Social media and photography: how to get it wrong

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It never fails to surprise me at the – let’s be blunt – stupidity of some companies in the age of social media. Let’s say you operate a number of malls in the centre of a large city, in prominent locations with moderately interesting facades. Your objective as a mall operator is obviously to increase traffic through your property so that you can increase rental to your tenants and your own underlying return on capital. You want to encourage people to visit and spend money in every way possible. More than a few studies have shown that people who are happy are more likely to spend money than people who are not. Similarly, people are more likely to spend money in a popular environment than one that is not – part of that is herd mentality, part of that is fear of missing out. You spend money on advertising, promotion and the like. You sponsor photo competitions and go out of your way to be seen as a ‘patron of the arts’. Yet why do you program your guards to a) prevent people from taking photographs anywhere near your property when the subject isn’t even your property but the opposite direction; b) be rude about it, and c) act over real estate and public thoroughfares over which they have no jurisdiction?

After a number of comments and emails in which the issue seems to be confused, so let me clarify this upfront (as I have been doing in the comments): property owners have the full right to prevent photography on and inside private property. They DO NOT have the right to prevent photography on public thoroughfares and land that surround their property (i.e. roads). The problem here is policing of public property as though it is their own, and NOT prevention of photography on their own property.

Yet this is precisely what a large conglomerate and mall operator in Kuala Lumpur is doing. They own the mall pictured in the background above, amongst others, including a green one further up the same road. I have been stopped by their guards from taking photographs in the immediate vicinity and even on the public pavement and in front of other properties not belonging to them on virtually every occasion I walk past holding a camera, even if I have no intention of shooting anything. I suppose at least they’re not being racist – I’ve seen it happen to other locals, other tourists, and I’ve had both visiting friends and noted other local photographers complain to me alike.

The same group also sponsors photography competitions – ironically including along a street theme – which is presumably to extract whatever social media mileage they can manage. And of course the contest rules state that all entrants grant an irrevocable and perpetual license for use of the images entered to the sponsor. What I don’t understand is how exactly they are going to benefit from images shot elsewhere in the city not featuring their properties – since their own guards prevent you from photographing them. This isn’t just hypocrisy, it’s also plain stupidity.

Although it is entirely within the property owners’ rights to prevent photography of their buildings whilst on their premises, they have no right to do so if you are on a public thoroughfare. Yet their rentacops still do this, and have done so for years. I have written to several people in the company including the chairman – I know they got the emails, because nothing bounced – and if anything, security has gotten even tighter.

The sole upshot is that people get mad, and if your potential customers are in a bad mood, they’ll go elsewhere to shop – the only loser in the end is you. It’s particularly surprising in Asia since selfies and reblogging/sharing/posting/instagramming every single moment of one’s day (‘look at this crap on the bottom of my shoe!’) seems to be a cultural obsession, to the point that it’s just as common to find an entire table at a restaurant photographing everything as eating it, and should I care to, I could probably perform a complete nutritional analysis on most of my friends without having to interview them.

A smart operator, on the other hand, would be doing everything they can to encourage photography and social media sharing. I’d even light the damn thing in such a way to make it more interesting and more photographable. This allows you to control your image in a much more effective way than banning photography outright and only using your own (limited, and infrequently updated) internal material. I know theme parks like Disney and Universal Studios take this approach on purpose: it’s even better than advertising, because it’s both free and credible – you’re far more likely to go to a store recommended by a friend than one that’s pushed down your throat by some rather mediocre ad campaigns.

This works at every level, from building owner to individual F&B outlet or store outlet operator. The chains and large corporations are still mostly obsessed with holding on to the same staid, controlled image decided by management – and wonder why they are losing customers. They are artificially limiting their own customers to their own imagination of what a customer should be, and as a result losing out – sometimes badly, if the gap between the demographic profile of management and customer is too different. Ironically, these are usually the same companies that do everything in their power to squeeze creatives to the bone when they hire them – and usually for the same sort of campaigns and results they may well have gotten for free with a bit of magnanimity and common sense. Contrary to popular belief, quite a lot of amateur photographers are pretty good – better than cut price jaded pros, for sure – and a lot of them also have friends.

Surprisingly, I’ve noticed that small owner-operated businesses tend to get it the most right, probably because they have no choice. If you are running a business on a budget, you are probably going to exhaust all free means of promotion before spending money; I know I would. Once you start placing ads, you’re competing for the same finite attention span of audience as enterprises with larger budgets. So it’s no surprise that most successful small businesses tend to have built a cult following through social media – instagram, Facebook, etc. On the other hand, there are also individual ‘photographers’ and bloggers getting it very wrong: abusing social media to bash others (I suppose your perceived ‘competition’) is really quite pathetic and admitting that you are jealous but not good enough to compete any other way. There are two people in particular whom I know read my site because there’s always some extremely personal counterattack on their own sites that comes immediately after I post something – it’s a real shame, because they’d almost certainly enjoy the success they so badly crave if that effort was put into something productive instead. There’s plenty of room in the market for everybody serious to find their own niche – we’ve seen plenty of examples of people who’ve managed to do just that in a non-cannabilistic way.

