A Quick Word On Photography Etiquette


Let me start this off by saying that one of my biggest pet peeves is inconveniencing people, or being inconsiderate to those around me. I’ve always hated the idea of being a burden on others, and thus, I often go above and beyond to avoid being a nuisance to anyone around me.

As a result though, I also hate it when other people are inconsiderate around me, or to me directly. In my opinion it shows a serious level of self absorption that is often quite literally outright offensive.

All that said, as a photographer, it can be hard not to be invasive of people around you and thus this little pet peeve of mine can often be at odds with the job at hand.


The reason I bring all this up is because I recently found myself, along with an office full of coworkers, suffering the consequences of an inconsiderate photographer.

Now, stuff like this happens all the time and my purpose here isn’t to publicly shame anybody so I’ll spare you the details, but lets just say it involved an unannounced photo shoot in a public office building for several hours while the photographer used multiple pieces of equipment that continually disrupted the entire office.

I know that I’m especially prone to being annoyed by these things, so at first I thought maybe it was only bothering me, but once the shoot passed the two hour mark it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one in the office that was annoyed at his prolonged presence.


Of course, I could just put the whole experience behind me and forget it, spare everyone the lecture, and avoid painting myself as the crotchety old complainer, but this isn’t a problem that is isolated to this specific instance. In fact, the whole reason I decided to write this column in the first place is because my recent experience is indicative of a much larger problem.

When you’re out operating as a photographer, you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing all of us; and similarly when you make a bad impression, especially on a large number of people all at once, it’s a disservice to all of us.

Also, it’s really not that hard to avoid annoying those around you. If you just put some forethought into it, it can actually be pretty easy. Here are a few quick and easy things you can keep in mind to avoid being a nuisance.


Silence is Golden

One of the first (and easiest) things you can do is to simply remember the old adage “silence is golden.” What does that mean in the context of photography? It really just means muting anything that makes noise and has a silent option as one of its functions.

If it makes noise and you can’t silence it, just try not to use it. Can’t get by without it? Then try to muffle the noise. Seriously, it usually isn’t very hard to simply cover the speaker of whatever device you’re using. If that’s still not an option, or you simply don’t want to be known as the guy with duct tape all over his gear, then there’s always the next suggestion…


Give Some Warning

Yes, if you can’t go without your noisy gear then there’s always the option to just warn those you’ll be working around. What a novel idea, right? It seems like an obvious thing to do, and yet I’ve seen countless photographers (myself included, if I’m being honest) completely and totally fail on this front.

If you’re going to be shooting around a large number of people performing their jobs, and you know in advance that you’re likely to cause some sort of disruption, there’s really no reason you can’t give them some sort of warning beforehand. Send out an email or put up a sign the day before. If you don’t have that kind of access, ask whoever is helping you set up the shoot to do it.

If you’re shooting at an impromptu location or are running around shooting on the fly, then try to warn the people around you once you’ve selected your location and have settled down. They’ll at least know any inconveniences aren’t intentional and that you’re trying to be considerate of their needs while you’re working.


Be Selective About Your Equipment

This is really a general rule of photography masquerading as a tip to be considerate. With any shoot, you should consider your subject and the environment you’re working in. In this context this rule really just means going one extra step beyond that and asking yourself if there’s a less intrusive option in your bag of tricks.

For instance, when choosing your lighting equipment, perhaps strobes aren’t a great idea if you’re going to be shooting in an active work environment.

There, that’s it. Three simple ways you can reduce your impact on those around you. Now of course, all of this said, there’s one major caveat — never sacrifice the shot.

Your first and primary function as a photographer is to get the photo and every once in a while there will be no other option than to be a complete and total annoyance to those around you.

We live in the real world (sometimes…) and no matter how many tips you follow, or how much effort you put into being invisible, you will likely still get in somebody’s way at some point. You can silence all your gear, go without external lighting, and give as much warning as possible but there will still be somebody inconvenienced by your presence.

It’s at this point you don’t let it become a factor. Try to minimize your impact and then don’t focus on it any longer… get the shot. After all, that’s the main reason you’re there.

Image credits: Annoying by Andrew Malone, New Office by Phil Whitehouse, Flash Photography by Ekke, Quiet Please by Elliott Brown, Prison Break Film Notice by Luis Penados, Day 115-Off Camera Flashing by Phil and Pam Gradwell

  • Richard

    Amen brother. Goes for cell phones on planes too.

    I think many forget to put themselves where others are. However, some people just don’t give a #### and those are the types who need a bit of public shaming to get their behavior modified.

