Etiquette in Photography

A beautiful, highly textured sign featuring vividly colored characters against a red wall in the grounds of the spectacular Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China.

I love the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It’s a very large complex with many architecturally interesting buildings to photograph. I consider it to be a much more interesting location for the enthusiastic photographer than the Forbidden City, though of course it’s wise to spend time (probably half a day) at each location.

I visited the Temple of Heaven in the middle of a cold Beijing winter. But that didn’t seem to stop anyone else. The place was packed with local tourists. I can only imagine how difficult it must be when visiting in the middle of summer.

Beware Of A Large And Fancy Camera Kit

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that, with a relatively large and expensive camera kit, you become a magnet for local photographers wanting to make their own photos. This has happened to me in numerous countries, including my own, so it’s not simply a cultural thing. By it can be a real pain just the same.

Frustration Must Lead To Action

It’s frustrating when your own photography is compromised by folks walking right in front of you to make their own photo or organizing their loved ones right smack in the middle of that composition you’ve taken time to construct. Standing there with a tripod mounted camera and a cable release in hand doesn’t seem to make any difference. More than once I’ve stood somewhat dumbfounded as each and every member of the family poses for photos while I wait patiently to make my own. Folks have even set up a picnic in front of the scene I was about to photograph - I kid you not.

People Are People

I guess they figure I know what I’m doing and their competitive nature causes them to push in on the action. I have no problems with sharing a location or, through my actions, suggesting a potential photo opportunity, but you’d think they’d wait (often only a few moments) until after I made by photo.

In certain highly populated countries life can be tough in the extreme and I often wonder if the lack of personal space that exists in larger cities means that my sense of good manners is simply not relevant. Or maybe they just don’t care.

As is so often the case, it’s good to be cultural sensitive, but not at the expense of your own photography. Sometimes I walk away, wait for the crowd to dissipate and then move back to make my photo.  

Controlling The Space

My wanderings around the Temple of Heaven brought me to a beautiful door. True to form, no sooner had I brought my DSLR out, than the hordes descended. After about 10 minutes I decided to move away and look for other things to photograph. I noticed this lovely sign and moved in close to photograph it.

One advantage of moving close, as opposed to simply zooming in, is that you make it hard for folks to walk in front of you. If they want to make their own photo they’ll have to do so from behind you or, and here’s a radical concept, wait until you’re finished. I find this technique works a treat. What’s more, by moving in close you often have to resort to a wider angle focal length which tends to exaggerate line and shape, particularly when photographed from an angle. Try it! 

Beauty In Detail

I love the luminous quality of the wood in this highly textured sign. Likewise the warm/cool color contrast between the Chinese Characters and the wall made for a dramatic composition.

Next time you find yourself battling the crowds to make a photo try this simple trick. Move in close and employ a wide-angle lens. It’s such a simple technique that will allow you to make your photos more quickly and without too much fuss. It may also make the whole experience of photographing the location much more enjoyable.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru