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The Photograph That Almost Got Me Arrested

I think I’m a pretty normal person. A law-abiding citizen. Aside from the occasional speeding ticket here and there, I’ve never had any serious brushes with the law. But a couple of days ago, I almost got arrested. Why? For trying to take a picture.

You see, my father has worked in health care for his entire career. For the last fifteen years or so before he retired last summer, he served as the president of a hospital in Portland, Maine called Maine Medical Center, and for those fifteen or so years, he poured his heart and soul into that hospital. So as a sort of retirement present, I’ve wanted for a while to shoot a landscape shot of the hospital (it is a sprawling complex with many buildings, and sits very dramatically on top of the highest hill in Portland) for him to remember the place that was such a big part of his life.

For a few months I’ve been casually scouting out the area, trying to find the best angle from which to shoot the photo. I think I’ve found the best spot, a highway bridge that crosses part of Portland harbor offering an unobstructed view of the hospital buildings on the hilltop. This angle faces east, shooting from the west, meaning that at sunset, the buildings are lit up by a wonderful warm glow. So, a few days ago I set out with some gear a little while before sunset to take the shot.

I pulled over to the side of the highway on the bridge and began to set up. I pulled out my tripod, Nikon body and 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens. At the distance I was shooting from, I could fill the frame at 200mm, flattening the image and giving it sharp depth of field throughout the image. The sun was getting low and the light was wonderful. Everything was great.

Unfortunately what I had failed to consider is that the location from which I was shooting also happened to be nearly precisely in line with the runway of the nearby Portland Jetport, and was directly beneath the landing path of approaching airplanes. And in our post-9/11 world, somebody with a tripod and a big long black thing mounted on it right next to an airport runway can be cause for concern. So just as I was finishing setting up, reading the light for my exposure, I hear a voice behind me say, “What are you doing?” I turned around to see a Maine State Police trooper staring at me with his hand on his sidearm.

After I explained that I was a photographer and was merely trying to photograph the hospital, the officer very politely but sternly explained that because I was under the flight path of the airplanes, my presence had alerted the security people at the airport, and that since as a result of the proximity to the airport this particular section of road was designated “emergency stopping only,” I would have to leave or I could be arrested.

So I packed up my equipment, apologized to the officer and left, without having shot a single exposure. I searched for another appropriate place from which to shoot the image, but the best I could find was another point much closer to the hospital from which I shot the image below.

As you can see, the light is unattractive, the angle is bad (shooting up from below) and there are obstructions, including light poles, trees, chimneys and ugly distractions in the foreground. The image is worthless.

mmc bad

So I’ll have to keep looking for a way to get this shot. Moral of the story? In the post-9/11 world, photographers need to stay away from airports.

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One Response to “The Photograph That Almost Got Me Arrested”

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  1. cconti says:

    UPDATE: After reading the above post, Mike Collins, who manages parking at the Portland Jetport, very kindly emailed me to let me know that one can get a great view of the hospital from the top deck of the parking garage there… and best of all, as far as I can tell, I won’t get arrested for shooting the photo from there! So it looks like my search for the perfect vantage point may be over! I’ll definitely check that out next time I’m in Portland. Thanks Mike!

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