The Ramblings of a Cynical Photographer


You know me. I am the grumpy one, the world weary, snappy snapper that grunts rather than replies with anything that has a semblance to intelligible language. I am the cynical photographer.

A healthy dose of cynicism is good, or so I am told. The problem is, what is a healthy dose and what is too much and if I have too much, will I get irrevocable camera shake or a bad case of photographer’s block? Having spent the best part of my life in photography, there are some things that really yank my camera strap, some annoyances that are better out than in. Come take a rant with me.

The Hypnotic Effect of a Tripod

The universal symbol of a professional photographer or so it would seem. Erecting a tripod has a magnetic, even hypnotic, effect on the Phuggles (non photographic folk, for those of you that need clarification). There are two types of tripod Phuggles in our world. The first is the one that makes two assumptions. Firstly, that you are a professional photographer and secondly, that because of that, you will be happy to stop what you are doing and take a snapshot of him and his family in front of the thing you are photographing. The most intensely irritating version of this is the person that feels the need to tell you where the shutter button is, because of course, with your Nikon D4 on your tripod, you really needed to know that. The subsequent request for payment often has quite a profound effect on a tripod Phuggle.

The second tripod Phuggle is the copycat. This person is the one that stands so close behind you that his breath tickles the back of your neck. The reason for this spontaneous intimacy? You must have the right angle to get the best shot and so it stands to reason that he can get exactly the same shot on his iPhone. There is a special, fortunately rare breed of this type of Phuggle, known as the stalking copycat. This is the person that observes and follows you from a distance nipping in behind you unseen as you bend down to check focus and snapping his masterpiece.

The professionals
They're behind you. Image by Lee Haywood on Flickr

“You Must Have a Great Camera”

There is one very common type of Phuggle that really sets off my flashgun and that is the one whose first sentence goes “Amazing photo, you must have a great camera.” Of course he is right on both counts, it is an amazing photo and I do have a great camera, but in the best traditions of dodgy conclusions it is like telling Gordon Ramsey that his signature dish is so delicious because he has a great oven, although I suspect anyone saying that to Mr. Ramsey might have their hair re-arranged in a torrent of expelled expletives. We photographers are an altogether more benign and tolerant type but in my humble opinion we should be more defensive about our own talents, and explain to the Phuggles the error of their ways.

You must have a great camera, right? Image by John Collins on Flickr

The Freebie Hunter

The freebie hunter is a Phuggle with many different hats. They can be editors, bloggers or even owners of charities. They all, however have one thing in common, they can promote your photography to a massive audience, if only you will give them your photo for free. Think of the exposure you can get by allowing your favorite image to be used on the Save the Squirrel website, imagine the global exposure by appearing in print for Tractors Weekly. Like you I would hardly be able to contain myself. From anger! It is of course the sheer arrogance of these people that jams my shutter but not as much as those who ask you come and shoot their function, event or wedding for free because they will recommend you to their friends. Great, presumably because they are your friends, their mind sets will be pretty similar to yours and therefore would have no desire to pay an artisan for either his work or his time.

'Am I in focus?'
Shooting for Save the Squirrel Website. Image by Peter Trimming on Flickr

Of course we might think my rants are the product of the digital age but in reality they have been around since the dawn of photography itself. The internet doesn't breed Phuggles, it merely allows them to communicate with us more easily and if I am honest, the fact that these annoyances are so common these days, actually has a much reduced effect on my blood pressure compared to the days of celluloid. This, in turn allows me to be healthily cynical about it all. More rambling rants soon.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

C’mon, Jason. You can do better than that. Tell us what you hit them with or what you actually say to them.
My favourite approaches to respond to include:
“What are you doing?” while pointing a D3 with something big attached to at whatever.
“Can you tell me what sort of camera to buy?” while getting my hair done.
“You can’t take pictures here. There are terrorists everywhere” says the security guard at Tesco’s.
“Fuck off” says the drunk, falling on his face in traffic.
“Are you a pedophile?” yells the 16 years old swimming in the harbour.
These are all actual cases among thousands I have experienced.
I could go on but this is your story.
I have the same response to them all. Its the same as the drunk’s.

