Traveling With Non-photographers
October 21st, 2010

In Deep — Koh Samet, Thailand

I’m just back from three weeks of traveling with fellow photographers. OK, the first week, David duChemin and I invested far more time into pad thai and pier jumping, but we did spend one solid evening photographing that pier. David showed his dedication by stripping down (to his bathing suit; nobody get too excited!) and hauling his gear into the water to get his “Postcard from Kho Samed”. (Those who have photographed with David know that this isn’t rare. He likes to drag his gear into the deep water.) The following two weeks were spent with the Kathmandu Within The Frame gang, which turned out to be an absolutely wonderful group of photographers.

Until fairly recently, I hadn’t spent much time traveling with other photographers. And now I realize how truly different it is. At least, it feels very different to me.

In the past, I’ve traveled with my wife on photographic trips, including some assignments. She’s a great travel partner, and she is as dedicated to my photography as I am. Well, almost. (For some reason she still prefers horses.) She’s always willing to let me take the time I need and to help whenever she can. However, it isn’t the same. Even when she volunteers to wait, assist, etc. there is a voice in the back of my head that tells me to hurry up. It tells me that she’s there to explore and not to just watch me. It tells me that while I’m willing to postpone dinner for hours that she’s probably hungry. Etc. They’re photographic trips for me but not for her.

I have this idea that perhaps I need to start dividing my non-assignment travels between photographic and non-photographic. More precisely, I’m thinking of leaving my gear at home when I travel with my wife. Could I do that? Would I spend the whole time kicking myself? Would I continually think “OMG, I just missed the best photographic opportunity ever because I was too stupid to bring my gear”? Is that the photographic equivalent of the fish-that-got-away story? If I could do that—just fly off and enjoy a destination without gear, then I’d take other photography-dedicated trips either alone or with fellow photographers. You know, trips in which “going slow” means not moving for hours and “eating late” means when others are already dreaming of breakfast.

How do the rest of you combine—if you do—your photography with traveling with non-photographers? Or if you dear reader are the non-photographer, what would you like of your photographer companion(s)? All suggestions, comments, etc. welcome!

37 Responses to “Traveling With Non-photographers”

  1. I recognise the feeling – running to catch up with someone who THINK we are out for a walk :-) Patience only goes so far.
    You can’t win this battle.

    PS! Sorry I used all the toilet paper before I left Kathmandu – forgot to tell you. (Hey! You said ALL comments were welcome!)

  2. Linda Taylor says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    You know I’m going to have to chime in on this. As I mentioned to you when I signed up for the Tuscany WTF trip, I need to go back to Tuscany without my family to get the photographic experience that I was hoping that I was going to have on that trip. My family was patient with me also, but I knew when I had to pack up and move on, even though I wasn’t ready. Since that experience, I decided to divide up my vacation time. One photographic trip for me, where I can focus on learning and experimenting, and one where I can enjoy my time with my family and friends. This becomes a different kind of photographic experience. It’s not about the photography, it’s about the story. I may only use my Canon G10. It’s becomes more of a collaborative event, where we combine our ’snapshots’, good or bad and are able to assemble a comprehensive visual story about the trip, assembling everyone’s point of view.

    It’s funny that your brought this subject up about missing photographic opportunities while traveling. I just happen to miss one in my neighborhood last night while my husband and I were driving to go out to dinner. A storm was just clearing at sunset and fog was settling in around the farmlands. It was just beautiful and I didn’t have a camera with me, so I vowed never to let that happen again and I decided to keep my old 20D and a tripod in my car at all times. Unfortunately, I’m sure I’ll STILL miss the shot, because I’ll forget to charge the battery :-) .

  3. CJ Kern says:

    The Kathmandu WTF trip was the first extended trip (more then a day) I’ve taken with photographers and never thought there was a difference, until now. Like you my wife is very supportive of me shooting however I should take some time not to photograph when traveling with her and enjoy the time together as a couple. I don’t think I’ll go to the extreme of leaving my gear at home but use the time out with her to scope out the area and make mental notes of shots I’ll try to come back later and get. If I’m successful in returning and getting the shot, great; if not oh well that is the way it goes, now I have an excuse to come back.

