Photography Etiquette – You Can’t Take Photos Here

My husband and I (who jointly own and run Rebel Youth Photography) have vastly different ideas about where you can and/or should take photos. He’s a law abiding Eagle Scout, while I’m a rebellious artist. I have no problem ignoring “No Trespassing” signs, putting myself in dangerous situations and risking getting arrested to get the perfect shot. My rebellious attitude gives my husband heart palpitations.

Just for fun, here’s a list of the places I probably shouldn’t have taken photos:

Crack Houses – I was searching for a subject for my documentary photography final in college. I wanted to take photos of the underbelly of society, so I went to the worst neighborhood I could find. I took a guy along with me for protection. My strategy was to park in the middle of the street, leave the car running, hop out, grab the shot and quickly get back in and drive away. While I was implementing my plan, a cop drove up and started questioning me. He asked me what I was doing and looked at me with confusion when I told him I was creating art. Finally, after shrugging his shoulders, he told me that I shouldn’t be in that neighborhood and suggested that I leave. (Where was the brave fellow who was supposed to be protecting me? Cowering in the floor of my car!) I can’t show you the amazing photo I took that day of a lonely chair in front of a falling down crack house because shortly after that my hard drive bit the dirt. Instead, I will show you a photo of the subject I settled on for my college final. Strip clubs!

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Strip Clubs – I had a roommate that was a stripper. I asked her if she would take me to the club where she worked and introduce me to the manager. Then I asked the manager if I could do my college final at the club. He told me that it was fine with him as long as I obeyed some simple rules. I had to get permission from each and every girl before I took her photo, and I wasn’t allowed to take photos “on the floor.” Fair enough. I already knew some of the girls through my roommate and they were eager for me to take pictures of them. They introduced me to the other girls and told them how awesome I was. Most of them agreed. I found that the daytime girls were much more agreeable to me taking photos of them than the night time ones, so I mostly went there during the day. The girl in the photo above was named Gidget. She was on methadone and would fall asleep in random places. I’m including this in my list because WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!?!? I would never consider doing something like this now. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience. But it was just 2 blocks away from the crack house that I was asked to leave just one week earlier. Continue reading

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Photography Etiquette – Working For Free

While I was browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I ran across an article about a graphic designer who is getting some attention for his response when asked to work for free. He received an invitation from Showtime to submit an entry into a contest. The work he submitted, if chosen, would be displayed at an upcoming event held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Here’s a screenshot of his response:

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You can view the full article HERE.

This article, while hilarious, made me think about my creative journey and the choices I’ve made, and continue to make, in the pursuit of being a successful photographer.

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If you were to ask most established artists in any field if they would do a job for free, you would get laughed at and told to buzz off. (Or publicly ridiculed, like the above example.) But then I’ve heard from some photographers that they remember the days when they worked for very little, or nothing, just to get the experience and exposure. So, what’s the right choice? Do you stick to your principles and say no to the jobs that don’t pay what you believe you and your work are worth? Or do you take every job that comes your way, regardless of the pay, and hope it pays off in the end?

I encounter this conundrum every day. In my search for jobs, I regularly come across Craigslist ads offering the amazing opportunity for the “right person” to have the good fortune to do work for an “up and coming” enterprise….for free. They offer the benefit of promoting your (free) work. They “know people” and can get your (free) work into the right hands. Hey, it’s a win-win situation, they insist.

On the other hand, there are people who say, I know this is lame, but I just started my own business and I have no photography skills and no money. Can we work out a way that I can pay you when I start making some money?

I’m much more inclined to work for a person for free, or cheap, when they understand that they are asking for, and receiving, something that is very valuable. I have worked for a couple people at a very discounted rate, not only because I wanted the experience, but also because they asked nicely and were really appreciative of my help. These relationships have turned out to be very beneficial in the long run. I have even gotten some other jobs and referrals out of it.

In addition to Craigslist, I have also used a website called Thumbtack. People who need photographers can request bids. Then photographers in the area receive an email that tells us what they need and how much their budget is. I am constantly astounded and dismayed at some of the unreasonable requests we see come through our inbox. Most of them are weddings with a budget of $200 to $300 dollars. I understand being broke and trying to do things on the cheap. But when you are only willing to pay $300 dollars for a wedding photographer, you might as well ask one of your friends to do it. It’s almost insulting. I don’t, however, think they mean to be insulting. I really do believe that most people have no idea how much work a wedding is. Not only will I spend 6 to 8 hours taking photos of the wedding. I will then spend double that on the editing process. So really, doing a wedding for that little is not worth it for me. (Especially when Thumbtack makes you pay to submit a bid, and you are not guaranteed to get the job.)

In conclusion, I don’t believe that the question of working for free has a clear cut answer. It depends on many different factors. Where are you in your career? What is the job? What are the long-term benefits? How do you feel about the person asking you to work for free? The answer to all of these will change with every new experience, and should be considered carefully before you decide to take the job or assignment. You don’t want to sell yourself short, but you also don’t want to have an empty portfolio and limited experience.