It may well just be happening in Malaysia or Asia and only with larger and more traditional companies – or it may just be an attitude problem with this one operator who believes they must control everything, even if it means being left wondering why they are not achieving the outcomes (traffic) they desire. I highly doubt anybody related to the company I’m referring to is going to read this post, but I know that amongst the audience there are a) business owners; b) people with common sense and c) people who want to grow said businesses. For the rest of us here – I choose to vote with my feet. I try very hard not to spend anything in those malls (unless there is no choice) on a matter of principle: why should I encourage this kind of behaviour with money I have to earn the hard way? I encourage you to do the same: support (or not) businesses with what matters, i.e. your wallet. MT


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  1. Worldwide problem, extending to alleged I ssues of personal privacy, where many of the same legal principles apply in most countries. I believe photographers and those representing them have not been sufficiently vocal.

  2. since you are an artist: what do you think about an art-project together with other kl photgraphers. “untaken pictures of kl” where the void -places where you can’t take pictures- is the main subject (no idea how to do this). make it an public exhibition, get the press involed, cover it in social media. but do consider that it will draw attention to you.

  3. Hi,
    I was at Cherry Creek Mall in Denver yesterday and taking some photos. A security guard came and told me that I needed permission. She was courteous and merely gave me a Mall rules card and pointed to a number to call for written permission for photography. So, not just in Malaysia!.

    • If you were photographing inside the mall, that’s understandable – we have no rights on private property. But if on the street in front, that’s a different matter entirely – and the problem here…

  4. John Brady says:

    I agree. If it’s a private space *within* a mall, then it’s their place and their rules apply. Outside though I think it’s a different matter – we should be able to shoot what we want in public spaces. DPReview took a break from their usual gear posts to run a campaign on this a year or so ago in the UK and managed to get the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to issue a clarification, although I’m not sure if it helped or not. Where I shoot in Scotland it’s pretty relaxed, and the only time I had issues (on a private development in the financial district in Edinburgh) the security guards were comfortable as long as I was taking general architectural shots rather than shots of individuals.

    • I think the standard of education of police in the UK is somewhat higher than security guards here. At least you can communicate (and presumably) reason with them…here we have no end of foreign labor guarding things or serving as low-skill manpower; it’s not the cost of labor that brings them in, it’s the current government’s need for more voters to stay in power…

  5. I find it ironic that often, security is more lax within the premises of many malls, where you can even carry around a large Pro DSLR and not get stopped, and as long as you appear to be doing “tourist-ey” things like taking pictures of the seasonal decorations, posed shots with family/friends, etc.

    • (edit) I also meant to add “despite the ‘no cameras’ signage in practically all of the malls”, but there isn’t any way to edit after posting.

  6. hi sifu,
    it’s indeed sad to hear that one of our finest photographers in the land is treated so badly on location, and a public one at at that. (some of your clients probably have a boutique or two within the premises too) i think the property across the road fares better? with your eyes, there are some nice set-ups to be had there too, surely :).
    regards, ken

    • I have no more special status or rights than any other photographer here, nor should I have. It’s not the property I’m interested in, it’s the street crossing…and apparently that is also under their purview.

      • hi sifu,
        i know you are not after special rights or privileges, just that if you were one of them sportsman (think badminton) bringing glory to the country, the situation would have been rather different. very dissimilar crafts, but the essence and qualities required to be the finest in the game is the same. somehow, photographers are the unsung lot :(.
        but i see you got some shots in somehow, the one you posted is nice :). write a personal email to francis yeoh, who knows, your fortune may be about to change. after all, it’s the new year of the monkey!
        regards, ken

  7. David Marriott says:

    Hi… The freedom of panorama page (you know that Wikipedia is 100% accurate) is interesting reading. Buildings can be deemed copyright in some countries if I read it correctly. Tour Eiffel may be out of copyright after 70 years but the hourly light show is not.
    Examples in Australia:
    1. I was taking ultra-long shots of buildings in Sydney with DLSR on tripod. Fine for many locations but at Australia Square a security guard was quite “assertive”. I moved from their steps (assumed private property) to the foot path and he still had a problem. I suggested across the street and he said he would still stop me. I moved away but sent the general manager of the property an email the next day requesting permission for non-commercial, from-the-footpath shots. He agreed, apologised for his guard’s enthusiasm mentioning security issues.
    2. Ken Duncan is a very well known landscape photographer who was stopped at Barangaroo (new foreshore area in Sydney).. Even the state premier backed him up after media coverage. At least there was a public outcry about the ridiculousness of the situation.
    3. The Queen Victoria Building is a well photographed building in Sydney. The guards are cool with all photos but don’t allow tripods to be used with the private space. This is fine and reasonable.
    4. By far the most reasonable policy even for commercial wedding photographers on the premises is the Sydney Opera House… One is the most photographed places in the world. I wish that that all building could be like this.

    • Thanks for these, David – common sense appears to be uncommon, sadly! SOH’s policy is about as good as I’ve ever seen – both detailed, clear, and reasonable. If only it were a standard…

      Posts are only held if it’s your first time commenting. Thereafter, not. 🙂

  8. It’s pretty clear what’s going on here is another manifestation of the death of the commons. Everything MUST be privatized, owned by a privileged few to be rented back to us piecemeal, with the highest return for “shareholders” trumping all other social values. The now inevitable confrontations with rent-a-cops are not only stressful but they just kill the creative spirit of the moment for me. On the other end of the spectrum I’ve run into backwoods paranoia of the most dangerous kind photographing bike races in the middle of nowhere. It’s ironic that in a time defined by the proliferation of imagery so many kinds of photography (and photographers) are are in effect being censored. Sad.

