How 9/11 Changed Photography

Photo of WTC site
9/11 transformed photographers into potential spies - By Andrea Booher

I remember exactly what I was doing and who told me about the planes hitting the towers.  I’d be willing to bet most of us remember what we were doing on that day 10 years ago.  Ironically, I was at a place where cameras weren’t allowed, so no one will get to see my shots of that day.

For photographers 9/11 changed the perception rather than the reality.  All of a sudden, someone taking pictures was suspicious behavior.  Security guards felt empowered to claim the sidewalks in front of their building, as if any public space was suddenly a terrorist target and photos were aiding the enemy.  We were no longer merely hobbyists or professionals pursuing our craft, we were potential spies.

Restrictions on photography started getting crazy as authorities at every level decided they had an obligation to do something to make themselves feel safer, even if that was something as useless as hassling photographers.  The world was paranoid on a massive scale and we were conveniently visible.

I was with a pool of photographers outside a court room one time shortly after the attack when one of several people complained to the police we were taking photos of the building.  The police, who knew us, patiently explained we were photographers and it was alright.  Not good enough for one older gentleman who continued to insist he should “check them out.”  Even though we were together in a group and all had press passes to work in that area.  Finally, the media rep from the city arrived and asked us to move out of the lobby to an area under the stairs, so we didn’t disturb people.  We were regulated to the status of trolls under the bridge, which I guess is better than spies.

Fortunately, in the last 10 years sanity has largely returned, although the sight of a camera still throws some low-level people with the IQ of a grapefruit into a security awareness tizzy.  It still can be problematic shooting at train stations and airports and the days of being able to camp at the end of the runway to shoot pictures of incoming planes are over in many places.  Some security guards are still trying to claim the sidewalk, but by and large, there are fewer people lunging at camera lenses.

Still, every so often I still hear a cop or security guard remind me that “everything changed after 9/11”.

Remember your legal rights as a photographer.

Do you have a post-9/11 photography paranoia story to share?  Had your camera equipment confiscated or had the police try to make you delete pictures?  Share it in the comments section.

Travel Photography

Our rented Harley Street Glide in front of the Grand Tetons.
Our rented Harley Street Glide in front of the Grand Tetons.

One of the primary reasons that people practice photography is to record their travel experiences. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities can be memorialized forever, which actually generates a form of anxiety within the photographer. “I’ll only be here for a brief time, how can I guarantee that my photos turn out well? What if my camera gets stolen, or what if my memory card gets lost or accidentally erased? What gear should I take with me to cover the range of circumstances that I might encounter?” This article is going to help you answer some of those questions and relieve some of that anxiety.

There are some tricks you can use that won’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get “the” shot, but will certainly improve your odds. First, don’t be afraid to use your camera’s automated settings – primarily “P” or “Program Mode”. This comes in especially handy if you are moving through various light levels and shooting various subject matter, moving from indoors to outdoors and back in again, if you’re in a vehicle, or if you simply don’t have the opportunity to slow down and determine the aperture and shutter speed that each shot would require. Just use a higher ISO, such as 800, which will accommodate any light level you might encounter. It won’t be a perfect ISO for every circumstance, but it won’t be too terribly high for outdoor shots, and will come in handy for dimmer lighting situations. Also, shoot in burst or continuous shooting mode. This will increase the likelihood that the shot you want is focussed and framed appropriately. Finally, shoot in RAW format so that you can improve sharpness, composition, white balance and exposure in post-processing should it be necessary. Recommended Cameras: Canon EOS 7D, Pentax K-5, Nikon D300S, Sony Alpha A580.

Next is to consider a lens that has all of the focal range and flexibility you may need for a multitude of situations, is light enough to carry around all day, and is fast enough to accommodate low light levels. Such a lens is tough to find, but you certainly don’t want to be lugging multiple lenses around, especially if you’re on foot! Choose a lens with image stabilization so that you are more successful getting hand-held shots (who wants to lug around a tripod or monopod all day?). Consider these recommended lenses: Sigma 18-250m f/3.5-6.3 (available for both Canon and Nikon), Canon EF 70-300mm DO IS USM (or the Nikon equivalent), Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS (or the Nikon equivalent).

In the spirit of keeping the weight down, consider leaving the battery grip at home and just carry a couple of spare batteries charged up and ready to go. Don’t skimp on the memory cards – put two or three 16 or 32 GB memory cards in your pocket. Some folks I know even leave off the lens hood and UV filter, trying to get the camera as light and manageable as possible. Don’t bother with an external flash unless you know you’re really going to need one. Really, the less obtrusive your camera appears, the less likely it is to draw the wrong kind of attention (like would-be thieves). Consider even getting a generic camera strap instead of the one that came with the camera, emblazoned with the brand and model.

Finally, consider traveling with your laptop and an external hard drive. Yes, this adds bulk to your traveling gear, but it also adds peace of mind. If you have the ability to off-load photos from the memory cards onto the computer hard drive or external drive, you can feel much more comfortable about the safety of the photos. It also helps to upload to photo sharing sites such as Flickr throughout your travels – dedicate an hour or so each night while hanging out in your hotel room to uploading your photos to a site, which will further protect them from loss.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you during your next trip. Happy travels!

Photo Credit: Tiffany Joyce

Photography Tips for a Road Trip

My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.
My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.

A road trip is an ideal way to actually travel the miles between Point A and Point B. You have the opportunity to see and experience so much more about the country you live in, and the world you live in, when you’re driving it and not flying over it.

By its very nature, a road trip provides ample opportunities for photography. Out-the-window shots can be tricky because you’re moving and thereby creating a difficult environment from which to get a clear photograph. My recommendation is to roll down the window so you remove the risk of glare, have the driver slow down as much as is possible under the circumstances, and use a very fast lens and/or shutter speed to “stop” the motion (alternatively, if you’re actually going for a sense of motion, use a slower shutter speed). Keep the camera’s strap around your neck if you have to lean out, and don’t point the lens directly into the wind to protect it from dust (and bugs!). Make sure your lens is affixed with a UV filter and hood, to provide further protection.

When pulling off to the side of the road to get a shot, make sure you choose a safe spot, without any blind corners or turn-offs. Get well off the road to put some distance between you and the passing traffic. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Ideally, use lookout points or rest areas, or other sites purposefully built to provide the opportunity to pull off the road. Never stop on a bridge or a road too narrow for two cars to pass, and always face in the direction the traffic is traveling.

Keep your gear handy, not packed in the trunk or in the back seat. Things come up on you, and pass you by, at great speed when travelling by car. Use a telephoto lens (with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction) to pull in subjects that the road doesn’t take you directly toward. Make sure the windows are up and the air vents are pointed away from you whenever you change lenses, to minimize the amount of dust that gets into the inner workings of your camera. Practice changing lenses inside a pillow case (or even an old-school black bag), which is an excellent way to keep dust out of the camera.

One trick I’ve used on road trips is to lay the tripod across the back seat of the car, legs extended and ready to go. That way all I had to do was hop out of the stopped car, grab the tripod, snap the camera in place, and shoot. If you happen to have a second camera body just leave it attached to the tripod. Lay the whole assembly on a blanket on the back seat, and keep another camera in your lap for hand-held shots.

Happy road-tripping!

Recommended cameras:
Nikon D3100
Canon Rebel T3i
Pentax K-r

Recommended lenses:
Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6
Tamoron 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Canon 135mm f/2.8

Photo credit: Tiffany Joyce