Photography at Burning Man (Part 2)

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Burning man
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Photography at Burning Man (Part 2) 

Etiquette, Etiquette, Etiquette 

I can’t add anything to the org piece on etiquette and really echo, please don’t be that guy, here’s a direct quote from the org piece.

Burning Man’s number one rule of etiquette for photography is Ask First – you should get permission before taking somebody’s photo.Does this mean you can’t grab a shot of somebody cruising by on a really cool bike, or capture a compelling scene you happen to see through your telephoto lens? No, of course not – realistically, you should ask first whenever realistically possible. But the question you have to ask yourself before pressing the shutter is “Am I invading this person’s privacy in any way?”. If the person is fully or partially nude, in the middle of some obviously very private moment, or doing anything that perhaps they would not want the whole world to see, then yes, you definitely need to ask first – do not press the shutter. If somebody is doing henna body painting on a nude model in Center Camp, and there are a dozen people with cameras surrounding them snapping away, can you just jump in and take pictures as well? No you can’t – instead, set an example for the others. Go up to the model and ask first. Some of the other photographers undoubtedly already did so, and the ones who did not perhaps will appreciate the reminder that they should have. 

Ask First is Burning Man’s number one photography rule – but I have my own official number one photography rule for you as well, which is Don’t Be “That Guy”. If you have been to Burning Man you know which “that guy” I mean – that guy in a paparazzi swarm chasing after every naked woman who walks by, like she was Britney Spears with a new haircut. That guy with the giant telephoto lens elbowing people out of his way to get his boob close-up shots at the Critical Tits ride. In other words, that guy who over the last few years has been making women in particular feel less and less comfortable freely expressing themselves at Burning Man, for fear they will end up as the screensaver on their officemates’ computers. And yes, it is predominantly guys causing the problem, but female photographers obviously need to keep basic photographic etiquette in mind in as well.

Burning Man’s legal policies about use of imagery define ‘commercial use’ as ‘any use beyond personal’: you accept these terms, printed on the back of each ticket, when you set foot inside this private event. If you are planning on using your photographs for any purpose other than simply sharing with friends and family, you must obtain written permission from Black Rock City LLC, the organization that runs Burning Man. You need to register with them in advance of the event, and check in upon arrival to sign a Use Agreement and have a media tag put on your camera. See more information on these policies.

Really at the end of the day please just be respectful to people and through my experience I can tell you, lots of people on the Playa want their picture taken but you shouldn’t assume that’s the case. Also, please understand the org rules on posting images and think before you post shots to your blogs, especially shots of people who may not want the rest of the world to see them in that moment.

Yes I have permission


A second fabulous piece on Playa photography came from the Burning Blog recently where four LA photographers got together recently to talk about shooting on the Playa:

Burning Man is one of the greatest places on Earth to shoot, the images are crisp, there is color and interesting subjects everywhere, the light is crazy and great.  At night the environment is spectacular and challenging and of course the big burn night gives you amazing subject matter. 

Burn night 2010


I typically shoot an 18-55mm base lens it allows me to do decent close up shots and bigger landscape pieces.  My second lens is a 70-200mm that I like for its flexibility and then the beauty of the point and shoots are their digital zoom features.  At night, a great lens is a 50mm 1.4 but they are expensive and I don’t own one so  I use my base lens with a really high ISO and of course the point and shoot.  On burn night I typically bring out the tripod, it’s too much of a pain to carry any other time, and then go to hand held when the fire kicks up.  For a birthday present to myself this year I’m considering either, the 50mm f1.4 or picking up a fisheye lens which presents endless possibilities on the Playa.

Batteries, cards, etc… 

Ok more is more in this case, whether you are using rechargeable batteries with a solar power or generator set up, or standard batteries you will need more than you expect.  First, if this is your first time, you are going to shoot a lot more than you planned considering that at any moment in any direction on the Playa there is something to shoot.  Ditto for memory cards, bring lots and if you use larger cards you won’t have to change out as often or delete photos to make space.  I’m a little weird in that I do very little digital manipulation of my shots so I can downsize and shoot JPEG, but the best advice is to shoot RAW so that you can play with the funky light and do so some manipulation on your shots.  Of course that means much bigger memory needs and therefore more cards.  So bring lots of backups, cards can fail or fill quickly and temperatures can be extremely hot, but also very cold at night and a lack of batteries at night can leave you very disappointed.

Playa Dawn

Finally, it’s Burning Man, have fun, and for at least one day put the damn camera away and make sure you are fully participating; you don’t want to spend the entire week as an observer.  Consider what you are doing out there as a gift to yourself and others and above all enjoy.

Below there are a list of web resources, some advice pieces, some photo galleries please feel free to recommend more in the comments section and have a great burn!


More photo advice by Steve

Burning Man Gallery

Scott London has a really great site and does amazing work

Comments off a Pentax forum

A list of lists links to galleries of Burning Man photos

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!
    Doudoune Canada Goose

  2. […] Guide to Photography on the playa part 2 of 2 #gallery-1783-2 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1783-2 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; […]

  3. […] for those planning on photographing in the dust a guide to photography at Burning Man part 1 and part 2, enjoy and happy […]

  4. […] My two posts on photography at Burning Man   part 1     part 2   […]

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