Private Property? No Problem. How to Gain Access with Open Arms.

As a former marketing executive, I do know a few things on how to speak to people.


Here is my method to gaining access to photograph private property.

I live in New England.  And although we have miles of beautiful coastline and tons of historical buildings to be found, I like to find “off the beaten path” photo ops.  Locations I feel I’ve discovered or earned.  Driving around in search of these, I often find fields, farms, remote houses, abandoned buildings, ponds etc.. which would be great to shoot under the right conditions.  However all too often, these  locations are on private property.  Although legally I could shoot them from the street, that isn’t usually the best option for the shot, and its also kinda creepy.
So, I came up with a simple, very effective and affordable method to win over these private property protectors, gaining you free roam access to their land, usually as often as you’d like.

Heres what I do.  I write them a letter, and I send them a gift.

First lets cover the letter.  Coming from a marketing background, I know a thing or two about getting peoples attention, holding it, and selling them on the product or idea that I’m pitching. In this case I want their permission to roam freely and photograph their property at will.  So the letter is carefully broken up into the following sections.

1. Introduction
This short paragraph introduces who you are, what you do and needs to paint a picture that you’re a good person.  Not some creep that wants to snap pictures through their windows.  I usually start the letter with “Dear Neighbor”, calming their fears that I’m not a stranger, I live near them!  I also mention where I live (The road not the actual address. They could be crazy!)  And I also usually mention passing by their “field” or “barn” etc.. and how beautiful it looks at sunset.  Now we are talking about them, and everyone likes when they are being talked about.
I also include a headshot of me behind a camera,  smiling.  Show them who you are, it helps them to understand who is speaking to them. (Unless you’re really scary looking, then omit headshot

2. Request
Now I get right into it.  I start this with a very non-direct request to photograph their property.  Something like “I was wondering if you would mind if I photographed your beautiful barn…”  I then add another line to make it about them again, this time really raising the complement.  “Although I travel the globe and photograph famous landscapes and buildings, I would really like to add your barn to my portfolio…”.  I then close the paragraph with the type of shot I would be looking for, setting the stage so they understand they can’t just call me and schedule a day and time for me to stop by, and that the shot must be on my terms under the right weather conditions. Something like “I specifically would love to get a foggy morning with interesting clouds.  It may happen tomorrow, but it could take months.  Thankfully I’m only a few minutes away”. Now they understand it can’t be scheduled and could happen any day.

3. Respecting their privacy.
This short paragraph addresses why I didn’t just stop by and ask, and shows that I respect their privacy.  “I would have stopped by in person, but in this day and age that is not always welcome…nor did I want to pressure you face to face”  It’s short, but shows you understand they have private property for a reason.

4. Addressing their concerns.
Before giving them reasons to say no, I come right out and address the concerns I know they would have. It includes lines like “I would park in the street”  “I would not disturb or move anything” “I would give you a heads up before coming by” “I won’t steal your dog” and finally “I would provide you with a framed picture if you wish”   After listing and addressing any concerns they have, and throwing in a picture for them to hang on the wall from a professional photographer of their property, why wouldn’t they say yes?

I then give them my contact information, with numerous ways to get in touch. Including Cell, Home Phone, Email, Website and Smoke Signal.  (You can’t lose with humor)

5. Close
And the icing on the cake, I mail them a disposable camera.  These can be purchased in bulk for around $6-$7 each and mailed for around $3 in a box with your letter.  Everyone loves to get a box in the mail, so you know they will open it, unlike a simple envelope.  In closing I add a paragraph on why I mailed them the camera.  “Please accept this disposable camera as my thanks for your consideration. With digital cameras so popular, it isn’t often the art of simple old fashioned photography is enjoyed.  Use it for a gathering, document a trip, or I’m sure you can find some beautiful pictures around your property.”  If you really want to get nuts, you could throw in a gift card to CVS to cover the cost of the prints, probably $5 or less I would imagine.

This method has been very effective for me and I have a number of great places to shoot this spring and summer. It is simple, inexpensive and you’d be surprised on how many people call you up.  Some of you may wonder, why not just drop it off in their mailbox?  That is in-fact against the law, and why start a relationship off the wrong way.    I hope this method of reaching out to people helps you gain access to new places and better pictures you may have never been able to take.

If you would like a copy of my template, shoot me an email.

Steps at Barefoot Beach

Barefoot map copy        Barefoot Cliff

Prior to heading to Grand Cayman for a family vaca, I did some research to find some off the beaten path places to get some good photos.  The Caymans, though beautiful, do not have many well known places for portfolio quality photos, so I dug deep on google.  I found a post from someone (can’t remember, sorry for lacking the credits) who described a set of stone steps leading to a stone wall to the left of Barefoot Beach where you could get a nice sweeping picture of the beach.  Lucky for me, Barefoot was only a 15 minute ride from the house I was staying in.  After finding Barefoot on Google maps (many beaches in Grand Cayman are very tiny, and if you don’t know they exists, you would drive right by)  I headed off to scout the location  Found the path to the beach pretty easily, however realized that unless it is dead low tide, you could not safely walk to the steps.  So we (I was with my brother) headed back to the road and tried to find a way to the cliffside.

barefoot wide

A few hundred yards down the road we hopped a fence and made our way through the thick vegetation.  Minutes later we discovered an abandoned walkway that wrapped around the cliffside, for probably 1/4 mile.  I later learned the construction of a large resort was canceled after hurricane Ivan swept through, and all that remained was the stone path.  After hopping the wall I found a good vantage point to capture the sunrise hitting the cliffside next to the steps. It would take 3 mornings to get the light I was looking for, however I was very happy with the result.  It was an amazing experience sitting alone on that cliff listening to the waves and watching the sun rise.  The shot I got was a bonus.

Will be posting the final soon!