  • ennuipoet

    I shoot a lot of performances in clubs and small venues and continue to be shocked when I am approached by the client at the end thanking me for NOT using a flash during the performance.

  • Peter “Pots”

    It is nice to know that other photo folks think the same way. I try to be minimally unobtrusive. If I saw someone that appeared to be annoyed by my presence, I tried to interact with them so they could understand what I was attempting to do…it works!

  • Doc Pixel

    I guess that means leaving the new Sony A7’s home, huh? One of the loudest shutters I’ve heard in years!

  • Jake Brown

    That’s one of the main reason’s I use my Fuji equipment more than my 5D. The Fuji is silent compared to the machine gun of the Canon shutter.

  • Hell’s Donut House

    Recently in Brooklyn NY I caught a performance by the drone/ambient group Stars of the Lid. The show was spectacular, gorgeous textures and a breathtakingly still atmosphere where every person in the audience was listening respectfully with rapt attention… except for the photographers. Every single number was punctuated with the constant chittering of DSLR shutters, with a half dozen or more photographers constantly scurrying around the space. It was consistently disruptive and disrespectful and I found myself pining for the days where venues would allow shooters to take photos for only the first three numbers, then make them leave so that the audience members can enjoy the show undisturbed.

  • Hell’s Donut House

    Why is that shocking? In this context it’s common sense — which you clearly possess, though many don’t.

  • Graham Marley

    I was doing headshots for a small financial management company and they asked me if I would do some environmental shots of the employees around the office. I told them “sure” but to warn everyone first (it’s a small company.) I was doing everything I could to keep distance, but I immediately felt weird. But, it’s what the client wanted, so I couldn’t just back out. I found the trick was to figure out who felt intruded on, and point out that it was a bizarre experience for me too, and that got people laughing and that made everything better. I became inconspicuous by not being inconspicuous, at the appropriate time.

  • Aaron Belford

    Brilliant, at least I’m not the only one annoyed by inconsiderate photographers. but I keep that to me self, pushing it deep down inside and only talking to my wife about it. But as we all know or at least the photographers with wives know, they hate constantly hearing about this. :)

  • mthouston

    ” but lets just say it involved an unannounced photo shoot in a public office building for several hours while the photographer used multiple pieces of equipment that continually disrupted the entire office.”

    Are you saying that the photographer just walk right in to your office , right off the street and started shooting for several hours, completely unannounced? Or, was the photographer hired by the company to shoot in the office and they (your company) neglected to tell you the photographer would be there?

  • Barry Robinson

    I’ve heard so many street photographs going on about “getting in up close”, but I much prefer to use a longer lenses, and capture the moment rather than pissing someone off who will then probably ask you to delete the picture anyway. Most of the time when I show people my work, having taken a candid shot their more than happy to let me use the image!

  • Barry Robinson

    I’ve heard so many photographers going on about getting up close and personal with a 28mm lens on the streets, but I find using a longer lens a lot less intrusive. If you get in peoples faces the chances are there going to ask you to delete the picture. Most of the time when I shoot a candid moment, when I show people what I’ve captured their more than happy to let me use the image!

  • Graham Marley

    And what exactly is a “public” office building?

  • Edward Millership

    Few if any understand the futility of flash in large venues…

  • Roboptic

    This article has good intentions [it seems] but is very mixed up in it’s examples as well as it’s points.

    inconveniencing people is something to avoid and etiquette should be at the forefront of peoples minds in most situations but there is a huge difference between “public” situations and work for hire [my assumption] in a private office setting. You don’t give much information on this office shoot so it is hard from here to tell if rude behavior occurred.

    In the office scenario that you encountered, was there an announcement from YOUR company/supervisors? On small location jobs that is how that is usually handled for reasons of ease and politics.

    Do you know if your company offered to let it’s employees know of the shoot before hand on behalf of the production team? They usually want to do it to put the right spin/incentives on it to you.

    Do you know if your company cares? They got their location fee/publicity. Why should you care?

    Have you ever shot with packs on a job with no recycle indication? Because when the client “sees” the shot on the monitor and it can’t be used because you were ahead of the recycle, it’s a fail.

    Were the photo team given any rules/instructions that they were not following? The location scout or company liaison should be watching for negative interaction and interacting with the locals to make amends and smooth the way for both sides. Did you seek that person out?

    It seems to me that you were perturbed on the day so you wrote a venting article about it, an article that didn’t give us much to go on in understanding your displeasure and didn’t address the interaction between your office and the photo team in a realistic or helpful way.

