12 Tips for Practicing Good Camera Etiquette When Photographing Events

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It’s easy to get excited about having a good camera you can take with you to various events and activities. Being able to record the event in images to print or share is exciting and sometimes a nice thing to do for the people holding the event. But do you follow good camera etiquette? And what does that even entail? Let’s have a look.

camera etiquette - concert photograph

Low light situation with bright coloured stage lights made this shot difficult. I wanted to capture the colours of the lights, so I chose not to use my flash.

People attending the event may appreciate being on the other side of your lens. Some people are uncomfortable when faced with big professional looking cameras. Other people just want you to sit down and stop blocking the view for everyone behind you.

It can be a challenge to balance your desire to capture those special moments against a level of intrusiveness into the occasion. What are your options? What should you consider in advance?

camera etiquette - 2 ladies dancing

#1 – Is it appropriate?

Some religious ceremonies may not be the place to take a camera along. Photographing other people’s children is now something to be done with caution for a variety of security reasons. Are you blocking the view of other participants? Are you being a distraction? Have you just blinded everyone with your flash?

Were you asked to bring your camera along to the event and shoot? Have you got permission or approval to be shooting? These days it can be assumed that images will be shared online, not everyone may want to have their images shared, or to be tagged or identified in some way.

You can share relevant images of an event without showing the faces of attendees

#2 – Use discretion in your approach

So you rock up with a big DSLR body, big long lens, and your camera is clicking away audibly over the hushed sounds in a church. People are looking at you over their shoulder, others are grumbling about you being in their way. Maybe your flash just scared the birthday boy and he is now crying and scared? Sound familiar?

Being there with your camera doesn’t give you the right to impose or interfere with the event. Even a professional wedding photographer is there to be discrete, to capture the images without being the focus of the event. So standing up in the audience, blocking the view behind you isn’t okay. Distracting the performers or people involved with the loud shutter sound is not okay. Getting in the way of people to get the perfect shot is not the point of the event from everyone else’s point of view. They probably paid to be there too.

If you can’t get into the front row easily, if you feel you have to use your flash in a dark venue, if you are getting in the way of attendees or other people, then learn to identify a better time and place to be shooting. Enjoy the event instead and put the camera away.

good camera etiquette

Flash was used in this instance with the permission of the dancer, who was performing for our camera club. I specifically wanted to throw the background into darkness so the bright colours of her outfit glowed.

#3 – Get permission

Have you checked that cameras and photography will even be allowed at the event? Plenty of concerts, plays and similar events specifically ban photography. Sometimes they will announce it on stage before the curtain rises. Some venues specifically ban professional looking equipment, so are you prepared to have yours confiscated at the gate?

Depending on the country you live in, people have rights over how images of them are used. So they have the right to deny you the ability to take shots of them, especially at a private or family event. Not only should you ask for permission to shoot in advance, you should also clarify about what will happen to the images. Will you be sharing them online? Are people okay with that? Do you have model releases for images you might want to use commercially or in competitions?

good camera etiquette

This steampunk lady and her partner not only agreed to pose, they also signed model releases for me.

Are you shooting architecture? Have you checked what approvals may be required? Many buildings that you may assume have public access are actually privately owned. Some do have limitations on photography, especially if it’s a busy space and you want to set up a tripod in the middle of it. It is easy to think you have the right to shoot anywhere you want, but to avoid an uncomfortable situation with a security guard or police, do your homework in advance.

good camera etiquette

A day out shooting airsoft was lots of fun – I was taken along by one of the organizers who made sure I followed all the safety protocols.

#4 – Flash is rarely a good idea

Many events are held in quite dark spaces like; concerts, plays, musical events, sports, dancing, etc. Everyone in the audience is sitting in the dark, watching the action happen under the stage lights. Imagine how annoying it must be for someone to stand near the edge of the stage and light up the place with a camera flash repeatedly. Imagine how annoying and distracting (and potentially dangerous) it must be for the performers to have the flash bombarding them.

If you are in a low light situation where you cannot obtain good images with the gear you have, then put it away. If you need to do a lot of low light work, you may want to consider investing in a body with good ISO performance and a fast prime lens. But otherwise, don’t be the jerk with the camera spoiling it for everyone else by having your own fireworks show while you are trying to shoot.

good camera etiquette

Shooting an indoor swing dance event using a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens to maximize the use of available light and reduce the need to use flash allowed for more intimate images, as the dancers didn’t notice I was there most of the time.