I don’t answer when people asks me these questions, I only look at them with all my hate and then, smile =)

The oh so familiar “Why should I pay you for that photo. All ya got to do is stand there and snap a couple shots.”
Just sets my hair on fire.

Hahahaha! The tripod thing just happened to me last night! First time, so does that mean I’m legit? I’m an amateur with an okay camera, and was using a tripod to get dusk/night pictures on a touristy street with lots of neon lights. I turned around and there were two dudes with what looked like bigger fancy-pants cameras taking pictures directly behind me, and awkwardly close, but with no tripods. Jacked up my ego a bit, but still working on getting non-sucky pictures!

I’ve only had one experience with a drunk who was angry that he’d wondered into my shot of a lonely side-street. The narcissism of people knows no bounds i.e. ‘I see someone taking photographs, why are they taking photographs of ME!’

But my own personal phuggle, the one I really can’t stand, (and I know I’m completely mean-spirited and unjustified in this) is the one who behaves as though you’re taking a quick snap and they’ll wait off to your side before walking past you, because they don’t want to ruin your shot. Makes me feel like I’m getting in people’s way when I’m not, they can walk in front if they like, I’ll only take the photo again if I want one without them.

Actually I’m perfectly nice to these people if one of them taps me on the shoulder to apologise, but it still irritates/amuses me when you have a long telephoto lens, taking a photo of something off in the distance over everyone’s heads and yet they still wait for you, or duck. Or if you’re using an ultra-wide-angle and they duck, unaware that you now have a photo of someone ducking when a walking person would have been normal and alright. Or if you’re trying to take a crowd scene and people still think that ‘if there are people in the photo it will be ruined, photographers don’t like people to be in their photographs’.

But always, the assumption is that you’ll be two seconds and then move on, they don’t realise that I’m going to be here for a while, and if I’m concentrating on what’s through the viewfinder I won’t even notice them.

Maybe you should simply make eye contact with them, smile and motion them past. Most do it because they don’t want to walk in front of your shot and ruin it. Not quite sure how you expect them to know otherwise, they are not mind readers. And, many people unfamiliar with the world of photography do think that it’s rude to get in the way of someone’s shots. It doesn’t bother me if people wait, go around me or go past, or duck. If they wait, I simply smile at them to acknowledge I appreciate the gesture.

I found this article really funny. I was the only one to experience these nuisances, or so I thought.

The most hysterical was the Copy Cat and Freebie Hunter. I’ve shot events where people followed me around, breathing down my neck. What do you do? One time I farted a real stinker, but the offender did leave me alone.

What a bunch of curmudgeons! Embrace the attention. Would it kill you to interact with humanity or are people only interesting when caught on camera?

I could relate to some of this, for sure – especially the “You must have a great camera” line. I take part in two or three group photo shows each year and have also had several solo shows over the past few years. On each of these occasions, at least one person has said this to me. The irony is that my camera, although a DSLR, is deemed “entry-level” by many reviewers (though it suits me just fine). And I don’t own any expensive lenses, either. So I guess that must mean that any successes I’ve had with my photos are just blink luck. 🙂

I always smile and respond politely. But one day I’ll lose it, I’m sure. The tripod thing yes… No matter how far away you are from anywhere people actually walk, they still find their way over, lean in and then stumble on your tripod mid long exposure.

Lately I’ve been hassled by several people who are not in my frame. Once the other day without even shooting anything.

“You can’t film here!”
“Oh, I’m not filming anything”.
“Fine, but I’m just saying… you can’t film here”.
“No worries, I’m waiting for someone who just stepped in there to grab a takaway coffee”.
“Fine. But I’m just saying… you cannot film here”.
“Look, I’m not filming or photographing anything. I have a tripod yes, but we’re on our way somewhere else. I won’t photograph anything here”.
“Yes, I understand that. That is fine. But I’m just saying…”

Anyways… A good read, thanks! 🙂

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