A year or two ago I was shooting long exposures on the beach at Swanage in Dorset, England. Rolling waves, wooden groynes and sparkling, pristine sand in my foreground. I had about ten feet of billiard table smooth, unspoilt sand in front of the camera and about thirty feet of empty beach behind me.
A gentleman walking along the beach looked at me, looked at the camera and then proceeded to walk in front of me and through my shot, ruining the sand as he went. He knew full well what he was doing, the self-satisfied smug look on his face said it all.
I know as a photographer on a public beach I do not have any right to stop people walking where they want to walk, but do good manners, common sense and decency not have a part to play in this?
When I started out in photography, if you saw a person with a camera, you walked behind them. You just did. If there was no alternative you would pause, catch their eye and proceed when indicated to do so. Things have changed, it seems, especially post-Covid.
There now seems to be an attitude of "Me first, I have a right, no one else matters and if I ruin another photographer's shot, all the better because I have the shot, they don’t."
I was witness to an extraordinary scene on the coast last summer when a group of about five photographers set up to shoot a sunset view. Another photographer set up about fifty yards away, just minutes later. He then demanded that they move so he could get his shot because he was there first. He wasn’t. He stood hands on hips, like a demented tea-pot, for about twenty minutes. The light was poor and the tide indifferent, I’m not sure the shot was worth ranting and raving for.
What is it about beaches? I have been shooting in Iceland, again, pristine sand with icebergs in front of me, fifty yards of empty beach behind and yet a group of photographers marched through the shot in search of their own location. I can’t believe they did not know what they were doing, unless of course they were completely ignorant of what someone with a tripod and camera was trying to achieve.
Surely, at any given location there is enough room for a number of photographers to work without falling over each other. I have been in Venice and seen a workshop group set up in a row in St Marks Square to shoot the dawn. Not five minutes later another workshop group set up about twenty yards in front of them and then an almighty great shouting match took place as to who was in the right. St Mark’s Square and the canal side isn’t exactly a small area, and I’m sure with a bit of imagination there was enough room and viewpoints for everyone. If someone is there first, work around them.
The ultimate confrontation I have witnessed happened at The Green River Overlook in Utah, USA. It is a spectacular and very popular spot and arriving early is always advisable. A beautiful dawn glowed on the horizon and the crowds slowly gathered. Just as the sun was about to break the horizon, a latecomer to the party announced his presence with a loud ‘morning all’ and proceeded to set up not only next to another photographer who had been waiting patiently but overlapped his tripod so that the cameras were virtually touching.
A viewpoint a few yards away would allow for the same shot, there was no foreground, they were stood on the edge of an eight-hundred-foot drop. An argument ensued, with a lot of pathetic pushing and shoving, just feet away from the edge. Is it really worth it?
I try and work on the basis that if someone else is at a location before me, I will work around them and give priority to them. It often happens that it forces you to look for a different or alternative viewpoint.
If you ask or make a polite inquiry as to where you can work without interfering with another photographer's shot there is usually no problem at all. It does seem, however, that on the whole, non-photographers are much more sympathetic to our plight and are happy to wait for a minute or two or do a slight detour. That is, unless, you are shooting on a beach in Swanage, Dorset.