D. Willey Photography | Portrait Photographers and Ethics | My Soapbox

Portrait Photographers and Ethics | My Soapbox

November 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

At the risk of sounding like a "Sanctitog", I'm going to point out a few things that irritate me regarding my fellow peers anyway. But before I jump on my soapbox, I know you're asking yourself "What the heck is a Sanctitog?!".


Well...a Sanctitog is like the Sanctimommy of Photographers. They can do no wrong. There is no perceived room for improvement and growth in their work, they basically think their s*#t doesn't stink. Let me assure you, I am none of those things. I am always striving to improve my skill. I'm often questioning my skill set and there are even a few days where I'm intimidated by the competition and questioning my career choice. But I'm sure some of you may be rolling your eyes right now anyway and that's okay.


Now that we've cleared that up...let's get back to the subject at hand, shall we? ;)


There have been many occurrences during my 15+ year photography journey where I've encountered ridicule or embarrassment caused by others in this industry. Various property owners who have negative attitudes toward photographers in general, law enforcement officers and park rangers who have stopped me in front of my clients to question my intentions, etc. I've even had one property owner, upon seeing my clients and I on the side of the road talking, accuse me of planning to trespass on his property. He berated me based on the actions of other photographers in our valley. He said "none" of us respected laws and private property. That we "all" just trample along acting as if we own the world. I was mortified. Not only have I never trespassed, but I've never gone onto someone's land and torn the place up. I've never been one of those who use chalk on brick walls, leave plastic flowers or paint on the ground, etc. And most of all....I've never once seen an old bridge or other cordoned off area and thought to myself... "Those 'No Trespass' signs do not apply to me. This is gonna make for an epic photo and it'll only take minute!". 


Do you know how many times I've seen people post images of their subjects at locations which I myself have drooled over, yet refrained from using because I respect laws and rules? I respect the need to keep certain areas private and the desire to keep the general public safe. A photographer friend and I have been talking about an area we've both been wanting to use for quite some time. It's private property. I have the owner's name and contact info yet I've been hesitant to contact them. Why? Because I'm afraid of a big fat "NO". I gave my friend the contact information and she and her guy went over to speak to this property owner and guess what?!?! He was hesitant to allow anyone access to his property because he's had to scare off numerous other photographers who've trespassed onto his property without permission. This actually irritates the ever living heck out of me. This poor man. And poor us... there will always be someone who ruins it for the rest of us and it needs to stop.


I know, I know...."Danielle, I thought you didn't want to sound like a Sanctimonious Bleep?!?!". I get it, I sound like a snot. But I'm not. I just think it would be great if others played by the rules. I carry a Liability Insurance Policy to protect my clients, myself and property owners (should anything happen while I'm using their property). This is my business and my reputation at stake. It makes me sad that there are people out there assuming we are all a bunch of disrespectful jerkwads when I try so hard to do things the "right" way. The "kind and respectful" way. As for Liability Insurance... Imagine the ramifications should something happen to your client during any session, let alone one where you're trespassing. If they were to be injured and sued, your life would be ruined. You could possibly lose everything you've ever worked for and more. But, let's assume you do have insurance. Even insured, if anyone is injured or damage is done to the property you're at while trespassing, your insurance isn't going to cover anything. It's just not worth it to trespass. 


Why not think of others once in a while? Let's as whole, hold our industry to a higher standard. So many "newbies" get an attitude with more seasoned photographers when they're taken to task for promoting themselves as "professional" when they act anything but. Perhaps, instead of assuming skilled photographers are poking fun at your inexperience with a camera, think about the way you are representing the industry you're wanting to be a part of. Act professionally, work with integrity, and get yourself some inexpensive liability insurance. If this is your business, treat it as such. 


Here are a few things to help you on this journey to becoming a respectful and lawfully minded photographer in your community:


  • Find the owner of any property you want to use. You can easily look up property owners on local county tax assessor maps, etc. or better yet, have the information at your fingertips and invest in the onX Map App. My husband is a hunter and showed me this amazing app he had on his phone and I immediately downloaded it. It allows you to find property owner information, the hunting area, etc. of any area you're currently in. It allows you to see property lines and public land. It's awesome! Here's the link to onX if you're interested.  Contact these owners, ask permission to utilize their property, offer to pay a small fee, show them your insurance policy, ask them to sign release forms, offer them a free family session...whatever it takes to legally and respectfully gain access to their property.


  • If you see a sweet old schoolhouse or bridge that would look amazing for your next photo session...don't just assume that because it's public property, you can utilize it. If there is a sign, don't cross it. Leave it be. If you just can't get that sweet spot out of your obsessive mind (believe me, I'm the same way), take the time to research who manages the property and try getting permission first. If you're denied..then let it go. There are also many states in which, public parks require a Photographer's or Press Pass. It's up to you to find these things out. You're the professional. Nothing is more embarrassing than when you're getting in trouble in front of your clients for something avoidable. 


  • Railroad tracks are OFF LIMITS. It's actually a crime to photograph on them unless they're retired and unused tracks. Not only is it unsafe (people have died taking photographs on the tracks, for real) but it's a cliche', let that go too. I am guilty of doing this same thing years ago and I'm ashamed to admit some of my favorite images were done on the tracks... but guys, it's not worth it and we've been educated. With that being said, there are some amazing retired tracks throughout the U.S. so doing a little research will enable you to get your heart's desire while still following the rules.


  • When you're on location, leave it the way you found it. Or better yet, leave it in better condition. Clean up any trash you or your clients may have left behind. Those smoke grenades and Gender Reveal Balloons can leave a mess and create issues for wildlife. It's not cool. Clean up after yourselves. 


Thanks for listening to me rant from atop my little soapbox. It feels good to get things off my chest once in a while. ;) 







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