Traveling with a non-photographer

New year, new content, new question

Welcome to 2016!

This week’s question is a fun topic (depending on your experience and point of view): doing photography while traveling with a non-photographer, particularly a family member.

I actually dabbled in this over the holidays. My wife and daughter and I traveled up and down the east coast of the U.S. for 16 days visiting family. Along the way we made brief but enjoyable stops at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge in Florida, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. We also waved at Shenandoah National Park as we drove by on Route 81.

If you are interested in following these or other national parks on social media, you know how tedious finding their accounts can be. To help matters, I have compiled and published an article that lists the website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account of every national park, plus a few other associated sites and organizations. You can see and reference this any time at this link: “National Parks Online.”

More articles and content will be coming soon. Stay tuned!


This Week’s Question

Maurice Bathhouse, Hot Springs National Park. NPS Photo.

Maurice Bathhouse, Hot Springs National Park. NPS Photo.

Q.  Next year my lovely wife and I want to visit some parks. I have to deal with the fact that I like to photograph, while my wife does not but has some (not borderless) patience. Do you have some tips, a thinking direction how to solve this problem? — Stefan de Jong, Netherlands

A. Yeah, this is a pretty common issue, regardless of the gender of whomever is the photographer and whomever is the mildly interested significant other.

In general, I don’t do photo travel with anyone who isn’t a photographer. I have found that no matter how much the person loves or likes me, or how interested she or he is in my work or friendship, the photographer’s process is just too tedious to hold a non-photographer’s attention. These people mean well. “Oh, it will be so intriguing to see how you work!” And they genuinely believe that. The problem is, they’re wrong. It’s not interesting to watch us work, particularly at those times when we might spend a few hours just sitting there waiting for the light to move.

But avoiding layperson companionship isn’t always possible, especially if the trip is not solely for photography, but is rather primarily a family or friendly vacation. In those cases, how we squeeze in some productive photo opportunities is a great question.

Also, it’s one that affects every level of serious photographer. Right before the holidays I attended a presentation by National Geographic photographer Lester Picker, and even he (a Nat Geo photographer!!!) talked about having to deal with this. His solution is to dedicate one or two whole days of the itinerary to photography, days during which his family knows they’re on their own. Then he can focus on all the intricacies of carrying out a successful shoot without boring anyone.

I can suggest two other strategies that I find effective:

1) Half of my photography is done at a time of day  when normal people aren’t functioning much anyway—i.e., very early morning. So I can almost always get out alone before sunrise, shoot for a few hours, then meet others for a late breakfast. (Admittedly, that strategy doesn’t usually work well at the end of the day.)

2) Go someplace that is interesting to the non-photographer, too, so that he or she also has something to do.

For example, I have a friend who likes to write poetry in a journal while sitting in nature; he and I could probably travel together effectively. I have another friend who likes hiking, even alone; we, also, could likely travel well together. My wife likes rustic lodges and drinking wine by a fireplace, so she would probably be content at Grand Teton’s Jackson Lake Lodge while I shot Willow Flats, or at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn while I shot the surrounding geysers and hot springs.

And some of the national parks have a lot of activities with wide appeal. For example, a non-photographer companion might enjoy relaxing in the bathhouses at Hot Springs National Park, or taking a scenic train ride in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or attending a history-themed ranger program at pretty much any national park—all while you’re out shooting for a few hours.


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