I’d like to think I don’t have many pet peeves.  Sure, slow drivers in the left hand lane of the interstate really annoy me.  I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who are habitually late.   And, I guess I do get worked up when people speak too loud on their cell phone.  (Even though, I’m sure I do the same thing.  But, let’s not lose focus here people!) 

The biggest pet peeve I’ve developed during my “on the road” experiences has to do with photography. Or the lack thereof depending on where you go.  Some places are more than happy to let you take photographs and video. Some aren’t too hot on video but don’t mind photos.  Others may allow photography though only without a flash and then there are those that restrict photography altogether.

Before we go any further – there are some instances where a no photography allowed sign makes sense.  A concert or performance, for example.  Nobody wants to see flash bulbs going off the entire time or having to deal with some idiot filming an entire concert on their cell phone.  Another example might be while taking a tour of a working factory.  For safety reasons, it may not be wise to have guests not paying attention to where they are going or disrupting people who are working or operating heavy machinery by taking photos of them.  While not likely, these same businesses may fear a competitor stealing secrets or ideas by taking video or pictures.  (Again, highly unlikely since anyone that knows what they’re looking for can still find it while on a tour.) 

There is really only one logical reason for most no photography policies: someone at the top believes that taking photos will prevent you from coming back or will keep other people who see your photos from coming at all and paying their admission fee. It’s really that simple.

The argument many places will make is that they don’t allow cameras because they’re protecting their exhibits, etc.  That’s either an intentional lie, or a stupid lie based on bad information.  Copyright laws are also a lame excuse – as if 99 percent of people taking a picture at an exhibit are going to seriously run to Kinkos afterward and print color copies of your artwork or display to sell to people.

Back to protecting.  A digital camera – or any camera for that matter has zero effect on anything it captures through its lens.  None.  Nada.  A camera is actually less harmful than the air that surrounds the piece(s) a museum or tour claims to be protecting.  Does the flash on a camera make a difference?  Probably some.  Although, studies have shown that the amount of flashes needed to change the pigment on a piece of artwork for example, is in the billions. Even then, the changes would be so small you’d need a microscope to see them.  In the old days, when cameras used large flash bulbs that gave off a bright blast of light – this could be not only distracting to other visitors but potentially harmful.  (Though again, it would still take a lot of flashes.)

I recently visited Motown Studios in Detroit where they have a very strict no-camera policy.  They say it’s to protect the artifacts in the building.  No, it’s not.  They want you and your friends to fork over the $14 admission price to see what they have – and fear you won’t do that if you see photographs.

The number of places that actually still have these insane no camera policies is pretty small.  Most places have finally figured out that photographs – taken and shared with family, friends and not to mention, the world-wide web is a huge plus for business. It equals free advertising.  Seeing something on a photograph and seeing it in person are two totally different experiences. However, seeing a photograph actually increases the likelihood of us making the effort to witness in person the object, venue or exhibit in question.   Not to mention, there’s the psychological impact of seeing a photo that someone you actually know has shared with you as opposed to seeing a stock photo on a website or an image in a paid advertisement.

As I mentioned, Motown does not allow photographs.  In fact, every 5 feet there’s a sign that reminds you to put away your camera.  They even actually try to scare you on the tour that security is watching you on monitors to see if you take photos. (Yeah, right.)   So let’s talk about comparable places that do allow photographs.  Sun Studio in Memphis, TN is probably the most important recording studio in the history of music.  That’s certainly up for debate but it’s definitely an important place in both music and American history.   If not for Sun Studio – there would be no Elvis.  Without Elvis, would we have rock and roll?  What would the entertainment world be like had Presley never been discovered?   Sun Studio not only allows photos, they encourage them.  They will actually tell you where Elvis stood and take your picture with a microphone he used.

Photography is allowed in the Smithsonian.   It’s the biggest collection of important “stuff” in the world – and you can take pictures.   The Henry Ford Museum is the largest museum of its kind that includes the Wright Brothers bike shop, Thomas Edison’s lab and the limo JFK was shot in. They allow picture taking.  What about at Abe Lincoln’s house?  Surely, you’d want to protect the house that America’s favorite President lived in? No problem – cameras are welcome.

So the next time a tour guide tells you that photographs are not allowed — politely ask them why they don’t get as many visitors as The Henry Ford Museum, Sun Studio or the Smithsonian.

Be sure to snap a picture of them as they scramble to find an answer. Just make sure the flash is off.