A photography student last week emailed me about an issue they ran into with people not wanting to be photographed at a local event they were shooting for one of their photography classes.
This student had really had some cranky people that they ran into during a public event and asked how to best deal with situations like this. I thought about this for a bit and I remembered what one of my professors, Reuben Njaa, had said when a classmate had the same issue when I was working on my Bachelor’s, “Kill them with kindness.”
In photography, there are just certain things that we have to learn to deal with and overcome and one of the toughest is cranky subjects when trying to complete a shoot. Human nature is a sometimes funny thing and one of the oddest quirks that people have is not wanting to be photographed. Some of the Native American tribes as well as other more “primitive” groups of people felt that the camera would steal their souls and they would not be able to get into their Heaven.
The best way to deal with people that yell at you that you cannot take their picture when you are at a public event is to just apologize and not take their photo. Many times, you can change their mind by explaining that you are a professional just doing your job or in your case, a student doing an assignment. Often if you carry yourself as a professional with an air of confidence, you may just convince them to let you complete your assignment with them included.
If being the confidant professional doesn’t work you can just apologize and move on. You need to learn to develop a “thick” skin as a photographer as we are not a profession that is truly loved by all. Often a few kind words and an apology and just move on are the best ways to deal with difficult and cranky people. I have found from my own personal experience that having some sort of professional credential helps a bit.
I am not saying that you have to run out and join a group like NPPA, but I did and I upgraded from their student to their Professional membership. Why? Because I not only get a free freelance photojournalist listing in their directory for potential clients to find and hire me, but I also am able to get a photo ID from NPPA with my professional membership that to me is pretty sweet! The IDs are not free as they are produced by a third party company for NPPA but I still feel it’s worth it as it shows you are a professional and most people know that NPPA has to do with news and news outlets.
I wear my photo ID lanyard when I am out shooting for my personal project and it also helps keep the cops away when I am shooting in posted areas or just in general. Is it a fool proof get out of jail card? No it’s not but sometimes a professional credential of some sort is all you need to convince them that you are someone that knows what you are doing and that you are not there to hurt anyone with your camera. You would be surprised how many times I have had people spot my NPPA ID around my neck and they ask me, “which newspaper are you shooting for?” I just told them I was a freelance photojournalist and that was usually sufficient. Some pros will actually make up the name of a phony newspaper and even go as far as having business cards made up with the name of their phony newspaper on them. I have not decided to go that far yet but again, your mileage may vary. I did shoot a local event for Editorial Photography class at a place called Corn Dawgs and there was a lady there giving free hay wagon rides with her tractor. She was’t into the idea of her photo being taken until she found out I was doing it for a class assignment. She just didn’t want to end up in the local paper when she didn’t “look her best”. Once I explained it was for a class assignment, then she said, “Oh, well then shoot away.”
This post is some of the best, straight forward advice I can give on this subject. The key here is to not be discouraged, work on that thick skin and get back out there making great images.
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