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.