If Miss Manners were a Photographer…

Imagine having the time for one sunset at a park to shoot a landscape.

Imagine you flew to the country where the park is, 8,263 miles from where you live, a 16-hour flight. You booked a hotel nearby at (higher) summer prices. You rented a car.

You spent months dreaming about that sunset.

Finally you are there, set up with your tripod with a decent composition, finger on the remote trigger for your dSLR.

At the perfect moment, you’re going to take the shot.

Then another photographer moves into your frame and sets up her tripod smack in the middle of your viewfinder.

The sun sinks. So does your dream of getting an uncluttered sunset at this park, an experience you paid thousands of dollars to photograph.

If Miss Manners were a photographer, what would she say about other photographers who deliberately or inadvertently insert themselves into our frame?

Mono Lake another photographer moved into my shot. She knew I was there. I was there 2 hours before she got there. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I got there two hours before you. And here I am photographing your behind.

Be attentive to what’s going on around you.

It’s very easy to get lost in your head when shooting, especially with a beautiful setting and a sunset. But because there may be more than one photographer around, it is good manners to check if you are stepping into someone else’s frame. Even tourists wait their turn to photograph each other in front of one tourist site or other. This courtesy is something that can only be practiced if we pay attention to what others are doing around us.

Know how much a lens can ‘see.’

The person who stepped in front of the shot had a long lens. The photographer who set up her tripod first had a 16-35mm lens. The person with the long lens (if she knew her stuff), just looking at the photographer who already set up before her, would have known that she would be in the other photographer’s frame.

She would still have gotten good frames with her own telephoto even if she did not intrude on someone else’s frame. The lens was long enough to make images even if she was standing behind the other photographer.

Who got there first.

Shooting over someone’s shoulder. Really?

You can’t buy a photographic eye. You can’t steal it, either.

Shooting over someone’s shoulder is basically stealing their composition, especially if you are intruding on their personal space. There are folks who pay someone to ‘teach’ them in a workshop and end up just shooting over the instructor’s shoulder if the instructor has their own camera held up to their face.

News bulletin: you can’t get better if you have to depend on someone else’s eye to create a good image. There are no shortcuts to getting better at photography. There is only the hard work of finding your own point of view.

Portrait session kept walking and posing in the frame.

Another sunset, another person's butt in front of the wide angle lens.

Later on the photographer who traveled far for the foiled sunset went to another location for another sunset.

There were three portrait sessions going on at that location. One of the three portraitists for hire kept posing their clients wherever the wide-angle lens of the landscape shooter pointed. Total aggravation.

So tell me, should photographers develop some manners, or is this rude inattentiveness something we should teach in photo workshops in future?

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

13 Responses to “If Miss Manners were a Photographer…”

  1. I think it’s very rude to step into the frame of another photographer. You could ask, that’s what your mouth is for, and make arrangements together from which position each one could take a photo.

  2. Hi Timo, thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree that the offended photographer needs to ask politely for the other person to move away. Sometimes, it works really well especially if you smile while asking the person to move. Other times, you get a frown or are just ignored–which is even worse, just the pretending that they didn’t hear you. Then what do you do? There are a million things I wanted to do, but they were all equally rude…

  3. You should have broken your tripod against her head:)

    Thats not question of photographers manners, it about good human manners.

    Next time dont let anybody to ruin your pictures and just tell them to get out!

  4. Thanks Martin. I agree that it’s just human good manners to share the space. I should have given her a tutorial on how to use a long lens. :)

  5. Did you finally talk with her? This post inspired a little anger in me. Are you sure she wasn’t a model there for the shoot? Maybe you were on Candid Camera.

  6. Very rude! And totally in keeping with how narcissistic and “me me me” so many people seem to be these days.

    Some of them really just don’t see their rudeness. If you just say “excuse me” they notice and move.

    Other people are being rude deliberately (probably for the reasons you gave, they want to take advantage of a better eye, they are greedy, etc.). This is a great personal failing and epidemic everywhere I’ve lived (in the US and Canada), in my opinion. And seemingly getting worse, but it may just be that I notice it more as I get older. ;-)

    I lke “meta photography” (photography about photography) and I think this essay and photos worked very well to tell your story!

  7. Tom, thanks for the comment. I was angry too, a lot angry, although I was on assignment and did not want to waste time arguing with her while the light was good. I later said something but all I got was the blank stare. Any way my pics are coming out in a magazine in the winter. (So there.) :)

  8. Alexis, thanks for the kind words. I never noticed this sort of behavior when I took handheld shots while on travel assignment. Only when I started doing slow shutter work with a tripod did I notice it more. So I think it is rudeness and a selfishness to ‘get the shot’ and if someone who looks like she knows what she’s doing is standing there, maybe standing in front of them will yield a better shot. That kind of selfishness.

    Since this attitude is so common, I’m going to start looking out for positive attitudes, like sharing spaces and taking turns.I still have faith that many photogs are much, much more polite than this.

  9. Crazy! Great examples and points. Sorry this happened to you. People can be so clueless to their surroundings or they simply just don’t care.

  10. I’m not certain that common sense and politeness can be taught…only mentioned. I’m certain that one could teach an 80 hour seminar on protocol and there would still be those who are going to do whatever they want to because as already mentioned, today’s society is all about me, me and me.

    Of course, it might have been fun to walk up and take a shot only a foot right behind their head and when they notice, tell them that since they wanted so much to be in your foreground, you are just availing yourself of the opportunity! :)

  11. @Erik: Thanks. Sometimes I do think people are just clueless.

    I’m going to do what Mike said and come up and start taking closeup portraits of them. Thanks for the suggestion Mike. Sarcasm is always fun. :)

  12. In landscape photography, such a behaviour is worse enough – the lighting situation will last only so long and probably never come bac. Even worse may be what happened to me when doing shooting for a newspaper. I had thoroughly arranged two groups of people during an ongoing event at quite a distance from my home, everything had been thought through. When, finally, after two hours, the opportunity for the shoot arised, I had two notive that a young woman, photographing herself for the newspaper, had sneaked at my side. Not only she was stealing the shot – she destroyed the peoples attention, ruining the shot – all that prep for a result I never want to see published. She had not even waited till my shot was done.
    PS: Hope I never did this myself …

  13. Hi Andreas, what happened to you is definitely worse. I agree that this is behavior we hope we never do. Did you speak to her afterwards, or like me, were you just too disgusted?

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