If you have ever traveled with a non-photographer on vacation or even a more purposed filled trip, you may know some of the pain I intend to help you avoid in this article.
The difference in travel styles can be jarring for some if they have never experienced it. Spouse, significant others, friends, family, they all have their own idea of what they want to see and how much to fit in a holiday. This usually does not jive well with how the average photographer prefers to enjoy a new location.
Let's face it, we're slow. Purposefully! You might say we truly see more than the average tourist, who breezes from location to location. We stop and take pictures of the roses, so to speak. We look for patterns and oddities to shoot. We enjoy color and lines and all kinds of things most people would not give a glance for more than two seconds. We're slow and we like it.
Let me make some suggestions that may help you on your next trip with a non-photographer. I hope they help you travel more freely and enjoy your time with those you care enough to explore the world with.
This is the biggie. This is the mother of all means for making any trip a success, photography or not. Setting expectations means being honest with yourself first about what you want out of the trip. Try this exercise:
Before your next trip and especially while in the planning stages, get out a piece of paper and list what is important for you to see and experience, both photographically and just as a tourist.
They may be easy things to list, like seeing the Eiffel Tower at sunset or they might be less intuitive, such as capturing contrasting colors. Realize you will not know all you want to photograph before you leave and that is the joy of travel: discovering new things. But for all the known interests you have, list them. Maybe even highlight the items with a "P" that are most important for you to photograph.
Ask your travel companion(s) to do the same, minus the need to mark the P items. The sky is the limit in this stage. You should list things even if you think they will not be possible. If you have kids, this is also a fun way for them to feel more involved and, depending on age, learn to research an area to find what they might want to experience.
Now it is time to have a meeting of the minds. Compromise should be the theme of the meeting to see how all desires can be accommodated. You might not be able to plan for everything you want to shoot during the trip, but that's not the goal, really.
The goal is to let others know what is important to you and which areas may have you lingering longer than expected. It's a give-and-take situation, so be open to what other people have an interest in seeing and see if there are ways to allow for multiple items at once.
"You want to hit the museum but it doesn't allow cameras. I want to shoot the produce markets which bore you. Why don't we see if we can do them at the same time and meet again two hours later?"
I have traveled with and without bringing up expectations and desires and I can say that life is better when expectations are aired. There are benefits you might not see right away, such as your spouse remembering you want to get photos of different styles of Catholic crosses and he points out several you would have missed otherwise. Had the desire for that subject matter never been discussed, opportunities would have been missed.
Find Alone Time
I don't think I even need to mention this one to those who have even been on such a trip. Finding time to be alone can be critical to your enjoyment of taking photographs while on any trip, but it might not be obvious to the non-photographer. Maybe they have something else in mind for the trip, like spending every waking minute together.
Make sure you either have time scheduled for yourself or a way of bringing it up conversationally. Don’t let it get to the “give me some space!” point, because by then you won’t be feeling inspired to take photos.
Finding alone time, for me personally, is vital. I want space to breathe in a new location and to explore on my own, wandering aimlessly at times. This is easier done alone most often. I also plan alone time when I know there is a particular photograph I want that will involve an hour of waiting.
Some for Me, Some for You
If you are traveling to a distant land, or even the next county over, there is a chance you both have an interest in the subject of the trip. Be it France or the Serengeti or Hackensack, something made you both want to go. Now don’t you think your travel companion(s) would like a photo to remember the trip?
As with setting expectations, you should to ask your companion if they want to be photographed. Even if you have been married for 40 years, it would still be a good idea to ask.
Look around when you are traveling for subjects they may like and take time for those photos, not just your own. Otherwise, shoot subjects you love, but don’t forget to mix in some they will love as well.
Solicit their Friends
I know this one sounds crazy when you read it the first time, but it does make sense. Let me explain. One of the qualms about traveling with a photographer, from the non-photographer point of view (explained to me by many non-photographers) is in the subject matter brought back.
The photographer likes one thing and the non-photographer likes another, so the images are lopsided. When remedying this, take it one step further and find out what your significant other's friends might like to see.
Doing these things will help the non-photographer feel more involved. You will have, at least, a small common cause and they make great gifts when you return. This turns your hobby into an asset instead of a drag on the pace of travel.
Personally I have not tried this myself with a significant other but I have tried it with my friends. I ask them, via Facebook, if there is any subject matter they would like to see from my next trip. Sometimes the responses are specific (prayer flags) and sometimes they are more generic (shadows). Either way, it helps me branch out from my normal routine while traveling and look for something I might miss.
When I am back home these images make great, cheap gifts with a personal touch. Better than a fridge magnet any day of the week.
I can only speak from my experience and I hope these tips might help jog other ideas when planning a trip where you earnestly want to take photos, lots of photos, but it isn’t specifically a photography trip and someone else is involved.
Do you use any strategies when traveling with a non-photographer that help you to still capture extraordinary photos? Please leave us a comment below.