“Someone was seen this afternoon taking photographs of cars in our parking lot. Police were notified. Please report any similar suspicious activity to the office.”
An all-company email was sent out with this quote in it from the company that managed the property. Instantly, co-worker Charlie messaged me. “Was it you photographing the cars?”
Charlie knew me all too well. Of course it was. But didn’t they know that I’m harmless?
I test new-to-me old cameras all the time, and I need subjects to photograph. Cars in the parking lot are great subjects! They offer plenty of interesting details when you move in close, and you can often find them in interesting arrangements. And when I’m working in a suburban office park, there are a whole bunch of them right there.
Photographing things in public places is 100% allowed in the United States. Moreover, if you can see it from a public place, you can photograph it, even if the thing you photograph is in a private place. You need no permission.
That’s not to say that photographing everything is wise. Photographing small children on the playground is likely to get the cops called on you. Some police officers don’t take well to being photographed while they’re working. I’ve had a couple run-ins with people when I’ve made photographs. One time on a road trip while documenting a small town, an angry man came running after me because I had photographed his house. After photographing an interesting storefront, a worker inside rushed out and asked me what the heck I was doing and why.
On the day the property manager called the cops on me for making photos including the one above, I wasn’t exactly in a public place. The parking lot of my office complex is private, and even though I worked in one of the buildings, I could be considered trespassing. They were within their rights to call the cops, even though it was an overreaction.
But whoever reported me had to have seen that I was shooting a Polaroid Big Swinger 3000, a comically large instant camera that was then more than 40 years old. They had to recognize it as a camera in the first place, something I’m not sure most younger adults could do today! Me holding that huge camera in my hands should have made it crystal clear that I was just a nerd hobbyist with no nefarious intent.
But I never photographed cars in the parking lot again. It’s best to be wise.