Don’t Be That Guy — with the Tripod

I’m a concert photographer. And being a concert shooter, it helps to be aware of — and show respect for — the people around you at events. So, for example, I hand-hold my camera with fast lenses attached. I stay low so I don’t block people’s views. That kind of thing.

I’ve learned over the years, to my chagrin, that not every photographer takes this inconspicuous approach. Some, in fact, seem determined to call attention to themselves — if only to annoy everyone around them.

And the worst offender is someone I call “Tripod Man.”

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … It’s Tripod Man

If you’ve shot at a lot of events, you’re probably familiar with Tripod Man. Here’s my story:

A few years ago, for a period of about eight months, Tripod Man seemed to be at every show I covered. I’d be shooting a concert when, about halfway through, Tripod Man would brush by, carrying his monopod.

There he’d be — mono fully extended and standing tall, blocking the view of all those behind him. Stepping right into my shots, even though he could see I was standing there. Even during breaks and intermissions, he refused to collapse the mono.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Responding to complaints from concertgoers and photographers, venues and bands finally got sick of Tripod Man and refused to let him shoot anymore.

Tripod Man became that guy. And you don’t want to be that guy, do you?

Here are six tips for proper tripod etiquette in different settings and situations:

1. Find out in advance if tripods are permitted. If you’re shooting an event, whether indoor or outdoor, you shouldn’t assume that you’ll be allowed to use a tripod or monopod. Always be sure to ask the venue or event organizers in advance, or contact local officials. Don’t just show up and expect special treatment — or you’ll definitely be that guy.

2. In urban settings, be conscious of passersby. Don’t walk around with your tripod or monopod fully extended; carry things cradled, in your bag or use a shoulder strap. When you set up, don’t do it in the middle of the sidewalk or street, and avoid doorways, entrances and steps. Try to find an unobtrusive spot — near a tree; snuggled up close to a building, perhaps in one of its nooks; or between parked cars.

Also, while setting up, extend the legs first and then spread them to avoid knocking people about. Only extend the upper portion of the legs to create a smaller footprint and more stable base. Set your base up so one point of the triangle is between your legs. You’ll have to be careful not to trip, but this isn’t about you. Once set up, hang your bag from the center column, thus making yourself an even smaller obstacle for people to get around.

3. At fireworks displays, stay out of the way. Find out in advance where the display will be launched, and then scope out the area. On the day of the event, arrive early and claim an out-of-the-way spot that won’t inconvenience others. You’ll get better shots, and people won’t be snarling at you the whole time. Or consider a balcony — either yours, a friend’s, or rent a room.

4. At popular tourist areas, wait your turn. Scenic lookouts and other tourist settings can be crowded, so if you find that you have to mingle the legs of your tripod with those of another photographer, be sure to ask first. And don’t get snarky if the other photographer says no. Wait your turn or come back another time. If you really want the spot that badly, get there earlier next time.

5. Don’t just show up at a friend’s house with your tripod. I’m sure your friends love you — really — but that doesn’t mean you should assume you can come over and set up a “photo booth” at their dinner party. Even if they’ve asked you to shoot pictures, clear any additional equipment with them first. It’s their gathering, not yours.

6. Don’t bring a tripod to a concert. Sorry, but in this case, you need to leave the stabilizing equipment at home. Seriously. Get some fast lenses and learn how to make yourself as small as possible. Or just stay home.

13 Responses to “Don’t Be That Guy — with the Tripod”

  1. Thanks for posting these points. I often shoot surfing from a tourist-crowded pier with a telephoto + monopod, and try to take up as little space as possible. It's not only courteous, it also helps me blend a little better and get candid people shots. I hope some of my fellow photographers will read this; it's a good reminder for me as well!

  2. Wow, I don't think I've ever gotten stuck behind a full-on tripod set up at a concert before.

    It's terrible that this sort of thing isn't common sense, but I always keep in mind that people paid to see the band, not the back of my head.

  3. Thanks for the great post. I also try to take up as little space as possible and it is a great reminder to me & all photographers to be respectful to everyone.

  4. THANK YOU! Tripod guy is just as annoying as Huge Backpack Guy. Trying to squeeze by Huge Backpack Guy in the photo pit at concerts is SO FUN.

  5. Great posting, and I couldn't agree more. My favorite of all time is the Tripod Guy at football / basketball games shooting with a Canon XTi & kit lens on his monopod. When I still shot a lot of sports, I didn't start using a monopod until I added an extender to the 300 2.8. Sure, it hurt my wrist, but I was faster to move, and posed less of a danger to others.

  6. Sad that a list like this needs to be created. But, should be stated for those just learning the rules of the road.

    It's kinda like explaining when you are going to change lanes on the highway you need use your turn signal or let people merge. Unfortunately, some people are rude, clueless or don't get it.

    Good info Gareth


  7. while I agree with this at concerts, and other areas where people have payed money to be. I'm not so sure I agree with your statement about sidewalks. Now keep in mind I bring my tripod with me about 1% of the time when I shoot, but at the same time I don't care about setting up my tripod in the midddle of the sidewalk for some cool night street shots. I don't feel bad about it either.

  8. Completely agree! I am shooting events too but it's rare that I see someone with a Tripod. The security guard are very clean on that and you don't want to have a security guard on your back.


  9. This is so true. Usually you'll find its some enthusiastic amateur waiting to wade in and try and get all the best shots. As a photographer in most of the things you want to do you want to blend in and not stand out.

  10. I agree. I do shot quite a few concerts and artists and also being part of a band myself I can easily relate to that. But I would also add one more thing which is not totally tri-mono pod related but still is a matter of respect for people and the artists themselves. Since many if not most venues are rather dimly lite, too many photographers use their flashs. I hate that. Personally, I never, NEVER, use it. Besides you get much better colors and feel without it. Sure, you'll use ISO way up there, but hey in the past, we were using 1600, 3200 ISO films with grains as big as rocks and the pictures are still beautiful to look at.

    So, for respect to the crowd (even if they themselves use it) AND the artist on stage, please, don't use flashes.

    (OK maybe on some very rare occasions and then again for a couple of shot at the most lol !!!!)

    Good points though for this article and common sense everyone should follow.

    Benoit "MrSchultz"

  11. Totally right Benoit! I never use flash on stage, also the photos with flash is boring. I prefer the ambient lights.

  12. I actually had a photog tell me once you can not shoot good photos without a tripod... I rarely ever use one myself but I was really taken aback why this persons very sharp opinoin as to my skills because I didn't use one.

    This is a well known photog whose name I won't publish but he also teaches photography classes as a college and the students are taught they always no matter what have to use a tripod, it's completely insane.

  13. Great great great post ! Being new to the photography biz, I was shocked to see such methods being used at sporting events and air shows as well !

    The worst two cases I witnessed was at a NASCAR race at Michigan, the media was clamoring around so badly with sometimes 2 tripods each, the poor little kids who wanted to catch an autograph from their favorite drivers could only see the butts of the media following them.

    All the airshows I attend I see "That Guy". He attends them all sometimes he even brings his twins! I just wish fellow photographers could use some courtesy, maybe we'd all benefit from the better "pr" that we'd get !

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