There is nothing more appealing than grabbing your gear, draining the last vestiges of your current account, and heading off to some distant and exotic location. The more conscientious of us may look into the possible dangers to us or our gear and plan accordingly, even going so far as to take a painful premium on our insurance to cover the additional risk. Not only does this provide you with financial security, it gives peace of mind. Personally the latter is a godsend when I find myself in conditions to which I would normally never subject my equipment. Doing so enables me to get shots I would otherwise have never made. The picture below for example, was taken almost waist deep in a swamp with my old sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM.
It is unfortunate that while traveling to locations abroad many enthusiasts, yours truly included, overlook a crucial piece of information during planning; their rights as a photographer. Too often one assumes that it’s perfectly safe to take a cityscape or appealing landscape shot, unaware of local or regional ordinance saying otherwise. Now in most of Europe and I imagine North America as well the reaction to a minor faux pas is not particularly threatening or dangerous, in other countries however, the consequences can be severe. I would like to provide a slightly alternative tale, and it revolves around the following image.
This was taken while on a pit stop between Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Mikumi National Park. While I was outside the car I thought I’d stretch my legs and take a few shots, after all why not, no signs or warnings were present and it was a public area. The shot was not particularly brilliant I would say, yet I came very close to having to pay ten thousand dollars for it. Shortly after taking the photo I was approached by a local security chief who asked me for my government papers giving me security access to photograph the area. I of course said I had no such thing, and we quickly became embroiled in a rather heated argument. This went on for a while and I was told that because of my offence I would need to hand over the camera and pay a ten thousand dollar fine.
At this point I was livid, as my travels through Tanzania up to that point had never warned of such stringent anti-photography laws. I was also extremely nervous as I had no control over the situation. Thankfully however I did not have to face the proposed consequences. It so happens that my driver was an old acquaintance of mine and so when things began to look punitive he stepped in and did something that I thought would ruin me, he called the police. At this point of course I thought I may as well kiss my gear and hard earned cash goodbye, but the reaction it caused in the local official was entirely different. His angered expression and raised voice melted into a Cheshire worthy smile and a honeyed purr. He said it wasn’t at all necessary; he would ‘forgive’ us since we were tourists. At this point he walked off and never to be heard from again.
We quickly left the premises and carried on to Mikumi, which turned out to be a wonderful experience and a chance for me to give my Canon 550D a roaring send-off (the above image being my favourite from the trip) before I move to my d810. After returning to Dar es Salaam I asked my driver why calling the police seemed to have this effect on the official who so aggravated us. He replied simply that local officials tend to make up their own rules, and that involving the police would have resulted in a lengthy investigation which if it came out in his favour would see him no financial gain. The fine would instead go to the regional police commissioner. It would have therefore cost him time and personal expense with no benefit even if the offence was in fact punishable. Upon asking my driver if the offence was legitimate he replied that he had no idea.
I have never felt so powerless or so at risk, and promised myself then and there to never let it happen again. Now after some research I found the rule was in fact completely fictitious, I was perfectly within my rights. Yet the situation was no less dangerous. If I had refused to pay I could easily have been thrown in a local jail until such a time that regional police was made aware that I existed and let me out. The point to this is that when you are abroad you need to tread carefully as in some nations photography is a touchy subject. Due diligence is paramount in such situations. Additionally you have to look at things through a different frame of mind. If you are legally permitted to photograph a train station it may not mean that a local official won’t harass you or take offence regardless. To my fellow enthusiasts I therefore must stress caution. Trips to places like Tanzania are wonderful experiences that I would instantly recommend, but being prepared and careful will make the whole process far more care-free.
It’s a wild world out there so let’s be sure to enjoy it, I hope this article was of use to you and I would love to answer any questions you have regarding the whole mess I got into as well as more general questions.
This guest post was contributed by Robert Alexander Hoekman. Visit his site at www.robertalexanderphotography.com to see more images of wildlife and marine life that he has captured during the past few years.