The Ethics of Shooting Famous Places: An Opinion

So let’s set the stage.

It’s dark-five-thirty and you just had to change your pants because of the scalding hot coffee that you happened to spill all over your lap during your mad dash to get to this parking area in time for sunrise. Of course as you pull in you notice two other cars parked already and you know that there will be more before first light touches the rim of the mesa. You quickly grab your pack, packed last night of course, in an effort to make a quick walk in to get a good spot in front of Mesa Arch in order to watch the show as the first light of the morning sun warms the underside of the arch.

The walk in is pretty uneventful besides a few stumbles as you make your way through the dark along the trail to the edge of the mesa. Sure enough as you get to the spot you notice one other person already set up in the prime spot but of course the arch is a good ten or twenty feet wide so there’s plenty of good real estate left since your the second one there. So going from memory you set up in what you think will be a good spot for the coming show.

Of course when visiting these places and getting there early I like to take in a little stove and some powdered drink mix so I can warm up a nice brew before the show begins. So there I was, pouring some freshly boiled water over my french vanilla espresso powder when the rest of the expected crowd started arriving. First a couple of real nice people set up next to me, one that had travelled all the way from Germany just to get this shot, which I have to say made me feel very fortunate to live less than four hours away.

Next some more people set up their tripods along the edge of the rim beneath Mesa Arch, all of which seemed to space themselves out so that the tripod legs maybe overlapped by an inch or so but not to the point of being in one another’s way. That was about the time when I heard, “Someone help me, I can’t make it.” And then, “Someone help my husband, he has a bad knee and can’t get down the hill.” Immediately three people went over and gave the man a hand down the small rock step so that he could make his way over to the edge of the rim. It was about that time that a group of four people showed up with their point and shoot cameras and started shooting pictures with their flash, of course this coincided with the time that most people were starting to shoot long exposures trying to get the nice soft glow on the horizon of the pre-dawn sun. It didn’t really take long until someone pointed out rather pointedly to the folks with flashes blaring that they were ruining the shot of all the people that where there before them. This put a temporary halt on the flash-firing few, but it was then that another sort showed up.

It was about now that the sun was supposed to be lighting up the arch, of course on this particular day the overcast clouds brought on by an incoming storm happened to be blocking the soft glow of the sun (I felt pretty bad for the guy from Germany, I hope that he had the chance to visit again before returning home), but that didn’t stop me from shooting the rising sun as it illuminated the storm clouds over the La Sal Mountains in the background. To be honest, it was a beautiful sunrise, despite the lack of a glow under the arch and the moans and groans of most of the spectators.

As I was shooting the magic in front of me I noticed someone slide their tripod in between mine and the one that was set up beside me, already overlapping my tripod legs. As the photographer slid their tripod between the two tripods the leg of theirs almost hit the lens of my camera, this was about the time I instinctively turned toward them and gave them a bit of a “mad dog” look, and said, “Can you try and be careful with my camera so close here.” There was no response, and undeterred the newcomer proceed to set up and adjust his tripod, knocking into the legs of my tripod several times during the process.

At this point I was quite frustrated and a bit lost for words. Ok, actually I was mixed between lost for words and scared that if opened my mouth I would say some things that would probably be rather R Rated. So instead of saying anything I packed up and left (the magic was pretty much done anyway).

Actually I hung out for a few minutes just checking out the scene. This iPhone Photo was taken after a lot of people had already left so it doesn’t quite show the mayhem of sunrise, but it still shows about a quarter of the people still hanging out at Mesa Arch.

So my question here is, what are the ethics of shooting from famous viewpoints? Do fancy cameras take precedent over flash powered point and shooters? What about those that show up late, do they still get a spot? Should others move out of the way for newcomers? What about first come fist served for spots?

I’m interested to see what others thoughts on this are so feel free to leave me a comment and let me know.

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7 thoughts on “The Ethics of Shooting Famous Places: An Opinion

  1. First come, first serve irregardless of camera type (my LX5 on a gorilla pod, yielded some great photos, in addition to my Nikon on a tripod). Try some single photo HDR and you might be surprised at the results.

    Respect for nature and manners are what we hope for, but some people
    simply have to be put straight. I was lucky as the small group of photographers when I was there were very cooperative for all.

  2. “Irregardless” is not a word in this country.

    It is “regardless.”

    I find there is little time for hate, and usually room for one more, so long as he or she is well-mannered and respectful.

  3. Greetings,
    Saw your ad in the recent issue of Arts Perspective and thought I’d stop by. Some fine work in your gallery.
    I couldn’t have said it any better than Nancy up there. Fortunately, we live close enough to the area that we can visit just about any time at any season when the spot is less crowded.

    Best of luck and light to you!

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for looking me up after seeing my ad in Arts Perspective! I haven’t done much with the blog lately, however I just returned from a trip to Blue Lakes and I’ve been reworking some older images that I will be putting up on the website soon. So there should be some new material coming!
      Also I agree, we are very fortunate to live in such an amazing place that gives us the opportunity to shoot any day of the week in any season at some of the most incredible places in the world to photograph!
      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Ryan Cary

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