I am a very lucky guy. I grew up in a household with parents who immigrated from Russia with absolutely nothing to their names and who worked so hard chasing the classic American Dream. They taught themselves English, found themselves jobs, and leaned heavily on their strong work ethic to earn for their family and provide me and my sister with everything we needed, giving us everything they never had as children.
In other words, I was a spoiled Brooklyn kid. However, whatever misgivings I may have had as a spoiled child seems to pale in comparison to the petulance and haughtiness that I see on social media by some photographers these days. How did we become such an entitled bunch of divas?
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus mostly on the photographers and destinations of the Pacific Northwest, where I now live, but this can easily be applied to just about any publicly accessible destination in the world. Lately, I’ve noticed a trend of photographers complaining that the destinations they visit have become overrun by other people, whether they’re tourists or locals who are simply enjoying themselves with no photographic agenda.
These photographers lace their photo posts with sardonic satire about how “the good ol’ days” are gone and their sacred places are now defiled and ruined because people are now picnicking there or are bringing their dogs for a walk. There also seems to be a direct correlation between the level of entitlement and the difficulty/remoteness of getting to the location. Sure, most local photographers expect to be surrounded by other people when visiting Multnomah Falls on the weekend. But when they see a group of people enjoying themselves at the base of Abiqua Falls, they get uppity.
My confusion stems mostly from wondering what planet these photographers come from where they think that because they lugged their camera gear down a steep, muddy scramble or across a 7 mile path, they should be the only ones there with no human or canine obstacles to contend with. The way I see it, these people made the very same effort to get to this hard-to-reach public location so why wouldn’t they be able to enjoy it in whichever way they choose (so long as it is non-destructive, supportive of the environment, and safe)? Is there some sort of precedent that a photographer has over a casual visitor? If there is, I’d love to know what it is.
Look, I get that our goal with making the long and hard trek to a particular destination is to get photos of it. It’s in our blood and it’s what we do as photographers. What I don’t get is the angst or anxiety about having other people enjoying themselves there, too. So, to help quell this rash of entitlement that is going on, allow me to provide some tips to restore your inner peace and make the most out of your visit.
Cool, you’ve just finished your crazy long hike up and down a bunch of mountains and hills. The excitement is palpable and you’re already framing shots in your mind when one of two things happen. Either you arrive to the scene and there are a bunch of people already there or you get there before others but then these people show up after and inadvertently place themselves in your frame. Should this mean that you pack up your gear and shove off upset and defeated?
Absolutely not! In every single case where I had another person obstructing me from getting a particular photo, all I had to do was calmly approach them and politely explain my intention. In every single instance, that person or group of people either moved out of the way for me or allowed me to huddle in with them to frame up my photo. In fact, the only times I’ve been met with any sort of resistance was when I asked another photographer if I could set up for a photo. If you want to experience this for yourself, head over to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise to see what territorial, entitled and aggressive photographers look like. It’s just gross.
Go at off times
Do you know what I do when I want to visit Multnomah Falls with no one else there? I head out at some ungodly early hour or when it’s bitterly cold outside or during the week. If it’s a Saturday afternoon during the summer and the weather is perfect, how could you possibly expect to be the only one at just about any popular destination? Now, I know that it is not always feasible for you to make it out during the week because you have to work or you simply can’t summon yourself out of bed at 3AM. To that, I have no real response except that some things just aren’t in the cards for everyone and that really is ok.
Realign your expectations
I’d love to capture a perfect sunset at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park without another soul constantly running through my photo but I know that simply will never happen. The trek to Delicate Arch is not the easiest one and requires real physical exertion. So, if 500 other visitors chose to take it on, then they have just as much of a right to enjoy the sunset as I do. And if some of them feel the need to grab that selfie under the arch just when that golden light is at its best, I just take a breath and remember that this is why god invented the clone stamp brush and the “Median Stack Mode” statistics script in Photoshop.
I know that a lot of what I wrote here is a bit direct and can be off-putting to some but I hope you don’t take it in a negative or hostile way. My goal is to shine a light on a trending behavior that I’m seeing online and remind everyone that we are all people who are entitled to a certain level of civility, respect, and understanding. Photographers are not any better or more entitled than anyone else and it’s high time that we remind ourselves of this.