I Need More Space Please

File this one under: “The universe ain’t big enough for the two of us…”

Picture: Moving rock at sunrise on the Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California

Twice in the last few trips I’ve taken, I’ve had my personal space invaded when all around me there was nothing but empty space. I guess that some people just don’t get that personal space can be either important or valued. Many of us nature-loving photographers often seek out places of tranquil, solitary quietness with the goal of trying to convey that in our photos.

In reverse order, the latest incident happened on a November weekday evening in Lava Beds National Monument. Arriving well after dark at the campground near the visitor center, I toured both loops to discover the place was completely empty. Nobody… anywhere… ‘cept me. While cooking my dinner over a campfire, a mondo, need a step-ladder to get in pick-up truck arrived hauling a huge trailer. Out of two vacant loops save my one campsite, they picked the site two spots away from me. For the next twenty minutes, my quiet campfire was rudely interuppted by the constant shouts while they tried to level their trailer into position. Start truck engine: “OKAY… Back up. More. More. STOP! No, go forward. STOP! No, back a little more. OKAY.” Turn truck engine off. You think they’d have gotten it right, but no, this scene played itself out three more times in almost the exact same order. Then to top it off, everytime they stepped out of their trailer, their Super Mag-Lites would beam straight into my campsite. I was almost ready to pack up and move in a gesture of insult when they finally settled in for the night.

OK, that was bad. But even worse is when the person invading your space is another photographer trying to see, then shoot what you’re shooting while you’re working. When I was on the Racetrack Playa with friend and fellow photographer Jim Goldstein and his two companions, we met another photograher who I’ll call Bob. Bob actually lived local to me, so we talked for awhile, and he was genuinely a nice guy. However, once out on this huge dry playa, he would repeatedly walk right up to me or one of the other photographers to see what they were shooting, and proceed to set up and shoot nearly the same shot. In several instances, Bob literally planted his tripod within a couple feet behind me, shooting right past my leg to get as close to what I was shooting as possible. While I liked having someone to chat with, the sad part was that I felt like someone was substituting my own personal vision and experience for their own. The worst moment was at the one instant of transitional light between shade and direct sunlight, he’d walked right in front of what I was shooting, stopped 10 feet in front of me, started fiddling with his gear while his shadow stretched right across the moving rock line I was trying to shoot. All I could do was take a picture of him in my way to record the moment.

I just don’t get it. There’s a whole big universe of space out there, people. It’s one thing if your one of a half dozen photographers trying to shoot Mobius Arch at sunrise in that cramped little spot. However, in a nice big desert, certainly it shouldn’t be too tough to chase down your own little bit of space & vision instead of climbing atop someone else’s shoulder. Bob – If your’re reading this, forgive me… because I did enjoy talking with you, but sometimes, respect for other people’s space should be understood (intuitively) and respected.

See the above picture larger at my archive, or visit my online gallery of Death Valley Photos.

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25 Comments on “I Need More Space Please”

  1. Patrick Smith Says:


    The best thing you can do is show us (and that guy) the shot of him in your way. Sometimes people are oblivious and a good photo can set them straight. Also, you are there to make your living since this is your job. I bet the guy would not walk into your office or cubicle, if you had that type of a job. I don’t think he realized that Racetrack Playa WAS your office!


  2. Carl D Says:

    Hey Gary,

    A huge peeve of mine – probably the camping even more than the photography. I simply don’t understand that at all. Even harder is figuring out how best to deal with it.



  3. Younes Bounhar Says:

    All I can say is human beings are funny animals 🙂

  4. Jon Cornforth Says:

    That is why I go to Alaska!

  5. Jim Goldstein Says:

    While I’m happy that people have the urge to experience nature I do find the vast majority of people lack basic outdoor etiquette. This isn’t a once in a blue moon observation I have similar experiences with campers everywhere I go. Regrettably my solution has been to change where and when I camp. I would like to say people behave the same as they do when they’re at home while camping, but I think it’s actually worse. Bottom line is people treat the outdoors with less respect than they do with their own home and belongings. I don’t fault people. I’ve been raised with a certain respect for nature and the outdoors from a very early age. If you don’t have that exposure early it’s tough to know. Perhaps there is a market for Camping Etiquette 101.

