It is possible to take photos without having an agenda

Jan 28

Apparently taking photos of things like this draws attention.

I’m in two bigger photo challenges this year — both are weekly things.

So, each week, there’s a theme. You take the theme, interpret it and go out and take your photos. When done, post to the Flickr group.

Seems simple, right?

I’ve been a bit of a photographer my whole life. I started early and have kept it up throughout my days. I’ve often read stories about people being questioned or told they couldn’t take photos in a particular spot. Sometimes it seemed legit, others not so much. I think people see cameras and decide they need to be big and start questioning things.

In all my years, I don’t recall truly being questioned. Sure, somebody might ask me what I was up to, but I always made sure to ask about taking pictures where I wasn’t sure if it was allowed.

That all changed Sunday.

One of the themes this week was “close up.” Being I don’t have a macro lens, I was looking for different things to be able to get close up on and get a good shot. I settled on a local car wash. It’s one of two in town and this one has a really beat-up, old look to it. In fact, one of the two bays is blocked off and looks like it doesn’t work as the hose and all is gone.

Could this be the secret?

It’s a perfect place for photos, especially considering how frigid temperatures have been. Ice builds up and it looks quite interesting.

Being it was cold, I wasn’t going to be there long. So I started with the blocked-off bay (there was only a barrel on one side), then went to the active bay.

Midway through, a pickup truck pulls up. But not that close. Maybe 150 feet away or so? The guy rolls down his window and when he knew he somewhat had my attention, it started.

Him: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Taking photos.”

Him: “For what?”

Me: “No particular reason. Just taking photos.”

Him: “Of what?”

Me: “The ice formations.”

Him: “Oh. What for?”

Me: “Just to take photos.”

There are great photo opportunities everywhere, just sometimes people feel the need to question you.

Him: “Oh. Well be careful.”

Me: “I’m watching my footing” (There’s ice all over the ground)

Him: “So why are you taking these photos?”

Me: “Just for the photos.”

At that point, I thought that was it. The truck started to move, then stopped. Now I was annoyed. He was kind of staring at me. I don’t know if he owned the place, worked nearby or was just nosy. But he didn’t identify himself.

So, I peeked back over. The questions started again.

Him: “Who are you take the photos for?”

Me: “Myself.”

Him: “Do you work for a newspaper?”

Me: “No.”

I think there may be been one more quick exchange before he finally left. First, if I worked for a newspaper, I probably wouldn’t be taking photos of that car wash. But that’s just me.

Look, if he owned the joint and wanted to make sure I wasn’t up to something bad, that’s fine. But identify yourself. And heck, if that’s the fact, I may have offered to send a photo if he wanted it. Heck, if you didn’t want me there, let me know and I’d leave.

But that was one of the most bizarre thing I’ve ever had happen. It’s not like I was taking photos inside a top-secret bunker or anything. It’s a freakin’ car wash!

Anybody else have any interesting stories involving being questioned when taking photos?

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!


  1. PJ, people are paranoid about people taking photos. I’ve photographed some local homes (Victorians) and had the owner come out and question me about it. (I gather they didn’t want someone to be casing their places for a robbery or something.) I do understand that we are in an age where one has to be more careful. Maybe you were a competitor looking to steal trade secrets. Maybe you were a terrorist figuring out how to blow up the place. I don’t know. I think I would wonder too why somebody was taking photos of an ugly car wash. But that’s just me.
    Linda Medrano recently posted..I’m A Gucci Girl In A Payless WorldMy Profile

    • I can see being paranoid in some situations. Even the home situation, as I likely would have done the same. But a car wash? If he thought I was doing something wrong, he should have come over and asked. The way he did it was just the sign of somebody being nosy, especially if one doesn’t identify themselves.

  2. I was taking some shots of some kind of factory in the central valley of California two years ago. I got questioned by the security guard because I’d walked onto their property accidentally. They said I could take photos – nothing they could do about that anyway since the law is on my side in that regard. So I walked across the street into a vacant lot and took a couple more shots. When I pulled my camera down the security guard was back at me telling me I couldn’t take photos there since the factory owned that lot too. OK. Fine.

    I do know that if you’re on private property and they ask you to stop, you should stop, but if you’re on public property and it can be viewed from public property, they can tell you to stop, but you don’t have to stop. Legally, you can take the photo.

    So something like what you described, if he had been the owner and had told you to stop, you should have, but you weren’t so no problem. I think you’re more right in assuming the guy just wanted to show that he was watching out for the place, whoever he was.
    Paul Myers recently posted..Flashback FridayMy Profile

    • That is just bizarre. Was there a public sidewalk? If you stood there, they can’t do anything. So crazy.

      In this situation, if he was the owner and said leave, I would have. No problems. Heck, as I mentioned above, if he was the owner and was interested in the images, I probably would have sent him one or two. But to grill me? Identify yourself or move along.

  3. Jim Carleton /

    I’ve had a couple of similar encounters while taking photos. A year or two ago, I was taking a photo of the main entrance to the military base in Port Hueneme. I was standing on the public sidewalk. Now, I did make a point to approach the guard shack at the fence gate to tell them my purpose, and was told that I was OK. While taking my shots, however, another person (not the one I had talked to) came over from inside the base and asked what I was doing. The only thing about the encounter that was off-putting was the manner in which this guy asked his questions. He was half my age, and having already told him and the first guy that I was there to assist with a veteran’s project, I expected a little less “military attitude” from him. But some people you can cannot satisfy no matter what you say or do, so after he left (he had no legal grounds to stop me), I shrugged, finished up my photo-taking, thanked the first guy and left.

    As for Linda’s point, I try very hard, when taking photos that have things like addresses or other identifying information, to blur it out if it is posted anywhere for public consumption.

    Most of the time, though, the questions I get asked as to “What are you doing?” get the straight-forward answer: I was driving by and saw this interesting whatever, and wanted to take a picture of it. And the response usually is, “Oh. OK.” and sometimes the added comment, “Yeah, that *is* interesting: never really noticed it before.” Had some nice chats with people about local things to see. Most of the time, all they want to know is that I’m not up to no good.

    • Your situation seems like a spot where somebody just wanted to act tough and show his power. I think we’ve all, unfortunately, experiences that.

      And I agree — give an honest, straight-forward answer. That’s what I did, but apparently this person wanted to keep grilling me. That was the frustrating part of situation.

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