    PS Eli, that wasn’t a nice thing to do… :-)

  4. My wife and I alternate. One day we’ll go somewhere for photography – and she has fun with my old 20D – then the next she’ll set the agenda. It seems to work well. On days when she leads the way, I’ll leave most of my photo gear at the hotel and just take a single body and either a 50mm prime or a wide zoom but I’m not really bothered if I don’t shoot much.

  5. When my wife I went to Italy, so many frames came back with her in the background…she’d just keep walking while I shot something. It got comical when we reviewed the photos. Mostly, she’s patient. But I also travel a good deal on photos shots for my job (I’m part AD and part corporate liason). On the down time, it’s fun walking through the bazaars of Bombay or the markets of Nicaragua with them…we’re all shooting, taking our time, catch up and sharing later. I don’t know that I ever leave my gear behind on any trip.

  6. I’ve been on both sides. Growing up I used to wait for hours for my father to get the shot, or wait for that hummingbird he was it coming back. For us a 120 miles trip to the beach could mean 5 hours or more. Of course, I used to hate that, I just wanted to get to the beach!
    Now when I travel I try not to hold back the whole family, but has made miss a LOT of shots. My husband is very supportive of my photography and will even encourage me to wait for the best light or the right moment, but then I have 3 hungry kids complaining behind me, behaving just like I did 30 years ago.
    So, I think it is necessary to take those trips with only other photographers, to be able to experiment and learn. Leaving your gear when traveling with family?? No way!!!, I just slow down on my photography, shoot my kids ( I mean take photos ;) ), and take some time in each trip to myself.

  7. Marjan says:

    My friend is also very patient when I am photographing (a lot) during our holidays, and also I have lots of photo’s with him on the background………

    Next spring I am going to join “Liguria within the frame”, and I am looking forward to this photography trip, when nobody is waiting for you to finish shooting!!! Can’t wait….

  8. Amie says:

    I often travel alone so that I don’t have to worry about it, but when I do travel with others who aren’t photographers, I simply let them know ahead of time what my expectations of the trip are, and ask what their expectations are. Generally, I prefer to travel with people who are ok with separating from time to time, that way if I get caught up in photographing one thing, they know that they can simply leave me to it, go do their own thing and then meet back up with me at some place & time we decide. And now my SO is a photographer, and he & I also are very clear that any time one of us wants to do something the other doesn’t, we do the part ways, meet up later thing. :)

  9. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Eli, you’re incorrigible, and I love that!

    Linda, I usually have a G11 in my bag with me at almost all times. Almost.

    CJ, I fear that if I don’t leave my gear at home that I’ll feel compelled to carry it around, and then one thing leads to another.

    Craig, that sounds ideal but perhaps more discipline than I can handle. I’d end up worrying about whether or not “my” day was the right or the wrong day. And I’d probably use it as an excuse that I got the wrong day.

    Mark, I have lots and lots and lots and then a few more photos with the back of my wife’s head in them! In fact, somebody looking through my LR library might think I’m working on just such a series!

    Matea, so you’re saying…gear always? Here I was trying to be flexible, and you’re doing a great job of convincing me to keep my camera around my neck! :-)

    Amie, you’re probably in the ideal travel situation with a SO photographer. Of course, my wife would probably argue that her ideal travel situation would be improved if I were a riding instructor!

  10. Jeff says:


    Not having the opportunity to travel quite as much as you I would feel like i’d need to have my gear with me when visiting some place, even with my wife. However, I’ve give some though to this and part if me thinks it wouldn’t be entirely bad to travel with a camera like the G12 or a micro 4/3. It would give you the flexibility to take some nice photographs and have some manual control over your camera without loading you down.

    I think an added benefit would be a sort of freedom to shoot more simply.

  11. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Jeff, I took two short domestic trips (New Orleans and Santa Fe) this year with just my G11. I never once wished that I had the big boys. I was perfectly content to not think about photography. In fact, it was somewhat refreshing. I just wonder if I can do that on a longer, overseas trip. I might have to try in order to find out.