    Cheers, Rob

  • Guest

    I once had an audience member complain to me that off camera flash was ruining her experience of the event (an economic presentation). Of course the room was very badly lit and I was hired to capture photos of the event. So what to do?

  • Eugene Chok

    ‘ it involved an unannounced photo shoot in a public office building ‘ ‘ there’s really no reason you can’t give them some sort of warning beforehand.’ sounds like managements issue not the photographer…. time to call HR not write a petapixel article. I also don’t understand if you are the office photographer why were you not shooting the job? sounds like someone got mad they booked someone else?

  • Maurice

    I have seen some photographers justify their use of flashes at a concert as ‘the artiste should be used to all this so it’s fine’.

  • csmif

    Ever watch a sporting event in a stadium on TV? see all those flashes going off in the crowd? What the hell are they thinking?

  • Hwoarang5

    same here, so far no problem shooting in large or small venue using off camea flash, the key is “knowing how to use it”, give prior heads up to the host,(so far none rejected the offer,if u can produce stunning shots,that’s if) use the flash as a fill ,snoot it as spot light, bounce fill etc… so many options that are not distracting at all, only annoyance of using flash is when a noob goes bursting rapidly and directly at people.. then these experts need to master their skill more before accepting commission jobs

  • Hwoarang5

    Fuji x100s is one of the best replacement for most shoot that fits the fixed focal length, wish i have one, then again my 5dmkiii does has silent shutter so far no problem …

  • Spongebob Nopants

    My personal ettiquete when shooting indoors at a party, is to always ask unless I’m shooting the dance floor. When a promoter told me to just take photos without asking I refused. I’ve seen a lot of shooters who do that and it’s phenominally obnoxious, especially when people are trying to loose themselves and have a good time.
    Indoors shooting bands- it depends on weather I’d use flash or not. If it is a mild kind of music I try to stay out of the line of view of the audience and don’t use flash. If the music is quiet I try to use quiet mode on my camera.
    But if it’s over the top loud stuff then you are actually contributing to the image of the performers and not ruining the experience for everyone.
    I prefer to never use flash because it goes against the feeling the performers want the audience to experience. I am quite adept at using manual focus in near darkeness at f/1.2 so it’s never a problem for me.
    Outside? I don’t care! I do what I want!
    Seriously – those other people you might or might not annoy don’t give a crap about your career – Why bend over backwards for people who don’t care if you end up eating cat food in your old age?

  • damibru

    What a whiney article! Get over yourself Grumpy McNasty. If you wanna live in a world where your privacy isn’t invaded even on the most mundane levels then go live in the woods :)

  • Sean Murphy

    I saw 50-75 people shooting Niagra Falls at night with a flash back in the days of film,
    I just quietly laughed

  • peterblaise

    The author is confusing public-subject participation with public-subject permission.

    Photography in public is not a permissioned activity.

    Photography in public is free speech.

    Let’s all carry our cameras with us everywhere and photograph everything all the time.

    Let’s all go out and shoot something, and bring it back alive!

  • peterblaise

    That’s a social service career choice, not an artistic photography self expression choice.

    Nothing wrong with either, but neither is appropriate for the other.

  • wayne.carroll

    “…suffering the consequences of an inconsiderate photographer.

    Now, stuff like this happens all the time and my purpose here isn’t
    to publicly shame anybody so I’ll spare you the details, but lets just
    say it involved an unannounced photo shoot in a public office building
    for several hours while the photographer used multiple pieces of
    equipment that continually disrupted the entire office.”

    Huh? Was this guy hired by the company you work for to shoot you & your coworkers at work? If so, then what’s the beef? He’s just doing the job that he was hired to do. Granted, it can be an unfortunate side effect of doing that job but I’ve been involved in many office shoots for clients and no one ever bitched about disruptions.

    This whole article smells funny . . .

  • cgw

    Too many GWCs just don’t get “no.” Have seen a bloated sense of entitlement put some of ‘em in harm’s way, especially in public venues.

  • QuahogStewie

    It means they don’t know how to turn off the flash and the camera uses it because it sees how dark the exposure is going to be.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I’m sorry but I read half the article where you vaguely described why you wrote the article, but didn’t give any indication of what the bother was. Then read about how a photographer should not have noisy speakers (???), give notice, and then use the right gear. Really, this was a non-article and the “let people know you will be there” tip is lame since it isn’t the photographer’s job, it’s the client who hires him to be there. No examples, no conclusions, no help.

  • peterblaise

    GWC = Guy With Camera

    “… bloated sense of entitlement put some of ‘em in harm’s way, especially in public venues …”

    wayne.carroll apparently doesn’t understand constitutionally protected free speech rights in a free and open and well-informed society.

