#713. Does serious photography have to be obnoxious ?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Apr 19

So, dog years are nothing. It turns out 7 days in Scotland is worth 100 photographic years in most other places of the world. If you want to live long and prosper as a tog, may I suggest a trip up North for a bewildering variety of themes and locations ? Great (as in really great) food and fun people really don’t hurt either ! But this is a topic for a coming series of post. Today, let me don my No-No doctoral face, deplore the attitudes of some photographers and share a few personal thoughts on how to avoid them.



So, first stop, the Fairy Pools on the Îsle of Skye. This is what you could call a popular destination. Unavoidably, you’re not the only one around visiting and enjoying the great outdoors in the foothills of the Black Cuillins. Which leaves you with 4 options :

  1. Leave the camera home, enjoy the walk and the company of others, come back when no one’s around
  2. Accept that some people will appear in your shots (as below)
  3. Turn your back to the iconic and look for the personal (as above)
  4. Be a dick



Option number 4 was the one chosen by this one guy dressed in bright orange, who was huffing and puffing his anger at the other visitors making the most of their afternoon out and occasionally appearing inside his viewfinder, while he was so deliberately prancing about in everyone else’s by standing right in the middle of the stream.

Also (and possibly worse an offence to the Universe), his lady friend, the sort of bonnie lass (yes, this is Scotland) you usually only see in films, was waiting, sitting on rocks and obviously bored to the teeth while he fumbled with his tripod and huge camera in the water in search of the perfect long exposure. For her, the tog-years thing seemed painfully real, I could almost see her hair turning grey in real time !

Whatever the hidden reason for her staying there, he was being an immense dick to her and other photographers. The problem behind this that he obviously thought his photography was serious and important (enough to act in that way).



Cue location number 2, also a tourist hotspot on Skye : the Old Man of Storr.

Plenty of people about, once again, but this is a big place and the scale of the rocks makes visitors so small in comparison that they are easy clone out (unless you are using the woefully unfathomable Capture One clone tool, which produced the amusing results in picture number 2 on this page) Or you wait a little and find moments with no one in the frame (as above).

It’s a great place to be. The (relative) sense of achievement after the climb, the high-energy landscape, the surrounding scenery, the wildlife, the pure air … all conspire to make this a heaven for hikers, birdwatchers and photographers alike.



Until the drone brigade set loose their hellish machines. Who let the drones out, who, who, who, who ? Yeah, because why walk up when you can pester everyone’s life wih your noisy toy instead ?

One of those is loud enough to shatter the silence in a 300m radius. 2 or 3, and you’re good to mess up the experience over the whole site, which is efficient party-pooping by any standard ! Kudos. It’s also infuriating to those who enjoy the presence of wildlife and devote time, money and effort to preserve it. Over our 30 minute stay at the top, we saw a Sea Eagle, Buzzards, a superb Ring Ouzel, Rock Pigeon, and a host of other little birds (wheatear, wagtail, …) This is a very rich area for wildlife and it doesn’t take a PhD in alpine ecology to guess what impact drones will have on the local bird population.

This is how nearby tourist hotspot Eilean Donan Castle deals with the situation (albeit probably for economic reasons, not wildlife protection)



It baffles me that Skye, regularly at the center of tourist overflow polemics, wouldn’t enforce a similar policy to protect its nature reserves from the nefarious biddings of drones.

And judging by the reaction of other peace-seaking hikers at the Old Man of Storr, I’m guessing an EMC shooting stand at the entrance would bring in giggles and money aplenty. I’d pay for that. Wouldn’t you πŸ˜‰ ?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with long exposures or drones. In my living room hangs a long exposure photograph of a stream made in Scotland by co-author Bob Hamilton. It is one of my treasured possessions. And I would dearly love to own a drone as there are many situations where having the camera slightly higher than my hands can go would be super precious.

But there’s a time and a place. And an attitude.