  12. I say, ask your wife! Then if she says she doesn’t mind…let the things that nag you in the back of your mind go! Then be thankful you are not traveling with children…

  13. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Dru, that was step one in the process! However, the “problem” is not her; it’s me. If I could let those things go, then there wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is that I can’t. I know that she’d rather be doing something else, and I want her to also be doing what she loves to do. And I’ve seen her looking at her watch while in wait mode! :-)

  14. Ian Furniss says:

    I have a similar problem in that, at least with Belgrade, I travel alone, but then meet and stay with friends whilst i’m there.

    In some ways that makes it easier because we’re spending a lot of time together and we each need ‘me time’ so I get to wander off and do my own thing a lot, but at other times I still come up against the same problems you describe. I try to balance it. I always have my camera with me in case I see something where I really can’t help myself, but I also try to give myself little rules to follow.

    If we’re going for a walk around town then my friend gets my backup camera and she has started to enjoy taking her own shots of beauty that she comes across. That works well and she gets to see her city in a different way and we both enjoy and share the experiences.

    If we’re out for a meal at night, i’ll take my main camera, leave the backup behind, but fit a low ‘profile nifty 50′ to the front with the 10-22mm in my pocket. That covers pretty much every situation i’m likely to come across and because my coat has large pockets, the two stay hidden unless there’s something that really inspires me and I can’t resist.

    Fortunately i’m blessed and my friend is not only very understanding, but also encourages me in what I do. At the same time I don’t want to be disrespectful to her or our conversations, so that balances her understanding and I end up taking one photo a night (usually of her) or maybe none at all.

  15. Deborah says:

    hmmm…I wonder if this had anything to do with the break up of my marriage????

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  17. Oh, so far I just force my non-photographer travel partners to wait for me, and that little voice in my head rarely shuts up. I’m thinking I need to find some photographers to travel with, stat. Certainly would be a nice thing to experience.

  18. Alvin says:

    I know the feeling. Mixing both has never worked well for me; if I try to photograph during a vacation I never get great shots, if I try to have a vacation during a photography trip I miss out on great shots.

    So I try to be really clear on what my goal for each trip is, then max it out accordingly. I’d like to think this has made me happier; I can enjoy myself to my heart’s content if I’m having a holiday and grab a whole bunch of ‘vacation’ shots – and even the one or two shots for myself if I get the chance. I shoot to my heart’s content when I’m on a shooting trip, and then do the tourist thing if I have the time.

  19. Deborah says:

    Jessica, I am in complete agreement on this subject… Everyone knows, I never leave my cam at home… so if they have a problem with my shooting , they probably don’t go with me next time…
    I ma not fortunate enough to take “travel for pay vacations”….
    in my dreams.

  20. Per-Christian Nilssen says:

    I see I am not alone with the problem of letting the others wait for me….. :)

    What works for me is to mentally tweak the brain a little bit, so I don’t have to explore every angle of the motive when I’m walking with others (on holiday trips, mostly).

    Instead of bringing my large dSLR, with lenses, big backpack (I know you understand what I mean), I now bring with me a little compact instead. This was until recently a little Canon G10, but now my wife has grown an interest in photography (woe me – she is a better photographer than me :( ), so now she has pinched the G10, and I had to buy something else – I landed on the new Leica D-Lux5.

    I now really look forward to our trips, so that we can delay each other! :D :D

  21. lane davis says:

    Great post. In the last 7 months of traveling I have traveled about 3 months with field directors of the org i’m currently working for while the rest of the trek i’ve been alone.

    Even with people who are passionate and involved in the projects I’m supposed to capture it is completely different traveling with them vs. being alone. Like you, there is always that thought in the back of my head telling me to hurry and I find myself rushing shots and stories way too often. I thought it’d be good traveling with them because they could provide background info in addition to my brief. And while that is true to an extent, I find traveling alone or with other photographers a better approach.

