I got this email from a reader named Charlie:

“Recently a group of friends and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix to see the exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures. My wife and I had been before but this visit was at night so we could see the pieces lit at night. As you might expect this type of event brings photographers out like moths to a flame. During the previous visit I’d taken my camera got a few very nice photographs of some of the interesting pieces. This visit I packed up my gear including my tripod as this was a night shoot, however, since we were delayed at dinner and wanted to see the entire exhibit before closing I decided not to slow the group down with my photography and left my camera in the car.

During our visit I began to notice how inconsiderate many photographers were to the non-photographers who were simply trying to enjoy the exhibit. I can’t tell you how many times the best view of a piece was totally blocked by a photographer with his/her tripod spayed out across a narrow path or even lying on the ground as they worked to get the best shot. There were also the many point and shooters popping their flashes and obliterating the lighting effects of the exhibit. Since most all the attendees honored the field of view of the photographers and so could not themselves get the best view of the glass.

This gets to the thrust of my comment/question: Where should amateur photographers draw the line between working to capture a shot of an interesting subject and consideration of others around them? I’m wondering if I should evaluate my own photography behavior?”

Thanks for the thought-provoking e-mail Charlie.

I’ll preface my comments by saying I certainly don’t think it’s my place, or anyone else’s for that matter, to tell you or any other photographer what your ethics should be. In fact, I personally rebel hard against having someone else tell me I should follow THEIR ethics. I think we should all find our own place when it comes to ethics. On the other hand, I do think this brings up something we should all think about.

Now my first response is that this is mostly about perception. Your version of a photographer hogging the best spot and mine might be different. How long should the photographer be allowed to claim the best spot(s)? One minute? Five minutes? 10 minutes? Everyone will have a different answer. But what about all the other folks who, with whatever agenda they have, who claim the best spot? How long should the Boy Scout group or the 8th grade elementary school tour get the best spot?

Anytime you leave your home, you must face the fact that the space around you is shared. Photographers have just as much right to view and enjoy the exhibit as anyone else. They probably paid the same fee, or more, to get in. They should be allowed to take their pictures and move on. But I think everyone can use a little common sense here.

If I were at the museum with some kids and thought that a photographer had blocked the view long enough, I’d politely ask him if the kids could have a turn at that spot and then give it back to him when they were done.

If I am the photographer, I try to note the kind of time non-shooters are spending at exhibits. If I am lingering longer than the average person, I offer my spot to people waiting, then get back in line for another turn. I won’t let anyone freeze me out or push me around. I have the right to get my shot – but they also have the right to enjoy the exhibit and in my case, I try to make sure my activity doesn’t keep that from happening. For me it’s all about attitude and presentation. In that situation I try to have a good attitude and smile to let people know I am having fun. If they bring the same attitude, it will all work out fine

So you see, being polite and reasonable goes a long way and for me, it’s something that I should pay attention to but that the non-photographers should also pay attention to.

I find large, rude school groups to be much more likely to hog an exhibit than the average photographer, but that’s just me.

No matter where you come down on this, I think it’s worth thinking about. There are simple solutions. Museums and other attractions could set aside special photo days. They could also set aside special days for large groups.

Planning solves many problems. When there’s no planning, we need good common sense, patience, fairness and good communication to avoid the problems that can stem from these incidents.

UPDATE: I was contacted by Steen Lawson from who told me they have created special “after hour” and “before hour” programs so photographers will not have to deal with the crowds. It might always be worth a call to the venue to see what sort of special programs like this are available. I applaud Steen for this approach.


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