The scene is all too familiar: Someone suddenly comes to a screeching halt on a busy New York City sidewalk to avoid walking in front of a person with a picture-taking device, leading to a pedestrian train wreck. And it could’ve been avoided. Often times, it’s not even the shooter’s fault: it’s the people stopping who should be blamed. But is stopping short on the street even a necessary courtesy that should be extended anymore?

There’s a high probability that the image is being taken with a digital camera or just as likely, a smartphone or other less ambitious doodad. Hardly anyone uses 35mm film, a costlier and not nearly as convenient option, but one that helps explain why society developed a stop sign-like etiquette system when a photographer was snapping photos, since it was such a highly technical and relatively expensive endeavor. That was then.

Nowadays, even purist photographers carry around a DSLR, leading me to wonder if people should adjust their behavior accordingly and make already crowded sidewalks easier to navigate by just continuing their stride whether someone is snapping a photo or not.

The International Center of Photography doesn’t agree with this position, at all. “Regarding the etiquette of walking in front of a photographer taking a picture, I can’t see why the advent of the digital camera would change what should be common courtesy. One should always avoid, if they can, walking in front of anyone taking a picture – regardless of whether the capture device is a film camera, a digital camera, a camcorder or cell phone,” said Phillip Block, Deputy Director for Programs & Director of Education at ICP.

For some shutterbugs, though, it’s perfectly fine for people to keep on keeping on. Street photographer Chris Arnade explains, “I do think it’s ok if they keep going. As a pedestrian I have no issue walking through a film set or fashion shoot. The streets are public spaces to used by everyone.”

Longtime graffiti photographer Martha Cooper isn’t too concerned about strict guidelines, but does encourage a keep-it-moving approach and even incorporates it into her work. “I don’t think there was ever a hard and fast rule about this. Etiquette depended on who was shooting what. Personally I prefer passers-by in my photos so I prefer that people just keep on walking,” she said.


(Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/flickr)