Camera Etiquette in a Crowd

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We’ve all been there. We’re at an event or a popular landmark, trying to photograph a memory, and we get bumped with a camera bag. Or, we inadvertently bump someone else as we’re positioning ourselves for a shot. Or you miss the PERFECT shot because someone wouldn’t be courteous enough to move. We need to be polite in our photography, just as we should have manners at the dinner table or be polite to our elders. It should just be ingrained in us to be considerate, so here are a few tips to keep in mind regarding camera etiquette in a crowd.

1. Don’t be a shot hog. If you are at an event, chances are there are a LOT of people wanting to get JUST the shot you’re trying to get – the perfect angle for a basket, an epic corner of a race, the sun hitting a spire just so, or their child dancing right next to yours. Try to be mindful of the folks surrounding you who are also hopefully holding their cameras, waiting for their chance. If you find yourself at the front of a crowd standing at a great spot, take as many shots as you can (bracket, use continuous shooting mode, etc), stay for a considerate amount of time (maybe up to five or ten minutes), then get out of the way so others can have a chance.

2. Be mindful of your gear and how much space it takes up. A long telephoto lens has a wide sweep as you pan a shot, so be mindful of the folks standing to your right and your left so you don’t clonk them in the head with your lens. If you’re wearing a bulky backpack or camera bag, consider taking it off and placing it between your feet (I got KNOCKED OVER by a guy’s camera backpack in Indianapolis last year, and he didn’t even apologize). Know that a tripod takes up far more room than a monopod (and many places only allow a monopod over a tripod). Try to keep your footprint as unobtrusive as possible when shooting in a crowd.

3. Keep your other eye open. Look around every once in a while. Pick your head up away from your camera and the scene before you, and take a glance to your right, left, behind you, and in front of you. Not only is it a good idea to be aware of your surroundings (especially if your gear is easily accessible), but you might be standing in someone’s way as they’re trying to get a shot. Or, you might be brushing against your neighbor, disrupting his or her personal space, without realizing it.

4. Make friends with the people around you. If you do so, not only will you (naturally) make more friends, they will also keep an eye out for YOU. Start a conversation, admire their camera, commiserate on the event and the excitement of the day. Share the photos you’ve taken on your camera’s screen, and admire theirs. Point out shots and angles they may have missed, and listen politely to any advice they might offer to you. Champion someone who may be at the mercy of a shot hog, or is getting bumped in the crowd. You’ll establish a protective circle of like-minded acquaintances – there is safety and FUN in numbers.

5. Apologize for your mistakes. You’re going to make them, and that’s okay. You’re going to interrupt someone’s shot, step on someone’s foot, or bump someone’s arm. Most folks understand that some thrash is unavoidable. Own that mistake, look the person in the eye, and sincerely apologize. Then do your best not to repeat the mistake.

6. Let others know – politely! – of their mistakes. Sometimes a fellow photographer can benefit from some positive coaching. If someone is being a shot hog, tap them on the shoulder and politely ask them if they could move aside for a few minutes to give you or others around you a chance. Most photographers – knowing how important THE shot is – will step aside gracefully. If someone is repeatedly bumping you with their lens or camera bag, talk to them about it. Let them know that you are just as excited as she or he is to be there, but they need to remember that they’re not alone in the crowd. Learn from the behavior of the people around you, and help them to learn from their own actions.

Do you have any experiences (positive or negative) while photographing in a crowd? Do you have any other advice to offer? Please feel free to share with us in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Photo Credit: Tiffany Joyce. I took this photo of Marco Simoncelli – among a LARGE crowd along the side of the track – in August of this year. I’m really glad I got this shot. Sadly, Simoncelli passed away just four laps into the Malaysian Grand Prix on October 23rd of this year.

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  • John Kosak

    Shot a hockey game where I had to share the corner hole in the glass with another photographer.  We agreed to swap position after each whistle stopped play.  If it was a really quick stoppage, both of us would quickly ask the other if he wanted more time.  Respect given seems to equal respect earned.