  9. a well written article on a an important subject. i do not know the laws in kl, but is there a way to sue them – or threatening to do so – for unlawful assumption of public authority?
    your denial of civil rights on public ground is something only an authority like the police or a judge is allowed to do – in europe. as einstein said: two things are infinite. the universe and the stupidity of men.

    • Theoretically yes, but impossible to win when the guards can disappear like smoke (no proof) and the property owners have more expensive lawyers than you. We are also not exactly known for having an objective judicial system…our PM was recently on the block for a huge amount of graft, so he replaced the Attorney General – who cleared him. That is the kind of legal precedent set in Malaysia…

  10. That trend was becoming common here in LA also but it seems like business has capitulated to the benefits of social media. Just over a year ago, a fancy new restaurant in town here banned photography of any kind and also use of a cell phone. They wanted to make it all about the food. They didn’t want people staying so long at a table, shooting food, tagging it and taking selfies.

    Fast forward to now and the restaurant business is slowing. The policy has been completely reversed and they’re now promotion use of cameras and social media. Additionally, I heard a stat from 10 famous chefs at their signature restaurants saying that they are not going to police the use of cell phones and if customers are excited enough to share pictures of food, well so be it.

    I don’t like loud talkers and cell phone use at dinner but it seems that the bus has now left the station. I’m sure this trend may also get to KL soon!

    • Everybody photographs everything with their phones for social media before eating it here. It’s normal. I can’t stand it, because you land up getting a substandard image and a substandard cold dinner, but hey…each to their own.

      I can understand restriction of photography in private property. Not on the street outside, and that is the real problem here.

  11. Curtis Mack Polk says:

    It’s not just an asian thing. I was challenged by a deputy sheriff while photographing off the Texas Highway 146 bridge years ago. She told me that the TSA would not like it. I asked her if I were breaking any law, and she said no. As I left, she asked me why I did not park my car on the bridge. I told her that it was illegal and pointed to a sign saying so.
    I think the problem varies inversely with the power of the objector. When I was shooting video of Houston light rail train, the driver opened her window and asked me if I had a permit. As it turns out, you can shoot video (non-disruptively of course) in any public location in Houston without a permit.

    • Odd that she’d ask you to park on the bridge but not photograph it, despite one being legal and the other not. As usual: know your rights. I suspect ‘because the sheriff said so’ might not be a very strong defence if it came to it… 🙂

  12. This thing with the guards trying to force you to do (or not to do) things on non-private ground is a really strange if not frightening imagination for me. Especially if they are not belonging to any governmental or military facility.

    I’m pretty shure that legally we could use the term coercion here which in Germany would make this a possible reason to call the police or a lawyer. Don’t get me wrong, I personally most likely wouldn’t do it because simply walking away is much less stress. But on the other hand, if the confrontation tends to get physical …

    • The thing is, I don’t even know if the police would do anything (or be confident enough in their knowledge of the law to pick a side – remember, there’s a lot of politics involved with property ownership which frequently crosses over to the civil service, too). I’ve been in this situation with another photographer friend who IS a lawyer, and no arguments were able to persuade the guards otherwise – even though said lawyer clearly agreed with me they have no basis for their actions and photography is legal.

      We are stuck in a strange middle ground where it probably isn’t worth the confrontation – it isn’t that nice a location, but sometimes yields an image or two – but what it represents is more troubling.

  13. Maybe, just maybe, the big boss of that mall and his big boss friends do not want anybody by any chance to post pictures of them when they go about shopping with their mistresses. Might end up very expensive when the missus gets evidence. Wouldn’t that be a good reason to ban photography not only in their mall but around it when the mistresses step into the limos with their big boss friends?

    • How would you hide it from their retinue, security cameras, store staff, gossip girls, etc?

      • Of course the store staff know about it. They are not stupid. Maybe they have been banned from using cameras as well. The security cameras are owned and controlled by the same big boss. And it is not about the gossip. It is about hard evidence posted around the net that many people will see and share. I am sure all or most of the actual, first wives would know about it as well. They just don’t want the ‘secret’ to be continuously shown so that new explanations need to be given at every social function. It is a different world. My point is that you are trying to use your own logic, but maybe there is another logic behind. Just like the restaurant that someone mentioned. There is a logic to focus on the food. Too bad that the customers don’t think the same way and don’t want that, so they stop coming. When the owner realized that, he changed the rule. At least he was not stubborn like some people are. The problem here may be that a few photographers who don’t come to this mall must be spending a lot less than the high rollers for their girlfriends.

