#293. Rich = B*tch? Photo Ethics at Westonbirt Arboretum

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Nov 10

Does an expensive camera grant your special rights on a subject? Is a pro more entitled to hog a scene than amateurs ? Should you feel more justified in spending minutes on a selfie at a famous spot while a queue has formed behind you, simply because you have traveled halfway across the globe to get to it? Should you ignore the impatient sighs of other togs because you know you are a better photographer than them and are making better use of the precious conditions than they will with their careless snapshot?

First come, first served?

Or should we all strive to get out of each other’s way?

A few days ago, we were blessed with glorious sunlight and superb autumn colours at Westonbirt arboretum in Tetbury, on the Western corner of England’s Cotswolds.


Red maple leaves in Westonbirt arboretum, Tetbury, England. Sony A7r & Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 lens

Westonbirt Reds


Our visit had been planned long in advance. We slept in the (very nice) nearby Priory Inn Hotel, who had booked tickets for us. We were up early and at the gates before opening time with our pre-paid tickets and first in the park for a good 10 minutes.

Conditions were blissful for the best part of an hour, leading to compositions such as this :


Reds, greens and yellows in Westonbirt arboretum, Tebury, England.

No blue


My Loxia 50/2 and A7r were singing in unison and not a soul was there to enter the frame uninvited.


Highly saturated leaf colours in Westonbirt arboretum in Tebury, with a Sony A7r camera and Zeiss Loxia 50 lens

Primary Westonbirt colours


Obviously, this could not last. Westonbirt arboretum receives a large portion of its visitors during the months of October and November, some traveling great distances to witness the great trees and spectacular autumn colours.

So, scenes such as this :


The Westonbirt arboretum in the Costwolds, alsmot empty early in the morning

Soulful arboretum


inevitably morfed into scenes such as that :


Crowds and families gather at the Westonbirt arboretum on a gloriously sunny October morning

2’s company, 3’s a crowd

Families enjoying a walk in glorious Westonbirt arboretum in Tetbury

Family fun


And who could blame families for enjoying a glorious Indian summer day in such a setting?

Certainly not me. And, while children running around weren’t making my photo efforts any simpler, it wasn’t them that spoiled the fun. Or their cute dogs.

Other photographers, on the other hand …


Photographers congregate under a red maple in Westonbirt arboretum

3 togs and a tree


This is when the fun starts to go downhill. We photographers (myself included) find pride in good pictures and derive frustration from obstructions and missed opportunities. To the point we become oblivious to the people around us.

If my recent week in the Cotswold and 30+ years of photography before that are anything to judge by, normal people show incredible good will towards us crazies, waiting patiently for us to finish a shot before walking into the field and commenting politely on our efforts. But among picture grabbers, it’s tog eat tog. Or total ignorance, which may be worse.

1 hour after the arboretum’s opening time, camera toting sociopaths (myself included 😉 ) were everywhere in the park. Some crouching with hands extended in some weird gymnastic ritual, some contortioning to capture one of the day’s 702 852 379 selfies in the best possible manner, 20 times if needs be, others like me chasing about like drunken ferrets in search of interesting angles. Each entering one another’s fields of views with varying degrees of concern, respect and politeness.

It’s inevitable and to be expected. And not that bad. But one did push my red button a lot more than all the others.


A photographer stands with his tripod under the canopy of a red maple in Westonbirt arboretum

The tree and the tog


This gentleman turned up with what appears to be a lovely Pentax 645Z, dropped his heavy bag and set up camp beneath a sublime crimson maple.

After long minutes of waiting for him to finish his composition, it became apparent he didn’t give a [….] about others wishing to use the area for photon capture. Maybe he was waiting for the perfect light (though, with a relatively slow-moving light-source and not a could in the sky, this does seem unlikely). Maybe he was practising some exotic meditation. Maybe the Pentax 645z has an even worse AF than my Sony A7r (also unlikely) and he was struggling. In any case, the man became a statue.

And why not? After all, technically, and in spite of my provocative title, the poor bloke was doing nothing wrong. And the fact that he had become visual obstruction in what is arguably the most prized photo property in the old arboretum shouldn’t affect me more than a bench or bin placed in the same location.

What do you do in such conditions? Get mad, or make the most of it and use him, the sun and passers-by, as subject? I opted for the latter, fighting the reptilian part of my brain hissing for revenge.


A photographer's bag ruins the view for others

A bag out of place


But that’s only half the story, as statue-man had ditched a humungoulsy large bag right in the middle of the scenery as if to further assert his ignorance of mere mortals. Or simply out of honest absent-mindedness. We all do it.

The fun attitude would have been to hide the bag in the hope of inducing a few seconds of panic in petty retaliation, but I un-humorously elected to head away and search for another hunting ground with less intimidating alpha males to fight for exotic leaf hues.

I returned to the hotel in the evening, asking myself how many people I’d pissed off in the same way over the years and what simples rules of ethics thumb we should conscientiously try to apply to make sure we don’t ruin someone else’s fun and vice versa. Any thoughts? How do you mix with other photographers in the field?

PS: If you’re the statue, please share your picture with us. I’ve been trying to visualize your result: in focus red leaves with OOF yellow and green background? I’d love to hear from you.


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  • paulperton says:

    It’s the Hive Mind Pascal. Statue-man can’t do anything without instructions from base and clearly, there he’d stopped in an area of poor reception and had stalled.

    I find that re-booting – preferably with a size 9 – often helps.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Oh, the size 9 reboot 😉 😉 How very tempting indeed. Thing is, I’m not sure I’m not guilty of such behaviour myself, in spite of my best intentions and wouldn’t want someone else’s foot up my tripod!

  • Ken says:

    I find it difficult to imagine that there weren’t literally hundreds of other interesting shots available to you that didn’t include the man with the 645D. If not, you could always set up your shot and politely ask him to move for a moment. I think you were on the right lines when, once people arrived, you shifted your attention to the people in the scene, on the basis that it makes more sense to photograph what is there rather than worrying about what you would like to be there. And looking at the shots you display, I would have to say that the two I like best have people in them. They add a whole extra dimension of interest. To me, shots of sunsets and autumn leaves and such subjects are often, maybe even always , subtly disappointing because I have a sense that that the photographer is unsuccessfully competing with the natural world, whereas shots of people in nature have, potentially, something unique to say about our relationship with the natural world. I feel the same way about photography in art galleries – futile to photograph the paintings but fun to photograph people looking at the paintings.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Quite right Ken. There were zillions of other opportunities out there, and I eventually moved away. It was just unpleasant to be in the middle of something and see someone barge into the frame with no respect at all for others already using the area.

      What you say about competing with the natural world is very interesting. It’s a bad reflex built-in to most of us to think that the more impressive the scene, the better the photograph can be. It’s one we have to fight in order to create our own vision and not be drawn in simply by what lies in front of us. Still, the picture I like best from my shoot has no one in it. It’s the one used as header. It was very peaceful and serene and meditative. Just what I love photographing most. Though I quite like the one of the photographer and his tripod under the red canopy as well.


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