I’m very aware that, simply by getting to those places, my own environmental contributions have not been overly positive at all. Look who’s talking, right ? But, throughout my whole life, I’ve tried my best to contribute to the security and welfare of nature in other ways. And, far more importantly, this is not about condemning travel or having fun in nature but recognizing that, when the negative impact of one person on the environment or the amusement of others is greater than that of a hundred “normal” people, maybe a line should be drawn.

It’s like those jetskis you can hear and feel profound, visceral hate for from a gazillion miles away. One person having fun. Ten thousand others not. And a disturbance in the force for thousands of fishes trying to live their daily lives beneath and around the turmoil. In Nice’s Baie des Anges, or any other busy, loud location, why not I guess. But in a secluded desert beach home to a unique marine ecology ? C’mon … Drones where rare eagles nest and people pop their veins in exhaustion just to enjoy oneness with nature ? I think not.



Obviously, everything we do has an impact and can be a nuisance to others. And every hobby has its own set of psychological dysfunctions. For us togs, I believe that loosing sight of the big picture and focusing on the narrow goal of “getting the shot” does as much wrong as all others combined. It makes us buy all the wrong hardware, focus on tech at the expense of creativity, act as bell ends in the field … Unless you’re really making a living from photography, it really, really doesn’t matter if you don’t get a shot. Another is just around the corner. We might think our photography is serious and important, but it just ain’t. Nobody’s gonna notice. If you (like me, on numerous occasions) feel compelled to act stupid to get a shot, just kick you ego in the nads and take step back. Photography is a process, a life-changing pursuit that can take you to great places of personal satisfaction and evolution or make you neglect a lovely partner (and piss the heck out of other hikers).

The difference is one ofΒ connection.



Or lack of. Trying to get the shot at all costs shows a lack of connection with the subject itself, as if the photograph is more important than the scene and your relation to it. It never is. If trying get the shot has occasionally caused you to lose sight of the bigger picture, try reconnecting with the scenery and context on an intimate, personal level. That will slow you down while at the same time give you a heightened sensitivity to what makes a good picture. A win-win, right ?


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You seem rather annoyed – hot under the collar. I’ll just take the dog for a walk, and respond later.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I’m never annoyed Pete. My years with Sony cameras have taught me to become a Zen master πŸ˜€ Looking forward to reading you later.

  • Mark Muse says:

    The crux of this problem and many others, and one for which I have no solution, is there are way too many people on the planet.

  • Mark Muse says:

    Ps., I will be doing my part before too much longer.

  • Mike Ross says:

    Its just a photo right? Easy to say but no so easy to believe when you put so much effort into it. Of course its very true-we all think we’re the center of the universe. That’s why I use center weighted metering.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, the question gripped my throat – it’s not the photography (serious or otherwise) that’s obnoxious – it’s the idiots running riot all over the world these days. The Pokemons have been warning us for years that there are too many idiots out there.

    Yes, a few of them ARE photographers (which is rather more idiotic than most behaviour – as it puts at risk their equipment and, in some cases, their liberty). But drones and drongos** abound, all over the landscape you’re trying to photograph, and they can also be obnoxious.
    ** Aussie for “idiot”

    We had one on our last trip – “she” was bad enough, holding her “smartphone”** over her head – but “he” made it ten times worse, following around behing her, towering over the top of her, holding a laptop or something above her, to shield the “viewfinder” (AKA screen) on her “smartphone” from backlighting. The combined impact on the scenery was appalling. In the end, I turned the tables on them – once I started, everyone else did it to them, till they fled. The simple solution was to photograph them, and laugh. They couldn’t handle that – tough – their audience couldn’t handle them, either, and they started it, so it served them right.
    **[in her case, “dumbphone” would have been a more appropriate tag]

    Another one tried to elbow me at Place Trocadero, while I was positioning myself to snap yet another shot of the Tower. Silly man – half my size – elbowed him back. (It was quite spontaneous. Anyway I could plead self defence if he complained.) He bolted.

    Everyone else in this group is probably nicer than that. So what else can you do?

    Well firstly, is it an un-destination? – because I’m puzzled by the presence of this plague, if it is.