  14. This slowly rises the questions, if there might not be a better place to live for you? (civil rights, glass cielings, personal freedom)
    Switzerland is growing every year by 1% of its population due to 80’000 immigrants/year only! Maybe all the photographers come here? (yoke)
    Here the rules for photgraphy (to my knowledge) are very liberal. And we have direct democracy to assure it stays that way.
    You would certainly be welcome here and find 5 job offers within one day! (no yoke)

    • Lorenz, trust me, we’ve thought about migration more than once. Beyond a complete lack of value for creative work, the current state of government and economy is a strong motivator, too. But it just isn’t practical for family reasons… 😦

  15. Leonard Hobbs says:

    Hi Ming,

    Excellent and timely article. My last experience was being challenged by a rent-a-cop at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. I believe you may have visited this complex or the surrounding area on your last trip to SF. For your readers who may not be familiar with the Embarcadero Center basically 4 blocks of identical office towers with shopping and restaurants on the ground and mezzanine floors. This is not an enclosed complex, no doors, entrances to the public areas from all sides on each block. I was there in the late evening, storee and restaurants closed, for the sole purpose of photographing the historical Ferry Building from Embarcadero 4 Mezzanine Level. This provided me with a direct shot of the Ferry Building and Clock Tower. I had a monopod and I think at the time a D3s. I was approached by a security/rent-a-cop who told me photography was not allowed and to move on. Not being known for my humility and being an arrogant San Franciscan I challenged him as to the reason whereupon he mumbled something about being policy. I pointed out to him the two tourists behind wondering the open areas with their point and shoots and asked him why I was being singled out, he hand no answer. Basically told him I was not going anywhere, asked him for his name and contact information for the complex management person, and turned around and took a couple of shots. He threatened to call SF Police and I just told him to go for it. Of course SFPD never arrived and I wondered down to the ground level water falls. I emailed the complex management but never received a response. I am not certain to this day if there is actually a policy or the policy of a bored rent-a-cop. Perhaps the monopod and DSLR but I was not photographing the complex and even if I was so what – its basically open speace and public, there are several sculptures throughout the complex that would be worthy subjects to photograph. I suspect the rationale for much of the restrictions on photography are the result of terrorist and other home grown incidents around the world driven by government agencies or in-house private security firms being overly cautious and zealous with a little cover your *** (CYA) thrown in. What terrorist or others wanting to do harm are to going set up a tripod and D3s in a mall or public transport area to take photographs when one could simple us an IPhone 6s Plus with image stabilization or use a host of readily available concealable cameras. Several years ago the Port Authority of New York Police were prohibiting and challenging people photographing the NY Subway. How many millions of photographs have been taken of the NY subway system in the last 50 to 80 years. Hundreds of photo books of the subway system have been authored. I have visited the NY Transit Museum and you can view blueprints of the system for crying out loud. I could go on and on. Perhaps the solution in part is to walk around with a nice point and shoot (perhaps the Q), where a t-shirt or something that screams tourist, look like your lost, stare in awe at the sights, carry a local tourist map or Lonely Planet book and carry on.

    • I think you’re in a grey area with the Embarcadero. The whole complex looked to me like private property, and legitimately, they probably could enforce it – but as you point out, it would have to be done consistently to have any meaning. The problem we have here is when similar guards try to enforce those rules in areas clearly outside their property – and cannot be reasoned with.

  16. My sympathies, Ming. It is becoming a worldwide problem. Now that I’ve switched to small Fujis, especially the X-E2, I draw virtually no attention. We have the same problem here in the U.S. Some places actually do post a sign stating, “No Photography”. Perhaps now that seemingly everyone in the world has a DSLR, they don’t want shoppers bothered by the photographer? I don’t know. I do know that we have terribly overreacted to the terrorism threat connection with photography. You can bet the Paris attackers did not snap photos before they acted.

  17. An interesting insight and subject so forgive me if there are any gaps in my memory so in almost all countries architecture, and other artworks are protected by copyright for a specified period. That means that any photograph taken of such a work during the copyright period is a derivative work. A derivative work usually requires a license from the creator of the work. However the so called freedom of panorama a phrase derived from the German term Panoramafreiheit, eliminates the need for a license. I must admit that I do not know how this topic is dealt in kuala Lumpur that’s why I like this article.

    So a photo of a building or even any scene in a city or a village inevitably depicts some pieces of architecture or even sculptures. The photo may or may not have its own creative element, making it a work of its own, but the value of this work clearly depends on the value in the works that are depicted on it. In case of such a dependency the photograph is deemed to be a derivative work?

    But as I can remember the restriction on architecture photography is often weakened by a separate clause for photographs or pictures of buildings in public places… so the only solution is that you make unrecognizable the building… then you are legally allowed to shoot?

    Thanks for making me review these topics it is always important 😀

    • It’s overruled by the ‘lack of expectation of privacy’ laws in public places – architecture (here) at least is NOT counted as art, and the derivative work laws are hazy at best.

      Bottom line though is the street and surrounding cityscape in front of the mall (not the mall itself) are public property and not under the auspices of the property owners or their security.

      • What will be next… natural parks, cars, brands will every kind of work state to be protected by some law. Sincerely since the Copyright issues with the Monkey selfies from British nature photographer David Slater… 5-6 years in the courts and the result remains questionable… I do not know what we can expect from all this. Best regards 😀

  18. Martin Fritter says:

    The utter absurdity of all this is that, at least here in the States, we have Google driving trucks around and taking pictures of everything and posting it. Via their MAPS app, you can of course zoom down from space. I can see my car, from space! Not in real time, of course. Curious about the penetration of this aspect of the Google panopticon in other countries.