Photography Etiquette – Uncle Bob

Every photographer knows who Uncle Bob is. It’s that one relative at every wedding with a great camera and no clue. The one that butts in and ruins your shot, or distracts the wedding party so half of them are looking away from you, the paid professional. But I’m not going to limit this blog post to the Uncle Bob’s. I want to talk about a couple situations where I have encountered intruders with a cameras, and one where I was the potential intruder.

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The situation I encountered was more of an Aunt Betty. But not really. Ok. Here’s what happened. I was the second shooter at a beautiful beach wedding. Everything was going along great. The bride and groom were exchanging their vows when, all of a sudden, some random lady in a bathing suit popped up right behind the minister. The worst possible place!!! The lead photographer looked at me with horror. I motioned to her that I would take care of it. I ran through the sand, nearly falling on my face, and shout-whispered to the lady, “You’re in the way! Move!” Not very nice, I know. But I was panicked and didn’t have time to come up with something polite. The fact was, she was in the way and she needed to move. Continue reading

Photography Etiquette – Don’t Take My Photo

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As my photography business has taken off, I’ve encountered situations that need to be handled gently. I’ve decided to start a series of posts in order to address some of these issues. That’s not to say I have an answer for any of them. I would just like to start a conversation. I’ll give a scenario and my response to it. Feel free to tell me your story, or give suggestions based on your own experience.

So, to begin…

My husband and I shot a steampunk convention. When you sign in on the first day, whether you’re a vendor or just a regular schmo, you have to sign a waiver. The waiver says a bunch of lawyer stuff about not getting trampled by the very large dinosaur in attendance, not being rude or judgmental, and if you choose to participate in the weapons training events and you hurt yourself, well, that’s on you. Buried deep down in all the, seemingly, commonsense precautions, is something that says, by signing this waiver you hereby authorize {Said Entity} and all other affiliated persons, to take and display photos of you or your likeness….and so on. We happily signed the waiver and skipped off to take some super-awesome-amazing photos.

There are many different kinds of events at cons. Some of them are held in great big rooms with lots of people, while others are in teeny tiny little rooms with just a few in attendance. In both cases, we try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Most of the rooms are very poorly lit, but it’s rude to use flash in certain situations, so we don’t, unless absolutely necessary. We will also stop people in the halls and ask if we can take their picture. Most people love to pose for photos because…well…they look awesome!!!

My husband and I like to split up the events and shoot separately. Too many photographers in one room can be a little bit annoying. So, on the second day, he went to shoot a costuming panel, and I went to a leather workshop. It was a small room with lots of tables. The participants sat around the outside of the tables, while the instructors walked around the inside area giving help to those who needed it. I used my flash a couple of times, but it was drawing attention, so I changed my settings and shot in black and white. (I don’t get as much noise or blur in low lighting when I shoot in black and white.) I crept around, making sure to stay out of the way. After about 10 minutes, I had gotten a ton of good shots and decided to move on. I waited at the back of the room for one of the instructors to have a free second so I could give them a stack of business cards, in case anyone wanted to see their photos after the con. There were 2 instructors. A petite older lady and a (very hot) young man (with his shirt off!!!!). The woman was the closest to me, so when she had a moment, I leaned over to her, handed her some cards and whispered that she could view the photos I took of the class on our website in a few days. As I turned to go, she said in a very loud voice:

Her: Wait! I didn’t give anyone permission to take my photo and I don’t want it posted anywhere.

Me: Oh. Ummm… I’m with the the con. I’m shooting for them.

Her: I’m with the con as well and I said I don’t want my photo taken or posted anywhere.

Me: Urrr….ummmm….Ok. Do you mean just you, or the whole class?

Her: Me. I don’t want you posting my picture anywhere.

Me: Ok. I won’t do anything with your photos.

I turned around and walked out of the room. I was completely embarrassed and unsure of how to handle the situation. While I tried to stop shaking (was it just embarrassment, or anger as well?) I went and found my husband. After telling him about what happened, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t worry about it. You have permission to take photos of everyone. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” But I insisted on making certain. I went to one of the higher-ups and asked if I needed special permission to take someone’s photo. She told me about the waiver we had signed, and that everyone was required to sign it. She said that I had nothing to worry about, some people were just stressed out and grumpy.

But I was worried. I gave that woman my word that I wouldn’t post her photo on my website. Although I had permission from the con, and a legal right to do so, I still felt bad about it. In fact, it happened days ago, and I’m still worried about it.

My first instinct was to be an asshole. I wanted to crudely obscure her face out of all the photos from that event and post them anyway. But that’s just my embarrassment talking. My husband suggested that I just remove all of the photos that have her in it and post the rest. I think that’s what I’ll probably end up doing. There really aren’t that many of her anyway. I was way more focused on the guy without a shirt.

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