Carrying a camera around can be both a blessing and a curse at times. I've found that if you have a big, important looking camera and lens and then you take on an attitude to match, you can talk your way into some areas that might normally be restricted. Conversely, sometimes if you're taking pictures in perfectly acceptable areas of perfectly acceptable things, people will try to hassle you. I'm a law abiding citizen and I'm not one to get belligerent to prove any points about photographers' rights, but a recent encounter did strengthen a few beliefs of mine. The situation - I had scouted areas to take a wedding party for pictures like I always do. One good spot was around a state owned building that is open to the public. There should be no issues in bringing a wedding party here - public property, legal gathering, legal activity. Surely enough, when I show up with the gang on wedding day and start positioning and posing, a security guard comes out to inform us that the director of the facility said we had to leave since this was state property and we hadn't cleared the "event" with.... some unnamed/untitled person there. Disappointed sighs flow from the group as they make their way toward the exit. I was about to walk out the gate when I did one of those head shakes, like "no, this isn't right."
I dropped my gear and told the group to hang tight for a second as I went inside the building to look for the director. The security guard took me right to him so I introduced myself and explained the situation. He tried to make the argument that it was state property, we didn't have prior clearance, and somebody could get hurt. Without sounding like a complete smartass I made a couple of simple points - (1) You said yourself it is public property, (2) All the other tourists walking around the property did have prior clearance? (3) You want us to leave the grounds and walk onto the sidewalk, which is also state property carries equal if not greater risk of injury (these New Orleans sidewalks...)
The people in this case tried to pull a "I don't want to deal with them so kick them out." Fortunately, I have a good general understanding of what I can and can't do and I'm pretty reasonable about arguing my case. I got to walk back outside with my head held high and tell my wedding clients that we could do as we planned. We got a couple of my favorite pictures of the day by staying and shooting there.
A few points to take home from this -
(1) You owe it to yourself and to your clients to study and know your rights. If I had walked out that gate, it would've ruined a good portion of my planned shoot, affecting the quality of product my client received. Why? Because some guy didn't want to deal with us. Sorry, not an acceptable reason to attempt to limit our rights. There are plenty of resources out there to educate people, and knowing your position is the first step to arguing for what's rights.
(2) Don't be afraid to challenge "authority." The authority figure in this case ran the joint, but power doesn't mean you're correct. If there's value in arguing a point, go after it. Even authority figures are human and can be wrong. The caveat, though, is that some things just aren't worth arguing. If I had spent 45 minutes battling my point, I would've just looked like an ass to my clients. I'm probably as stubborn as they come when arguing "principles," but even I recall the concept of the Pyhrric victory.
(3) Don't be a dick. Make it a point to smile when confronting people you disagree with. Extend a hand. Be courteous. Win them over with unrelenting reasonableness. I've seen plenty of encounters with police or similar figures that were unnecessarily escalated to dramatic proportions because one side knew they were right and was intent on proving it despite the cost. I'm no civil rights leader, nor do I want to be. I just want to get my way the easiest way possible.