    • Google has got the UK mapped as well. Of course, size matters here. If these conglomerates want to take legal action against google, they’ll no doubt find google has more muscle/clout than we mere mortals and they would most likely come off second best. Google could probably withdraw their advertising if push came to shove or remove them from searches.

      However, do a google search on some of these proscribed areas in London and you will see images posted. So either some are being more reasonable in not being legally pedantic, or photographers are not using cameras that attract attention.

    • They’re here too, and nobody has protested yet.

  19. Well Ming, you lost me. You lost me, and now you are trotting away without me.

    You wrote an article that goes two scrolls deep about an idiotic law, and yet when someone proposes the solution – that you and a group of 20-50 photographers go to this location and peacefully protest and violate this law — well, suddenly you have “better things to do.”

    Why bother us with this, Ming? Seriously, If you can’t be bothered to get up off your fundament and actually DO something more than just writing a strongly worded *email*, then why do you even rant about it? What’s the point? You’re just wasting bandwidth. Property owners and local authorities love people like you. Your email didn’t bounce, so you know it was read. Really? I delete literally hundreds of emails every single day without reading them. I 100% promise you Ming, nobody read your email, and even if they did, all you accomplished was to make someone giggle at yet another pathetic, limp-wristed “protest letter”.

    Bottom line: This just isn’t that important to you. I mean honestly, it just isn’t. You don’t really care, and neither does anybody else. Those laws exist and property owners get away with this crap precisely because when the rubber hits the road, you suddenly “have better things to do.”

    And getting back to my original statement – and speaking of doing social media wrong – Today you lost me. You lost me as a blog reader, you lost me as an admirer of your work. And most importantly, in our greed oriented, consumer society at least – you lost me as a customer who might have dropped a couple hundo on some of your training videos.

    It’s a good thing you don’t mind any of this too much, because you’re going to get a lot more of it.

    • You miss the point and then you’re criticising me for explaining why it doesn’t make sense?

      The problem isn’t photographing THE MALL. That is private property and we do not have a leg to stand on to protest any prohibitions, and in fact WE would be in the wrong doing so.

      The problem is the mall guards policing public property that is not theirs. It makes no sense to photograph the mall since that is NOT THE PROBLEM. A flash mob isn’t going to educate a migrant worker guard who is barely literate. There is no point putting effort into something that obviously cannot succeed.

      “you lost me as a customer who might have dropped a couple hundo on some of your training videos.”
      “precisely because when the rubber hits the road, you suddenly “have better things to do.””

      I don’t think I lost anybody meaningful at all, then. As you point out, words and maybes count for nothing, right?

      • Jef in Dallas says:

        If a private security guard was violating my rights on tax paid public property I’d call the tax paid for public police to arrest them. An overzealous guard can accrue a number of felonies in short order. Unlawful detainment? Destruction of property? Assault? Go there again and take a few friends to document your treatment from a distance. Bad publicity and a lawsuit could end this once and for all.

        • We would too, except there’s no point in punishing a low level guard who’s just following orders – another will replace him. These particular owner-tycoons are far too deeply embedded in the corrupt politics of this country for us to make a dent, sadly. We would probably land up bankrupt from the legal fees at best.

  20. It’s the same thing here in Canada. If I buy or sell used camera gear I have to meet somewhere other than a mall because you cannot try out the camera or lens there. You cannot take a photo of a storefront in a mall but you can on the street, what is the difference? How can they stop all the younger people that are taking selfies with cell phones all the time?

    • They don’t, because they are obviously not terrorists…

      • Larry Kincaid says:

        Surely terrorists are smart enough to use phone cameras and take selfies along the way as well. Or save time, as someone pointed out, but searching the web for the photographs and live videos on YouTube that they need. Which may have touched on the real (as in new) problem. In the film days, most photographs didn’t go very far at all. Today, they can easily go all over the world. Can someone who sees their “unauthorized, but legal” image on the web, sue the shopping complex for allowing their photo to get on the web? If in doubt, don’t wait for the courts to decide; just ban the photographs. When I get irritated about similar “dumb” decisions, I can almost always imagine a plausible legal issue that’s behind it rather than say lack of common sense or even respect for customers.

        • Which is fair enough inside the mall. We photographers have no rights on private property, which we must also understand – and respect the rights of other members of the public in turn.

          The problem is on public property in front/outside: they have no rights to police, individuals appearing in public have no rights to privacy, and we photographers can’t use such images for commercial (i.e. promotion/associative) uses anyway – only personal, editorial and art. The law in that respect seems sensible: the enforcement of it is the problem here.

  21. kevin smith says:

    Ming, I think you need a vacation. Best regards, Kevin


  22. Here is a thought… How about you gather a nice group of 20 people and all head to this Mall and shoot it from the outside while everyone is nicely spaced out. Their guards will come out in panic and you can photograph that too. Then post it on social media. Grab some popcorn and watch the meltdown. Overzealous owners usually take this kind of bait and make it even worse for themselves, going down in flames.

    • I did think about that, but honestly, I (and the other people I would rope in) have better things to do – and it isn’t the mall we want to photograph, it’s the little square and street outside it…

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        If not a flash mob with handies pointed at their damm mall in real, how about a nice pict of the mall with photoshoped photographers of all kind and all ages ( seen of course from therir back) taking a picture of it and making it public with comment Starhill loves our customers taking a photo of our wonderfull place!!!
        p.s. I know you wouldn`t bother but maybe some friendly activist soul would.

