Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Destroy Great Locations with "Cute" Graffiti

You've seen the images, perhaps you've even done them yourself. High school seniors want to feature their graduating year, engaged couples want hearts and their date, while expectant couples want to announce their pregnancy.

They do it using colored sidewalk chalk on the walls of old brick buildings. However, while what they're doing is creative, it is certainly unethical, if not illegal. If you as the photographer promote this as a "creative" idea, the responsibility now falls on you to clean up after yourself. The problem, however, is that most people simply walk away, assuming (incorrectly) that the rain will just wash it clean.

graffiti destroys great locations
Actual photograph taken in an area used regularly by photographers. Note the dates, hearts, etc. on the wall. Thanks to Jeanine Pohl for use of her image.
What is left over are the remnants of a portrait session that end up making buildings look trashy and create extra work for building owners. This also succeeds in spoiling potential backgrounds for other photographers who use the area. It also leaves plenty of people thinking photographers are simply vandals who come and go as they please, destroying property in the process.

We're not vandals. Most of us do our best to treat the places we photograph with great care, knowing that they'll be there for us another day as well. Yet, there are those select few who either don't care what others think of them or the industry as a whole, as long as they can "get their shot."

Harmless as it seems, chalk isn't something that just washes off every surface. As stated on, "The surface of brick allows substances such as sidewalk chalk to enter into its tiny pores. Once trapped inside these crevices, the chalk becomes difficult to remove. Wiping the brick with a damp rag does little to remove the chalk stain. The brick requires a cleansing agent along with abrasive action to loosen the chalk and allow it to be released from the brick's surface."

When you think of what we can do in Photoshop, why not find a great brick wall background and add your own personal touch later on? You can surprise the couple with your creative talents without defacing private or public property.

Maybe the best way for a fresh start would be to get a bunch of photographers together armed with buckets, brushes and graffiti remover (if not a power washer!) Even if it's not your handiwork, spend some time cleaning up after those who have not only defaced someone else's property, but disrespected our profession in the process. Maybe a group outing to "Pay it Forward" is in order!

We are talents artists, not mercenaries who are simply after a buck or vandalize property.

- David Grupa

(PS Note: As pointed out by a colleague who owns one of these brick buildings, power washers are not the best idea either. The force of the water stream can loosen or damage the old mortar between these aging bricks, causing even more issues. Be smart . . . bring a small chalkboard!)


  1. Standing ovation. Has all common sense just gone out the window? A little common sense and a lot of respect goes a long eays.

  2. Wow, we have a local FB group and one of the photographers was sick and tired of having to avoid areas downtown with chalk that some other photographer had left up. She went the past weekend and tried to clean most of it up. Thank you for bringing this up! It needs to be addressed!

  3. Wow, great post! I've NEVER done it myself but I probably would have thought that the rain would wash it away!! Thanks for the info!!
    That would be really uncool for the building owners...

  4. Such a good post. I hadn't realized so many people were defacing property for the sake of a photo shoot! I'm much more a fan of bringing my own chalkboard for any memos the client would like to share

  5. Oh my gosh...I've never once thought about doing such a thing! People really do so?! I always thought it was a post processing step. Shame. Thank you for the insight on your post today!

  6. Such a great point. I recently found a wall in the town I live in that another photographer put chalk on and left it without attempting to remove it. Its a bummer since it's a spot that many people use for photographs and now it's ruined. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I didn't know people were doing this either! Now it makes sense how some little hearts ended up on an old brick building nearby... thanks for sharing this info!

  8. Wow, I didn't realise people were doing this! Thanks for the information.

  9. Great post! I myself have never used chalk for my photo sessions, but good to keep in mind if I ever do!

  10. This is an awesome post David! I did that "+" and "=" yesterday with a couple, but we used an old sheet and painted it on there so we could take it when we left. I haven't used it, but the chalk did cross my mind to use; I didn't realize how much damage it could really cause, but now I'll make sure to not use it!!

  11. Thank you for this post! I've never used chalk for my sessions but now I know not to. Good point about adding it in photoshop and honestly a lot less work too!