I recently took a trip – the first one in a long time. It wasn’t to an exotic far-away location, but rather about 3 hours north of my home. The area is very popular with city residents and tourists alike, because of its small towns, wide open tracts of land covered with trees, rock formations that are part of the Canadian Shield and fresh air.
I don’t travel much with friends, at least driving in the same vehicle and staying in the same hotel suite. I instead prefer to meet my companions at our desired destination and prefer to have a quiet place to myself at the end of the day. At least, that’s what I’ve concluded now after several trips done in more traditional fashion.
The bigger challenge, and the purpose of this post, is how to manage my photographic interests while travelling with others. It is hugely difficult when travelling with those who are not photographers – family especially. I won’t go into those details, for fear of alienating any family member who might choose to read this (ha!).
Even travelling with other photographers can be a challenge as I’ve discovered. Different objectives, different perspectives, even different levels of physical fitness, can all factor into whether the outing is pleasant or strained.
I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to be open and specific about all the details as you plan the adventure. Here are some of the conversations that are needed:
Where will you go? Not only the general area but the specific photography locations you plan to visit while you are there. It’s important that everyone have a say in that list. You may like woodlands and water, while others like rural life scenes and cobbled streets. Make sure you talk about both and agree.
How will you travel? An obvious one, of course, but details need conversations. Are your travelling companions talkative or introspective? That might determine what happens when driving together. I’ve been in a car with long stretches of nothing said. It would have been nice to have a book to read or music to listen to. Personally, I like to keep myself entertained listening to podcasts. It’s frustrating when there is total silence. This may sound petty, but it makes a difference in my mood when I get to a distant location.
Accommodations also are an obvious discussion. While saving money on shared accommodation is always helpful, and it’s fun to be able to laugh together over the adventures of the day, I personally need time to wind down, to think about the next day and to refill the tank of creative conversation. I am not naturally outgoing and have to work at it. Working at it all day is tiring.
One thing I do as well when I travel is keep a journal of the locations visited and what happened there. I have an awful memory (especially now in my old age) and details need to be written down. I enjoy capturing those thoughts in the permanent record. But I also need time and quiet to do that.
One interesting dilemma I ran into on this trip was simple access to power. Photographers carry a lot of gear that needs to be recharged or to be powered at the hotel (computer). Most hotel rooms assume you might have a phone to charge. We had a challenge managing access to the juice – there just weren’t enough plugs. Lesson for the future – carry a portable extension cord/wall power centre.
Most of us have an energetic time of the day and a relaxed time of the day. For me, the former is the evening, the latter is the morning. Most people are the other way. It makes it difficult to travel with others who are eager to get out the door from the moment they open their eyes. If the locations are planned in advance, this isn’t much of an issue as everyone can prepare. But if not planned, and if you don’t even know what your travelling companions prefer (more activity early or later), it can lead to some discomfort.
So let’s talk about the photography.
The first challenge of course is getting to the location. This can involve a drive, walk or even a climb, often while carrying gear. In this example, everyone in the group was over 60 years of age, which meant that some discussion about the physical fitness needed for each location was important. Turns out, I was the least fit and least active, meaning that my adventures would have to be somewhat more sutdued. We ended up picking locations that had a mix of both – waterfalls and wooded areas that offered climbs over uneven ground and great vantage points to my companions, but easy to access and similarly wonderful vantage points for me. It did mean though that the group split up, which was fine with me, because I prefer to shoot in silence anyway.
When out in nature, my method is to arrive at a scene, drop the bag and tripod and look around – for at least 5 minutes. I also listen to and breathe in the atmosphere, looking for the message that it is offering to me. I will often wander a bit, looking for perspectives and angles and compositions. Some are wide, some are close-in. I look up, down, sideways and behind me. All in silence. Then I take out the camera. So I actually prefer not having others talking nearby.
Depending on the arrangement of scenes, it may be easy to reconnect with your travelling companions as you each capture your photographs. There may be only one path back to the car. But in a couple of cases, I was in a completely separate area and suddenly realized that time had passed. Always know when you are rejoining your group and, if not, have the cellphone numbers of others to be able to reach them. And don’t keep them waiting.
One thing to avoid, unless of course you discuss it first, is offering photography advice to your friends. It’s one thing to talk about what you did and how YOU captured it, but never opine to another photographer how they should go about collecting their images. I would suggest that this be the case even if they ask. A quick tip might be ok, such as “try a polarizer here if you have one” but don’t get caught up in detailed discussions while shooting. Nothing can destroy a mood more quickly.
Although not on this trip, one big advantage perhaps to travelling with friends is the possibility of sharing gear and each of you carrying less as you move around. This will only work of course if you shoot the same systems, end up shooting in exactly the same locations and, the big one, don’t mind sharing. Two of my travelling companions were married to each other and they shot the same system, but each had exactly the same kit. in this case, it didn’t make sense to share since we were all photographing the same subjects. In all fairness, I wouldn’t likely share regardless, even if there was a carrying advantage. I like having instant access to my full kit. One way to do it though might be to have different objectives at different times. One can shoot telephoto while the other shoots macro.
So was the trip worthwhile? Absolutely. Tried some new gear, tried some new techniques, shared wonderful conversations particularly over dinner with wonderful friends. I think I do need to find some way to build in my quiet time though and will work on that for the next one.
So glad we are back to having a next one…