    I spent a few days with Austin Mann earlier this year in Ethiopia and that was the first time I had traveled with another photographer. That was completely different than traveling alone. I found when you are with another photographer you are continually pushing each other. You understand the importance of the shot and the time it takes to get it.

    The things I’ve learned from this trip in terms of traveling companions will definitely go into my planning for all future trips. If I’m to be traveling with a non-photographer (perhaps with the NGO I’m working for) this will have to be discussed and planned for in the prep. Extra time may need to be allotted or just a upfront discussion or dialogue on the needs and expectations of the trip.

  22. Ed says:


    Oh, yes, this speaks to me as well as a lot of people it seems. It’s going to be tough this Christmas when we go to visit my family in the UK as I’ll want to have my camera but don’t want to miss out on sharing the experience. Just wish I could afford a EP-1 or G12 or S95 etc.

    Anyway, one way my wife and I have been discussing getting around this is to have our creative time at the same time. The idea being that when I am out making images she is writing, either where I am or at home or wherever inspires her. This is obviously more difficult when you are travelling together but we are going to try it out this and next weekend locally.

    One other thing that may be part fo this, especially when travelling is that as photographers we often speak about slowing down or going deeper rather than trying to cram as much into an experience as possible. Maybe that is sound advice for anyone who is travelling whether for a photographic trip or with their partners. Too often tourists just skim the surface or the place they are in rather than stopping to really appreciate or immerse themselves in the culture. I hope that we, my wife and I, can adopt that in our travels.


  23. steve kalman says:

    When traveling with my wife on vacation I carry a Canon SX20IS, which is somewhere between a G11 and a DSLR (big zoom). I also carry a monopod. If the light is good, that’s a bonus. If harsh, then too bad. I will occasionally get up early for a pre-breakfast solo walk, but the important point is that it is a vacation for the two of us and if I get a good or great photo, so much the better. Once or twice on a trip we’re in a perfect position and my wife will tell me to meet here back at the car in an hour or so (she always travels with a book) and tell me to have fun (last week at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, for example).

    On my own, I take a Canon DSLR, lenses, flash, tripod and walk until exhausted. It might be alone (lots of 2 week business trips meaning photo time on the weekend) or the occasional photowalk or workshop.

    Yes, there is a difference, and that’s the point. It would be just as inappropriate to rush a gaggle of photographers as it would be to keep my wife waiting for the light to be just right or for the bird to return.

    Steve (a new reader/poster to this blog.)

  24. Denny Wells says:

    I just got back from a trip to Taiwan with my wife and daughter, and I 100% recognize the “hurry up” voice in your head – because it was in my head too.

    I’ve never taken the opportunity to travel with other photographers – but your post makes me think that I should. Perhaps adding a second non-family Denali trip next summer? Hmmm.

  25. Hi Jeffrey,

    I have gone on a few trips with my girlfriend & I have always had the feeling of her saying ” Will you hurry up” . Well this past summer we went to Iceland together & I decided to teach her as much as she wanted to learn about photography. The trip went off without a hitch & things seemed to change – I was then thinking ” Will you hurry up” Love your post photo Jeffrey – keep up the great work!

  26. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Deborah, that would probably be an extremely frightening statistic for all of us!

    Jessica, yes, I think that’s the way to go. I’m surprised that it took me so long to realize this. If you find yourself looking for a photographer travel partner, it seems that there are quite a few here in the comments who would like to travel with a fellow photographer.

    Alvin, perhaps we photographers really need to learn to take a vacation from our cameras.

    Lane, “pushing each other” is definitely an important aspect. (PS – It was great to meet up with you in Kathmandu. It’s always a pleasure to meet people in person that I’ve met her, on twitter, etc. Small world!)

    Ed, I wrote a long rant about tourists and photography after a mind-boggling experience in Nepal, but I’m holding off on posting it (at least for now) as I’ve perhaps ranted enough lately. And I really am a happy person!

    Steve, welcome to my blog!

    Denny, I encourage you to give it a try. Traveling with a fellow photographer is a very different experience. I’m convinced of doing more of it.

    Doug, can’t win for trying, right? :-)

  27. Geir says:

    What keeps the non-photographers happy is when you get back and they get to use the lovely images you captured while they were waiting – or even posing.