    OK – moving on. A “problem” is not a complex phenomenon. There are only two things you can do with a problem. One is to solve it – then you don’t have one, so it’s irrelevant. The other is to ignore it, since you haven’t (or can’t) rid yourself of it.

    If it still exists in your frame – include it as a feature. Or change lenses/focal length to shrink the offending object to a manageable size for subsequent elimination in post processing. Or longer focal length, so the offending objects cease to be visible in your shot, at all.

    Or if you want to be technical about it and ease your anti-post processing conscience, bung your cam on the tripod you must have with you at all times for landscape photography, do a few quick sums on exposure, divide the shutter setting by 10, and take 10 shots at 1/10th of the indicated setting, and combine them all later in panorama. At least I think that’s how it works. Quite why this is less awful than brushing the creatures out, I can’t imagine, but I’m told it’s more “correct” for a photographer to deal with it this way – pure hypocrisy of course – tinged with laziness, too – morally more bankrupt, but possibly producing the best end product.

    Otherwise – see what happens to the scene in front of you, if you turn around and look in a different direction. Maybe it’s God (or Karma), giving you a nudge in the back, and telling you there’s a better shot to be had, elsewhere. πŸ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, idiots is a strong word. It doesn’t take anyone to be deliberately nasty to pester others. People on jetskis (or these flying tubey water things that are all the rage) are just having fun. Some may know how much annoyance they are inflicting on others, others are probably just anaware.

      Drones and drongos ! Love it πŸ˜‰

      That story about the couple is hilarious. Although a little sad, as it proves that they themselves felt out of place.

      Undestination. Skye is most certainly not. It’s one of the busiest tourist hotspots in the UK. The local govermnent is thinking about restricting entrance because the road system isn’t designed to handle the influx of cars and campervans. (I think they really should, as the alternative would be to make the roads bigger and destroy the landscape) But it’s a very large hotspot and if you visit off season, it’s very easy to be the only one around and only in particularly famous areas such as the Old Man of Storr will you encounter crowds. That’s why wildlife is so incredible and why strict no fly zones should be put in place for drones.

      But, as your say, even at destinations, it is quite possible to look for undestination shots. The first 2 pics below the title are basically the same spot at 180Β° opposites. There’s no one on the second because people don’t come to that spot for the boulder. And yet, I think it provides a greater opportunity for an essential Scottish lanscape, such as those featured in the Clan Campbell whisky ads.

      But most people don’t want essence, they want popular. They want that “been there” stamp on their instagram page, which is the ultimate loss of connection, if you ask me. Visiting a location only to show you have on a virtual forum, using the exact same pics as everyone else using the exact same recipe … sad !

  • NMc says:

    Answer to your title question- no, but other β€˜serious’ pursuits aren’t any better. Competitive trail users, mountaineers, influencers and instagramers are all worse than photographers (serious or otherwise) on the environment for both permanent damage and short term disruption. Have you ever used a cycle path at the same time as serious cyclists and seen how they treat old ladies or learner cyclists! Speaking of little old ladies why do they insist on re organising their whole purse at the supermarket checkout holding every one up, it is not just the serious or the selfie-stick brigade that lack awareness and consideration.
    Regards Noel

    • pascaljappy says:

      That’s very true Noel. And in all these cases, I think the problem stems from having one’s head stuck us so far up one’s … That’s what I mean by lack of connection. It’s being so deeply blinded with one narrow goal of your pursuit that you lose sight completely of its place in a grander scheme and don’t realise or care you’re being such an absolute a-hole to all others. Mountain bike riders, dirt bike riders are probably some of the worse offenders because of the magnitude of damage their gear can inflict, but I think the problem is the same in any hobby. Geeks can become dorks all too easily.

  • Bill Langford says:

    “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”, usually keeps me out of trouble.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I just heard that some governments organise groups who train eagles (and probably also other birds of prey) to hunt and catch drones…

  • Hugo says:

    Post-processing is not perfect (aura around the rocks on images 2 an 4) but in general attractive photographs.

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