Shopping malls and stupid rules about photography

I am periodically reprimanded by some security guard for taking photos of or in the vicinity of a shopping mall. I have essentially been told that taking photos in or of shopping malls is banned with no real rationale. I took a photo of a renovated space inside Balfour Park yesterday and I was told about the ban and also that photos have been banned for more than 20 years. No-one has been able to give me a reason for the ban. The closest was Melrose Arch where I was required to complete a film production request for filming before I could take photos.

I don’t think I have talked about why I even want to take photos of malls. One reason is that I am fascinated by some of the designs and architectural elements. I don’t know much about design or architecture but some of these buildings fascinate me and I feel this compulsion to share my experiences.

Touring the new section at Melrose Arch - 11

This compulsion brings me to the main reason I take photos of these sorts of places and other areas I visit. I think of it as local tourism powered by social media. It really struck home for me how empowered we are if we have a decent mobile phone with a camera and access to our social networks the other day when we were at the Joburg Zoo. We were walking from one section to another and passed a family where everyone was holding a camera-phone. Rather than visit all these local destinations oblivious to their various appeals, I like to capture the interesting and attractive things I see and share them with my communities on the various social networks I frequent.

A number of shopping malls in South Africa have undergone fairly extensive renovations in an apparent effort to make them into lifestyle destinations rather than just a series of shopfronts. The owners appear to want visitors, local and foreign, to frequent their malls and spend as much time as is possible there. Heck, the parking rates alone must make longer stays lucrative. It isn’t always possible to travel outside of your hometown for a break so local destinations are so important. Consider this tweet I noticed on Melrose Arch’s Twitter page:

Melrose Arch preferred destination.png

When you overlay a social media and the social Web, experiencing local destinations becomes a social event if we can capture our experiences and share them. Geolocation means you can take a couple photos or videos while you are having lunch somewhere or just taking the little ones out for a walk and have that content show up on a map. Those maps can be pretty handy for other people who want to have similar experiences. You know, they guide those potential visitors to the locations their predecessors frequented.

I don’t know why shopping malls prohibit photographs and I wish someone in the know would explain it to me. It just seems to me that the people who make the decisions are missing a valuable opportunity to put their destinations on the map in a very meaningful context, literally. Visitors should be encourages to share their experiences at these destinations and interact with them as much as possible. What about QR codes on shop windows linking to their websites or information about the shopping malls themselves (design, history, future plans). Visitors to these malls are increasingly online, mobile and connected and shopping malls have thusfar only managed to achieve lackluster engagement with the social Web. Here are how two of the higher end shopping malls are doing online:

Imagine if visitors were encouraged to capture their experiences and share them? It must be possible to manage security and safety concerns and still facilitate this? I don’t think that shopping malls can really afford to neglect the social Web as a tool in their marketing toolkits. These malls need to realise that engagement with their customers is more about just throwing up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. What about engaging with those customers in the malls themselves and encouraging them to share their experiences on location with their social networks. Remember “word of mouth”? Well, this is how it works.


  1. Nick avatar

    Not sure I'll ever understand the reasons why shopping malls don't allow photographs, but I really can't imagine it has to do with security.

    Since you're on private property, legally they can ask you to stop taking pictures. What they can't do is touch your camera. You have no obligation to tell them why you are taking pictures, to show them the pictures or to even tell them your name. They may of course escort you off the premises.

    It is completely legal to photograph the mall from outside when you are standing on public property.

  2. pauljacobson avatar

    Hi Nick

    At this point my thinking isn't so much about my legal rights but why the malls are so against what could benefit them tremendously.

  3. Clinton Jeff avatar

    Couldnt Agree with you more. Here in Delhi, I'm continuously told I cant take any pictures inside malls. Even if they just happen to be of my friends hanging out or what not. A rule which I try to break whenever I can 🙂

  4. Shopping malls and limitations avatar

    […] recently published a post about what I regard as silly rules about not being able to take photographs in shopping malls/centres. I have been reprimanded for […]

  5. How @melrosearch can become aw avatar

    […] becomes clear that Melrose Arch is intended to be a lifestyle destination (I made this point in my previous post). Melrose Arch also has its Twitter profile and Facebook page, both have fairly anemic followings […]

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: