Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mr. Manners Meets Goofus And Gallant

Eustace Tilley, from The New Yorker
Gentle Photographer: 

Recent events made it imperative that Mr. Manners speak his mind concerning observations that have caused me great distress. I am speaking about behavior I would consider most inappropriate when one is engaged in recreational, professional, or semi-professional photographic endeavors. But I digress.

When you're in the field, remember that you can't make a photograph unless you have a subject to photograph. If you work with people as much as I do, you will definitely need your subject's cooperation if you're going to get what you came for. A recent assignment reminded me about how we, as photographers, should present ourselves in public. There are a number of things I routinely do that ultimately make my job easier, things that are easily overlooked.
  • Dress Appropriately: I never wore a suit to an assignment, nor have I worn shorts and a T-Shirt to an indoor assignment. I have found chinos, penny loafers,  and a black polo shirt adequate for nearly all of the events I have photographed.  
  • Introduce Yourself: I make it a habit to introduce myself to anyone who looks responsible, and especially to those who are wearing name tags or carrying walkie-talkies. I do this so that I am recognized as a media photographer by as many people as possible.
  • Explain What You Are Doing: When I get past "security" and am introduced to the publicist (or someone serving in that capacity), I try to explain what I am looking for in a photo. Remember that this person may be directly accountable for everything that happens during the event, and would be justifiably uneasy when there is a photographer wondering about, looking for random photos to shoot. 
  • Talk To Your Subjects: It's much easier to get your subjects to cooperate when they know what you're doing, and why. If you see something interesting, introduce yourself and explain why you want to make the photograph. 
  • Refrain From Eating and Drinking: Many events may have a snack spread out for the invited guests, and I have sometimes been told to "help myself".  My pat answer is "No, but thank you your thoughtfulness", simply because the person making the offer may not, in fact, be authorized to do so. There is also the potential, however slight, that somebody will see me eating and assume that I just decided to "help myself". 
  • Make Yourself As Small As Possible: I go to great lengths to not interfere with the guests and their activities. Stay out of the way as much as you can. This includes keeping your equipment bag out of the main stream so people don't have to walk around it, or worse, fall over it.
  • Replace Anything You Move: If you move it, commit yourself to returning it to its original location. I have occasionally rearranged furniture when photographing groups of ten or more subjects. But I make sure that I replace everything immediately after the image is made. Always assume that everyone is watching, and that somebody will remember you unfavorably if you don't clean up after yourself.
  • "Thank you, I had a wonderful time, this was the easiest photo assignment I ever had, and I'll probably win a Pulitzer Prize for the photos I made today. You really helped make this my easiest assignment ever...": Is this pretty clear, or do I need to explain further? However small their contribution, let the right people know you appreciate what they did.
Goofus With A Camera:
Remember Goofus and Gallant? They were (or are, for all I know) a regular feature in Highlights, a magazine that could only be found in doctor's offices, or so it seemed. Basically, G & G was an ongoing confrontation of social values featuring two young boys facing an identical social dilemma. Goofus always takes the easy way out, never thinking about the impact of his actions on others. Gallant, on the other hand, always takes the high road. Consider him the the male counterpart of Shirley Temple. 

My takeoff on this "bad kid, good kid" format resulted from an encounter with a photographer during one of my assignments for the San Mateo Daily Journal. I was sent to make a photograph that would illustrate the essence of a charity tour of a recently renovated Hillsborough estate which was opened exclusively for this event.
  • Goofus comes to the estate and assumes that he is free to photograph whatever and wherever he chooses. 
  • Gallant checks with the publicist to see if there are any restricted areas, and any subjects that should not be photographed.Restrictions on photography are not uncommon whenever historical locations are opened to the public.
  • Goofus opens up a tripod and puts in on the Italian amber marble floor, denying other guests access to the room where he's photographing and risking scratches to the floor and scuffs to the furniture.
  • Gallant doesn't use a tripod unless it has been cleared by the publicist well in advance, and then only on a "closed set" with no foot traffic. If permission is given, Gallant makes sure that his tripod does not leave any marks, especially when the floor is Italian amber marble, and is particularly careful when moving to prevent accidental damage to the surroundings.If he must put his equipment bag down, it will be out of the way, and preferably on a carpet or rug to eliminate the possibility of scuffing the floor.
  • Goofus directs his wife to sit on a decorative antique sofa so he can make a photograph of her.
  • Gallant never poses his subjects on furniture that might be more decorative than functional, especially in a private estate where public access is restricted. Instead, his subjects are pictured standing beside the furniture with pleased expressions on their faces.
  • Goofus uses direct, on-camera flash.
  • Gallant uses soft bounced light, and never uses an on-camera key light unless there is no other way to make a photo. He may use it as a fill, but very sparingly.
  • Goofus uses Canon equipment.
  • Gallant uses Nikon equipment.Heh heh.
  • Goofus uses the self timer and then  leaps to his wife's side on the decorative antique sofa so they can be photographed beside one another.
  • Gallant drops his jaw in disbelief.
  • Goofus is told in no uncertain terms that he must immediately stop making photographs.
  • Gallant continues shooting, finishing the shot in less than two minutes.
  • Goofus, without a trace of contrition, returns to ask Gallant why he gets to continue taking pictures.
  • Gallant replies "I'm with the press, and I was invited".
  • Goofus disappears into the crowd and is not seen again.
  • Gallant, his photo 'in the can", packs up his equipment and prepares to leave, wearing his smile of simian satisfaction.
While my secondary rant was aimed at his behavior, it can serve as a reminder of how we should behave when working on location.  All kidding aside, photographers should consider how their actions appear to others. Even though you may be invited, you are not a guest. And while you may not be paid for your services, you should still present yourself as a professional. And finally, always present your best work. When you adopt the "Why bother? I'm not getting paid for this" attitude, you will miss opportunities to demonstrate how capable your really are. If you allow yourself to be governed by how much (or how little) you were paid, many will assume your unwillingness to produce a quality product comes from your inability to create one.