How far should you be willing to go to capture a photo?

Eilean Donan Castle
(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

I remember being taught that as a photographer you should do all you can to capture the best photo that you possibly can. But is that right?

I do not doubt in my mind that all photographers have at some point faced the dilemma of taking a photo when they shouldn’t. I’m not talking about the situations in which you can get yourself in serious trouble – like for example photographing military places. But more, in those scenarios where it may not be a serious act. But if you can get away with taking a photo when you shouldn’t, should you take it?

The reason I’m writing about this is that some time ago I become embroiled in an argument with another photographer at the Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland (one of the locations on my best places to visit in Scotland for photography (opens in new tab)). This photographer who shall remain anonymous was taking drone shots of the castle.

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Anyone who has visited Eilean Donan Castle will have seen the signs that are posted that specify when drone photography isn’t allowed (drones are not allowed between 9 am – 6 pm). This photographer was going to get away with it, so why did it bother me that he wasn’t obeying the rules?

Photographs from Kav Dadfar to illustrate the article "how far should you be willing to go"

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

My main issue was that it is exactly this type of disregard for the rules that will eventually lead to a complete ban on drone photography at Eilean Donan Castle. And this of course affects all the photographers who comply with the rules. To be honest, I completely understand the rationale behind the specific times that Eilean Donan Castle allows drone photography which is basically outside opening times. Imagine if a drone fell and injured or worst still killed someone!

 • These are the drone rules: do you need to register your drone? (opens in new tab)

His response to me politely pointing out the sign was that “I don’t pay attention to stupid rules”. How incredibly selfish.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against drones, in fact, I own a DJI Mavic Pro (opens in new tab) and have taken some amazing shots of Eilean Donan Castle from the air (see my photo at the top). But I do believe that as a photographer we have a responsibility to each other, the general public but also the environment as well.

Photographs from Kav Dadfar to illustrate the article "how far should you be willing to go"

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

Another example was seeing a photographer trample on bluebells to capture a photo, blatantly ignoring a sign that said, “stay on the path”. I’m sure he ended up with great photos, but he also severely damaged the environment. Is that worth it?

I don’t believe that it is. Because for every photographer out there who breaks the rules, there may be ramifications in the future for others.

But there might also be sensitive issues like religious reasons. For example photography inside a monastery, mosque, or other religious buildings might not be allowed. I can also understand if the reasons are because of the enjoyment of the general public (who wants to see a flash go off every few minutes inside a museum or a church). Then there's music photography and the "first three, no flash rule". (opens in new tab)

Now I hope, and I believe that most photographers will know that damaging the environment for a photo is not right. Or that taking a photo inside a religious structure is insensitive.

But what about those times when the rules are less black and white? For example, when a place says that photography is only allowed for personal reasons. Should you then sell that photo if you have the opportunity?

This is a bit more difficult because ultimately you are allowed to take photos but can’t make money from them. The argument is that again if enough people break the rules, photography might be banned altogether. I guess this is where photographers will need to use their judgement to determine if the rules are unreasonable or not.

Photographs from Kav Dadfar to illustrate the article "how far should you be willing to go"

(Image credit: Kav Dadfar)

For example, I recently wrote an article about London’s self-appointed tripod police (opens in new tab). For me, this is where some rules should be broken because they are completely unreasonable. I’ll explain why…

These security guards around Tower Bridge always use the same line of “commercial photography is not allowed”. In other words, you shouldn’t sell your photos taken from there of Tower Bridge. But if you simply walk one hundred yards past the bridge and photograph it from the other side no one will even be there to question you. Or from London Bridge. So this is a completely ridiculous rule that can in no way be enforced.

Ultimately, every situation is different and each of us will have to make our own decisions about what is right and when to bend the rules to capture a photo. But I do believe that we all have a responsibility to each other and our environment. So maybe the concept of taking a photo at all costs isn’t quite right.

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Kav Dadfar
Professional photographer

UK-based travel and landscape pro Kav shoots on assignment for editorial and commercial clients, and stock for high-end agencies. He has written over 400 articles on photography, judges a major travel photo contest and leads tours and workshops worldwide with the company That Wild Idea. In 2021 Kav launched JRNY travel magazine with fellow photographer Jordan Banks.