The Need For Photo Ambassadors

by Tim Grey

– I’ve become convinced that photography needs more ambassadors. As photographers we need to make sure we’re setting a good example for other photographers. But perhaps more importantly, I think we also need to help maintain a “good name” for photographers among the general public.

I think it is important that photographers have a well- earned reputation for being respectful of the subjects they photograph. This isn’t something I had given much though to in the past, but I’ve recently seen first-hand examples of situations where a small number of photographers have tarnished the image of photographers as a whole.

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In my experience, when you approach the owner of private property and ask permission to photograph their property, they are generally enthusiastic and happy to share information and stories about the subject you are photographing. Photo © Tim Grey

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift in attitudes among a small number of the locals when I’m leading workshops in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State. Unfortunately, those negative experiences consistently relate to other photographers creating a bad impression among the locals.

For example, earlier this year my group was photographing alongside a road, when a local woman pulled up and started almost yelling, asking what we were doing and whether we had permission to be there. I explained that we were a group of photographers who found the area to be beautiful and fascinating, and that we were staying off of private property unless we had permission from the owners.

After a few minutes of conversation, the woman calmed down, and explained that the prior year while she was sitting on the porch with her husband a group of photographers stopped in front of their property. The photographers proceeded to walk onto their property, and some of them even photographed the couple as they were sitting on the porch.

Once the woman realized that my group didn’t represent the type of photographer who would behave that way, she apologized for being confrontational and invited us to photograph the old barn on her property.

In speaking with the property owners at one of the most popular abandoned farmhouses in the area, they too have noticed a troubling trend. Not only have they observed photographers entering the farm fields for purposes of photographing the abandoned house, but they have also caught photographers going inside and even removing contents from the house—ostensibly for the purpose of photographing those objects.

That couple now makes a point of coming out to the house whenever they see photographers stop there, in part to make sure the photographers are aware the abandoned farmhouse is on private property.

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A great many subjects can be photographed from public property. But when the best views are from private property, it is important to obtain permission first. Photo © Tim Grey

Of course, this provides a tremendous benefit to the photographers attending my workshops, as those photographers then have the opportunity to meet the family and learn the history of the house that was built as part of a homestead in the late 1800’s. But it is unfortunate that the family feels the need to be so cautious in response to recent events.

 I believe that a relatively small number of photographers is responsible for the shift toward more suspicion among locals in the Palouse. I also recognize that the changes I’ve observed in the Palouse represent only one example, and that there are many areas where photographers don’t have the best reputation.

I also believe that as photographers we can turn things around. I believe it is possible to improve the relationship with the local people everywhere we take our camera gear (and even when we don’t have our cameras with us).

When leading a workshop in the Palouse, I often explain to the workshop participants that my goal is not just that they respect private property, but that they serve as photo ambassadors. For example, I encourage them to behave in such a way that it would be obvious to any observer that they are going out of their way to be respectful of the subjects they are photographing and of the property owners.

I encourage you to give some thought to how you can serve as an ambassador for photography. Leading by example when photographing is certainly an important first step. Engaging with the locals, asking for permission to photograph private property, and asking questions to learn more about the subjects you are photographing can also be very helpful.

Sharing photographic images can be tremendously helpful in promoting the protection of valuable resources. Sharing your thoughts can also be helpful. By demonstrating that you are respectful of the subjects you photograph, you’ll help improve the reputation of photographers at large. In the process, you may very well make it easier and more enjoyable for all photographers to capture images of the subjects they love.


Pixology Magazine - July 2015


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This post is abridged from the July 2015 Pixology Magazine, published by renowned digital photography and imaging expert Tim Grey. Pixology publishes in-depth articles every month that help photographers optimize every aspect of their photography. More information about subscribing to this beautifully-designed magazine can be found here. You can also subscribe to Tim’s free newsletter and learn about his informative videos here.








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  1. First I agree with everything said. Being a photographer carries with it a responsibility of respect. But, I think it goes a step further. As “ambassadors” It carries with it the responsibility to give something back to the community we work in.

    I spend my winters in out islands of the Bahamas. The multi hued waters will take your breath away and the people, if you give them respect, will wrap both arms around you. It is a photographer’s paradise.

    A few yeas back i was over at the school in Black Pont Settlement and realized as a photographer i had an excellent opportunity to give a little something back to the community that had given me so much. I did the school photos and printed an 8×10 for each kid. I have since expanded that effort to Staniel Cay, Little Farmers Cay and Ragged Island Schools.

    Last year I was at Rock Sound for Easter (big deal in the Bahamas) and photographed the Easter egg hunt. It was a blast. I gave a copy of the photos on DVD to the Kanwis Club that organized the hunt.

    The point is there are many opportunities out there for photographers to be real “ambassador” of good will…and a little giving on our part goes a long way to help our image.

    Vic C.

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  2. Just on Saturday August 29th 2015 around 5:00PM in Ohio, my girlfriend and I were shooting in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a place we spend countless hours photographing in every year. I shoot for money at times, I do many different events for a fee. I consider myself a professional photographer but photography isn’t my only occupation. There is a barn on the road in the CVNP, I have always wanted to stop and photograph it. I decided to stop Saturday, what a great shot for me to take and a great experience for my girlfriend to get some shots in.

    My girlfriend doesn’t like confrontation, I like to keep the shooting a quiet relaxing event. We decide to stay on the other side of the road and the barn is on the other side. I start setting up and get my camera mounted on the Tripod, and I am lining it up for the shot.

    A man comes from the barn, comes across the road and doesn’t identify himself he starts asking a bunch of questions and says well I charge professional photographers for photographing my barn because professional photographers sell their work.

    At times I do sell some of my work, but not all of my work is for sale. I shoot just for myself.

