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Public photography

It is perfectly legal to take pictures in a public place. You can take pictures of people or private property, if you are standing in a public space. However, many photographers get stopped, intimidated and scared away be over-zealous security guards every day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to leave the Southbank in London (not Southbank Centre, but the pavement of the Southbank) for taking pictures. I was told that I have been observed on CCTV and my picture-taking behaviour was suspicious. And my camera was too big. My little, innocuous-looking Canon 600D. I was on the pavement in a public space. I was embarrassed and intimidated and abandoned yet another photo-trip.

Later research at home (to check I was in the right) was a little confusing. Apparently Southbank Centre has management rights for the pavement from the National Theatre all the way down to the London Eye. Whether that gives them the right to stop photographers I don’t know. I couldn’t find out one way or the other. But this is a piece of pavement that is peppered with tourists and professionals taking photographs. And on the day I was stopped, I was elbow to elbow with other photographers, with bigger cameras and everything. But I was the one who was stopped and asked to leave.

Taking photographs is a hobby. A pleasurable activity. Or it should be. I understand the potential security implications, and I sympathise with the police trying to protect us from harm. But it is not the police that are causing the problem. And other countries in the world seem to manage this ‘threat’ much better than we do. There’s no other tourist location in Europe, Africa or America where I’ve been asked not to take photos in a public place. Just London.

I came across this video of six photographers challenged to stand their ground when questioned by private security guards, as part of the London Street Photography Festival. They did a magnificent job in the face of much attempted intimidation and provocation. In each case, the arrival of the police vindicated the photographers.

Posted on YouTube by Shoot Experience Team

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Light Field Camera – capture, then focus

Ren Ng, CEO of Lytro, yesterday announced the launch of a brand new type of camera. The type that lets you take any old picture, and then worry about the focus and framing. You could seamlessly switch between the two focus points in the image below.

Regular cameras don’t have this facility. Aside from some photoshop magic, you’re stuck with the picture that you took. The light information recorded at the moment when you pressed the shutter button. Click.

The Lytro camera doesn’t capture light information in the same way. Instead it records something called ‘light field’ information. This is a technique used in scientific photography.The sensor in a Lytro camera can capture all the light information in a scene – the amount of light travelling in every direction, through any point in space. The special light field sensor to capture colour, intensity and vector direction information for all the light rays. Powerful software and sophisticated algorithms then allow you to manipulate this data – effectively refocusing and reframing the image.

This does seem like it might be too good to be true, but maybe that’s the genius. Looking at an existing technique from such a different view point that it will seem unbelievable, might be the key to a great technological breakthrough.