Why Are Photographers Reluctant to Share Their Settings and Locations?

Why Are Photographers Reluctant to Share Their Settings and Locations?

As children we’re taught that sharing is the way to go, but too often it feels like photographers forget that basic lesson. It’s a common debate that comes up: do you share your settings and locations?

Every once in a while, you’ll see photographers parse over the merits or demerits of sharing a location they’ve found for a photo. While sometimes it’s a legitimate fear of many photographers harming nature or a zombie photographer horde ruining a spot for a photo with too many people, other times, it’s just a plain selfish move.

It’s the same for settings. Many photographers on Flickr and elsewhere go to extra lengths just to remove EXIF data from photos that show how they were shot. Again, what’s the reasoning?

If a photo can be recreated merely by standing in the same spot and using the same settings, then it’s inherently not an original concept. Time of day, weather, clouds, water, fog, and myriad other factors are what make the photo, not just f-stops and shutter speeds.

The best friends I’ve made are the ones that I’ve bonded with over a camera. A request about settings or a location is an opening to make a new photographer friend. That is something that doesn’t happen if every photographer is huddled over their cameras in a corner of the room, not talking to one another.

Just think about it: if teachers hoarded knowledge of the alphabet, you wouldn’t be able to read this sentence.

I’ll put my money where my mouth is. The photo for this article was shot at the Valley of Fire state park in Nevada, and it was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III using an EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens set to f/8 and a 30 second exposure at ISO 320. If you’re wondering how the sparks get there, it’s a technique called steel wool spinning. I’d be highly cautious and selective about the steel wool part, as it can be very, very dangerous.

How do you feel about sharing settings and locations of your photos?

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47 Comments

Previous comments
Mr Hogwallop's picture

We were talking about sharing locations, if "sharing locations" is simply limited to map coordinates then I guess my comment does not apply.

But there are other things about shooting on location that might be considered, like if there are rules and regulations, huge crowds during parts of the year, Very hot or cold temps, dangerous terrain, endangered wild life or bad hombres to be aware of. Locations are more than a dot on a a map.

The reason I mentioned permits is because I do commercial shooting in parks. 9 times out of 10 the ranger will have stories of the stupid things that previous photographers have done which ended their shoots, because they decided it was ok to do XYZ without taking anything else into consideration.

Daniel Medley's picture

I understand. But, again, it's not related to the topic at hand and the ancillary topic brought up through subsequent comments; spinning steel wool = stupid because it's a fire hazard. That's not necessarily true. In this case it's probably not.

michaeljin's picture

No, I haven't been to the Valley of Fire, but I've seen plenty of incidents in my life of people playing with fire who think that they're taking necessary precautions, but don't have the actual training to know what those necessary precautions are and subsequently getting burned for it (or burning something/someone else). So yeah... I stand by my belief that spinning steel wool is a stupid activity that we shouldn't be encouraging.

As for people, presumably there was another person photographing those sparks coming down from that rock. So no need to know anything about the Valley of Fire. All I need to know is that people shouldn't play with things that they don't understands or don't have necessary precautions to deal with.

Do you think most photographers spinning steel wool have the fire department or medics on standby? Have they or their models received training in pyrotechnics, fire safety, or first aid? Do you think they even have a fire extinguisher on standby if they accidentally set themselves on fire? Just out of curiosity, what would be the response time for an ambulance to that particular location? Yeah...

The whole permit thing is a separate issue entirely. This is just a stupid and unnecessary activity and we ought not to encourage it whether it's on a boat or in the middle of the desert with nothing else to set alight for miles.

Daniel Medley's picture

You are inserting a lot of inference into a simple post. Who knows if the writer of the article had a medical team on standby. Who cares? It's a completely unrelated topic. Just because some people may not be able to do something in a responsible manner does not mean that it shouldn't be done. That's just goofy.

As far as unnecessary, it was obviously necessary for the shot intended.

michaeljin's picture

Oh come on. I know it's fun to play little word games and ask shit like "Well, have you taken a survey of every single person spinning steel wool?" or "How do you know the exact conditions surrounding this particular shoot?"

Obviously I'm making inferences based on what I know about the general population of people taking photos of spinning steel wool—whether in a national park or in their back yard—and speaking generally. Let's get real...

While we're at it, I fully admit the possibility that every single rooftop photographer is using proper safety harnessing, every single urbex photographer secures permission to enter the areas that they photograph, and every single drone photographer flying over New York City is getting permission from the FAA to do so. I haven't spoken with all of them nor do I intend to, but if I had to wager money, I would bet that the vast majority are probably acting irresponsibly and probably illegally not because of any malicious intent, but because people are lazy by nature and doing things properly and going through all the right channels is a real bitch at times, if not outright impossible.

