Incident at the 7-mile Bridge, or Know your Rights as a Citizen and a Photographer

Location: Seven Mile Bridge
Florida Keys
Late September 2015
Perpetrators:  US Government, Florida State Troopers, Local hire Security Guards, German filming crew, Mini-Cooper Ad agency and Advertising Director, Florida Helicopters Inc.
Local Miami news (as the 7-mile bridge was closed to traffic in BOTH directions while filming the new 2017 Mini-Cooper ad was in progress)
and ME (the star of the movie)
The gentleman who followed me for almost two hours. And he was a super nice guy.  He just let me shoot, and we had interesting conversations– unlike the other guards.


The Setting:
 I’m down in the Florida Keys shooting stock and travel; I’m staying  24 miles south of the 7-mile bridge at a local resort. As part of my “shot” list I wanted to capture the old bridge and the new bridge with the surrounding area at sunrise as I had scouted it the day before on my way south.  Even that early in the morning it’s a 35-40 minute drive not due to the traffic, but the Big Pine Key, which is the protected Key Deer area has a 25-35mph speed limit from sundown to sunrise and it is strictly enforced.  Trust me. It is.
Since I had to drive north through Big Pine Key and Deer Key I’m up at 3am.  I already have my gear for the day (all Fuji of course) packed and ready to go. Shower, dress, make sure I didn’t forget anything and head out the door before 5am as the “nautical” sunrise was a 6:24am and the actual sunrise was at 7:15am.  I grabbed an expresso at a local Cuban restaurant and a pastel de guayaba and headed north.
The Situation:
On the north end of the “new” 7-mile bridge there is a small parking area;  This is the area I had scouted out as it had access to the “old” 7-mile bridge.  I wanted to walk out onto the old bridge and do some photography there.  The sky now has been turning a deep blue, and as I approached my turn into the old bridge parking area notice some activity in the parking area.  Now, I’m not the only tourist or photographer who wants to photograph from this location but funny thing is most of the vehicles were leaving, not coming in.  That was strange.  I also saw a bunch of black SUV’s butI didn’t pay any attention to them as I was focused on the sky and what I had planned to shoot.  Near the end of the parking lot there is short walk to the ramp onto the old seven mile bridge; I see several men and woman with a janitorial cart full of brooms, mops and assorted cleaning supplies.  Honestly I thought they were there to clean the facilities, but the other part of my brain was thinking:  There are no facilities here.  Anyway, I pull in to the parking lot and it’s eerily deserted — very unusual as it’s a gorgeous place to stop and admire the view and to photograph.  There was some activity going on near the ramp to the old bridge but I paid no mind.  Anyway I go into the trunk of my car and pick up my bag and my tripod and before I close the trunk I’m literally jumped by a rent-a-cop security guard who tells me I need to leave now.  I was taken aback!  What is going on here? Why are all these SUVs here?  When I simply asked why I was told it was a private event and I was trespassing.
Just for those that don’t know me I’m very casual, easy going, professional and relaxed.  However, don’t screw with me or my rights — that is where I draw the line in the sand.  I’ve been up since 3am, I have one shot at shooting this area before I head further south and I’m not leaving.
So very politely I told the security guard that I was on public property, and that I did not have to leave.  That did not go over well — he went off to talk to another guard, I’m assuming the head security guard.  Now, I have my X-T1 over my neck, my camera bag over my shoulder and I start out from the parking area to the entrance to the old bridge;  I got about ten feet before I had the head security guy cut me off and tell me I must immediately put my camera away and leave. Well, that was not going to happen so i sidestepped around him as I didn’t want to get into an argument at 6am.  He followed me.  I informed him that I was on public property and I was here to photograph and I would leave when I was ready.  These folks were out of control barking orders and demands at me to leave — which is why I saw all the other photogs and tourists leaving the area!  I understood now.
Anyway this guy followed me out onto the bridge and kept hurrying me up as  I think he finally realized I was not leaving.  I spent about an hour photographing the old bridge, trees, sunrise etc.  The entire time this guy was with me.  Off in the distance, on the old bridge I saw an entire film crew and a hovering helicopter.  I asked the guard (he might as well  make himself useful) what was being filmed.  He told me it was a TV commercial for a new 2017 Mini-Cooper convertible ( in a horrific and hideous mint blue/green BTW) and they were paying for the helicopter by the hour.
Once I was finished shooting I started to walk off the bridge, through the parking lot back to my car.   As soon as I stepped off the bridge I was approached by yet another security guard and was once again told, very loudly, that I must put my camera away.  Umm.  No, that wasn’t going to happen.  As soon as I said that, The four SUV’s that were off to my right just ahead of me in the lot, must have been radioed as they started up the four massive SUV’s and literally surrounded the Mini-cooper convertible like a wagon train protecting itself against an attack in an old western.
I could have been a dick and stopped to photograph the car but again, I’m a reasonable, calm person so I kept walking to my car– besides, I got what I came for so I figured I’d less these guys do their job.  I didn’t realize that by this time the Florida State Police had arrived to close the North and South bound lanes of the new 7-mile bridge as the television commercial was for the Mini to drive the across the bridge and to film from the old bridge, and the helicopter.  Anyway when I said I was not going to put my camera away the guard ran away and brought back the FSP trooper.  I must say he was extremely courteous, and when I asked him if this was still public property he actually acknowledged that it was so, and I was not obligated  in any way to put my camera away or leave for that matter, nor could he force me to do so.  Finally! Someone who knew the laws and citizens rights.  As I was headed back to my car he walked with me as his cruiser was parked next to me and we chatted about this and that for a few minutes.  Once I was in my car  he pulled out in his cruiser and blocked all traffic southbound on the new bridge, and another officer at the south end of the bridge blocked all northbound traffic so they could film the Mini driving all by it’s lonesome self across the clean, new 7-mile bridge with the beautiful couple smiling pretty.
By the way when I left the parking area and turned southbound back across the 7-mile bridge I was the only vehicle  except for a black Tahoe SUV that followed me all the way to the other end then turned around when I had reached the south side of the bridge.  I wondered what he would have done had I actually stopped ON the bridge to snap a few images…
The Solution:
Moral of the story:  Know your rights.  Be polite and courteous to everyone.  There is no need to be nasty or rude but don’t give in if you are in the right.  I was lucky in that the Florida State Police, at least the officer who approached me knew MY rights, and the situation didn’t escalate any further.  Had it been a know-nothing bully officer, I was prepared, and ready to talk or be ready to be taken in as I was in the right.
My biggest fear if that had happened was telling my wife I was arrested 😃

2 thoughts on “Incident at the 7-mile Bridge, or Know your Rights as a Citizen and a Photographer

  1. Pingback: Enough of This Mirrorless Nonsense :: X-Pro2 Reviews :: & more (miXed zone) | photoHANGOUT

  2. I’m glad you both a) understood your rights, and especially b) didn’t let the private security guys bully you into leaving. In general private security organizations will overstep their boundaries in order to satisfy their client’s expectations, an issue we often run into within metropolitan areas, less often so out in tourist-friendly areas like the Keys.


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