Landscape Photography Etiquette
27th June, 2017
As I write this article I’m still feeling a little groggy after recently returning from running my latest workshop in the Canadian Rockies. The jet lag may be affecting my mood somewhat, but never the less I want to write about something that’s been bothering me for a while now, general manners while taking photos.
Landscape photography is such a popular hobby these days; while ten years ago it was intriguing to arrive at a location and find another photographer already set up, now it is only to be expected. Encountering other people sharing the same passion as we do for photographing the landscape should be, and sometimes can be a good thing. But with many locations getting increasingly busy, especially the well known ones, I wish more people would act with a little more consideration for others.
A few years ago while shooting at the popular Mono Lake in California, I was completely shocked with the attitude of a husband and wife photographer team. They arrived late to the party, while myself and others were already set up with our chosen locations awaiting sunset, and promptly started shouting at people (including me) to get out of their way. Their behavior was abysmal and embarrassing, they even shouted at some small kids playing in the distance with their parents.
I know from frequent experience the anxiety that comes with wanting to capture the defining moment at a location, and the frustration that you can feel when others walk into your frame. Much of this stress could be avoided on location if we all acted with a little more courtesy and consideration to others.
It could be that I am incredibly selfish; when I visit a location I want to be the only person there. In order to achieve this I always arrive early enough to change location if I find another photographer has beaten me to a desired viewpoint. This is partly for selfish reasons, I change composition fairly frequently and want the freedom of moving position to wherever I like without finding others blocking my view. But at the same time I would be horrified to find that I had walked into another photographers view. So, my options are either changing location entirely, or alternatively accepting a compromised viewpoint and staying clear of the other photographer(s).
Some locations are so big that they can accommodate several photographers without any compromise, but more often than not the huge popularity of wide angle lenses in landscape photography brings about a shared interest in a particular foreground object. In such situations, much of the magic of landscape photography can be lost in the jostle for a prime position, and frustration can arise when elbows, tripod legs etc begin to creep into compositions. Then, there is occasionally one person that will boldly walk in front of everybody else with complete disregard and subsequently ignore any protest. Again I always try to stay clear of such situations, preferring a compromised viewpoint or different location entirely to jostling for position amongst a crowd of other photographers. I think if we all followed a similar approach, not only would our photographs offer more variety but also it would make photography a more enjoyable experience.
Sometimes of course, crowded viewpoints simply cannot be avoided but with good manners things can work out well for everybody. Workshops are a classic situation where groups of photographers have to work together. While leading workshops, I always encourage my clients to spread out and find their own space wherever possible, while being considerate to photographers around them. However, on the recent Canada workshop one situation caused my temperature to rise. We had arrived at a lake location in good time to capture sunrise, and upon finding two photographers shooting in our preferred spot I encouraged my group to move to another area of the lake so as not to crowd the couple who had beaten us to the location. As we walked the few minutes to our second viewpoint a car pulled into the car park. Two photographers, presumably upon seeing our group, jumped out of the car, grabbed their gear and ran as fast as they could in our direction. They ran straight past us, beating us to the location to claim the best viewpoint.
Maybe I’m just a grumpy old photographer, but in my book that’s just not the done thing. Feeling exasperated I boldly walked right up to the photographers as they began to set up, invading their personal space and claiming the area for my group. I kept things polite, but I think they felt slightly uncomfortable and shortly after the sun rose, packed up and left.
I am seeing this behavior much more often these days. Landscape photography has become a competitive sport, which goes totally against what it should be. If we can all be a little more polite, considerate and understanding of those around us, we will hopefully all be able to enjoy the buzz of witnessing and capturing beautiful moments of nature without any frustration.
Final word on the subject; if you are a drone pilot, this especially applies to you!
Article originally published in Landscape Photography Magazine, 2016