    I am very cordial with the man who has not identified himself to me. I decided not to identify myself because I don’t know who this man really is. We speak and he tells me I have no right to photograph the barn from public property which I tell him yes I do.

    I give him the option of calling the local police so we can discuss the manner together. He refuses to contact the police and abruptly walks away. I wait until he is out of the photo area, and do a HDR of the barn.

    My girlfriend at this point looks like she is about to cry. I say what’s up? She says can we get going now? You have the shot you wanted. I say don’t you want to shoot this too. She replies “I just want to leave now if that is OK?”. I pack up my Tripod and we walk back to the car. In the car she says I am sorry but I don’t like confrontation with people. I said you know I don’t either, but the Man was very aggressive with us, and I didn’t want to upset him any further so I invited him to call the police so we could settle it in a good way.

    She said I know you were very nice with him, and he wasn’t very nice with you at all. I just don’t like to be in a situation where someone is coming at you like you did something wrong when you didn’t.

    I run into this all the time, a lot of times I like to ask people if I can photograph something even when I am on public property. A lot of times they slam the door in my face, they scream at me, they call me names and swear at me. Over time, I get very tried of asking. I just pick a nice public piece of space and shoot my shots and leave. It really doesn’t matter now nice you are a lot of the times people have already singled you out as a bad person.

    I’m 50 years old, my girlfriend is 47, we are adults, we like to be respectful and we also like to be respected in the same manner. How do you handle the person coming at you that has already marked you as the bad guy? It is a two way street, not everyone with a camera is a bad person just like not everyone you ask if you can photograph something even if you are on public property for the photograph is bad.

    It becomes more and more difficult to be nice when you are being targeted, when you are enjoying your hobby which I find very relaxing most of the time.

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    • The answer to some of the questions you’ve posed are a lot more difficult to answer than they used to be. But generally speaking you can shoot picture of someone’s property from a public road but if you then intend to sell it you need a property release from the owner, same as a model release from a person whose image you would sell for use in an ad. There’s a lot of murky water here but it’s best to be on the safe side. As to handling difficult people the best way is to just start agreeing with them and complementing them. Let’s see that might work:

      You wrote: “A man comes from the barn, comes across the road and doesn’t identify himself he starts asking a bunch of questions and says well I charge professional photographers for photographing my barn because professional photographers sell their work.”

      First, diffuse the issue and tell him point blank that you are not a professional photographer but just out for a day in the country with your girlfriend who spotted his gorgeous barn and asked if you would take a picture of it.

      Now suddenly you’re not the villain, you’re only trying to please your girlfriend who loved this guy’s barn.

      You then ignore all his aggressiveness and start turning the tables by asking him a lot of questions. How old is the barn? What kind of wood is it made of? Is it for horses or cows or what? Bang, bang, bang, rat-a-tat-tat. How long has he lived here? Is he married, does he have kids, what do they do, and so on.

      Then¬– would he like you to send him a print of the barn? Small or large? Listen, no matter how nasty he first sounds, you’ll have made friend if you do this right. Aggression only begets aggression. Calling the cops is not a friendly gesture.

      This technique rarely fails. But you must put yourself in the right frame of mind to use it to your advantage. Get a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book How To Make Friends and Influence People. It’s eons old but should be required reading for photographers. One example I remember is never to say: “Maybe you don’t understand what I just said.” That makes people think you feel they’re stupid. Say instead: “I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t make myself as clear as I could have.” See the difference?

      Practice up on your people skills and photographic doors will open to you in abundance.

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  3. The problem isn’t photographers the problem is trespassers and thieves.

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  4. Oh dear that is quite a common occurrence in the UK. We call the GOML or Get off My Land which seems to extend to the public highway where you can do what you want as far as taking photos is concerned. I take you point about getting permission though sometimes this is not possible but the rule still applies take only photographs leave only footprints. Mostly we get along OK with villages taking photos round them I just tend not to dwell on one property unless it is of historic importance and would not trespass on it with out asking first. Check out and you will see what we do there.

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  5. Recently the photo club I belong to ( brought up the same subject, stressing the need to be responsible to our hobby. No reason to be the ugly American.

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  6. As a retired professional Commercial photographer I have always believed that all photographers should present a professional courteous manner. Respect for others and their property should be natural for all people but is especially important when you represent a profession like photography. Being professional doesn’t necessarily mean your earning your living by photography. It means presenting yourself in a manner that brings respect to whatever your doing.

    You are right in mentioning the way a few people (photographers or anyone)act poorly can effect the perception of other photographers or people.

    Photography has a long history of great achievements and great photographic art. As a representative of photographers you do not want to damage the viewpoint of that great heritage.

    Mark Woehrle

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  7. The issue here is the same issue that is hurting photographers by people using images that don’t belong to them. The immediate access to basically everything, that has been afforded to us by the Internet, has eroded the concept of personal property. Combine that with a lack of education about things like private and intellectual property, and a growing sense of entitlement, and you get people who are just flat out ignorant that what they are doing is wrong or harmful.

    I’m amazed at how many people who create for a living that I have to educate on the subject of property before a pair of handcuffs or a lawsuit educates them.

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    • This is an excellent article about being aware of personal space and property. I have often taken pictures of farm and the animals and enjoy this very much. The owners are more than happy to show off there animals and sometimes are helpful in creating a good layout for the shoot (for example, letting their horses out in a field and helping them run across a field). I always return to the farm with a poignant photograph in a form of a card or a matted print for them to enjoy. This reminds the owner how I appreciated their kindness by allowing me to walk in their fields and photograph their property. Some of them have become cherished friends.

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      • CB in the UK if you take a photo of a horse they think your going to steal it and the photo is going to an online catalogue for thieves to browse they are so paranoid about them

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