Courtesy for Photographers (A Primer)

She went thattaway.
She went thattaway.

Mean people suck. So do rude people. Mean, rude photographers, needless to say, also suck, and what’s worse is that they give those of us who mind our manners a bad name. There’s a lot to be said about the ethics of photography (several posts’ worth, actually), but it’s worthwhile to consider a few bits of photographic common courtesy. Especially since “common courtesy” doesn’t seem to be so common nowadays. So here are a few common-sense rules for photographic common courtesy.

1. Be mindful of your surroundings. This can take any number of forms. Sometimes, it’s knowing the rules or customs where you’re shooting (especially if you’re shooting in a place where the culture is much different than the one from which you came), and finding someone who can act as your interpreter/guide/educator if you’re unfamiliar with the area. It’s also knowing, or getting to know, the people; realize that your camera doesn’t confer on you some form of King- or Queen-ship (they’re people, not just your “subjects”). Some things — whether you’re photographing a parade, or shooting in a cemetery — require an awareness of the other people who are/might be present, and some basic respect for their space and feelings. Finally, don’t be a typical tourist or the “Ugly American” (regardless of your nationality).

2. Be mindful of other photographers. One other reason (among several) that I’ve never wanted to be a wedding photographer is because I can just imagine the havoc that 60 people taking flash photos must raise when you’re trying to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot. What’s even worse are times when I’ve seen people casting dirty looks in the photographer’s general direction as though she’s in the way. Here’s a tip: unless someone in the wedding party has paid or asked you to photograph or film the proceedings, give the photographer a wide berth, and let him/her do the job for which they were paid.

3. Please, don’t be an ass. I’ve said this before, but it bears/needs repeating. It’s one thing to try, gently, to coax a smile out of a subject; it’s something else to resort to conniving, deceit, or other forms of fuckery. Don’t ever be a jerk just for the sake of getting a photo. You’re ruining it for the rest of us, and making it that much harder to get honest photos out of people who will probably be on their guard all because, y’know, you’re an auteur. Or something.

4. Don’t brag on your gear. Yes, we all know you spent a mint on your camera. And maybe the person next to you is shooting with a TLR that’s older than your grandma. That doesn’t mean that you’re a better photographer, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to get all high and mighty over what’s in your camera bag (“Oh, a D40. How quaint. When were you going to upgrade?”). At that point, you’re not a photographer, you’re just a camera collector, and an obnoxious one at that.

5. Know when to put the camera down. Some things are meant to be experienced directly, without being mediated through a viewfinder and a stack of ground glass. I can understand the desire to want to document things (I’m a photographer too, after all), but sometimes the best document of something is the warmth you feel when you look back on something, the goosebumps, the stories… There’s nothing wrong with telling someone, “You just had to be there.” But if you’re going to be there, then sometimes you’ve just got to be there, and be fully present.

Have you come across any bad behavior recently? What are your pet peeves regarding your fellow photographers?

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