It seems like every day we see an article complaining about bad behavior by photographers. The latest is Photographers Have Become Like Pigeons, which goes off on some of the recent problems that have surfaced.

Here’s the thing: they’re right. But it isn’t so much that we have photographers behaving badly, but that we have stupid or arrogant people wandering around who have cameras in their hands. The camera isn’t the cause, or even necessarily the enabling device. It happens to be there when the stupidity happens.

Thanks to the digital camera revolution, and followed up with the Smartphone explosion that includes an easily used and high quality camera on the device, there are millions of people now taking billions of pictures, and that means that since idiots are a small percentage of our general population, they also become a small percentage of people taking pictures — but very visible for their actions.

Unfortunately, the rest of us suffer, and photographers in general get nailed with new restrictions and a bad reputation. Which is sad in a way, because part of what’s enabling these bad behavior types is an underlying attitude of rules don’t matter because I won’t get caught and so it’s okay because it’s what they want to do.

How to solve this? No easy answers, because the only real answer, I think, is to make enforcement a priority and make catching and prosecution a bigger deterrent — but the rangers and authorities who need to do this are already understaffed, underfunded and stretched way too thin.

We can whine, we can lecture, we can complain and point and grumble, but the reality is, these people have already made it clear they don’t care as long as they get what they want and that rules are for other people. And the only way to solve that behavior is to make enough of them pay for their flouting the rules that deterrence becomes a factor in their thinking again.

Stupidity isn’t limited to photographers

And in case you needed a reminder that this kind of stupidity isn’t limited to photographers, we have a couple of recent situations in Yellowstone. Almost surprisingly, neither involved drones (for once).

The first one that hit the viral streams was about a Canadian tourist who found a bison calf and put it in his car. They did, took it to the rangers, and the rangers had them return it to that location and tried to re-unite it with the mother, but those failed and the calf had to be put down.

This was a well-intentioned but stupid thing to do on many levels, and as a community manager going back a long time, I can tell you the words I least look forward to hearing in a discussion are I was just trying to help — because they usually happen in a discussion where you are simultaneously yelling at someone for doing stupid things and feeling bad about it because their heart was in the right place.

The proper behavior here if they felt the calf needed help was to drive to the Ranger station and report it so the Rangers could go back and investigate. Touching a wild animal is an incredibly risky and stupid thing, and hauling it into the car is even worse. If you’re trained in working with these (or any) animals you’d never do this, and you’re not, you shouldn’t do something you’re not trained for. Your job would be to get an expert, not simulate one.

But that said, I have some sympathy for this person. This wasn’t a stupid person taking yet another bison-selfie. From reading the various reports, the bison calf was on the road and far away from the herd, struggling to keep up or having trouble when it crossed a stream. To me, there seems to be some possibility this calf had already been rejected by mom and maybe was ill. It does seem to have been in some distress, and was on the road and isolated from it’s mother and the herd in general, which is not usual.

That’s a good reason to go get the rangers, but still, you don’t touch wild animals. It does make me wonder whether the calf would have died with or without intervention, but that should have been left to an expert. Still, there was something not right about this situation up-front, that the calf let him do this without fighting back and that the herd and mom weren’t around to protect the calf from being taken. This indicates to me that there was a problem here before the person intervened. The person involved got a stern lecture and a $150 fine, and while some see that as a slap on the wrist I don’t feel it’s unreasonable under the circumstances.

A couple of days later, unfortunately, a really stupid act caused us to forget about the bison calf and move to the latest jack-assery when a group of men were seen wandering around on the restricted areas of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone and outrage ensued. As this developed and outraged people started looking into things, what was found was a long and continuing thread of bad behavior and abuse in the name of creating Youtube videos content.

The group called itself High on Life Sunday/Fundayz and seems to describe themselves as an extreme activity and sportswear group, which is business speak for we do youtube videos and sell you t-shirts, as far as I can tell. They seem to have been on the road for at least 75 days, and people have found evidence of them violating access rules in at least two locations (Bonneville Salt Flats, where they drove on closed wet flatlands so they could water ski behind their RV, and the Badlands where images show them standing on various features known to be in closed access areas) and from other trips, some general jack-assery (for instance, clowning around in the Holocaust Museum in Germany). In other words, what we have here are four 20-something bros out having a fun time and doing the viral Youtube thing to fund their joyride through sponsors and advertising and t-shirts.

Well, maybe sponsors. Two of the sponsors they claimed on their website denied any involvement in this trip, one commenting that they hadn’t had any relationship with them in over two years. By the reports I’ve seen, they got themselves back over the border (they are Canadians from British Columbia) before the arrest warrants were issued, but they are now up on charges for their Yellowstone activities, and the authorities are now trying to decide if they want to go after extradition. Authorities in other locations (Bonneville for one) are evaluating what they’ve posted online to see if there are charges that might be filed in those activities.

The group, of course, apologized, but it was the typical boy, we’re sorry that we got caught type that mostly caused people to get more pissed at that. As I just noted the only way to really start convincing these kinds of idiots to behave is to start prosecuting enough of them that deterrence creeps into their brains, and honestly, I think this group would be a good one to make an example of.

Let’s not forget that they were doing commercial filming in various National Parks here, and clearly, weren’t getting the proper permits to do that. Beyond that, I expect when the border officials check their visas they likely didn’t bother to get work visas for this trip. At the very least, I hope that they’re given five year bans on entering the US, but I do hope that the various legal agencies look long and hard at extraditing and prosecuting them and getting them to serve some jail time. I’d hate to see idiots like this walk away with just a slap on the wrist or a lecture.

The awful truth of photography workshops

Brian Mullens did a nice piece on the awful truth about some photography workshops with some good advice for those of us considering signing up for a workshop, whether it’s a classroom style or an in the field shop. Well worth a read so you know what to think about before handing over money.

I have two additions to his list:

  • You need to make sure the workshop person/organization is properly insured, especially if you’re going in the field and double-especially if, for instance, the workshop is supplying any kind of transportation for the workshop.

  • Also, you should inquire and ask for copies of use permits for the workshop, especially if the workshop is headed into National or State Parks where that kind of commercial activity requires them. Too many workshops play fast and loose with doing the permits, and if you happen to be on one where the rangers come and check, you can be shut down and banned from the parks for participating when the permits aren’t there. Not my idea of a fun way to spend the time and money — and those permits are there to limit the number of people at key locations or sensitive habitats, and there’s nothing quite like being part of a permitted workshop that shows up at a location to find two other non-permitted workshops there and hogging the location and uncooperative.

It’s in all of our best interest not to put money with the ones that won’t follow the rules, because they are the ones that ultimately cause these locations to ban everyone or severely limit access, and who make it a bad experience for those around them when they do it.