On Shooting First & Asking Questions Later

By |2011-12-20T09:51:41+00:00Dec 20th, 2011|

Last night, my good friend, +Jeffrey Yen, asked if I’d be up for shooting around Union Station in Portland. It had been a few days since I had last shot and I was feeling peckish… plus, the weather has been fantastic lately.

Jeff and I got to the station and walked around the interior for a bit, noticing some of the elements that we’d like to shoot but also noticing the majority of the obstructions due to the holidays and construction that prevented us from getting what we wanted. So, we took our chances to shoot on the tracks.

We walked around the far side of the station, where access to the tracks was wide open. In these situations where you’re clearly shooting in and around restricted areas, it pays to feel out the surroundings first. We started shooting in mild locations, close to the public sidewalk and parking lot.

After a few minutes, we felt a bit more brazen and crossed the first set of tracks. Shooting was easy and the creativity started to flow, especially since it seemed like we would have free reign. After another 15 minutes or so, we moved to the far tracks, which offered the best views. Because none of these lines had a third rail, I wasn’t worried about getting electrocuted. And, there was no traffic on the tracks the entire time we were there.

But, all good things do end. After about 45 minutes, a security guard did casually make his way to us and politely asked us to leave because we were clearly trespassing. This is the pivotal point for us photographers.

We could have taken one of two roads – be rude or be cordial. We chose the latter and it paid off. The guard was very friendly, didn’t rush us out, and even helped us find a person who we could speak with about obtaining a permit to let us shoot legally.

Now, I do not regret getting my shots. I will always opt to seek forgiveness before seeking permission with photography. The priority is to always get the shot. Without it, you have nothing.

But keep this in mind:
When you get caught, and it will happen, how you handle the situation is critical. Your actions at this point will cause ripples that will not only affect you, but also other photographers in the future. My hope is that because Jeff and I acted politely and subserviently, the next photographer who gets caught may also benefit, as it were.

My father always likes to say, You get more with honey than with vinegar.

In album Pic Picks Over The Years (93 photos)


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  1. Peter Gogolin December 20, 2011 at 8:59 am - Reply

    very nice light!

  2. Bruce Clement December 20, 2011 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Great pic and great story to go with it. Thanks for sharing +Brian Matiash

  3. Philip Edmondson December 20, 2011 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Good points. Was shooting in two mall interiors this weekend with a group, just wandering in out of the cold. Minute the security noticed us and told us to stop, down went the cameras as we slowly walked to the exit.

  4. T Michael Testi December 20, 2011 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I had a similar experience at the Tropicana in Vegas about a year and a half ago when a security guard came up on a bike and said that this was private property and I couldn't shoot there. After a little polite conversation, I started to walk away and he turned and said "You see that curb?" looking about 3 feet away. I said "yes". He said "on the other side of it is not Tropicana property" and rode off. I got pretty much the shot I was trying to get.

    I can relate a number of these kinds of experiences and I think that most of these guys are pretty cool as long as you are.

  5. Dave Krugman December 20, 2011 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Well said +Brian Matiash, especially about the effects on future photographers. If you are rude to the security guards who are merely doing their job, then it will forever change their perspective of the photographic community. Whenever I get kicked out of somewhere I just apologize for causing a stir, smile, and go somewhere else. What do I care, I just got a CF card full of RAW glory.

  6. Andreas Kaspar December 20, 2011 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Wonderful shot.

  7. Magnus Fohlman December 20, 2011 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Before I travelled to the USA last year i had read lots of stories of what wasn't allowed to shoot. Beeing a newbie photographer in an unfamiliar country I was always afraid of getting caught. So, instead of taking the shots I was a tad yellow, and just walked away thinking "That would have been a nice shot". I guess that's the difference between a pro and a newbie.

    When I shoot back home where I have been working on my bravery, but I'm afraid that I will chicken out next time I'm overseas……

  8. Shelly Gunderson December 20, 2011 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Great shot and well stated. Railroads are becoming more particular about where people are allowed to shoot. If we act cordially with them, we might still be able to get the shots we want. Would love to see more photos you did this particular shoot. I love trains and old stations.

  9. Michael Preston December 20, 2011 at 10:03 am - Reply

    Brian, this is outstanding…one of your absolute best. A tutorial on your processing in the OnOne suite would be way cool. Just sayin'…….

  10. Chris Lazzery December 20, 2011 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Wise words, my friend. Wise words indeed. Rad shot. Great vanishing point. And the lights under the roof illuminating the floor — and reflecting off the tracks — is awesome.

  11. Mark Blundell December 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Sublime lighting in the foreground.
    I was busted by the cops recently with about 10 others and we were all well behaved and the cops were okay, they just thought we were a bit weird going up abandoned tower blocks at night!
    generally where I shot I know is illegal and generally the security guards are okay too, they ask politely and we leave, no harm. there is no point in being vocal and rude at all. And if you didn't get the shot . ..well you can always go back next week!

  12. Barrie Brewer December 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Nice shot +Brian Matiash, and great advice. I've always liked shooting at Union Station.

  13. Adam Allegro December 22, 2011 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Well said Brian! Funny you should post this today. I had a similar situation in Vicenza, Italy after shooting today’s posted shot. I vetured into some of the tracks that were closed to get some uniqe perspectives of the staion. When the security guard came over to tell me to knock it off, I was cordial and polite, and there was no issue in the exchange (my broken italian is decent sometimes). It is critical that we pick and choose our battles as photographers because, as you said perfectly, they will have ripples. Wonderful shot and write up my friend!

  14. Luis dos Santos December 22, 2011 at 5:30 am - Reply

    it’s nice that it all ended up well. sometimes encounters with the police or security can become quite crisp.

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