

Dreary, cold and gray afternoon in the city.

At Bluewater. Poorly-composed shot I know, but I was just getting started when I was interrupted. This is the kind of blue hour I thrive for - nice, rich, cold winter blue. The cone-shaped tree on top changes color every few seconds. There was more of this Winter Wonderland but I never got the chance to shoot it.


4 responses

  1. You’ll get used to it. When you’re on private property, like Bluewater, you won’t stand a chance and security will always be a little aggressive. Having a tripod is the kiss of death. Learn to shoot and ‘run’. Having some family around and ‘pretending’ to get pictures of them can be a decent decoy…. Investing in a decent point & shoot is also worthwhile and helps with the air of innocence when security do come. You are on private property after all and the land owners, sadly, are perfectly entitled to manage their properties as they see fit.

    If you’re on public property and private security ask you to stop just refuse and invite them to call the police if necessary. Its important to be firm but polite. Having a tripod gets tricky though, especially in London where the pavements just aren’t that wide. It can be considered an ‘obstruction’.

    Good luck and keep the great shots coming!

  2. My husband was really curious to know what right the security personnel had to stop you from taking your shots – this indeed clears it out in some sense. They seem to pick their favourite bit of laws and regulations and apply them. I’ve read some bits of the matter somewhere on Flickr as it seems to be a larger problem in London, and not always entirely used when and where actually needed.

    Personally, I don’t see what is the problem with larger cameras as opposed to the pocket size… And when did you see a tripod being used for .. terrorism, I suppose?

    I’d also go for the have a quick shoot and run as fast as you can option. I’d really say it’s a shame you’re not allowed to make the world a little better by your amazing photography!

    • Hello Piia, I guess security in London is a delicate issue because the city’s always been threatened by terrorists, so in some aspects I do understand why they don’t allow photography. If it’s for my safety, then I’m all for it. But you’re right, sometimes it defies reason, and that’s when it becomes annoying. Just like what Patrick has mentioned above, it’s a matter of getting used to and/or learning to be discreet.

      Thanks for stopping by! And by the way, I’m still holding my breath for your “photo tour” of Finland. 🙂

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