    As to our experience with Bob, much can be said of etiquette as well. For me the behavior is part of a larger issue with in the realm of photographic philosophy. Are you present in a location to “collect” or to “experience”. “Collecting” is a relatively thoughtless process of taking photos of what others see or have seen. “Experiencing” is an in the moment & thinking process of taking in everything around you and taking photos that interpret your experience. The later is a far more fulfilling in my book.

  6. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    Oh, I could tell you stories… 🙂

    It is interesting that the concept of acceptable space changes when you are in a place with… a lot of space. I was once at the Racetrack when there was only myself and one other photographer on the playa… and somehow he kept getting in my photos! I’ve encountered similar situations when shooting other more popular and more populated areas/subjects – for example, folks who don’t seem to notice that they are walking right into your composition. Grrr… To be fair, most are understanding when you yell something like, “Could you step back for a moment and let me finish my shot?” but there are others.

    On a lighter note, I’m sure we’ve all encountered that somewhat humorous situation that comes up when you shoot in well-traveled areas and “look like a photographer.” One time I stopped along the nearly deserted highway just below Conway Summit in the eastern Sierra to shoot the aspens… and within five minutes a dozen other cars has stopped and folks jumped out with P&S cameras. I could almost imagine them in the car yelling, “Hey, Joe, stop quick! There’s a photographer shooting this.”

    The funniest story that I recall along these lines was one very cold winter day in Yosemite. I had stopped along the road in one of the coldest and least sunny areas along the Merced at a time of day when the light was exceptionally limited. I had noticed some interesting rocks in the Merced over which water was flowing and picking up the golden reflection of light on the opposite canyon wall… if I used a really long lens, put myself in precisely the one spot where everything lined up correctly, and if I made a rather long exposure.

    As you can imagine, people spotted me quickly – no doubt impressed by the Really Gigantic Lens on the camera and the tripod and the rest of the usual stuff – and soon cars were pulling up and folks were piling out. They would get out with their cameras… walk up to right where I was shooting… take a look at my lens pointed down at some really boring looking rocks in the shaded depths of the freezing river… look at me as if to say “huh”… look back at what must have seemed the world’s most incredibly boring subject… look at each other… shake their heads as if to say “this guy must be nuts”… and get in their cars and drive off.


    (BTW: I sort of like the photo that I got: gdanmitchell....merced-river 🙂

  7. Kari Post Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Gary.

  8. Neal Pritchard Says:

    My number gripe when I am out. People seem to forget they are in nature, the amount of times folks are talking loudly jumping on rocks just to get their mug in front of a scene annoys the he’ll out of me. Recently I was shooting a quiet spot in yosemite when a party and I mean party of English tourists resorted to luaghing and screaming amonsgt themselves killiing the moment they and I could of enjoyed with mother nature, i mean when go to places like yosemite and the find small quiet spots if your going to treat it like an English pub.

  9. Janine Smith Says:

    Believe it or not, some people just don’t get it. The photographer may have thought what he was doing was perfectly OK. Instead of suffering silently, you could have gently pointed out what he was doing, and thanked him for not doing it any more. A little humor might help.

    Even if he’s doing it on purpose, it’s harder to continue after you’ve confronted him.

    I traveled to Machu Picchu with 80 people. At sunrise we all lined up next to each other for the first shot. A couple (without cameras) walked right out in front of all of us to enjoy the view. We did not suffer silently!


  10. richard Says:

    Unfortunately that seems to be the norm in my experience with camping and photo hotspots. I think it pays to be anti social sometimes so you have no qualms about telling someone off.

  11. Peter T. Says:

    I had to chuckle regarding Dan Mitchell’s experience in Yosemite, because it so closely mirrors my own.

    What I’ve resorted to when I park my vehicle in tourist areas like that is just to wait in my car until there’s a break in traffic then *very quickly* unload my photo gear from my car and move quickly out of view of the road. Otherwise, what Dan wrote about is all too true.