      • Albert Silver says:

        You could of course play a prank. Composite a big scene of the mall with tons of people shooting with DSLRs, tripods, and umbrella lights, rentacops visible, and add a fake sign “Photography friendly” with some symbolic black silhouette of a camera. Maybe even add a fake cop smiling with a photographer shooting a self-portrait with tripod?

        Then broadcast it to all the sites, free. “Mall changes policy and invites photographers!”

        And yes, I have a hidden evil streak.

  23. This problem is becoming increasingly the case in the UK, especially in London, where not only the buildings are private property (nothing wrong with this) but the companies that own the buildings also own the land the building stands on, and the surrounding area as well. And it is this latter that is causing problems. In granting planning permission and the right to develop the land, the companies have to agree to allow access to the public, but this access is not a public right of way and it is this that is causing friction. Nothing has really changed to restrict the public from walking around the city, only that now they may well be, unknowingly, walking on private land and this gives over zealous companies and their security guards, especially, to act like the gestapo the moment one is seen using a camera. .We all know, dress a person in a uniform, especially one that attaches some authority, and the individual gets ideas above their station.

    But what I don’t understand is why the distinction in camera types? Why will a dslr be prohibited but users of small compacts, which are in the main, equally good at taking quality images, and in many cases can “out-zoom” a dslr, more often than not get away with it? And to use the terrorism argument, well, these guys aren’t exactly daft, are they? Knowing this, wouldn’t they simply “blend in” with the tourists, etc, and use a compact?

  24. An excellent and well thought out article. So true all around the world it would seem. As you said, a lot of companies don’t see the positive side of it and are missing out on free advertising. What are they hiding? Are they in some way ashamed of their shop front? Even though they spend a considerable amount of money on visual merchandising staff to create wonderful window displays.

    I’ve been stung myself by similar encounters with security, who have very little understanding of the actual law, along with the companies they’re working for.

    I think what they fail to understand is, although they may have created the company, spent time on ideas, drawn up business plans etc … If it wasn’t for the general public, their business would not exist. Without finacial input from people like myself and many others, they would have no profit and the business would eventually fail. So why can’t I take a photo of my favourite shop, building, structure or what ever it is; afterall I paid in to its upkeep.

    • The problem here if worse: we can’t even take a photograph on the street in front of your favourite shop even if your camera is pointing in the opposite direction!

      • It’s frustrating when all you want to do most of the time is record the world as you see it. That moment in time that may never come around again. Some make a profit from it, but so they should, they see something that no one else does, or wait for the moment, sacrificing time in their life to bring some kind of inspiration or joy to others.

        What twists the knife even more, is security ignoring people with mobile phones, who happily snap away without any hassle, but as soon as you produce an SLR or something similar, you’re a target. You must be out to make profit from the poor unsuspecting business or worse these days, a terrorist checking out the building for an attack. As if any self-respecting terrorist is going to make themselves so obvious as to pull out a DLSR; they’re going to be the quiet person walking past secretly snapping photos with their mobile phone. Sorry, bit off track there lol.

        I’d love one day to get together a hundred or so photographers and turn up to a place and photograph the hell out of it, just to see what security would do. You know like you get the flash mobs that suddenly burst in to some kind of dance routine in the middle of a busy train station.

  25. Try so-called “public spaces” in London! e.g. King’s Place, Canary Wharf, Westfield Centres. So many are now under the control of alleged security guards that it is past a joke. We now have a campaign PHNAT (I’m a Photographer, not a Terrorist.) and it mounted a City Hall flash mob of photographers with tripods and well-known speakers the other day. (Not I’m sure that it did any real good).

    • Actually, I’ve never been stopped in tourist areas in London – Trafalgar Square etc. are genuinely public spaces. Canary Wharf and Westfield are not; the owners do actually have a right to stop you because it is technically private property.

      • In the country I live ( Danmark), if the propriety is not marked as private with no entry sign, nobody have right to prevent you from taking pictures unless you deliberately target people from this propriety.

        • ah yeah: Scandinavia, a place where the sense of freedom and liberty is highly respected, more than other places I have experienced.

          • Unfortunately, to a native English speaker, what you have posted could be perceived as being pejorative or laudatory. It arises from the use of “ah yeah” and depending upon the context in which it is used can have opposite meanings to that which was said or intended. You may have intended your comment to be supportive of the Swedish system, i.e laudatory, but equally “ah yeah” being slang, could render what follows to be sarcastic and you are contemptuous of the Swedish model as the Swedes would like it presented. Unfortunately, it is the manner in which it is said that gives the clue away. This is not apparent in the written form.

            • gnarlydognews says:

              fair comment Terry. My intention was indeed to be supportive as having spend 3 summers in Sweden I feel that the Swedes do enjoy a higher degree of freedom than people in other countries I have lived in. Of course one could interpret my comment the other way and the case with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is springing to mind, but let’s avoid politics.

        • Brazil is also very relaxed. In Rio I even post pictures of police who are smiling at me and petting my dog. And yes, shooting with a DSLR.

      • Most of London is enormously photographer friendly. The two places that are a pain are Canary Wharf and next to City Hall, both of which are private estates. I do have an issue with that to the extent they include the external thoroughfares in their policies in each case, though I have no issue with them banning photography inside buildings.

