Last LightThe last rays of sunlight warm the western peaks of Grand Teton and Mount Owen at the end of the day. (Teton Range, Wyoming) There was a time when common courtesy really was common, and people paid attention to etiquette. That ship has sailed - and sadly, bad behavior is becoming more prevalent in the photographic community, too.
Don't get me wrong: I've met some wonderful people over the years while working out in the field. But I've also encountered quite a few folks who could use a refresher course in Photographers' Field Etiquette.
Maybe you've come across some of these same characters:
Johnny Come Lately
This is the photographer who shows up late to a popular location (like five minutes before sunrise), takes a quick look around, and decides to set up within arms' length of you; in fact, he's in your frame. You've been there for 90 minutes and have already started shooting, but now you're going to have to do something to salvage the situation. Johnny either has no situational awareness, or he simply doesn't care.
If you're in close proximity to someone and they were there first, ask whether you're in their shot.
I've only experienced this once but it was so egregious an infraction it immediately landed at the top of my Bad Behavior Hall of Shame. There's a very popular sunrise location in Grand Teton National Park which can get so overrun I mostly avoid it. That said, I still like to work there from time to time. Because I'm willing to hike and most people tend not to stray very far from parking areas, I know I can get away from much of the congestion.
One morning, I was in one of my favorite "hidden" spots there. Alone in the midst of a crowd, so to speak. Then a Johnny Come Lately appeared out of the underbrush. Oh well, there went my solitude. Little did I know...
Though this woman had many options in terms of finding a spot from which to shoot (there was nobody else within eyesight), she sashayed up and made herself at home right next to me. By "right next to me" I mean shoulder-to-shoulder. Literally. She planted her tripod so close to mine that their legs crossed, which essentially locked me into place - yet she never made eye contact and did not speak to me. Completely bizarre and weirdly uncomfortable, it also made it impossible to work since I couldn't move the tripod to change my composition.
After about 30 minutes of this clown show, I decided I didn't care if my movement jostled her camera. I extricated myself from the carbon fiber web, packed up, and left.
Pleasant and friendly, The Chatterer exchanges hellos with you - and then proceeds to talk your ear off. He's not watching the light. He's not noticing wildlife. He's not admiring the setting. He's not setting up his shot. He's got so much to say!
Is this a coffee klatch or a photo shoot? It's distracting on so many levels.
It's All Mine
Some photographers seem to forget that they're in a public place. It's not for your exclusive use; others have a right to be there, too. So while it isn't good form to set up so close to someone that you end up in their shot, you shouldn't expect everybody else to clear the area for your benefit.
The same popular sunrise location I mentioned above sometimes produces very boorish behavior. I've heard people up in the parking area angrily shouting at other photographers. One morning it was particularly raucous. "You're in my shot!" "Get down!" "Idiot!"
My shooting partner looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, "Tough crowd."
As far as I could tell, the guy who was being yelled at had been there for quite some time; he wasn't just showing up at the last minute and muscling in. Nor was he immediately in front of those who were so peeved. He was perhaps 30 feet away and well below grade (on a steep slope). His crime was that he had been crouching, and then stood up.
There are ways to deal with popular locations. First, leave the parking areas! You'll get away from the crowds and I guarantee you'll find a more unique composition in the process.
Scout ahead; consider where you can position yourself to keep others from getting into the scene. For example, if you're shooting along a shoreline, you might find a small point where the land slightly juts into the water - stand there and you'll be able to keep people out of the frame. Or bring your muck boots and step into the water; that'll produce the same result. (Just be careful to stand still if reflections are an integral component. Be courteous!)
Be prepared to wait. Non-photographer park visitors tend not to linger. They'll mill in and out, but eventually there will be a break. Alternatively, you might consider including one of those folks into your composition for scale or context.
This has been happening for so many years I gave it a name: The Lemming Effect. On the one hand it's comical - but it does get annoying. I'll be set up and shooting somewhere by myself. (Usually this happens at some nondescript spot rather than a marked "area of interest.") Someone hikes by, or drives by. In the latter case, the car often screeches to a halt. Out comes the camera gear, and suddenly I've got a partner.
Then I'm asked, "What are you shooting?"
The Lemming stops because a photographer is working there, not because he saw something he wants to photograph. He sets his tripod up for.....what? He doesn't know.
Once one lemming shows up, it's not unusual for another to follow.
Related to Lemmings, Tails are photographers who follow you around. There might be no one else in sight, yet they choose to set up near you and then proceed to stick like glue from one spot to the next. At best, irritating. At worst, it's creepy.
Some engage and start to ask for advice.
"What settings should I use?"
"How are you composing your shot?"
Instant companion with complementary training thrown in. Like it or not.
The Loud Crowd
Some photography workshops are like the proverbial bull in a china shop: you can't miss them when they show up. I'm thinking of one in particular, led by a photographer I know. Nice guy, but loud. And invariably, so are his groups. One autumn, I was getting ready to capture a sunrise in Grand Teton Park when the serenity of the early morning was suddenly punctuated by his voice. He wasn't close enough that I could see him, and I hadn't known ahead of time he'd be in the park that week, but I recognized instantly who it was as he shouted instructions to his troops.
After they settled in nearby, he commanded them all to focus stack ("one size fits all" photography, apparently), counted down the minutes until the sun would be up, and provided a running commentary on his assessment of the conditions.
The boisterous participants also had a lot to say. Much of their back-and-forth dealt with settings: "What f/stop are you using?" "What's your ISO?" (they got the "one size fits all" message). There was also spirited banter about the previous night's activities, where they were going for breakfast, and how this morning's sunrise stacked up to the day before.
They made their presence known. To everyone. So much for nature's peacefulness.
I could give you more examples, but these illustrate the point. "Problem photographers" can have an oversized negative influence on the experience of others.
Especially if you're just starting your photography journey and have been frustrated after encountering situations like these, know that there are a lot of courteous, considerate, friendly people out there. You'll run into more of them than those who need some help when it comes to etiquette. Keep the faith.
You'll meet people from all over the world. Some of these strangers will become friends. You'll pick up useful tips from folks (and vice versa). And you'll remember some of these faces and conversations for years to come, even if you never see them again.
The bad actors are good examples of what not to do. There is such a thing as photographers' etiquette. It's not rocket science, just common courtesy and common sense. You can still have fun while being responsible and aware of what's going on around you.
Everybody has fun. Win, win.
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