Photographers visit a wide gamut of locations in their day-to-day life. From tall mountains that pierce the clouds to dry and dusty basins, photographers know few limits in the places they travel to in search of the perfect shot.
But not all locations are safe. Some locations and neighborhoods may not be especially suited for visitors. Some areas may be prone to petty crime — or even a high rate of violent crimes.
Photographers often visit these unsafe locations to shoot photos on behalf of a client. After all, real estate in rough neighborhoods still needs to be bought and sold. Other photographers might want to shoot in bad neighborhoods to bring attention to them in hopes of making a positive change on the lives of those who live there.
Still, photographers should exercise caution and focus on safety when taking photos in rough neighborhoods. Here’s how to take photos in rough neighborhoods.
1. Follow the Law
Many potential problems can be nipped in the bud before they even arise by simply following the law and knowing your rights. In general, public places are the best spots to take a photo. People are rightfully protective of private property, but legally have little-to-no expectation of privacy in a public space.
Public locations have few restrictions on who or what you can photograph. If something does go down, too, there’s a higher likelihood of someone being around to serve as a witness.
However, be mindful of local ordinances and regulations when shooting in public. You may be prohibited from using certain types of equipment, like tripods, in specific areas.
Follow the local laws of the location you’re photographing to eliminate many issues before they even have a chance to crop up.
2. Be Open About Your Work
If a stranger with a camera is lurking about your neighborhood, you’d likely be curious to find out why. People are, after all, defensive and protective about their homes and communities.
If someone approaches you to ask you why you’re taking photos of their neighborhood, politely share your reasoning. Perhaps you’re a fan of the local architecture or working on a student project. Maybe you’re shooting a client’s home prior to it being listed for sale. Or perhaps you’re working to break negative stereotypes about “bad” neighborhoods.
Whatever your reasons, be honest and open about your work. Share your passion and enthusiasm for photography, and locals may even recommend landmarks you should shoot or share their unique stories with you.
What it breaks down to is respect. Show your respect for another’s home and they, in turn, will probably respect your visit.
3. Stay Aware
Though it goes without saying, it’s often easy — too easy — for photographers to get lost in their own work. Finding the best shot is a struggle, and it sometimes takes a bit of time looking through our viewfinder before snapping a photo.
In that time, any number of ne’er-do-wells have the opportunity to sneak up on you and pick your pockets — or worse.
When shooting photos in rough neighborhoods, it pays to stay aware of your surroundings. Take note of the people around you and pay attention to anyone or anything that makes you feel ill at ease.
Be mindful of people you’re photographing, too. Those dealing drugs or selling counterfeit merchandise might not be too happy to have their faces captured by your camera, even if they’re not the subject of your shot.
4. Come Prepared
As with every shoot, it pays to prepare yourself before taking photos in an unfamiliar neighborhood. What areas are known for their high crime rates? Is the area a tourist trap and more prone to pickpocketing or scams?
Before departing for a new neighborhood, share your plans with a friend or colleague. If you’re not heard from in a while, they’ll be able to alert your family and authorities to your last known location.
You may want to have a friend tag along with you on some shoots, too. There’s safety in numbers, and an extra pair of eyes can help identify any potential threats you’ve overlooked — or protect your gear while you snap the perfect photo.
5. Protect Your Gear
Speaking of gear, plenty of photographers invest hundreds and thousands of dollars into their equipment — and it can all be lost or stolen in a heartbeat. Other than staying aware of your surroundings, protect your equipment by:
- Using non-branded camera bags
- Putting electrical or duct tape over branding on your cameras and lenses
- Storing your gear in the trunk of your car
- Placing a blanket over any visible gear not in use
- Making your bags and gear look dirty and old
- Using a camera strap on your neck, wrist, or arm
The less your gear stands out, the better. Keep it stored away in as secure a location as possible and do what you can to reduce its attractiveness to thieves.
Take Photos in Rough Neighborhoods…But Stay Safe
Dangerous and rough neighborhoods are not without their worth, both in terms of plenty of good people who live within them and excellent photography opportunities. Keep yourself and your gear safe and protected by carrying yourself professionally, preparing yourself beforehand, and maintaining situational awareness.