Cutting Through The Red Tape


As stock photographers, it’s rare that we can get our pictures without first having to get permission from someone. Security is getting tighter and tighter in many sectors, and it’s sometimes understandable that because of past abuses — or the increase in population — it’s necessary to screen who takes pictures of what. You’ll encounter officials in many forms: gate keepers, receptionists, policemen, bureaucrats, teachers, secretaries, security guards. You’ll even encounter unofficial officials: janitors, ticket takers, bystanders, relatives of officials, etc. But no matter who presents her/himself as an ‘official’ (barrier) to your picture-taking, handle them with care and allot an amount of time that you sense will appease their “need” to detain you.

One of the easiest officials-eliminators is the “I need your help” statement. In the case of the football gate attendant, you say, “Could you help me? I need to get a picture of the kick-off (you look at your watch) for _______ (your assignment or name of publication) — could you tell me the quickest way to the 50-yard line?”

If an official wants to know something about you — why you’re here, what the pictures will be used for [incidentally – here’s the answer for that one: “I represent the John Doe Stock Photo Agency — and I’m John Doe — these pictures go into my on-line gallery of over 3,000 stock photos — they’re used in magazines, books, posters, calendars, textbooks, you name it! “-(smile)] — explain everything to the official, the same as you would to the corporation executive you might be planning to photograph. Often, secretaries will know more about the schedule, commitments, etc. of the boss, than he or she does. Also, it’s wise to cultivate officials who could have access to information helpful to your picture-taking assignment.

When you encounter an official who isn’t cooperative — try offering to give him/her a copy of the picture you’re going to take. But don’t take his/her name on a piece of paper. Such papers either get lost or add to your office work. Instead, offer him your business card and say, “Here’s my address. Write or e-mail me in about two weeks – the picture will be processed by then.” Experience predicts you’ll never hear from him/her.


Should you carry a press card? For large, important events, written permission from headquarters is your best introduction to onsite officials (headquarters usually issues its own press cards, letters of introduction, tags, stickers, etc.). But for the 999 other events you’ll attend, officials don’t ask for a press card — if you’re carrying two or more cameras (around your neck), that’s official enough for them. If you don’t have extra cameras, buy a couple professional-looking (inoperative) ones at a flea market. They’ll be your passport to most any public event you want to photograph.

So if in the past you’ve found “officials” to be resistant — try the “handle-with-care” method. However, there’s an exception: If an official demands: “Wait over there; fill out this form; stand in line; I’ll put you on ‘hold’; I have to check with my boss first;” — then take a different approach: try a different official. In the case of the football gate attendant — if he were uncooperative — walk away, find another gate. In the case of an uncooperative receptionist — wait ’til she goes on coffee break, or lunch. The replacement might be more cooperative ( or you might figure out a better approach). If you carry a cell phone, get the name and number of the CEO. Generally you can get instant permission if your assignment is for a publication that has widespread influence in his/her trade area.