Photographing nature alone can provide an experience that allows for contemplation, concentration, peace, and quiet. The promise of such experiences is often the very reason why many people venture out into nature in the first place. Nonetheless, there are many good reasons why a photographer might prefer some company while spending time outdoors. The following considerations may help you to decide who to call, if anyone, before setting out for your next photographic excursion into nature.
Along with nature’s beauty comes its dangers. From terrain hazards to wildlife encounters, there are countless concerns to take into account in order to ensure personal safety while enjoying the wonders of the natural world. Depending on your level of experience with a given environment, going alone may be a low-risk scenario, but having at least one other person along can make outings of any sort that much safer.
Although there is greater safety in numbers, having people around can be distracting. Even people whose company is highly enjoyable may make unfavorable companions for outdoor photography. Non-photographers especially may not have the patience to sit idly while you wait for good light to get better, for a cloud to move, or for the perfect wave to crash spectacularly against a prominent sea stack. When people who accompany you are not content with lingering and urge you to keep moving, it can be next to impossible to concentrate on your photography and to resist their entreaties.
Even fellow photographers can be of the distracting variety. Those who are less experienced may request a lot of help, and it can be very challenging to instruct a companion and to be productive yourself at the same time. Also challenging are the especially exuberant types whose love for nature tends to manifest itself as a constant, enthusiastic monologue. When a person in your company is prone to vocalizing every thought and observation, it can take the fortitude of zen master to focus on the task at hand.
On the other hand, the right sort of companion can be a real boon to your photography. Research, planning, and decision-making in the field are all processes that tend to benefit from collaboration with experienced photographers. Having valuable input for important decisions can help to ensure that you end up in the right place at the right time and that you respond to unpredictable situations with well considered ideas. The advantage of having informed input is partly what makes photography workshops so popular: good decision-making before committing to a composition is just as important as everything that follows.
Although photographers generally tend to help each other out in the field, some situations pit them against each other. In those locations where space is limited, there may be competition for a particularly promising place to set up a tripod, or it may be difficult for a group of people to shoot without getting in each other’s frames. It can be very frustrating to feel as though people are either in your spot or in your shot and that you are therefore unable to get the photograph that you are envisioning. Naturally, it is best to avoid areas with limited options when you have a large group and taking turns is not a reasonable solution. Such locations may be more enjoyable to photograph alone.
Although competition is an issue on occasion, fellow photographers are more likely to be sources of inspiration. No matter how likeminded photographers may be, they will tend to see things differently in the field. It can be very inspiring to photograph the same scene with other photographers and then see one or more of them produce an image that is completely distinct from your own. Unlike viewing photos of that same location taken at a different time, this experience removes the variable of differing conditions, thereby emphasizing the unique ideas and solutions of your shooting companions.
Developing and strengthening relationships with other photographers is one of the great longterm benefits of shooting with other people. These connections can be valuable in many ways, for enthusiasts and professionals alike: the sharing of location knowledge, processing tips, image feedback, travel expenses, and of course professional opportunities all make networking a worthwhile process. Although the internet provides many excellent outlets for ‘meeting’ and getting to know fellow photographers, shooting together is far more conducive to forging strong relationships. The shared experience of traveling, decision-making, and creating memorable images is unlike anything that can be achieved through online interactions, and it has provided me with some of the most enjoyable days of my life, some of my best friendships, and many excellent connections that have helped to further my photography career.
Do you prefer to shoot alone or with companions? If you have any thoughts or experiences that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment below.