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Finding Balance Between Photography and Friends When Travelling

If there is one common thing that gets photographers fired up and excited, it’s the prospect of travel. Just like most other artists, you need your creative fire stoked and it’s hard to beat a walkabout to some exotic foreign land (or even a Cow Safari).

The new surroundings, different cultures, or new experiences are the perfect excuse to charge your batteries, clean your lenses and format those memory cards (you do format your cards before you use them, right?).

Colonial architecture in a historical Mexican town

Exotic lands just might be the ideal catalyst to get the creative juices flowing.

If you’re wandering out into the world solo, you have full photographic freedom to choose where you go and how much time you spend there. However, you may often find yourself with accompaniment on these excursions in the form of friends, your significant other, or family. The more obsessive of a shutterbug you become, the more challenges you are going to face, in order to strike a balance between being selfish for your own passions, and trying to appease everyone.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wandered off into the photographic zone, and inadvertently ignored my traveling companion. Once I realize, I glance around thinking they probably abandoned me, only to see them half asleep on a bench or standing hands on hips, not looking happy.

If your travel partner (s) are as psyched about photography as you are, read no further, you have it made. Unfortunately this isn’t usually the case so we need to muster up some diplomacy to keep things running smooth.

The trade-off

While traveling, whether with a significant other or friends, one method that will help you reach that middle ground is to make a conscious effort to take photos of them along the trip, in exchange for you being able to wander around a little more, or spend some extra time shooting. Of course this doesn’t necessarily have to be a spoken exchange, but often it will just work out this way.

Capture photos of traveling companions

Capturing some fun shots of your traveling companions goes a long way towards striking the balance between photography and sharing the experience.

To make this work well, you need to actually put some time, effort, and thought into the shots. You can’t just snap a quick shot of them by the doors of an old church, then spend an hour on various compositions of the doors themselves. Get a remote flash and use it off-camera to get some nice lighting and flattering portraits. Have them pose in interesting positions and underexpose some shots to create cool silhouettes.

The concept is to not only get some memorable shots of them in the exciting places you’re traveling to, but to engage them in your process, and make them feel like they’re not traveling alone.

Careful planning

Although a big part of traveling is embracing surprises and the discovery of new things, a little diligence in planning can help you get the shots you want without sacrificing your relationships.

Using a city map to plan the day

A little forethought and planning can help make adventures run smoother.

If you think ahead about the places you want to photograph and when the light will be best, you can work up an itinerary that can flow more smoothly without waiting around for the light. Want a sunset shot on the coast or golden hour light for that cityscape panorama? Think about planning for dinner on the water, and showing up a little early or find a rooftop bar for a drink.

There are apps that can help you with this planning such as Stuck On Earth or even Google Earth.

Breathing room

While traveling or going on vacation with others can be a blast, there’s nothing wrong with splitting up sometimes. Especially on long trips, it can be a strain on relationships to spend every waking moment together, and a couple hours of solo-exploring can be a nice respite.

Solo adventure

A few hours of splitting up to pursue varying interests can work wonders.

Again, if you can figure out how to plan this ahead of time, all the better. Maybe there is some cool architecture near a shopping mall or an outdoor market that can provide activities for all involved.

Go with the flow

Then there is, of course, the path of least resistance. If you are willing to sacrifice the time-consuming or contrived shots, you can always wing it and see what happens. This is also the default position you might find yourself in anyways – after all, plans are made to be broken.

This approach can also be a good exercise in picking up your pace, and developing a keener eye. Maybe this entails ditching the tripod at the hotel, and venturing out with only one lens (tragic, I know). Be resourceful instead; find a firm surface and use the self-timer for dark shots, and use a zoom lens or challenge yourself to rely on a fixed focal length lens for your compositions.

Life is all about compromises. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone shares the same passions, and you should do your best to try and see the situation through your travel partners’ eyes.

“Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break.”

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Jeremie Schatz
Jeremie Schatz

is a freelance photographer, photojournalist, journalist, copyeditor and videographer for a variety of clients and companies in the United States and Thailand. Find his portfolio of colorful images and more of his writing at Exposed World Photography and on Facebook.

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