(Reposted Feb 2015)
Someone posted a question about this in a forum I browse regularly, and it got me thinking. Most of the responses the poster got was around wedding photography (there may have been an element of that in their original question, I forget)
As I think about it there are several layers of camera etiquette, and I am still feeling my way around them. Here is where my head is at:
Street Photography – not something I have really tried yet. I gather that you are more likely to get the best candid shots when people don’t see you point the lens at them, so there is an element of ‘shooting from the hip’ where you shoot without even holding up to your eye? Or is that just a descriptor for some other technique I don’t know yet?
Of course, in this day and age of paranoia of terroism, it is becoming more and more difficult overseas to be a photographer in the open. Various articles I have seen have lots of bad things to say about your ability to walk the streets as a tourist photographer, and the assumption that the law has the right to demand either your images be deleted, or confiscation of your camera, with no allowance for explanation or reasonable compromise. This is a concern, and I feel for the people who live in those countries :(
Wedding Photography – given that weddings are usually held in some form of house of religion and they often have their own rules about what is allowed (usually no flash inside is the one I am most familiar) if you are ‘the event photographer’ then you get right of way so to speak. But what if you are an invited guest, who is also a keen photographer and happens to have pro looking gear? If it was me, I would introduce myself to the event person, explain my reason for being there with a camera, and ask politely if they minded if I shot around the edges? And if they objected, I guess I would have to abide by that. Perhaps useful to check in with the bride/groom beforehand and ask them to check with the event photog first to save the embarrasment?
How many times would a pro shooter be likely to deny you the opportunity? I guess it depends on their ego or them seeing you shooting stuff for free that they would be charging for. I would probably pick a few of the very best images I took and gift them as nice sized prints to the couple as a present (if I got any decent shots), would a Pro respect that? Its potentially a delicate balance to walk. If you were a Pro how would you handle it.
People Photography – I have had a little bit of experience with this as part of a course I did, and it was really good experience. We went to a popular center city marketplace and got let loose to see what we could come back around composition (that was the course). At first I was very shy and stuck to architecture, sculpture, buildings etc. But I happened to be in a situation with the camera out where I saw a mother with her baby that was very photogenic. And I asked her if she minded if I shot some shots. I was with a couple of classmates, so we all let loose for a few minutes. I got their contact details from Dad and all seemed to be happy.
It made me braver. So far I have approached several people after having shot their offspring (usually after the fact) but after introducing myself and getting their contact details to send pix details, I haven’t had a bad experience, yet. I think it helps a great deal that I am a woman, and potentially seen as non threatening. And I certainly try to come across as such. And if you offer to send them sample pix, so far they have been keen to supply email addresses, and so far liked what I sent them :)
Event Photography – I have been doing a lot of shooting for my local Swing Dance group and I had some good learning experiences over a big 3 day weekend event where we had probably 100+ out of towners come down for it. And I shot at all the big events. It was an interesting experience, learning to try to be low profile and stalk people to get the candid shots. I also got out of my comfort zone asking people to pose, and most were obliging – I found that a an inquiring look on the face as I lifted the camera up a bit and smiling got a positive response – most people posed or grouped together for a shot with little more prompting than that. Again, I suspect being a woman and less threatening helps in this sort of situation. And not being pushy – I hate having my photo taken so I am happy to respect that and give people the space to opt out of a posed shot.
And I also make sure that I *never* post the really embarrassing shots so that they are generally happy with seeing the shots I do show :) I think that is a key but largely unwritten covenant between the photographer and their subjects.
One of the issues with the swing dance photography is that it is often in very bad light, and while there is a lot that can be done with fast lenses and high iso, sometimes you have no choice but to use a flash. I am limited to the oncamera flash, but the one time I used it most of a nights dancing, I positioned myself up on a balcony to try and give as much space and not overwhelm people with the flash. I asked after that night if it bothered anyone, and lots of people said they saw me up there but never noticed the flash, so that was good. I aim to get an external flash I can put some filtering on, and try to bounce it to get a better indirect option and make it less intrusive.
General wandering around with your camera is a bit of an interesting experience when you have pro grade gear. You get a lot of comments about the size of the equipment “that must be a flash camera” that kind of thing. Sometimes from other shooters (usually with P&S) and sometimes from passersby. I got asked by some tourists with a P&S to take a photo of them with it, as I had fancy gear so obviously knew what I was doing LOL.
I found the responses I get when I set up my tripod in a public space interesting – we had a Buskers Festival here recently. I made a point of getting there early and setting up in a corner spot and gave everyone a chance to see me setup and most people were obliging about not blocking my line of sight. The most interesting thing was the number of acts who actually commented on the camera, and played up to it, and straight out asked me who I was shooting for in the middle of the act. Wasn’t expecting that question, and had no answer other than “Me” which didn’t seem to bother them. And they were happy to hand over a card so I could send links to pix online (must pull finger and edit some more and do that LOL)
I guess what I am saying is that there is a certain perception of you if you walk around with the big gear. And given I am totally a beginner I guess I found this interesting, and also amusing. Smile and nod your way through it usually works. I don’t know if I am lucky or just careful, as I do make an effort not to poke my camera into people’s personal space, and if I am at a public event, its fairly obvious that I am there to take photos, once you have the gear up on a tripod.
I haven’t gone to something that has a pro shooter already there (like professional sport) so haven’t had any issues with taking my gear in or shooting while at that event. Though I have heard of other people in NZ who have had issues. I guess its important to check the rules and requirements in advance, but it was a surprise to me initially as I had never come across any event situation where you were not allowed to take in a camera at all, or only take in small P&S style. So I learned a lot there, and will have to remember to check if I go to any similar events.
So what other things etiquette wise am I missing – there are a lot of situations and experiences I have yet to be in. But I never want to be the ‘jerk with the fancy gear’ or the ‘ignorant idiot photographer’ in any situation so please, let me learn from those who know :)