  26. I am a non-confrontational person ordinarily, but when people have told me not to take photos in public spaces I just keep doing it. I have had a few arguments break out this way, but they have no right to tell me to stop, especially if I am not photographing them. I had one guy put his hand over my camera and I told him I was going to call the police. He cussed me out but went away.

    • If you’re on private property, they do have a right to stop you – but if you’re on a public thoroughfare, they don’t. We need to be 100% sure of our rights too – be aware this may change with country.

      • Quite right, Ming. In the UK we’ve had a fairly relaxed attitude to taking photographs in public spaces. The law was fairly well understood, if only by accident to most of us, we could photograph anything and everything as long as we were in a public place and no one could legally tell us to stop. We were not allowed, though, to photograph INTO a house as this was an invasion of privacy. Even if the subject was walking in the street we could legally take that person’s photo. However, in this latter instance, if the individual was the subject of the photograph, it would only be common courtesy to ask first. Going about it this way, I never had any objections raised. In fact, most people seemed to be pleased that they were found to be photo-worthy. This was all years ago when there was a more relaxed attitude to film photographers in public places.

        Today, though, with the internet and the ease with which photos can be transmitted from person to person and even around the world and end up on hard drives of people that don’t even know the subjects, or they may appear on blogs, there has developed a certain reticence to be photographed. It is sad, but the world is not the place we once thought it was. It is less secure and innocent civilians are being killed by terrorists. This is not about being PC, it is fact. In this age of world-wide terrorism, what we would have once taken as an innocent pastime, is now viewed completely differently. And this is why we read of instances such as that reported in Vancouver. But, there again, read the following comments to that post for the wider public’s view.

        • In fairness, things have actually got better in the last 10 years. In 2005 a camera made you a terrorist. The big change was when the home office issued guidance to the police not to harass photographers. Now I often get police to pose for portraits

          • I think they realised they were really hurting the tourist economy. Funny (or not) how money changes everything…

          • I agree, but my comments were really harking back to a time before the police started to behave towards photographers in the way they did in the wake of increasing terrorism, or fear of it. Early responses were over-reactive, and I read of occasions when they tried to confiscate the film or force photographers to open the backs of their cameras so as to fog it. In most of these reported cases, the police were exceeding their powers and this was certainly instrumental in certain quarters leading to the public’s loss of faith and trust in and for the police. And this was despite such stories being nominal in number, but were widely reported, so the situation was far less grave than one would have assumed by the news reports.

            From a UK perspective, this was important because we look to our police to uphold the law, not flout it or act in disregard of it.

  27. Really? I’ll make a point to go there and try just to see what happens. Will report back, Ming.

  28. What I don’t understand, is why they even care if you take some pictures of their building. What harm can it possibly do?

    • But they could charge you money for it!

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        Now I understand why your preferred way of shooting modern architecture is a juxtaposition of different buildings. This way you minimize risk of being harassed by assholes of the greedy owners. As an architect and avid photographer it was natural to combine both in the past. What a pity that money greed prevail over the pride over building something for the world to admire. Alone that proves the total lack of style, image and brand they strive to impose on public.

    • Harry, for what it’s worth, my opinion is that in some respects the terrorists have won. We are now so afraid of what they might do (but most regrettably, have done in various cities and towns around the world) that the authorities over-react and this has made the general public afraid. It has been a general wake-up call that the world isn’t always a very nice place, and certainly not the sunny world we inhabited as children. Interestingly, with the atrocities to date, of how many of them, I wonder, could it be said that photography played a part?

  29. Remember, they’re always taking your picture if you’re in or around their property with their endless CCTV cameras.

  30. Once I wanted to go shopping with my family, both small (µ43rds) cameras very packed in my backpack, and invisible. Still security asked me to lock my backpack into one of their (paid-for, with token) compartments. I told them that I have 2 cameras inside, and there was no way I would lock that into one of their boxes, but they insisted. So I turned around on the spot, and left their premises. Hope the owners even saw it.

  31. richard majchrzak says:

    enjoyed this mail.similar happens in Australia: NO photos! Again: what’s the problem?

    • I can understand and respect the right to enforce inside a mall. But it does not extend to the surrounding public property, and that’s the core of the problem.

  32. I photograph and SHOP elsewhere.
    I don’t have time to be the object of such bullying behaviour.
    Once I was told, “Terrorists take pictures you know”. To which my answer, “Yes, and they eat, sleep and go to the toilet, you point being?”
    So I walk away now.

    • But what is the solution when their enforcement extends to public thoroughfares they do not own or control? And terrorists are hardly going to bother with the hardware we carry.

    • Why would a terrorist need or use a DSLR?… Wouldn’t they be the ones most likely to be using a smartphone?

      • It’s funny because EVERYBODY you speak to about this would agree with you – yet the rules perversely seem to encourage smartphone use and selfies and all that kind of stuff, but DSLR users are suddenly terrorists. Hmmm…this must be an example of decision by committee resulting in some serious averaging down.

        • Ah, Ming, the authorities are not so daft after all. Well, they are really, but…..

