Polite Photography: Etiquette for Shooting on Location

When you are photographing in a public space, you must keep in mind that you are sharing the experience with the public or patrons of the locations you shoot. Using a lot of flash in a dark restaurant, stopping the flow of foot traffic or blocking a scenic view for an extended period of time are a few examples of how photographers could hinder the experience of others and create a bad reputation for their fellow photographers. On-location etiquette provides flexibility to shoot unnoticed by others and also prevents photographers from bad associations.

The following tips will equip you with good etiquette for shooting on location:

The Lincoln Memorial

Secure a permit

Many popular or iconic places require a permit to shoot professionally. It’s always smart to check online or by phone before you schedule a shoot with a client. I build this cost into my session fee for multiple reasons — I want to avoid an embarrassing confrontation with park police or staff in front of my clients, I know that permits limit the number of commercial photographers on the grounds so I will have more exclusive access if I have a permit, and permits are a good way to support the maintenance of locations that are beautiful for photography and bring new clients in for business.

Working in Outdoor Spaces

Shoot early

When I’m shooting outdoors, I’m usually in a park or at one of the National Monuments. In either case on a nice warm day, both will be pretty crowded with tourists and locals enjoying the scenery and nice weather. The easiest way to work around people is the have fewer people to work around. For this reason, I shoot early — right when the sun comes up. In the summertime, this can be as early as 5:30 a.m. Sunrise is a great time because the light is gorgeous on a clear day and few people are up and touring the monuments before 8 or 9 a.m.

Wait for the lull

If you’re shooting at a time when fewer visitors are in your location, you’ll most likely have a lull in foot traffic. A few of my clients have wanted photos at Union Station, which has a constant flow of travelers. Even here, I’m able to wait long enough to get a few seconds where no one else is in our frame.

Find unused space

In addition to waiting for a pause in pedestrian traffic, finding less-used spaces in popular areas can be a great way to get strangers out of your photos and to stay out of the way of others. The D.C. monuments have less-explored sides and surrounding green areas that don’t have the same iconic views of the city, but the marble columns and trees provide great backdrops for photos.

Working in indoor spaces

Call ahead

Often times, clients want to have photos taken indoors, whether at one of their favorite restaurants or somewhere special. Whenever I’m asked to do an indoor location, I let my clients know that we have to ask for permission and they have to be flexible on the timing for it to work. I ask clients to call the location manager ahead of time, tell them what’s so special about the place to them, and ask permission to do photos. I instruct them to let the manager know their photographers will have a couple of lights with them so they know we will need a little space to work.

Ask for the best space

Most managers are very accommodating and are able to suggest a time frame when they are least busy. I love having sometimes-exclusive access to these spaces and enjoy creating special photojournalistic stories for clients. Occasionally, though, restaurants and bars are crowded even at non-peak times. I try to work with the manager to find the best out-of-the-way place to be.

Tip your waiter

Whether we order anything or not, I always tip our waiter. It’s a good way to thank the venue for their flexibility and generosity in letting us shoot there, often for free.

Pass on photos

Be sure to grab the manager’s card on the way out so you can send your finished photos. I like to let them see what we are capable of doing in their space, and in the event that the location needs a photographer, I come to mind. It’s an easy way to network with people in the hospitality industry and also to thank them for accommodating us.

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