With famous locations getting so crowded, working photographers often fall by the wayside. So should there be a pecking order?
In the surfing world, old timers who have been surfing at the same spot for as long as anyone can remember have first priority on any waves that come though. Once they’ve caught their waves, the pro and semi-pro surfers are next in line. Right at the bottom are the groms (young beginners). By the time it should be their turn to catch a wave, the old timers have paddled back out again. It is a universally accepted pecking order. At popular surf spots, groms never get a chance at the primary location, so they have to learn at an inferior wave.
If you’re not a surfer, this probably sounds ridiculous and unfair, but this pecking order has done wonders for removing aggression from the surfing world.
Ironically, I was thinking about all of this while photographing surfers in San Diego. I was trying to create compelling images of a beach for a tourism guide, when I inadvertently set up in front of a photographer who looked like he was camped out there for the day. I must have taken at maximum of 20 seconds before moving on, but not quick enough for this irate photographer.
Later that day, at a pier, I had set up to take what is an admittedly stereotypical image. While waiting for people to clear, at least 4 different couples stepped in front of me with their mobile phones and asked if they could “quickly get a shot”. To bring back my surfing analogy, I was both the grom and the old timer that day. It got me wondering: should there be some sort of priority system in photography circles?
In certain situations, there is a clear pecking order: the wedding photographer is the ultimate don on the day. Similarly, photojournalists hired to photograph an event feel nothing (and rightly so) about stepping in front of other photographers
It is less clear in situations like landscape photography. Popular locations such as Mesa Arch at sunrise or Horseshoe Bend at sunset look more like a media scrum than rural wilderness.
Historically, a priority system was not necessary in photography; there were many locations and few photographers. Now that just about every person in the world has a camera, there are places and situations where crowds are a problem. At the moment, whoever is most aggressive and obnoxious wins. People are also taking unnecessary risks to get good views as we saw in Episode 1: Photographing the World 4 Behind the Scenes.
Surely a pecking order for photographers starts to make sense? If so, what should the pecking order be based on? Some ideas are:
- Age – can it be argued that it can be more difficult to get to the prime positions for the elderly? Also, many parts of the world believe in honoring the elderly, so it would not be much of a stretch to give them priority.
- Local knowledge – The local photographer carefully watches the light and has their favorite spots which they keep returning to. Can it be argued that they deserve priority for their persistence?
- Skill level – This would be a tricky one to implement, but should the highly skilled photographer have priority over someone who is snapping away with little regard to technique?
- Work vs pleasure – Should the photographer who is commissioned have priority over the photographers who are having fun? For example, at Mesa Arch, if the photographer is commissioned by the National Parks, can they claim the best position? Similarly, when I work on travel shoots, I always pay for permits for commercial photography at the locations I visit. Should this give me priority over photographers who are not expected to deliver to a client?
Have you experienced frustrations dealing with crowds of photographers? I’d love to hear how you navigated through these situations.