Getting harassed as a photographer

I’ve had a fair few occasions where I’ve been harassed whilst on a photoshoot, whether I’m taking self portraits or I’m photographing models. It happens.

In a previous blog post I mentioned that male photographers can start on the back foot with female models and it’s tricky water to go through. Well male photographers in these instances usually have it better off as people tend to leave you alone more often than not if you’re photographing.

Women however, of course, get harassed a bit more. These are some of my tales and how I deal or have dealt with them.

The Park Warden

This was a more recent thing that happened. I was shooting some models on a hill, in my local park. Nothing other than the grass and sky so it could have been anywhere. He strolled over and asked what we were doing and introduced himself as the park warden. I explained happily, showed him some photos and he chatted with the models a while. WAY longer than I had hoped but I was polite and eventually he left us to it. Another shoot he came over again. I had to explain yet again what I was doing, all the while being polite. He informed me that I needed a license to photograph in the park (it’s not true). That I had to pay the park warden (him) to photograph in the park. Peeved by this point I asked him to prove this since I had already done my research, he stumbled and asked if he could have my email address to which I happily gave but asked him to leave us to carry on. I never received an email, 3 weeks go by and I’m back in the park photographing different models. He hurries over YET AGAIN and I hold my hand up and put my foot down,

“No. I gave you my email address, you never emailed me with the proof. I’ve done my research AND called the council. You’ve interrupted several of my photoshoots now and you’ve been quite frankly, rude. Please stop bothering me.”

He looked VERY pissed off but after staring aggressively for a few minutes whilst I carried on a pretended he wasn’t there he finally left. I haven’t seen him since thankfully. I did however see the second park warden, he politely came up, asked what I was doing and just exclaimed that was pretty cool and left me to it. NICE park warden. He also said laughing that of course I didn’t need a permit, it was a public park and I wasn’t taking photos of anything ‘iconic’. Cleared that up!

The Big Bad Wolf

I’ve unfortunately had the displeasure of running into an odd man whilst I was taking self portraits in the woods one foggy morning for potential book covers. I had a red coat on (naturally) and was quietly and happily getting on. A man turned up and I smiled and let him pass, apologising for being right in the middle of the path. (I’ve seen maybe 3 people there in 3 years, so it’s not a common occurrence for me to be in the way!) He slowed right down and stared at the camera and me, uncomfortably so. I busied myself looking at the images I had taken so far expecting him to carry on. He did not. He continued to stare. Finally I looked up at him and he smiled,


“You afraid of the big bad wolf?

My stomach dropped.

“You afraid of the big bad wolf?”

My stomach dropped, it wasn’t a cutesy passing comment. It came across as threatening and I’m 99% sure he wanted to come across that way too. He was standing closer than most people, he was staring at me and hadn’t said anything else to me whatsoever. Thankfully, I can hold my own, ladies I recommend taking whatever classes or learning to box/fight because you do gather a confidence in these horrid situations. So I make direct eye contact and just said,

“No, I’m not. I’m concerned with strange men making comments like that to young women in the isolated woods though.” I smiled back. His turn for his face to drop. He huffed and left without another word.

Some people might have found my comment difficult or over-reactive but in that moment it felt like the right thing to say to get him to leave me alone, and I wanted to be left alone. I know it could have gone badly, I know he could have kicked off and could have encouraged him to threaten me further but you know in those situations you can feel the energy and take action accordingly and I did the right thing. I think if I’d have been overly polite he would have gained satisfaction knowing he was making me more uncomfortable.

This hasn’t happened since. Just that once.

The Starer

My partner was helping me take photos just the other day on my trusty park hill and my partner was in disbelief at a man who slowly walked over and kept stopping and staring directly at us, not just for a second or two but MINUTES. It continued for a good 8-9 minutes before he finally left. My partner kept saying in disbelief,

“He’s still there, he’s right there, he’s just staring, oh my god, it’s just rude now. What the hell is he doing?”

