Make sure photographers don't steal planes!

Make sure photographers don't steal planes!

When I saw this poster yesterday via Carlos Miller on Photography is Not a Crime, I thought it might have been fake. Making photographers look like bad people is a bad idea. It will cause more people to be fearful and waste the time of law enforcement officials. Yes, if you see someone by an airport doing something suspicious, report it. Taking photos of aircraft is not suspicious.

Every time I fly I am constantly taking photos. I used to use an HD camcorder, but decided to stop and use a standard digital camera. There have been multiple times I have received odd looks for taking photos using the camcorder and I even had a run-in with the TSA.

If you are a photographer and “get caught,” it might be a good time to inform them of your hobby. Drewski2112 shared on about his run-ins with the law plane spotting in Seattle. He once had five cars pull up on him at the same time. Instead of getting angry, he calmly explained what he was doing, shared his passion and by the time they left, some were asking for his website address to take a look at his photos. I only hope I could keep that calm and collective if I had five cop cars on me due to being a perceived security risk.

Unfortunatly this poster is not a fake, but it is very real. Knowing that many people were upset about the poster, the TSA confirmed on their blog yesterday. They tried to play it off that photographers are important for seeing suspicious activity, but I am not buying it. “In fact, many photographers would be prime candidates to use such vigilance programs to report suspicious activity since they’re extremely observant of their surroundings.” I am guessing this is more of an afterthought.

Photographers are not criminals and they should not be treated as such. If you do take airport-related photos, don’t let fear of law enforcement stop you, but be prepared. Have identification on you, know your local laws and try to talk to them with a smile and be proud of what you are doing. Oh and if you get some good airplane photos, email them on over to me and I would love to share them on the blog!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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The only time I’ve gotten in trouble so far is Newark which apparently, does have rules about not taking photos from airport grounds (Port Authority Rule). Still, never got in trouble at LGA and JFK or anywhere else (except ATL North Parking Garage where I just moved to the South Garage).


Don’t try taking a photo at Port Columbus (CMH). They will treat you as if your sole purpose is to knock everybody on the property off. I’ve been issued citations for loitering. I got a parking ticket for being in a space for 11 minutes (10 minute lot) at the airport Post Office while trying to take pics. This was never the case until the airport formed their own police department about 10-12 years ago. Don’t even think of going 36mph in the 35 zone or pulling off to the side to take a picture. The hassle takes place on the entire property and never has to involve TSA as your camera is not welcome at CMH.

Some people just love power and control way too much.


Typical ham-handed TSA approach, and typical mission creep.

TSA is an exceptionally dangerous organization. They have visions of gretness, want to become some kind of Wundercops, think god is on their side, and don’t care whose rights they trample.

In CLT it depends on where you are. At the public observation area they are so used to seeing photographers they don’t blink. If you find some secluded place and are against the fence with a camera, undoubtedly you will be approached. I was just standing in a parking lot at the fence line near the ANG base once and was approached by ANG armed security. He asked for ID’s and then sent us on our way. Since I have a pipeline project near the fence line, I need only wear my bright green safety vest and I can get a few minutes pics near the project. Better to be obvious and seen than to look incognito I think. Plus, security is aware of my project and expects to see people out there with drawings and vests in places there normally wouldn’t be anyone.

My coworker was looking at the same project in the wooded area across the street from the ANG entrance and was approached by blackwater types in a tinted SUV. Those guys were serious but amicable and understood our purpose for being there.

Call security and try this one: “I’m a aviation photographer. Where can I take pictures without being arrested?”

Better to ask permission than forgiveness IMHO.

I had a run-in with cops on the 96th street bridge at LAX…was shooting for a book project, had my media badge and all. LAPD motorbike officer stopped and asked for ID, was suspicious. Called the World Airport Police, 2 cruisers showed up, closed off half the lanes on the bridge to question me. I stood my ground, repeatedly referred to my media credentials, reminded them that I was on a public sidewalk and that my rights to shoot there as media were guaranteed by the constitution. They seemed a little unsure of what to do with such a “defiant” person. Finally one of them muttered that they were going to write up a contact report (when they asked if I had any gang affiliations I said “Aviation Photographers of Southern California and Associated Press”!), they then told me I should have contacted the Public Affairs officer first and gotten permission (shows how much they understand…you don’t need permission to exercise your civil rights), then left and I continued shooting. Having a second thought on the matter, I went ahead and called the PA officer, who politely informed me that I didn’t need her permission to shoot from a public sidewalk…duh! The incident left me a bit rattled, but determined more than ever to assert my rights. Oh, and I did indeed get the perfect shot for my book!

Ha! Nice gang, can I join?

I think if law enforcement is going to train the public to keep a watchful eye out, they also need to inform themselves what is legal and not legal. Luckily when I got stopped by the TSA I was using my iPhone. I sent out a photo on Twitter before they could approach me, just in case they wanted to look at my photos :).


“The 9/11 terrorists didn”t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn”t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn”t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren”t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn”t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 no photography.”

Bruce Schneier 2008

I think I remember hearing terrorist had photos on their computers of possible US targets, but they weren’t ones they took.


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