          “..the rules perversely seem to encourage smartphone use and selfies..” By this means (selfies) could they not thereby be encouraging terrorists to take images of themselves for later ID, which evidence wouldn’t exist if it had been taken with a conventional style of camera, dslr or compact. Ooops, I’ve just let the rabbit out of the hat. Let’s hope potential terrorists aren’t reading your blog!

    • I remember having this conversation with a security guard at a railway station in the UK. He looked like I had explained general relativity to him when I pointed out a terrorist surveilling a target for an attack would hardly use a large and obvious DSLR for that purpose. It also amused me greatly to show him the section of his employers website where it noted photography for personal use was permitted…

      • I’d have skipped the first bit and gone straight to the second. I assume you had no issues after that…

        • Actually I ended up in a debate about whether I must be taking photos professionally because I was using a DSLR. It took a question back to the security guy as to whether everyone he knows who uses a DSLR is a professional photographer to get him to back off. Really just needless and stupid harassment

  33. Here in the U.S., I tend to receive the same treatment. That is only when I have a DSLR. When I started to bring my M9, they seem not to mind. I believe the workers in malls here were given a memo about people carrying DSLR kind of camera.

    • “It may well just be happening in Malaysia or Asia and only with larger and more traditional companies …”
      unfortunately not. I did experience exactly the same no later than 2 weeks ago, taking out my (out)dated DSLR in France as well. Now that we are forced to open every bag to get “protected” against terrorist attacks I was told to put back my camera by a rather offensive guard. Using a 20MP compact was not an issue though… the same place has obviously facebook, instagram and other social media accounts.
      I read this is also happening in the US and Asia, so this seems to be the new norm…

    • The problem we’re having includes on the public pavement OUTSIDE the malls, too. Forget about inside – you’d probably be shot.

      • fortunately they were no weapons around here… I wonder if they also control passengers on the trains that are crossing this precise place just above the wlking path where I was controlled (thought you were referring to those shopping centers you can cross on helf private- half public walking streets).

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      Gee, how stupid they get. One could walk around with 100 MPIX PhaseOne industral concelled in handbag and photograph whole their shit if one wanted to do so.

  34. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Ming – in a past life I was a consultant to a VERY large property group in Australia, and I was appalled at their behaviour. Many property managers are pushing so hard for that “last dollar” that they completely lose sight of the REAL objective, which is to make more profits over time. And that “last dollar” is only one component of the “profit” equation.

    I read your comments and I am quite sure you are correct.

    A mall or shopping centre survives and prospers on “passing traffic” – pedestrian traffic, which starts window shopping and then converts to buying, and finally to regular patronage. The behaviour described in your article attacks that – grabs it by the throat, hurls it on the ground, and jumps on it.

    It’s sad – but it really comes down to good manners, and nobody is going to stick around to be insulted that way.

    • I look at the owners: they don’t care, their managers don’t care, their hired security don’t care, nobody gets educated, and in the end they wonder why there’s a reputation for being an ‘unfriendly’ mall – but beyond this, they have no right to enforce rules on property that is not theirs – i.e. public thoroughfares. However, you can’t reason with a foreign security guard who barely speaks any of the local languages…

  35. The photo is really well done. Nice !

  36. gnarlydognews says:

    one question: what camera are you trying to use when photographing said mall premises? “big” camera?
    Me too: if I show up with something bigger than a mobile phone people are up in arms, but for some reason a phone camera is totally OK.
    Ah, the ignorance of non “dedicated” photographers (coz anybody is a photographer these days…)

    • It’s happened with everything from a phone to mirrorless to a DSLR. Oddly when I used a Hasselblad V nobody said anything; they probably didn’t think it was a working camera. A 4×5″, hi-vis jacket and hard hat might be better still, as a piece of surveying equipment.

      • gnarlydognews says:

        OK 🙂
        now here is thought: some cameras can be used remotely with Wi-Fi connection while one can view what the camera can see on a mobile phone…. some street photographers “pretend” to be talking on the phone (speaker mode) but in reality be viewing the scene of their “casually” placed camera pointed in the desired direction. The image might not be 100% level but most people will not figure out that you are actually photographing.
        But I understand you point: you are not trying to figure out how to take an image where you are hassled, you are miffed about the hassling, right?

        • I’m miffed about the fact their rude, improperly trained foreign labor guards – who do not speak any of the local languages and therefore cannot be reasoned with – are stopping you from photographing outside their property whilst on public thoroughfares which they have no right to control. Inside, they’re the owner/boss/whatever, and we can choose to go elsewhere.

      • Brilliant! Bonus of license to haul around 30 lbs of rock-solid hi-viz tripod and to stand in the middle of traffic for all those perspectives you’ve been missing. I’ve been thinking of going the clown-suit route myself this year.

  37. Certainly an unfortunate and everyday occurrence in Manila whether in and around SM Mega Malls or even in the historical areas throughout Manila. You will be accosted by a rude Security Guard. I have been stopped while shooting from the sidewalk outside of SM Mega Mall on public property. Overzealous and misinformed Security Guards that have no business bothering anyone on public property. Is it a “Asian Thing?” Not being racist, but I once had the police called on me in front of Raffles in Singapore. They did not bother any of the Japanese tourist with nicer and more expensive equipment than mine. The police took me to meet with the manager of Raffles and I accused him of being racist against a Caucasian tourist.


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