Unfortunately this happens A LOT. Primarily with the older generation, since I’ve never had a younger person do this. Quite often they don’t engage with you even if you make eye contact or say hello etc. They just stare. Sometimes you get the odd one who asks what you’re up to and makes conversation which is absolutely fine with me, I’ll happily chat with anyone because it’s not rude, it’s curious. Staring, stopping and staring more however is a bit rude. I will always look and maintain eye contact and smile so they have a chance to introduce themselves or ask what I’m up to but most of the time they just ignore me. Alas, there’s nothing more I can do!

The Obnoxious Type

I think every photographer has had this passer by at some point. A man (99% of the time, 100% of the time with me but I’m sure someone has experienced a woman doing this somewhere!) jumps into frame and either hugs your model or pulls a stupid pose right next to them, or behind them.

Let’s face it, if a random middle aged man jumped and hugged a young woman in the middle of the street or went right up behind her there would be some MAJOR issues. SO WHY DO THEY THINK IT’S ACCEPTABLE JUST BECAUSE THERE IS A CAMERA?!

FYI: It’s NOT!

It makes the model SUPER uncomfortable, feel unsafe and self-conscious too. It can destroy the rest of the photoshoot. I’ve had this a fair few times especially in busier areas like the middle of a town etc. It’s so un-preventable too since you have no control over it. Except to be in less busy areas which is sometimes unavoidable.

I’ve also had a moment where a model, rightly so, pushed a man away from her and asked what the hell he thought he was doing and he ended up shouting at her that she couldn’t take a joke. A man hauling himself around a girl without notice, permission etc is NOT a joke.

I often step in and just state that it isn’t appropriate, can they leave and it’s not funny to us. I used to just laugh it off when I was more nervous but I’ve realised it really does pollute the rest of the photoshoot, your model doesn’t feel safe and it’s just not okay behaviour. Most of the time they apologise, usually with a sarcastic tone and stalk off but I don’t care how THEY feel about me telling them off I care more about how my model feels because I’m the one looking after them.

The ‘Photographer’

You’re probably reading that like ‘whaaaat?’

Oh yes. The people who take photographs of your shoot or of your models from behind you or just in one instance get in front of you and say “I’m just going to take a few photos, I’m sure you don’t mind.” Well yes. I bloody do mind.

Having spoken to a few photographers, they’ve all had a similar experience. It’s annoying. SO ANNOYING. If a fellow photographer comes and asks about the shoot, that’s totally cool. If they wanna take a photo just to take a photo, asking me and then asking the models’ permission after mine? That is super brownie points from me. Barging in front of me and telling me I don’t mind and not even talking to my model, you will get a shout from me.

It’s the only way I’ve found dealing with this situation works. Being VERY assertive. When I haven’t been they carry on and don’t care about what you’re saying as the moment happens so quickly. I simply stop them and say,

“No, in fact I DO mind. This is MY photoshoot, you don’t have my permission and you certainly don’t have my model’s permission either. Please just leave us to it.” And I don’t give them a chance to respond by either talking to my model straight away about other poses, clothing etc or I just start shooting again. Most of the time this has worked.

Expectedly I get a few grumbles, huffs and even someone shout at me (the audacity is unreal) but it’s better than them thinking they can behave so badly just because they have a camera.

This ALSO applies to people who take photos on their phones, without saying a word… It’s just rude and I usually just ask them not too. To which I often get a shrug and a walkaway (I’ve never once had an apology) or someone throws me a finger and tells me to 'f&*k off’. I wish I was exaggerating or kidding. Much more toxic than you’d expect.

Thankfully these situations don’t happen as often, but they have happened and they all suck.

Overall I think these situations will ALWAYS happen but not often enough to discourage any photographer. Most other people realise what you’re doing and shout ‘sorry!’ speed up out of your way or just look really uncomfortable and just nod hello and carry on. OR they will chat with you and be interested, polite and nice. Which is wonderful.

Have any of you had similar experiences or a story worth sharing? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Rekha Garton3 Comments