You don’t need me to tell you how popular skye is with photographers. It draws people from all over the world, and is on the bucket list of many more. It’s easy to understand why, with the likes of the Quiraing, Storr, Neist Point, and the many other iconic locations there are on the island.
There are ‘photography hotspots’ where every dawn and dusk a gaggle of photographers will be swarming around, all eager to snap the view they have often come so far to see. The tree at the Quiraing, ‘Photographer’s Mound’ at Storr, the southern end of Loch Fada, the old bridge at Sligachan, and the cliff top at Neist Point are all good examples of such hotspots.
One of the advantages in using our services here on Skye (whether it be Location Guidance or a Workshop with tuition) is that we know the island inside out and back to front, so we can mostly avoid the crowds and don’t need to deal with negotiating our way around other tripods. You’ll never see us atop ‘Photographer’s Mound’ or at the Fairy Pools, as contradictory to what might be written on forums and online guides, there are far better viewpoints around, and ones which not many people know about.
You can always spot the photography workshop groups who are being led by non-Skye based photographers, as they only ever seem to go to the obvious spots. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen groups lined up at the Quiraing, just a hundred metres or so from the car park. The view from this point is useless for photography, yet because they are at The Quiraing, they assume they have a great subject. Why anyone needs a workshop to find such places is a mystery, but they continue to come. We usually have our own spots where we are alone, enjoying the peace, and of course the superior view.
Occasionally an eagle-eyed or curious photographer will follow us. They probably see our confident stride and assume we know where we are going - they would be correct. When people do follow us, this is fine. We don’t own the landscape and have no additional rights over anyone else to be there. But if we are followed, it is a fact that we will arrive at the location first, and this is where photographer’s etiquette comes into play.
There are a number of unwritten rules which are basically a mixture of common sense and common courtesy...
- Never walk in front of another photographer’s lens without permission.
- Never (knowingly) set up in another photographer’s frame, even if it means you may miss the shot you want.
- If you are first on the scene with others waiting, give up your spot once you have your shot so that others can get theirs.
- And of course the most important of all - Respect Canon users!
One thing I make sure my team understands is to never assume we have immunity from the above rules just because we are “doing a workshop” which is a phrase you hear all the time in the USA. Some so called professional photographers on that side of the Atlantic seem to somehow think that if they are leading a workshop they somehow have a V.I.P Access to All Areas pass around their neck which means all other photographers are inferior and should go and find another location. It makes my blood boil when I see this (and I have seen it often), and I am left wondering why people book trips with such rude idiots?
I bring attention to these points, firstly because it’s an interesting topic to discuss, but also because a closely related incident occurred just this week when team member Nick was out with one of our customers. He picks up the story….
This scenario happened whilst on location with a client this week. I had planned a particular viewpoint which I knew would work well in the current conditions. We arrived in plenty of time before sunrise so that we could chose and discuss our composition, and be ready for that moment when hopefully the sun would appear and light up the landscape in front of us.
Around twenty minutes after we had arrived and moments before sunrise, a fellow photographer appeared to our right. On reaching us, we greeted each other with the usual pleasantries. He then went on to say “This is the truth… I was intending on setting up at this location, this morning”. Now, I don't have a problem with someone else, photographer or not, sharing the same spot we have already chosen, as I certainly don't own that spot simply because I arrived first. With this in mind, I welcomed the other photographer to join us and expected him to set up beside us. To my surprise however, he decided to set up his tripod a little further down at the path in front of us, but did ask politely if he was in our composition? Unfortunately he was, to which I informed him. He respectfully repositioned himself out of our shot, and it seemed that photographer’s etiquette was all being followed correctly.
However, within a space of a few minutes, he’d edged back to his original position. At first I didn't mention anything, as the sun was still behind cloud and we weren’t taking photos at this moment. Things then started to get good and the light began illuminating the landscape in front of us. At this point I shouted over to him requesting if he could refrain from infringing into my client’s shot. He replied back that he was only going to be thirty seconds. I knew it would most likely take him more than thirty to get his tripod into the exact position he wanted, reframe his composition in camera, set the exposure based on the changing light, adjust any filters he had attached, then take his first photo. By this point, the sun could have gone behind cloud, and my client may have missed his only chance to get a good shot that morning.
You could say that the other photographer would potentially miss his only chance to get the shot from his original chosen position. However, this particular location has many possible compositions to choose from. Had I been in his position, I would have simply chosen another composition from the one I had planned so as to not interfere with the photographers there before me.
He was not happy with me not wanting him in our composition. He reinforced that he would only be thirty seconds and that we could both get the shots we wanted. As my frustration grew, a barrage of un-pleasantries ensued, which I do agree was unprofessional of me. A little while later, but far more than 30 seconds, he decided to pack up his equipment and headed back along the path toward his car.
Upon getting home that evening, I switched on my laptop, only to find that this photographer had tracked me down and sent me an email. This email included quotes such as “It ruined the morning's experience for me” and “I cannot accept that I did anything wrong or unethical”. He went on to inform me how he had scouted the location the previous day in the pouring rain - as though that somehow gave him special rights. He acknowledged that he entered our view for thirty seconds, on five occasions, and didn’t seem to think this was a problem. He agreed that the first photographer at a location should have the opportunity to make images without interference from others and claimed that nothing he did prevented us from getting our shot. He was right, we did get our shot, but we could have so easily missed it due to his selfishness.
I responded, firstly apologising for my aggressive and inappropriate behaviour. I also explained that to capture an image might mean waiting for a precise moment in time when the light is just right, and that someone interfering for any length of time could jeopardise this.
The following day I was discussing the scenario with another client, who likened it to a similar situation he had faced in Iceland, where he and a group of other photographers were set up on a beach with their tripods, only to have another photographer come along and stand right in from of them. - Nick Hanson.
Incidents of photographers behaving badly are probably more common than we might think, and as more and more people are introduced to photography, and more and more people head to the same “trophy” hotspots, then unless we all agree to adhere by the rules, there will be more showdowns where tempers flare and tripods fly.
Last year I planned to photograph Messa Arch in Utah. Upon arriving at the car park an hour before sunrise, it was clear from the amount of other cars already there that at least 40 other photographers had beaten me to it. Familiar with this spot, I know that there is really only one ideal viewpoint of the subject, which is only big enough for a couple of very intimate tripods. As I neared the arch on foot, I could hear the chatter from a large crowd of people, and I knew I was going to have to join the back of a very long queue. As the arch came into sight, my fears were confirmed, and I just sat behind a long row of photographers, elbow to elbow, knowing I had no chance of getting the ideal viewpoint. I was expecting a fight to break out at some point, but everyone seemed incredibly well behaved. Some had been there since 2am, claiming the best real estate (see pic above).
The Sun eventually appeared over the distant mountains and was accompanied by the sound of 40 shutters going off in unison. Then after only a minute of light, the Sun went behind a small band of cloud. To my amazement everyone then packed up and headed back to the car park, leaving the arch all to myself and my colleague. We could both clearly see that in just a short time the Sun would once again be out, so we set up in the ideal location and waited a couple of minutes. The light suddenly came good and was much richer than it had been on its first appearance. We probably ended up with the best shots of the morning, and had the freedom to walk around and explore other viewpoints without impeding others. So sometimes it can pay to wait patiently at the back of the line.