    Heil, Wayne.

  • peterblaise

    … while they probably got satisfactory pictures and are happy, unaware of your dismissive ridicule demanding that they should know more than their automatic cameras or be unhappy otherwise.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    I agree with pretty much all of the posts about the shooting pix in a concert or performance but this post was from a self absorbed office worker who felt slighted that his/her employer didn;t notify them that the company had hired a photographer for some silly reason involved with promoting the business he/she works at.
    Are you that sensitive that all that beeping and clicking and flashing is going to keep you from doing your job out there in the bullpen (as seen in the picture).
    In 20 plus years of going into offices, factories, public spaces, etc. I have had about 2 people “complain” most are interested at first and then become bored an get back to their job…not be driven mad by the intrusion. Just like you, the photographer, AC Repair guy, window washer, FedEx/UPS guy/gal, fire fighter (with those noisey sirens !!!) is there to do a job, not bother you. Get over yourself.

  • tarsus

    I gave up shooting a DSLR in theater and music events some time ago. The Canon G1X provides me with the silent shooting needed. The arrogance, me included at one time, of shooters who have to get the shot regardless of the distraction to the audience is amazing. Never use a flash and that includes sports.

  • peterblaise

    It’s not necessarily arrogance, but free speech documentation for history, a well informed free society, and so on.

    Why do photographers uniquely feel they are the only ones in an otherwise free society who need permission to express their free speech rights?

  • Mr Hogwallop

    Many if not most indoor sporting venues have strobes in the rafters, but in the rafters is better than an on camera flash on the floor.

  • clark james

    hmm, although you’re gonna have to get up in someones face to shoot with the x100, might be more inconvenient to the subject than to shoot telephoto with the 5d.

  • Bryan Smith

    Paparazzi throw everything you said out the window…with the baby and the bathwater…and photographic it, as it is leaving the building…

  • Kevin Foust

    I have to disagree with the following in your post:

    “When you’re out operating as a photographer, you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing all of us; and similarly when you make a bad impression, especially on a large number of people all at once, it’s a disservice to all of us.”

    That logic has been used to justify racism and xenophobia since time immemorial.

  • chris

    completely agree with you…looks like someone got “jealous” that he was not the paid photographer on that day ;) ;) LOL

  • David Lee Short

    Swimming against the current here, I was once shooting a street scene outside Jackson Square in New Orleans. I was backed up into a corner for stability, and using a Nikon F. (Yes this was a while ago) One of the local characters came charging across the street and threatened me with his cane. Apparently I should have known that one cannot photograph him, even in a public venue, without paying him. How rude of me.

  • Amasa Delano

    I don’t know what the etiquette is for doing commercial video shoots, but my girlfriend and I went out for a nice, quiet dinner one night and ended up being bothered by a photographer and videographer the whole time. The restaurant didn’t post anything on the door, nor did our hostess or server let us know that they were doing a shoot. After we ordered, we saw the video camera setting up, and then the photographer came in and started walking around taking pictures. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later we turned on the TV and saw ourselves eating in their commercial, with no consent ever asked for or given.

  • Christopher

    Good manners, etiquette and being considerate of other humans are always good advice for everyone in all professions. That said, the flip side is that in this age of constant interruption we all need thicker skins so as to not let minor public irritations ruin our day or respond recklessly (like the maniac ex-cop [Reeves] who shot the navy vet in the movie theater for texting…during the previews, the guy [Dunn] that shot teenagers for playing music too loudly from a car or George Zimmerman).

  • SIGmund Fried

    What the hell is drone/ambient? Is that like a fan in the room for white noise?

  • Hell’s Donut House
  • Esprit

    I agree.

    I understand how annoying loud gear can be, and I would probably turn off audio on my pack system and use a quiet shutter. Those sort of things require little effort and show some consideration. But beyond that, what are you supposed to do? Use flashguns and compromise your work because you’re mildly irritating someone?

    Not every photographer is a “natural light” photographer that takes pictures of cats and prairie fields. Guess what? A commercial shoot is obtrusive. It happens. If it’s happening in the middle of a busy office with no notice, blame the client, not the photographer.

  • Fed Up with weirdos like you

    i would have walked out

  • Fed Up with weirdos like you

    there is no such thing as a “professional photographer”…..there are only photographers who conduct themselves in a professional manner

  • Amasa Delano

    No, quite the opposite. It is the logic of the public who judge an entire group of people on the behavior of one that is wrong, not the belief that you should be considerate and respectful so that they won’t.

  • csmif

    I know exactly what it means, but thanks anyway.