  28. Lisa O says:

    When I want to travel light I go with my Micro 4/3 cameras, Olympus EPL2, EPL-1 or Panasonic GF-1. They are not much bigger than a recent Canon G series camera. Lenses are much smaller and lighter then their DSLR equivalents and image quality almost as good as crop sensor cameras. Where they begin to fail is in low light but still much better than current crop of P&S cameras.

    If I don’t take pictures of on vacation I feel as if I wasn’t really there. Keeping non photographers happy is hard for me but I try to go out early on my own but if I see a cool picture it’s hard to stop me.

  29. jessica says:

    i found your blog from david duchemin’s. i have had some of the same thoughts traveling over the last few weeks with family. i took my gear to new york, and san francisco, they were patient, but i felt rushed, and didn’t come away with any shots that i will really use. got a lot of great idea’s and sketches, but nothing for my portfolio.
    i was in nashville the beginning of this week, and left my gear at home. it was tough, but i was more engaged with people, and while i want to go back with my gear – i am not taking it with me when the trip doesn’t allow space for me to have the time i would want to shoot. i took a small point and shoot to remember ideas…

  30. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Geir, gifts work too!

    Lisa, going out alone is a good plan.

    Jessica, David who? :-)

  31. [...] heaps more time.  Interestingly even professional photographers struggle with this dilemma if this article by Jeffrey Chapman is anything to go [...]

  32. I’ve just come back from a few days holiday in Sydney. Photographically it was not a “success” as I wasn’t clear in my own mind how to distinguish between photography and holidaying. I think I need to work this out myself and then enlist the support or request some time specifically do set off with my camera. As someone learning photography I have an appetite to take every opportunity but from this trip I’ve learned that is probably putting too much pressure on myself and ultimately leads to disappointment. I’ll try and work this out before I venture forth on my next big trip at Christmas where the stakes will be higher – am travelling with a bigger family group but at least one of them is into photography. No pressure but…….

  33. jilske says:

    Thanks for thinking this through Jeffrey. I didn’t realize either until walking with some of you on KWTF how big the difference can be.
    Even between shooting with different photographers there was a big difference in how I felt and reacted – which is reflected in my pictures.
    I guess the most important is that you can communicate with the person, whether they’re a photographer or not. Like Amie said, discuss both your needs beforehand. If you did and they are still not getting it, or you are not, then at least you tried. Iterations, adjust and try again if need be?

  34. Dana Reed says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Traveling (or at least a day or two on the trip), and even just going out for an evening walk can actually feel almost liberating without the camera. I don’t know about you, but often when I am concentrating on getting a shot, I don’t have the same appreciation for what I am seeing. When I just stop to see whatever beautiful thing has caught my eye, when I don’t have a camera, I find I can simply immerse myself in the experience without thinking of anything else, and it can be a richer experience for that. You also become participant, rather than simply observer.

    You can always start slow and take a camera on the trip, but choose to leave it behind on several outings.


  35. Earl B says:

    I know the feeling as all of you do, of “hurry up and shoot”.
    Even with some of the organizations I travel with I’m always running to catch up.

    In those situations I try to schedule some time to work alone so I can focus on the project at hand.

    Great post and enjoyed everyone’s responses.

  36. Megan says:

    Of course you’re going to miss the shot. That’s the entire philosophy behind Murphy’s Law. And if you choose to go to (enter desired location here) two times, the one you attend as a family will be the one where all the fantastic photo ops happen. And the one where you lug all your gear will, of course, be plagued with stomach flu. I say, pack the gear anyway and then the photo gods can’t mess with you.

  37. Patrick says:

    Lovely picture, with or without the photographer.

    You pose a good question. I consider it a reframing of the Heisenberg principle. Is it possible to observe something without altering it, and ourselves? The short answer: no.

    The long answer: If you take your camera, both you and that which you see will be affected. Likewise if you don’t take your camera. Both trips are worthwhile. Sometimes you just have to accept that the greatest image is ephemeral and let the camera stay home.

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