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April 27, 2008

Delete Those Photos

The top photo is exactly like one of the many photos an Air Force police officer made me delete from my camera last Thursday.

The reason he gave for making me delete the photo was that "It shows my perimeter fence and my flightline".

The lower half of the image above is the same area viewed in Google Earth with WAY more detail than I could ever hope to capture shooting from the racetrack. The Google Earth image is available to anyone on the planet earth with an internet connection and a computer. However my photo of the fence and the flightline is a security problem.

For the record, I was not on the air base. I was on private property (Las Vegas Raceway) across the street from the airbase and I was not taking photos of anything that was not clearly visible with the naked eye. Earlier in the day another Air Force police officer said it was perfectly legal to be there and to take photographs from there and asked us to "just stay on the racetrack side of the street" because the other side of the street is Air Force property.

I want to make it clear that the police officer that made me delete my photos was as nice as could be, acted in a very professional manner, never yelled or used foul language .... we even chatted about airshows and military airplanes ... but (in my opinion) he was clearly confused about photographer's rights and what constitutes a security risk to his air base. I could have challenged him and refused to delete the images and I'm sure I would have been 100% within my rights to do so ... but frankly I was not up for the fight at that moment ... after all this was the same day my truck was broken into and I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted... deleting the images seemed like the easiest way to avoid a problem. I'm not entirely sure but I would not be surprised if he was also out of his jurisdiction. It seems strange to me that Air Force police would have authority over a civilian that is not on Air Force property. ... but that's another issue entirely for another day.

Stories like this are becoming more and more common and it's very troubling to me as someone that loves to go out and take photos. Every incident that I've had like this and almost every incident that I've read about have one thing in common, the police/security people are convinced that they are doing the right thing and they are acting in good faith the protect (whatever they are meant to be protecting) and in most cases they are very nice and reasonable ... but they are still wrong in many cases and they are (with or without intent) often trampling on the constitutional rights of people just out having a good time with their hobby (or business), photography.

Something needs to be done to educate photographers and police/security personnel about what our rights and responsibilities are and what really constitutes a security risk.

I don't know what the answer to this problem is ... but I am sure that if we just let the problem keep getting worse there will come a day when we'll be afraid to leave your houses with our cameras. A writer from JPG magazine said it pretty well ""In a post 9/11 age of paranoia and suspicion, public photography is increasingly seen as threatening, or mistaken as criminal...Amateur photographers are the documentarians of real life. We capture our world to help us understand it. We are not a threat."

I'm always talking about this issue on my podcast, I think it's probably one of the more important issues concerning photographers today. I didn't even tell you guys the best part. He made me delete a bunch of photos of a KC-135 (in flight photos, the base was not visible in the photos). Keep in mind that this is a Boeing 707 commercial airliner with a refueling boom attached to the belly and two refueling pods on the wings with hose reels in them.

I told him that I'd delete the photos (they were crap photos anyways) but I was just very curious as to why he picked that aircraft to ask me to delete.

His reasoning was this: "There are aircraft in the USAF inventory that are very common and present in large numbers like the the F-15 and F-16 and there are aircraft that are more rare and in lower numbers like the KC-135 and the F-22 ... we don't want pictures taken on the these less common aircraft".

He also told me that I could not stay where I was (racetrack property) and that if I wanted to keep shooting I would need to continue down Las Vegas Blvd until I got past where the fences ended on the base side of the street.

I'm sure this guy would blow a gasket if he could see what happens at LeBourget and Farnbourough ... they park KC-135s in the static display area and let you walk right up to them, touch them and take as many photos as you want from every conceivable angle ... even inside if you ask nicely.

So guys ... be careful. Every photo you have of a "less common" USAF planes is a violation of this guy's private little law. Start deleting those F-22 and KC-135 photos from you hard drives right away. I've got a photo of the YF-23 and they only built 2 of those ... I'll bet I'm in deep crap over that one.

April 25, 2008

Video from England

A great video from www.current.com