street photography - juice bar, melbourne, australia

In street photography you sometimes point your camera at strangers. Most people are reasonable. But every once in a while you will encounter a jerk.

One sunny Sunday, I was setting up my equipment for a panoramic street shot, near a funky looking juice bar.
So, the juice bar guy wandered over to me and asked what the photos were for. This isn’t unusual. People often come up for a chat whenever I am doing a shoot. I explained that I was a professional photographer, but that this was just a personal project.

He told me I must “stop taking photos”.

I pointed out that I was not on his property. And the footpath was public space.

Business owners do have legal rights to limit some activities, such as photography. But that is only on their property, within the boundary of their lease. A business has no grounds to challenge people on nearby land. (unless someone is blocking access, or doing something unreasonable or offensive).

He became loud and aggressive. He said he had “asked me nicely” and if I didn’t stop he would “do something about it”.

I was quite taken aback by this. Perhaps I should abandon the shoot, and get away from this crazy person.

A word of advice to budding photographers – always err on the side of caution. You never know who you may be dealing with, and a camera lens can make some people uncomfortable. If I had been on my own, I probably would have packed up and gone home.

Luckily I was there with a buddy so I felt confident enough to stand my ground. I don’t like bullies. My friend, by the way, had just bought a juice too. My photographic efforts were already improving the business’s bottom line.

I told him that as we were in a public area there was no legal expectation of privacy. But, to be accommodating, I said I would make sure to keep his identity out of the shots. He stormed off in a huff …then returned, still angry, demanding i provide my details.

I wasn’t comfortable giving him that information, and said so. But if he gave me his details, I could send him a copy of the pic. He declined and walked off angrily, making a big show of calling someone on his phone. (The police? His mum…? His hitman buddy?)

In the end, all the juice jerk managed to do was to sour the day a bit. That’s what jerks do. The poor online reviews of his business reveal a bad attitude to all his customers. No surprise there.

What is most bizarre is that photo I was trying to capture could only help his business. It’s a pop up juice bar. It’s meant to be fun. The more it is photographed, the more iconic it becomes, and more people want to visit it. How is that bad for business?

A great example is Melbourne’s famous Pellegrini’s. This great little Italian cafe is renowned for its coffee and homestyle Italian food. It appears on many postcards, calendars and prints.

This isn’t bad for Pellegrini’s at all – it makes it a tourist destination. Coffee lovers visiting the city make a point of going there. Type “melbourne espresso” into Google images and it comes up in the first 10 pics and many times after that.

Being photogenic is a bonus for any business. Restaurants and cafe’s everywhere are falling over themselves to become “instafamous”. It’s free promotion and usually means more visitors and customers. (Checkout these proud cafes in this article

Instead of becoming aggressive, the business owner should have done this: handed me his business card. And made sure I had the correct name and address. He could also have asked me to send him a copy of the photo (maybe to buy it for himself).

So at the top of this article, you can see the photo I took that day.
You can’t go visit, though. It’s a secret juice bar. Photography and customers are not welcome.

Know your rights.

The laws that govern photography will vary from country to country. If you want to travel and do street photography – it is very important to be familiar with local laws and customs. In some countries you may find yourself in jail- or worse.

Information about Australian street photography and privacy laws can be found on the Arts Law website . It’s an interesting read for photographers and non photographers alike.