Wednesday, April 29, 2009

nyc camera bag essential

Two years ago I was videotaping on a New York Subway platform. A cop told me to stop. I informed him that it was perfectly legal for anyone to take pictures or film in the subway and suggested that he check with his supervisor. He refused and insisted that I turn off my camera and wouldn't let up until I showed him my NYPD issued press identification card.

I was livid. I got my way, but I had to show a special ID. It is not a privilege of the press to be allowed to photograph public places. Anyone can and should do it. I was mad because this cop's ignorance of the law most likely intimidated many other photographers. He has probably bullied others and made them stop filming or photographing AND he might still be doing it because he refused to allow himself to become educated on the law.

Now there's an easy way to educate NYC Police on your rights. Thanks to a buddy of mine who was illegally arrested in Greenpoint for taking pictures of an accident scene, a new Operations Order has been issued that succinctly spells out the rights of photographers in public places. It's one page, so you can (and should) print it out and carry it with your camera when in NYC.

Here it is: print it out now. Print out ten and hand them out to your photo (or cop) friends.

The document covers your rights to photograph in public and in the MTA transit systems. It tells cops that they cannot view or delete your photographs. They cannot make you delete them. If they pull the counter-terrorism card, this document spells out the steps they are required to take if they actually believe your photography to be an act of terrorism.


This is important. Don't EVER appear to be angry when an officer attempts to violate your right to photograph. It is not possible for any officer to know each and every law that they are intended to enforce. I suggest that you express that you understand his or her concern (even if you don't). Then explain that there is no law against photographing in public places (or in the subway) according to Operations Order number 14. Then offer to show your copy. If the officer says he doesn't care or says that you need to move along anyway, ask him to check with a supervisor. Make a mental note of the officer's name and the number on their badge.

You might be through shooting for the day if the officer persists. You need to decide what you're willing to risk. You can move along and file a complaint later OR you can keep shooting and risk arrest. If you're arrested for taking pictures, this will get dropped. It's important that you never raise your voice or make a scene because they can come up with something else to charge you with.

My guess is that this Operations Order was widely distributed. I hope that we see far fewer stops of photographers. I'm also guessing that when the officer realizes that you are educated on the law they'll leave you alone.


As a general rule, you cannot use "ancillary equiment" such as light stands without a permit. Tripods are generally OK as long as you're not blocking the flow of traffic. You also must allow traffic to flow freely into your frame (don't throw things at people who wander into your shot). Tripods are not OK in the Subway unless you have an NYPD issued press pass or permit. ALSO, it is illegal to photograph on the PATH train for some reason. So, don't try to whip out Order 14 there. You're even prohibited from 'sketching' on the PATH train. Creepy.


  1. Thanks for this. I'd been looking for a copy ever since I saw the NY Post story that it was out.

    Will a cop give me static for having an internal NYPD document in my possession, or is this public record, to your knowledge? Can I ask how you got this?

    Anyway, thanks. I've been stopped twice for taking pictures in the subway system -- the first time I was told that it was illegal (I cited 1050.9(c) to no avail) and the second time I was told that "everything changed on 9/11" and that "al-Qaeda sometimes hires guys that look like you." This will be nice to have in my camera bag, right next to my copy of 1050.9(c).

  2. Vidiot: NYPD was embarrassed by the arrest that I talked about in the posting. It's my understanding that EVERY cop got a copy of this and I'm being told that attitudes have drastically changed.

    Operations order 14 is not being provided to the public by NYPD. I got a copy through the New York Press Photographers Association. A cop can give you static for anything, but there's nothing confidential in this document. It's merely a summary of existing regulations that ARE available to the public.

    I carry it. I'm not going rub it in a cop's face, though. My hope is that my knowledge of the law will be too much trouble for a cop to waste time on. I'm happy to express understanding of their reasons for concern, then asking them to check with a supervisor regarding the Order.

    I hope it helps and I hope you maintain your confidence to photograph in public.

  3. I have a question. If tripods are not allowed in the MTA subways or the outdoor platforms, what about mono-pods? The don't block access.

  4. Cate: I don't typically use monopods with my camera body, but my thought is that they're alright simply because you are still holding your camera. I DO use monopods with an assistant holding off-camera lighting, and I haven't had problems. If you want to use a monopod and you're not shooting on-the-clock for a client, then I'd say use it. If police try to stop you, then explain your rights and cite the order. If they say no monopods, then either quit using it or stand your ground and prepare for a fight. If you get beaten up enough, then we can name Operations Order 15 after you.

  5. Detectives arrested and charged me with stalking and harassment for "accusations" of the postal woman stating that she "noticed a camera on my dashboard." Any help spreading the word, support, advice, will be appreciated.