Can I Get Some Photo Courtesy?

You know what they say about common sense? Common sense ain’t so common!

It’s the same with common courtesy.

Courtesy is not so common. It is greatly missed when it’s not present and seriously appreciated when it shows up. 


Earlier this year I found myself out photographing birds at a refuge near our home.  This particular area is a feeding ground for eagles and other birds of prey, particularly during winter months. 

I like to arrive early in the morning before the crowds of gawkers and point-and-shooters arrive.  As the morning progressed, however, the roads and turnouts became very crowded with cars and people.

I observed a Peregrine Falcon standing on the tip of a cattail.  It was a great shot and I was deep into framing and metering it, just getting ready to click the shutter when a vehicle drove right in front of me completely obscuring my view

I shouted, “seriously dude!”, as the vehicle sped on across the pathway.

This particularly aggravates me as I am very conscious about stopping and waiting until someone completes a shot before I cross their view.

Can I get a little of the same consideration back?

I was able to reset and obtain my shot which turned out great and all ended well.

A Peregrine Falcon perched on a cattail.

During another visit at the same refuge, I spied a young Rough-legged Hawk sitting on a bird feeder.  Very cool bird and a great shot.  There were several other photographers there shooting as well. 

My shot was framed, camera settings perfected, and I was clicking away when a great white blur blasted my view.  A large white truck had driven right in front of me and stopped to watch the hawk. 

A fellow photographer nearby began to berate the obstructer very enthusiastically.

I must confess that it was satisfying to watch the confrontation and the humbling of yet another person lacking in the not so common trait of courtesy.

This particular individual, being the good soul that he was, apologized to me and we both went upon our way hearts warmed by what turned out to be a positive exchange with a fellow human being who loves birds.

A rough-legged hawk taking flight from a bird feeder.


I think the funniest experience I have had with discourteous photo seekers occurred at Mesa Arch very early one morning last summer.  

Jamie and I had arisen long before sunrise and driven from our room in Moab to Mesa Arch to score our own versions of the much vaunted sunrise through the arch photo.  There were several serious photographers at the site when we arrived.  We found a spot away from them that would provide the view we desired and would not interfere with anyone else’s shot. 

After everything was set we sat there, enjoying the morning and waiting for the sun to peek out and begin our clicking extravaganza.

Suddenly a massive wave of tourists arrived consuming every inch of space around the arch. 

Courtesy was certainly not a word that existed in their vocabularies. 

They took positions in front of us and the other photographers, who had arrived early and been waiting for some time to get our shots. There was shouting and swearing and looks of consternation and confusion.  Eventually clear communication was arrived at and compliance obtained.  Everyone settled in again to await the sunrise.

As the sun arrived and we all began shooting I felt nudges to the insides of both my legs. 

I looked down and discovered that a woman had wedged herself between my legs and under my tripod.  Startled I jumped back and she moved back into the crowd.  “Unbelievable!”,  I thought as I resumed my place behind my camera. 

Suddenly someone bumped into my shoulder ruining my shot and jolting my tripod.  I looked toward the source of this new aggravation to observe a man wedging himself between me and my wife.  I’m sure the look on my face was not friendly. 

I’ve never been really good at disguising my emotions.  “Can I stand here?”  he asked.  I did not respond but just stared at him.  He moved back into crowd.  Jamie regrets not taking pictures of this crazy scene.

The sun rose and we obtained the shots we desired, but the usual joy I find in photography was not there.  

Jamie and I found our peace and fun in the time before the tidal wave of humanity arrived, and after they left. 

During these periods we relished the peace and beauty of the great outdoors and also met a couple of great photographers who shared photography advice and experiences with us.

David and Jamie at Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park

Don’t be one of the horde so focused on snapping a quick shot of some famous landmark or beautiful bird that you fail to give any consideration to other photographers or tourists.

Common courtesy.  Make it truly common. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is short, but there is ALWAYS time enough for courtesy.”

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  1. Discourtesy is not limited to non-photographers. Whenever I go to a popular location I find that “felllow photographers” are often the culprits; positioning themselves in your line of view, casting shadows or otherwise blocking the light, bringing children/dogs that run around and bump into your equipment, shining bright lights for whatever reason, etc. Usually I just back off and wait or maybe reposition myself – shaking off the anger and disappointment. I must say however that many times people are very courteous, waiting until I have finished or asking if they are in the way. My favourite discourtesy is when, obviously being intent on taking a shot, I am approached and asked “what are you taking pictures of?”.

  2. I really like this article. Same thing happens to me all the time when I am fishing or at the gym. It must be nice to be the only person in the world.

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