If you are a true BMX rider then you have probably committed a crime or two in your day. Anytime that you hop a fence to ride your bike somewhere you are not supposed to, or grind a handrail in front of a downtown office building in any city across the globe you are technically committing a crime. There are laws against trespassing, as well as destruction of property, which can both come with hefty fines. Sure, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you and in your eyes you are just riding but there are a hell of a lot of people out there that just don’t quite understand what riding is all about. This in turn means that you have a good chance of being approached by the neighborhood hero, security, or the police in certain situations and without knowing the proper way to deal with them; you could find yourself in debt with a criminal record before you know it. Curious as to what I am getting at? Read on to find out.
A while back I was shooting with some models in a State Park in Malibu, CA and as soon as I tried to set up a few flashes a park ranger immediately approached us. She began explaining to us that we needed a permit if we wanted to shoot photos. Now, being the way that I am and using my years of previous experience of getting kicked out of spots while shooting BMX, I tried my best and somehow talked the ranger into driving off and turning a blind eye to the situation at hand. To me, this was second nature but apparently the models were surprised at how I handled the situation and without sugarcoating it, bullshitted our way out of having to leave right then and there. Needless to say we continued to shoot for a few hours after that without a problem.
Skip ahead to today and I found myself in a similar situation while on a day trip shooting with a few guys from the MacNeil crew for an upcoming article in Soul Magazine. Although in this case a permit to shoot wouldn’t have made a difference seeing as how we hopped a fence clearly marked “No Trespassing” and made our way to the bottom of a dam that had an all-too inviting transition to it. We got away with it for a while, maybe fifteen minutes or so but as soon as I was going to start setting up my flashes to shoot, we were approached by a guy that we instantly knew wasn’t happy with our decision to make ourselves at home in the ditch. We all basically played the dumb card and let the guy do his thing. He took our ID’s and held them until the police came and also made sure to let us know that we were trespassing as if we didn’t realize that in the first place. The vibe he had from the beginning was actually pretty mellow and was fairly easy to play off of. We said a few things back and forth and instantly I knew he wasn’t just going to let us go without a bit of a fight. In this case it was just best to sit back, be as nice as possible and hope for the best. Once the actual police officer came, he ran our ID’s and kept us in suspense for a little while. He eventually let us go but the guy that initially caught us made sure to let us know that if it were up to him he would rather be giving us each a $500 fine with quite a few court fees attached to it but luckily for us, we all got to walk away with a warning and let out a sigh of relief.
This situation could have gone much differently had we approached the guy with the wrong attitude or given him any reason to go off on a power trip. Honestly, it’s obvious that we understood what we were doing was illegal (typically a barb wire fence is a good sign to stay out) and the only reason they didn’t write us tickets was most likely because they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of all of that paperwork. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that everyone else besides myself is Canadian and the cop was a hockey fan. Either way we dodged a bullet and avoided an expensive, pain in the ass problem and went about our day. Getting the photo by any means necessary is the job of the photographer and it pays to know a few insider tips on how to deal with the man. Over the years I have definitely talked my way out of tickets, fines, and jail time all with some quick thinking and rational action. Here are a few things that might help you get the shot before you get the boot.
1.Be polite and respectful.
There is nothing more important than this. It is so easy to fly off the handle and be an asshole to the person who is kicking you out especially if you haven’t gotten the photo you wanted yet but it’s all a part of the game and you have to know when to choose your battles. This one doesn’t come easy but once you get caught up a few times and realize that arguing will only get you deeper into the shit show it gets a little easier to understand and put into action.
2. Wait for the person who is kicking you out to make the first move and then decide how to approach the situation from there.
If someone comes up freaking out screaming and yelling just make sure to remain calm and don’t feed into it. Just let them do their thing and hit them with a little bit of rule number one and try to get them to mellow out. On the other hand, if they come up to you and are immediately nice and just simply want you to leave, then see rule number three.
3. Test them out a bit.
This one takes a little experience to really dial in but you have to understand that you might be able to buy yourself some extra time if you choose your words wisely. If it’s a college campus and the security guard is doing some rounds you might want to let them know that by the time they come back around you will be gone. If you approached them with respect from the beginning, this method could earn you enough extra time to get the shot and get the hell out of there. If you joke around a bit and they are doing nothing but getting more and more pissed, then cut your losses and move onto the next one.
4. Never let them know exactly what you are doing.
Typically if you are shooting photos with multiple flashes and tons of camera gear it is hard to pretend like you accidentally found yourself on the other side of a ten foot tall fence with your bikes but that doesn’t mean you need to tell them that you are shooting photos of your friends or whoever grinding a rail or jumping down a set of stairs. Play it off as if you are just simply shooting some portrait photos for Facebook or simply for fun. This helps to dissolve the situation and doesn’t lead to any more questions about what the photos will be used for or anything like that. This one is especially helpful when you are shooting near buildings in major cities. After 9-11 things really have changed and shooting anywhere near big office buildings or skyscrapers can really raise some questions with the authorities. Playing dumb is key and sometimes the less you say, the better.
5. Know the difference between a security guard and a cop.
This one is especially helpful when you find yourself in a situation where you see an easy way out. If it’s a security guard or neighborhood superhero just trying to save the day more often than not you can just simply leave whatever spot you are at without a fight because after all, they aren’t the cops and can’t do more than tell you to leave. But, you have to also be smart about this and if they warn you that they will call the cops just realize that you have at least a few more minutes to shoot before the cops actually get there so you might just be able to get your shot and bail. Just don’t push it too long because if you get stuck there with the cops and the pissed off security guard he will make sure to let the cops know how you weren’t cooperating and how they should take it a step further which could lead to tickets and all of that good stuff we are try to avoid on a regular basis.
But again, this all goes back to step number one. If you follow that step, you never know where it could lead you. You might get an extra ten minutes at a spot, you might get an extra hour or you might just get lucky enough to get out of a $500 trespassing ticket like we did yesterday but either way, it’s the best bet and your best chance at walking away with that photo you had in mind and there is no better feeling than that. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the eleventh edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.