I've been photographing the people of New Braunfels for quite a few years now. So I'm no stranger to Gruene. But many of us in the local photography community actually cringe when we hear a client request a Gruene photo session, not because we don't like it. Gruene is gorgeous. We don't blame you for wanting a photo session there. But so does everyone else. It's a common sight to wander the community of Gruene near sunset on a pretty day and see dozens of photo sessions taking place, both professional and amateur. You'll see photographers with full softbox set-ups and numerous assistants, you'll see amateur/semi-pros set up with their pop-up flashes and kit lenses complete with picture frame props and cutesy costumes, and then you'll see the family friend with their point-and-shoots and camera phones taking photos on their own.
It was no wonder that the people of Gruene Mansion Inn were growing weary. On any given day they could see dozens upon dozens of photo sessions on their property. I conducted some of them on occasion. It always made me a little nervous, however. I mean this is their property, and we're technically trespassing. But we were always respectful, always quiet, always tried to stay out of the way of guests. Eventually they started asking photographers to sign in before they came onto the property for a photo shoot. I was fine with that. I'd always thank the desk clerk and promise to be quiet, keep my stands out of gardens, stay away from the guests, everything they asked I was happy to promise and fulfill that promise.
It was only a matter of time before they started to charge a fee. That time came a couple of weeks ago. An e-mail was sent out to all the photographers who had signed in at their front desk. Now they were requiring reservations and a $25 fee to shoot on their property. You were granted a permit for one hour and asked to follow a few simple rules, the same ones we were asked to follow before. I applauded them. I said "good for you, it's your property, you have the right to limit photo sessions and collect a little money for them as well."
And I liked the idea that I was no longer intruding on their property. I would now be a guest who had paid a fee to be there.
So today I had my first session there under the new fee. I called a few days ago to make an appointment, my clients filled out their form, paid their fee and we were issued a tag to wear around my neck to show I'd checked in and paid. For the first time, I felt legitimate to be there. We were paying clients. Guests of the Inn, if only for an hour. But no other time, in the history of shooting there, had I ever felt so unwanted. We did a scene around the cute little swing area. Got some nice images, and moved onto the cool breezeway that's also so popular.
We quietly set up a shot. Yes I say quietly because we reminded each other constantly to stay quiet. But just as we set up, a maid saw us and put a trashcan right next to our scene (on purpose) and went into a room. We found it odd that she would do that. So we moved to another area nearby thinking she would come and move the trashcan. She came back out so we returned to the breezeway we wanted to photograph but not only did she not move the trashcan, but she put a bucket full of supplies down next to it, then went into another room. Knowing that we only had a set amount of time, we decided to just push it a few inches over so we could shoot our scene and then move on. We would put it back when we were done. No harm done. Just as we were about to shoot, she came out, and proceeded to fuss at us for moving her stuff. She was watching and waiting I was sure of it.
Those of you who have ever worked with me before know that I am polite and soft spoken. So I was taken aback by this reaction from her. I showed her our permit, we had checked in, we were allowed to be here. She wasn't impressed. She scowled. We moved on. We decided to try one more set up near the Inn. I thought I'd get my happy couple cuddling on the bottom of the stairs behind the inn.
But as soon as they sat down, a lady came out and told us to move away from the stairs.
Well that about did it. My client was left to wonder why'd she just paid $25 for an hour of time only to be fussed at multiple times for doing exactly what she'd paid to do.
So this is where I get on my soapbox. When you charge a fee to come onto your property for photography, you are making the photographer and the subjects your clients. They are guests on your property. As guests, they should be treated as such and not as intruders. We were not boisterous, loud or rude. We were not stomping gardens, disturbing guests or interfering with your business. As paying clients, we expect to get what we paid for. We decided to move on. We were only on the property a total of 30 minutes (even though we paid for an hour). We simply saw no reason to stay. Who wants to feel like trespassers.
My advice to the Inn is to treat this situation in one of two ways. 1) Charge a fee and welcome your photographer friends as guests. Increase the fee if you want to. I'd rather pay more and be treated with respect than have to deal with what I dealt with today. or 2) Don't allow any professional photography on your property at all. Just say no. Just don't deal with it at all. But you can't have it both ways. Don't take someone's money only to tell them No every step of the way. It left a sour note on my morning but taught me to Just Say No to Gruene Mansion Inn.
There are still plenty of beautiful places to shoot in Gruene without using the Inn. I do it all the time. And to prove it, I'll show you some.
Lisa On Location Photography