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Personal Security for Photographers and Travelers.



This information is based on a review of the literature in criminology and victimology, and my own experience as a traveler, photographer, college adjunct instructor in Criminal Justice and Psychology, and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor with over twenty years of experience working with criminal offenders. The information herein is far from exhaustive; it is just a few ideas to get you started. This is about developing awareness and some good safety habits.

Safety tips for your consideration:

• Get information about where you are going:

Before you travel somewhere, Look at the local crime statistics, know where the police stations are , and if you are going outside the U.S. , know where to find the U.S. Embassy. Check the US State Dept. watch list for current safety/security alerts before you go. (U.S. Dept. of State, 1995-2013) If a place seems too hot, better to bypass it unless you are looking for some action as the purpose of your trip. That's a whole other conversation for some other time.

• Always Look like you belong there:

The bad guys look for vulnerability in a potential victim- someone hesitant, uncertain, lacking in confidence, or looking confused. When you are traveling, never look like a tourist. Always look like you know where you are going, dress like a local, and never look lost when you are on foot. If you do get lost, don't become hesitant, pause, or start looking around. Pick a spot 100 yards/meters ahead, and walk to it purposely, looking a little bored, while being aware of your surroundings. This is just another day in a place you have been to a hundred times.

Blend in- camouflage against the predators. When you get to the place ahead, orient yourself. (U.S. Dept. of State, 1995-2013b)

• Don't make your camera too conspicuous.

Never let the bad guys know what you have. Carry your camera in a plastic bag from a local store with a newspaper for cushioning, not a camera bag. Stuff batteries, memory cards, and what not in your pockets. Don't draw attention to yourself. Segue into...

• Don't photograph stuff you shouldn't.

In some countries, local authorities have concerns about terrorism or espionage. Photographing dams, bridges, power plants, power lines, anyone in any kind of uniform, military bases, correctional facilities, airports, ports, - anything involved with police, security, military, or infrastructure may get you unwanted attention, suspicion, and harassment, seizure of your camera or memory card/film- or even detainment or arrest. Since 9/11, this is not just limited to overseas travel. People can be fearful. Here are my own experiences with the paranoia a camera can trigger, here in the United States.

1) I was photographing a great alley in my hometown, in broad daylight. It was full of interesting close ups of rusted, weathered hardware, -locks, hinges, and bolts, plus graffiti, stonework, and brickwork. I was there for about an hour, shooting away. A woman came up to me and asked me what I was doing , and if I was " sure I wasn't with homeland security". Sigh.

2) I was photographing close-ups of hardware ( can you tell I like close-ups of hardware?) – locks, door knobs, keyholes and hinges. A police officer came up to me and said what are doing? This looks a little weird. I had to show ID that confirmed it was my home I was taking photos of.

3) I was at a Ferry landing on a lake to photo the sunset, I live on a huge lake, routinely take photos and fish at the Ferry landings, but apparently this was the wrong one to visit. The staff at the landing said became very intrusive because I was loitering there with a camera. Then I made the even bigger mistake of asking if I could fish there. No, I was told, and then one of them started explaining why in great detail. I walked away, and went to stand on a ledge to look around and this woman said I hope you're not even thinking of going down there. Then why are you taking a photo of that? as I photographed an abandoned shack. I left.

o Be especially careful of cameras and little kids.

At a crowded air show, a man was accused of surreptitiously photographing little girls. A another

man confronted him, threatened him with a beating if he didn't stop, and drove him away. Pointless. If that is what he was really up to, he will just do it somewhere else. It's called

Crime Displacement: Some sort of external pressure causes a criminal to go elsewhere to be a criminal- it doesn't stop them, No threats, or even a tune- up ( a relatively minor beating) will dissuade someone like that from doing what they do. And one other thing- maybe he was innocent of this accusation and would have caught a beating for something he didn't do.

I was taking photos in a park overlooking the aforementioned huge lake one afternoon. The park was full of families. A man came up to me and innocently but suspiciously inquired what I was photographing. Anything that looked interesting I replied- such as the 12 mile wide lake the park overlooked, the lighthouse,

sailboats, and ferries, the 19th century cannons and historical markers in the park. He accepted my explanation and walked away. Either he was a pedophile, hoping to contact a like-minded individual, or he suspected I was photographing little kids playing in the park for inappropriate motives.

• My point:

Be aware that photographs of little kids, no matter how innocent your intentions, can draw unwanted attention in a public place, from people who think they are protecting children, to the predators themselves, who may be looking for a contact to trade images with. (Mathews, N. 2008)

• Don't die protecting your camera or memory card.

Most muggings are motivated by addiction. People in the worst grip of addiction will cast aside all moral standards and do things born of utter desperation without any consideration of the consequences. They may also decide that killing you is warranted if you resist them. (Macyoung, M. and Macyoung, D.G., 1998-2008). If someone wants your camera badly enough to threaten you for it, or point a weapon at you, give it to them. They are offering you a great deal- you get retention of your respiratory privileges, all they get is a camera. You win. Get homeowner's or renter's insurance with a rider for your camera. If it's stolen, you can replace it. (Advice Company. 1995-2013). But what about your memory card with all those precious photos on them? Forget it. The images you have stored in your cortex are more important and truly irreplaceable. You can recapture most lost images on a memory card. Download and or/backup your memory card frequently to minimize potential losses, and write off the rest if necessary.


The above is just a very brief discussion of a very long and complex topic- self protection. There are many resources available to consult. It is a topic which everyone should be familiar with. To be safer, you must consider modifying your behavior to make yourself less vulnerable. Sometimes that means inconveniencing yourself, bypassing something that looks like fun, swallowing your pride, or giving up a material possession which you imagine is more valuable than your life. Traveling and photographing your experiences is deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Openness and willingness to adopt some new behaviors and discard some old ones can make it a safer and enjoyable experience.

Be Safe.


Advice Company. ( 1995-2013). Adding coverage to Get the Best Homeowner's Insurance Policy. Available: http://insurance.freeadvice.com/information/home/article/296

Macyoung, M. and Macyoung, D.G. (1998-2008). Who is going to rob you? . Nononsenseselfdefense.com Available: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/robbers.htm#muggers

Mathews, N. (2008) How a photo can ruin your life. Popular Photography. Available: http://www.popphoto.com/how-to/2008/12/how-photo-can-ruin-your-life

U.S. Dept. of State. ( 1995-2013) Current Travel Warnings. Travel.State.Gov. Available: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html

U.S. Dept. of State. ( 1995-2013b) A safe trip Abroad. Travel.State.Gov Available: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html


Further reading on personal safety and self protection.






Bartol, K, and Bartol (2008) Criminal Behavior: A Psychosocial Approach.

Debecker, Gavin ( 1997) The Gift of Fear. Dell: New York

Macyoung, M. (1992) Violence, Blunders and Fractured Jaws: Advanced Awareness Tecniques and Street Etiquette. Paladin Press: Boulder, CO.

Salter, A (2003) Predators: Rapists, Pedophiles, and other Sex Offenders. Basic Books: New York

Samenow, S. ( 2004) Inside the Criminal Mind. (2) Crown: New York

Samenow, S. (2002) Straight Talk About Criminals. Rowman and Littlefield: New York


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1 response

  • James Neiss

    James Neiss gave props (19 Feb 2013):

    Thanks so much. Good advice.

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