  12. Droli Says:

    this is the first time i surfed through flickr and i am very impressed and captivated by your images. thank you for sharing these photographs. you pictures have proven once and for all that indeed its a wonderful and lovely world we live in. thank you.

  13. Guy Says:

    Excellent post, Gary. Like the others, I can relate. I go out of my way to travel in places I know I can generally have for myself.


  14. Ron Niebrugge Says:

    I hear you Gary, that kind of stuff makes me crazy. It happens a lot on a smaller scale – it seems like every time I pull off the road in some obscure pull-out, within minutes another car will stop. People are like lemmings.

  15. Patrick Smith Says:

    Ron, the trick is to pull off just after the place where you wish to shoot and walk back along the road to your real destination. Fools ’em every time!


  16. Garry Black Says:

    I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but this is something that is constantly happening to me in the touristy type areas. Tourists are coming up to me with their point and shoot cameras and say “You really look like you know what you’re doing, can you take our picture? as they hand me their camera.

    And then they’ll try in engage me in a conversation (and the light is just perfect). I try to be polite as much as I can, but sometimes, well most of the time I just say I’m working and that I’d love to chat but I have to take some pictures.

    I know the answer to this is just to stop going to the tourist areas!

  17. Andre Joanisse Says:

    Here I was thinking that those things only happen to me 😉

    Well said Gary, I was in the Yukon recently, middle of nowhere, similar thing happened more then once in a few campgrounds.


  18. naynay Says:

    To this day, it still bothers me when someone needs to stop and say “whoa, look at that lens” or “nice rig you got there” and my all time favorite (because people just can’t read but claim to be photographers at one point in their life) “what kind of camera is that?”. I’m one of the few who doesn’t put black gaffers tape over the Canon emblem so I know they can see those white letters that spell Canon. Then there is the person who wants to revive the Nikon vs Canon argument. One just wants to take the picture and that is it. We shouldn’t have to engage with ppl about gear especially when they are ppl you know will scoff when they find out how much a lens cost. Oh the space thing, reminds me of when I use to go fishing. Plenty of space out there and here comes someone who has to bring the party with them and they have talk the entire time they are there.

  19. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    “Tourists are coming up to me with their point and shoot cameras and say “You really look like you know what you’re doing, can you take our picture? as they hand me their camera.”

    I may just be weird, but I actually make it a habit to OFFER to take photos for these folks. Often I may be standing around waiting for the right light anyway, so what the heck, I just ask, “Would like me to use your camera to take a shot with all of you in it?”

    It is fun, it only takes a few seconds… and sometimes they even ask for my card.

    One irony is that, not being a P&S shooter, I often have to ask them for help. “Does this thing have a zoom button?” “Where is the flash?” Once I even held it to my face backwards and they all proceeded to laugh hysterically at me. 🙂


  20. Paul Marcellini Says:

    Come to the glades, the gators keep all the sissy tourists on the pavement. =) My longest is a 100-400 and still people ask if it can see the moon. Well I can see the moon with my bare eyes….gotta love um.

  21. Chris Moore Says:

    Ha! I’ve been waiting for this post. When processing my photos from this trip I did have a few with “Bob’s” shadow in them. He did seem to have quite an affinity for you, however. Although quite annoying at the time, it is something I laugh about now. The shame is that some people fail to recognize their own faults, though I bet somewhere along the way another photographer he straddles may not bite their tongue.

  22. Youssef Ismail Says:


    You hit the nail on the head. My two exact pet peeves while working in the field. I always make it a point not to do to others what I don’t like done to me.

  23. Stuff You’ll Like | Chuqui 3.0 Says:

    […] Gary Crabbe: I need more space. This is, really, a photographer’s variant of my bad birders comments. […]

  24. Todd Fitchette Says:

    I love it… not what happened to you but how you related these stories.
    This is why I’ll probably never take one of those expensive photography workshops. To me it’s sort of like the difference between photographing a Bald Eagle in a zoo or getting a great image of one in the wild.
    I enjoy your images here. Thanks for sharing them in this way with the rest of us.

  25. my own personal vision Says:

    Try getting over yourself.

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