We, Les and Janet, hear about, talk about, and teach the art of seeing and visual artistry in photography. Don’t all dedicated photographers want to become true artists and share our unique way of seeing? We sure hope so! But, what means are you willing to take?

Does our behavior align with artistry?

In the age of the selfie craze, there appears to be a risk that the behavior of photographers does at times devolve into an attitude of “anything goes” to get the shot. Is that artistry or just poor behavior? When the sign reads “stop,” does a camera in hand give us permission to “go?”

We need to acknowledge that social media, the availability of Smartphones, and the trend in promoting oneself visually (i.e., selfies) have converged to push photo taking to the edge. In some sad cases, people have gone to the edge, literally, to get a selfie where they should’nt have ever been standing, and the outcome was tragic.

Has this behavior infected professional photographers? Because tourists and casual photographers are disrespecting official and private warning signs, are we, avid photographers, doing the same? Have we too lost our respect for barriers?

When we learn of a person injured after climbing over a wall to get a selfie with a panther in a zoo, we shake our heads and use a few adjectives to describe what we think of the person’s behavior. Are we any better than that person if we, the lovers of photography (and nature), climb over a barrier wall at Devil’s Courthouse Overlook, located on the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway, and disrupt the peregrine falcons to the extent the birds won’t nest there this year? (This is actually happening, according to a report earlier this year from the National Park Service, which has posted signs asking people to stay behind the barrier wall for the falcons’ sake.)

Is it acceptable behavior to put our wants “in the name of getting the shot” ahead of the balance of nature, or the privacy of the property owner or the authority of the park ranger? Is it okay to “cheat” as long as we don’t get caught or, worse, injured?

Let’s believe that the majority of us stay on our side of the wall, that we do obey the signs, and we do respect the hours of operation. And let’s believe we all want to protect the interests of all  photographers, to maintain the integrity of professional photography, and to retain the privileges granted to us to access special places to photograph. With that said, what do we do to push back on “anything goes” behaviors?

First, we should recognize there is more “photography pressure” on our special places from people with cameras who don’t understand our level of integrity, who may not appreciated what a privilege it is to be where they stand. Let’s believe these are the offenders who think they may go anywhere, anytime, and do whatever it takes to get “the shot.”

It could be your Aunt Betty who sneaks through the gate early because “what could it hurt?”. It may be your teenage child who ignores warning signs and climbs over the wall on a dare to get a selfie that’ll be a trophy on social media.

These may be the people who cause privileges to be taken away from photographers. If nature suffers under the pressure for “cool” photos, we may lose access to areas in parks and forests. If private property is disrespected, owners may shut their gates to us.

Again, the question is what should each of us do? What responsibility do we have to push back on poor behavior?

After acknowledging the sheer number of human beings who have cameras (and some have more camera than sense), we need to be alerted to the harmful and false attitude that a camera gives unrestricted access, and to be self-aware enough to avoid adopting this thinking ourselves.

Actions we can take:

  • Include integrity in our visual artistry
  • Protect the gifts we’re given to practice and express our craft
  • Nurture a respect for boundaries
  • Encourage other photographers to do the same
  • Talk about behavior with fellow photographers in your social media circles, in your local clubs, with peer groups, and in blogs and articles
  • Lead by example – check our own behavior

While we can’t stop a train, we can choose not to get on it before it leaves the station.