#5 – Avoid conflict

Are you at a wedding or other event where a professional shooter has been engaged? Did you go up to them, introduce yourself, mention you had a camera and ask if it was alright with them if you grabbed a few frames for your own personal records? Did you gracefully put your camera away when they said no, that they didn’t appreciate an amateur getting in the way? Do you respect the wishes of the people organizing the event and allow the professional to do their job?

Did you avoid conflict with someone being paid to do their job, or did you cause a scene or aggravate them with your attitude? Were you professional?

If someone asked you not to take photos of them, did you agree? If someone asked you not to post images of them online, did you shrug and do it anyway? Did you consider your right to shoot and post more important than that of the people whose images you are using to promote yourself?

Are you covered legally if something bad happens as a result of your photography interference?

good camera etiquette.

This lady walked into my shot and is saying oops!

#6 – Participate and be present

How many times do you get asked along to a family event or social occasion? A few?  People are generally pleased to see you and chat and catch up about things. What happens when you bring your camera out? Are people then avoiding you? Do the invites stop coming?

Ask yourself an important question at any event you are tempted to take your camera along to – especially if it involves family or friends. What is more important – the people you are with and the event you are celebrating or is it your camera and photography?

Sometimes it is more appropriate for you to leave the camera behind, to actually be present and participate in the moment. To talk to and connect with people without the barrier of a camera lens between you.

Pick your occasions, your sister may be delighted by your offer to shoot your niece’s first school play outing (but the school or the other parents may not be). Or you could sit in the audience and enjoy the special moment for what it is.

good camera etiquette

Don’t forget to enjoy the barbecue!

#7 – Personal security

Walking the streets, or being in a big crowd with expensive camera gear hanging off your shoulder can be a dangerous exercise. Camera gear is obvious, people see you using it, and the big flashy stuff is usually worth a reasonable amount. Are you paying attention to your personal security and that of your gear? Do you want to be out alone at night in the city getting the gritty street shots?

Traveling to other countries is exciting, but they have different laws and situations. Have you studied in advance to make sure you are not causing any offences? Do you walk around with big branded straps on your camera and on your bags? Are you a walking advertisement for expensive camera gear just waiting to be grabbed when you leave it on a chair in a restaurant? Dress to blend in when you can.

camera etiquette

#8 – Don’t waste people’s time

Is your camera all set up and good to go for the lighting conditions you might encounter? Or are you standing there fiddling with the buttons while your subjects stand there awkwardly, wondering what’s going on?

good camera etiquette

Be ready to capture the best and most genuine smiles.

#9 – Engage your subject

This may well depend on the circumstances, but an image of someone looking at the camera and sharing some emotion makes for a far more powerful image, than a furtive capture from the sidelines. Take the time to say hello, introduce yourself, and explain why you are taking pictures.

Ask their name, if they are okay with you photographing them. Talk a bit about the event, get them interacting with you. Be sincere, everyone has an interesting story to tell, if only you take the time to listen. A few minutes is all it takes but the difference in the quality of the images will be huge. Plus it’s polite to treat people like people, and not just objects for your photography amusement.

good camera etiquette

I spent an afternoon with these lovely ladies at a Zombie Run and we had lots of time to get to know each other. So they were happy to spend some time lurching towards my camera when I proposed the idea.

#10 – Don’t compete for attention

If there are several photographers at an event clamouring for attention, you will get different people looking in different directions within the same image. The end result is not as nice as it can be, and can matter for things like group wedding shots. So wait your turn to get in front of the subject, don’t try to shoot at the same time as someone else (especially a hired pro doing their job!), and potentially ruin both your images.

good camera etiquette

I have the attention of two of the three guys, the one on the right is looking at another shooter next to me.

#11 – Take no for an answer

Some people hate having their photo taken, regardless of the situation or approach. There are many reasons for people not to want to be in front of your camera, so be respectful of their wishes. If they ask you to delete any images they are in from your memory card, then do it. If asked not to post images of people online, don’t. Your rights as a photographer are not more important than those of the your subjects.

good camera etiquette

#12 – Act professional even if you aren’t a pro

Lots of photographers hope to make money out of their hobby and interacting with customers is a key part of the business. Even if you are new and learning, be professional and courteous. Eventually when you are taking paying customers, you will have developed good habits and hopefully a good reputation as well. It will pay off. Have a business card with some contact information to assure people you aren’t a creep with a camera, but a genuine photographer. Who knows, it might also generate some new business for you.

good camera etiquette - dance troupe

This troupe performed at an event I was at and while I was taking some portraits in the lobby they saw me and asked me to photograph them. As I was happy to do that, then they asked if I could get a shot of this guy doing a high kick. The lighting was terrible and my camera wasn’t really up to it, but I agreed, took a few shots, and emailed the best ones to them the next day.

