The horrors of Shutter Island

What happens when you press the shutter release...

I’ve had an interest in photography for a long time now. Critical readers who just read that sentence will note that I didn’t say I’m any good at it.

My dad liked Pentax cameras and I was familiar with them as far back as I can remember. In high school I took photography classes including portraiture and developing film and photographs in a black and white darkroom.

For most of my life I’ve owned a Pentax 35mm camera. Then I few years ago I picked up my first digital camera ever, a Nikon Coolpix. I used it a bit but not too much, mainly for family and vacation photos. About six months ago I finally decided to read the manual and learn how it worked and began using it more.

About six weeks ago my wife and I received a newer, much more powerful camera for a wedding anniversary gift. Since then we’ve really been getting into it. We’ve been researching on the web, reading photography books, and participating on Flickr. It has been a lot of fun.

Along the way I’ve made a few observations and learned a few things.

First, I’ve noticed that if you set up a tripod and put a camera on top of it, two things immediately happen. Everyone suddenly becomes very interested in what you are doing and strangers feel like it is acceptable to talk to you. “Taking some pictures?” they’ll ask. “Yep. Here’s your sign.”

Since we started going places and trying to take more pictures and broaden our horizons, there have been a few incidents:

  • At the local park: We walked around all areas of the park and took a lot of pictures. At one point we were near the playground. My wife was trying to take some pictures of the equipment, not specifically trying to take pictures of anyone’s children. A mother on a nearby benched freaked out, frantically called her children to her, then aggressively demanded to know what my wife was doing and if the camera had any pictures of her kids. (It didn’t.) Her behavior went way beyond rude and was our first inkling of how people react to cameras.
  • Saturday night in front of the local post office: With the camera on the tripod and pointing up at the top of the building, we were exploring night shots and how light was hitting the old building. We were approached by several of the local staggering drunks who demanded to know what we were doing. “What are you taking a picture of?” was a very popular question. After the groups got larger and rowdier we fled for our lives.
  • On a public sidewalk: My wife was taking some pictures of various signs in front of a restaurant. A drunken idiot staggered out of a nearby bar for her smoke break and demanded to know, “Are you taking pictures of my car?” Well golly gee whiz. Which one is yours? And what an odd thing to be concerned about. Perhaps she was concerned we were working the repo man?
  • At a local restaurant: We enjoyed our dinner where we are well known as regulars. While eating I noticed a neon sign in the window. When we finished our meal it was dark, so I grabbed the tripod and went out to shoot the sign. I must have been almost 50′ from the building. I’m snapping pictures when I realized someone was talking to my wife. Later I found out it was the restaurant owner who wanted to know what we were doing after people in the restaurant complained and freaked about the camera. Again I was on a public sidewalk. My only interest was the neon sign and the camera didn’t contain an image of a single human being. (Ugh!) I was tempted to go inside and use the LCD to prove it.
  • At the local park: I set up the tripod by the entrance and had the camera pointed at some trees showing their beautiful autumn colors. Three cars in a row drove by and the drivers all looked freaked out that they might be in the shot. Yeah, right. I set up my tripod hours ago and just waited and waited hoping you would drive by. You’re on to me.

What have I learned? People are fucking paranoid of cameras. Next time I want to take a picture of a neon sign in a restaurant I’m going to go inside and yell, “Yo! Check this out! I’m going to be photographing that sign over yonder. I won’t be taking pictures of any of you humans! Or whatever the hell you are.”

I’ve also learned it pays to prepare your retorts ahead of time. Concerned about me taking pictures of your piece of shit car? “Oh, I’m sorry. Which one is it?” right before I deliberately make your POS the focus of my life’s work.

Maybe I just have a bad attitude, but people seriously need to relax. Chill out. The kid thing I can understand, even if the mom was wrong; we weren’t trying to take pictures of her kids. But a car??? Wow.

An FYI to the people of the world: I have little interest in you and won’t be trying to take your picture, so get over your damn selves already. I don’t want your visage tainting my shiny new toy!

6 responses

  1. You have to be careful. People think they have a right that they don’t have when it comes to picture taking and I think we have the internet to blame for that. If you’re on public property (ie the sidewalk, street) you are technically allowed to take pictures of whatever you want.
    I carry “A Photographer’s Right” with me just in case I am approached but I usually avoid photographing people (link: You already know the police situation with video but the same with pictures (and around Federal buildings). A good site to learn more is “Photography is Not a Crime” (link:
    Good luck with your new camera – I can’t wait to see more of what you’ve been up to. And maybe this time you’ll join the weekly photo challenge – I’m thinking of starting the first of 2011. 🙂


    1. Thanks for the comments and the links. I will carefully digest them. I appreciate the advice.

      Yes, I will participate in your new photo challenge. Yah! It might be hard because I wish to remain anonymous but I’ll do my best. Perhaps 52 weeks of macro shots of my toe nails. Yeah, that’s the ticket!


      1. Ew. I think you can still remain anonymous. You’ll just have to be craftier than the average bear.


  2. Sad, isn’t it, when you have to second-guess the shock and bad grace of others who automatically assume that your motives for snapping things you take a shine too will be negative or perverse ones? My son is a soccer player and BMX enthusiast but I have to take great care if I want to shoot him engaged in either of those activities in case I find a pitchforked mob ammassing outside my window chanting things at me. As you so rightly say, they ought to get over themselves.


    1. I’m just learning this for the first time. I have to say I was surprised by the vehemence of it. I don’t like being photographed, either, but I usually just look away or move out of the shot. It would never occur to me to go all Jerry Springer and get up in someone’s grill, yo.

      I know someone who takes a lot of BMX shots. I’ll ask him about his experiences.



  3. “Craftier than the average bear.” Heh! I like that. I like it a lot. Oh, I’m crafty. Very crafty. Right up to the moment when I get caught. 🙂


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