So yes, if you're going to act responsibly and take the actual necessary precautions (not merely what you THINK are the necessary precautions), do whatever the floats your boat. But knowing full well that the vast majority of steel wool spinners are doing so irresponsibly, I'm not going to encourage the activity and maybe the author instead of just saying "Hey, we were spinning wool." should do their part in encouraging responsible practice of the activity by also adding the specific risks and precautions a person interested in emulating the shot should take to educate those that might be interested rather than just wave it off like everyone else seems to do.

The whole post was about sharing so that we can teach each other and spread knowledge so it seems like if you believe that things should be done responsibly, you should agree that information about safety precautions and securing proper permitting should be thrown in with the "spinning steel wool" part...

Jon Kellett's picture

I often share location info, the exception being areas that are sensitive to an influx of visitors - That could mean ecologically, or upsetting the locals :-)

As for camera settings - Usually I'll share those. The exceptions being where I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing and did something stupid, like using ISO 400 in bright daylight photographing a reflective object with a large aperture because I forgot to check the settings after my last shoot!

The reason that I share settings is that when I was learning, I spent way too much time on photo.net looking at photos and trying to reverse engineer the shot, then checking the settings to see how close I got. This was an important step to understanding instinctively how the settings worked. It also allowed me to develop a more critical eye to the images. I want to give others that same opportunity to ask questions and learn.

Overall, the sheer number of copycat images on the web attests to the enthusiasm for people to visit a site and replicate, with minimal effort, what someone did earlier.
One only has to search "Iceland", "Slot Canyons" or "Palouse" on Flickr to see the truth of that.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Or have a look at the new popular @insta_repeat account on Instagram :)

JetCity Ninja's picture

i just underexpose every shot i take by 1.5 stops, correct in lightroom due to my sensor's iso-invariant capability, and baffle people with my exif data.

Rayann Elzein's picture

People who just ask me on Instagram DM, totally out of the blue, "where did you take this photo?" get ignored and blocked. They are lazy photographers who don't take time to do their research, aren't even polite, and just feel entitled to the location. I hate those guys. If you're nice with me, if we've been following and commenting each other's work, and you kindly ask, then I may be very helpful. As for settings, I don't see any reasons to hide them.

"Time of day, weather, clouds, water, fog, and myriad other factors are what make the photo, not just f-stops and shutter speeds."

You've just successfully made a solid argument against yourself. If someone really wants to know how that shot was made then they need all the information. And that's a longer conversation than just sharing camera settings.

I think a lot of photographers don't share settings (or locations for that matter) because they don't feel the need to legitimize themselves and they know these little slivers of information don't amount to much. I've never met a photographer who hid information from me after we've established a relationship and they understand my genius search for knowledge. Think you might be overreacting here to make this an article.

On a side note, I've gotten the impression that many people who are very forthcoming on how they take photos are coming from a place of flaunting their knowledge under the guise of benevolence. Now, don't take that too personally since this is, in fact, a site where people come for knowledge. So maybe instead of campaigning that people share information no-one else is entitled to that does little good in of itself anyway...dedicate your article on how you took the shot. All that weather and other factors you mention like editing, the theories behind why you did what you did, what were your limitations and challenges ect. That's where the value is.

user-197098's picture

I remember about 50 years ago when I was getting serious about my photography that spending time analyzing the work of other photographers was time very well spent. If you truly understand your craft you should be able to look at a photograph and figure out the settings that would produce the shot. That is an essential part of learning about photography. If you can't do that, you need to spend more time learning about photography.

user-197098's picture

I post EXIF data on all my images on my Flickr and YouPic sites.

Steven Magner's picture

If you are fortunate to have someone bring you to an iconic spot that's one thing. But social media has this weird "I want to show people I went their" approach rather than appreciation of the artists work. Stamp collecting inevitably will lead to destruction of preserved spots by the 1% of crappy human beings too cheap to buy art from the artist that created the original and would rather claim as their own.

Michael McCray's picture

"As children" is the operative word. That lesson was around things because there are needs that can only be met by social cooperation. I stopped being a child a long time ago which is a good thing. Setting are way over emphasized, all the time I spent on my education never came up once except to understand fstop and shutter speed. Location just depends on who and why.

Duane Klipping's picture

On line I do not share much about the location or how I took it. I am not apt to give out free information to someone who is looking for a quick answer on wjat settings to use. Many of us have spent years honing our skills to get where we are and too many instant gradification people dont want to work for it.

In person it is a different story as i will share information there. As far as location I want to preserve it and giving this information out to all the trophy hunters is sealing the fate of the site.

In short dont be lazy do your homework and learn the art and stop expecting others to do it for you.

Christopher Eaton's picture

as for locations? Because they are being overrun by people scrambling for the latest Instagram post. Oh, and they are being vandalized. And trampled.