Conclusion

Remember that when you turn up at an event with your camera, it isn’t about you and your photography. It’s about recording the event in a way that doesn’t interfere with it, or disturb the other people or patrons attending. Respect people’s wishes and privacy, ask permission, follow good camera etiquette and everyone will be a lot happier about the situation. Don’t be a jerk, no one appreciates that.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Stacey Hill invested in her first DSLR back in 2007. While having many adventures out and about in the South Island of New Zealand, Stacey took to blogging about her experiences learning photography. Recently she discovered the fun and creative possibilities to be had with Photoshop. She can be found having an opinion all over the place here.

  • Dylan Marshall

    Oh wow this is super
    way cool! I can use better instruction to use my Canon cameras for sure!
    Exactly what I needed. Thanks for sharing!

  • Stacey

    Thanks Dylan, I am glad you enjoyed it

  • Stereo Reverb

    Good article but two big things: “I wanted to capture the colours of the lights, so I chose not to use my flash.”- you should never use flash at a music event like the one you shot- never ever ever. (Sorry, i cringed at that statement) Several things will happen if you do- the band will have words with you, the stage security will have words with you, the venue will have words with you, and (this i’ve seen first hand), people in the crowd will have some very strong words for you. Like you said, use good prime lenses with apertures 1.8 and lower, or time your shots against the stage light on the performers with your zooms, which takes the place of a flash.

    One of the single most important things about shooting events is to always shoot in RAW, so that you can color correct in post. Most amateurs (and shockingly, one professional photog i know), shoots in JPG, which does not have anywhere near the latitude for color correction that RAW does. Always always shoot in RAW. It will also save your life to bring a grey card and take shots of it in the venue under it’s different stage lighting combinations- that way, you can create white balance presets for that specific lighting condition, which will save yourself hours of manual correction.

    And if you do you use a flash, like photos 4,8,10, 11, and 15, you’ll get much better photos by raising your iso, and bouncing the flash to enhance the ambient light and to naturally light up the subject. Hitting them with direct flash only destroys the ambient, and washes them out, giving them that overly contrasted hit with a camera flash look.

  • Stacey

    Im not sure why, after I stated quite clearly that I DIDN’T use my flash, that you felt the need to tell me all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I also do shoot in RAW and have done since I got my first DSLR. Did I need to state it explicity for you to not assume that I was already? Granted use of flash can be difficult to manage, and not all my flash images are as well balanced as I might like, its what happens when you are learning, you make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. FWIW image 11 has no flash at all, its all ambient – I have the exif data available. Thanks for your comment.

  • Stereo Reverb

    You stated that you ‘chose not to use your flash’, which means you have or do use your flash to shoot such events. I mentioned reasons to not use flash so that people reading the article will see why flash is not a good idea.

    And yes, like i said previously, beginners and even some pro’s still shoot only in JPG. Because of this, i have no idea what you shoot with (i don’t like to assume, bc that’s dangerous), but for the purpose of writing about event photography, it’s very useful to include the assumption that RAW is necessary for people that do editing in post.

    You wrote a good article, but there were some points that i would have liked to have seen mentioned instead of assumed. 🙂

  • Felicia

    Interesting article and I agree with most of what you say. But I have a question: You mention that different countries have different laws regarding photography: how do you find out what exactly you’re allowed to do with a photo, if the country in question is not one of the most commonly visited 😉 ? I’m particularly interested to know what I can do with the photos I took in Central Asia… even though I mostly asked for permission to take the photo, I don’t have a written permission, i.e. model release… (I’m from Germany, we have much stricter laws than the US, for example) So far, I have been too afraid to post even one photo anywhere!

  • Stacey

    It was an article about etiquette, not post processing low light event images. Therefore whether I shoot in RAW is not particularly relevant to the topic of the article.

  • Stacey

    Hi Felicia – model releases are generally needed if you want to use the image for commercial work, enter into competitions, sell as stock and that kind of thing. You would have to research your own copyright laws for the specifics, but in general that is where you could expect to need a model release. Images taken in public are usually considered OK, otherwise street and travel photography would be a lot more difficult. Its a good question 🙂

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