There he was...staring me down, like I was about to be the next meal. I was careful to move slowly, be quiet, and not do anything that would cause him to take off. I raised my camera toward him, set focus, and began to fire away. He sat on the branch like a statue, only turning his head slightly, here and there. It was the perfect setup, until he showed up. "Whatcha shooting? Oh, that hawk? He's backlit. You'll never get a good shot outta that." I tried to be courteous...holding back a torrent of language not suitable for general audiences. I figured he'd get the picture (no pun intended) and quietly excuse himself. I was wrong. "What camera is that? What lens? What do you do for a living?" After about the ninth or tenth question, as I turned, only for a moment, to try and give him a hint that he was cramping my style...poof. The majestic hawk that had been posing so elegantly for me was gone. Thanks, Mr. Chatterbox.
The worst part of that whole scenario? Mr. Chatterbox proclaimed himself to be a fellow "professional photographer". Well now, Mr. Chatterbox - a fellow professional would not have transgressed in such a manner.
I'd like to offer up some photography etiquette: four no-nos to avoid. I'm offering these...my own guidelines, in the hopes that you'll find value in them. Try to imagine yourself in the aforementioned scenario. How would you have felt?
1. Don't Walk Up To Another Photographer Who Is Shooting Wildlife
Try and respect the other shooter's space as much as possible. Use your judgment. Take a look around to see if you might be walking up on someone who's in the midst of shooting a subject. Most animals are sensitive to sudden movement and loud noises. Stumble along like you're wandering the mall, and the wildlife is going to flee...taking the other photographer's opportunity with it. That's not a great way to start a conversation.
2. Don't Shoot Right Over Another Photographer's Shoulder
Now, unless you're shooting news, sports, or another type of close-quarters subject matter...where you are at the mercy of limited control and time, don't hover over another photographer's shoulder and shoot exactly what he's shooting. As professionals, we are constantly looking for ways to stand out. How are you going to stand out from the other photographer if you're standing so close that he can smell your breath? Trust me - it's not polite, and may get you into a confrontation you didn't bargain for. Seriously - be courteous, and move to another spot.
3. Don't Closely Follow Another Photographer Walking A Remote Area, Unless Invited
There's a couple of aspects to this. First of all, it ties into point number one. Out in a remote area, where wildlife is clearly the goal, two people walking along certainly make more noise than one. Again - use your judgment, put a little distance between you and the guy up front, and you'll both be happier for it. Secondly, it can get a little creepy. If you trudge along behind someone you don't know, out in the middle of nowhere, it sets up a very shaky dynamic. The person ahead of you may feel that their safety is being challenged. If you weren't invited, and you don't have some sort of previous familiarity with the other photographer, you could be perceived as a physical threat. They may think you want to grab their gear and bolt, or worse.
4. Don't Ask Without Asking
No, it's not a joke. Before you start firing away with questions about how another photographer got started, whether or not it's their full time gig, what types of subject matter they shoot, etc., be sure to ask if you can ask them some questions. While many photographers are happy to share advice (it's why I write blogs like this), you still need to inquire as to whether or not they're okay with an impromptu interview. Maybe they're busy. Maybe they're not feeling well. Maybe they're out trying to get away from conversation. You don't know, and that's why you need to ask if the conversation is okay.
Again, these are no-no's from my playbook. Some may share these, some may not. But I hope that the aspiring photographers, out there, will give them some serious consideration. Had Mr. Chatterbox caught me with my camera slung over my shoulder, casually walking along without a care, I would have been happy to strike up a conversation. Oh...and one bonus no-no to conclude with: Never...NEVER tell another photographer he can't get a shot, no matter what your logic for doing so might be. First, it's rude, and second, well...see the image above.