The Lone Photographer

A major lure of photography for me is that it allows me to wander through fields, woodlands and ancient churchyards, whilst barely seeing another soul.

The experience of hunting for compositions I find beautiful is a very personal, solitary, and perhaps near spiritual experience.

This is why the thought of street photography – or even worse, street photography with a group of other photographers – fills me with horror. It’s quite probably the most unappealing form of photography I can imagine.

Even out walking in less rural areas, which I do occasionally, depending where I am and what time is available, I wait until no-one is around to crouch and capture that lone feather or decaying pine cone.

I don’t want anyone to disrupt that precious, almost meditative flow.

Interaction with anyone else would burst the bubble and sour the experience. It would be an invasion of my space and time.

Plus, heaven forbid, if it’s another photographer, I may have to engage in gear small talk, something I really dislike too (well, any kind of small talk, especially with someone you have no feeling for, and will never see again in your life).

“Ah you have the Canosonic LD543210, that’s the one with only a 6MP sensor, not the 8MP sensor of the follow up model, the LD543210A, which also featured 27 AF points, not 24…”

Seriously, it’s just a cheap old camera I happen to like using.

This may all make me sound something of a curmudgeon.

But I’ve photographed for long enough now to know what I need from it, and why.

And, in the capturing phase at least, that doesn’t involve other people. In fact it requires the exclusion of them.

How about you? Do you prefer to photograph alone, with no-one else around? Are other people a central aspect of your enjoyment of making photographs? Or do you not mind either way?

Let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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24 thoughts on “The Lone Photographer”

    1. Sounds exactly like me Marc. Also I just think even in a public place, as long as I’m not invading anyone else’s personal space or privacy, why should they encroach on mine?

  1. Alone; I am an introvert and don’t like conversations, unless I initiate them. Photographing with friends and family along often makes me feel pressured to finish up when I would like to spend and indefinite amount of time.

    1. Yeh online and by other text forms I can ramble on for ages. But like you I’m not so keen on talking to people in person, especially strangers.

      I’ve tried in the past going out for a family walk (which I greatly enjoy) and combining it with photography. It doesn’t work, like you’ve found, as I’m going at a completely different pace when photographing, and end up away from them anyway, then get annoyed I’m not involved enough with them.

      I’d rather keep these two kinds of walks – photo and family – separate, and enjoy them both for their relative merits and pleasures.

  2. What you describe sounds downright lonely and anti-social. 😃

    Making friends and being with people with similar interests is good for mental health. It gives me something to talk about. … when I used to find conversation difficult, doing an activity together makes hanging out easier. And because of our affinity for an activity, I found close friends with whom I can have a conversation just about life.

    Sometimes I grab a camera and go out in the early morning to find “something”. Sometimes people will see me, and we have a brief conversation about what I’m doing. Sometimes, I learn about a previously unknown location that might be exciting to visit because of these chance encounters.

    And sometimes, I want community, the company of my tribe. I want to be around other photographers en mass doing “whatever” for a few hours before heading back to an agreed-upon location to break bread together and share a pint. That’s why I love photowalks.

    But some photo walks are too big.

    I am an introvert, and I enjoy social activities in smaller doses than extroverts. So I choose my company. I love conversations about passions (photograph, computers, hiking, beer). I treasure my relationships and prefer a close circle of friends. Most of my friends are on an intersecting Venn diagram of photography, beer, hiking and computer geekery. Photowalks with a tribe of photographers (by a tribe, I mean a dozen or so people) all walking around pointing cameras at things and then meeting up afterwards to break bread, drink a pint and squint at the back of an LCD screen or talk shop about a camera.

    See Beers & Cameras: https://beersandcameras.com.

    As for street photography, my interest in the genre was born of necessity. I had serious medical issues in 2018 and then 2019, and I travelled to Philadelphia every day for treatment. I spent a lot of time waiting outside medical centres for the valet to bring the car for my wife (I was not in a condition to drive). Why not photograph people? I have the entire experience documented on my blog here: https://islandinthenet.com/tag/graves-eye-disease/ (in reverse chronological order).

    I don’t have a dislike of people (but sociopaths do). I was just afraid. Now, I am no longer afraid.

    1. Ha, with three kids, sometimes a guy just needs to be lonely and anti-social!

      I absolutely agree about making friends through a shared interest, and in the past I’ve made some of my best friends through either music or dancing. But photography is different for me, and has always been a solitary pursuit, like meditation or prayer.

      As you know I’m happy to talk extensively about photography, cameras and everything related online, I just don’t enjoy it in person.

      Thanks for the links too Khurt. Wow you had a hard few years. Is the Graves disease under control now?

      1. Thanks for asking Dan. I had good physicians (the privilege of living in a large metropolitan area), and the health issues are hopefully in the past. (Knocks on wood).

        I can see where having three boys could be a motivation to exit the house. 😄 When my children were younger, 6-9AM was my typical “photography time” because that was the only time for me. The “kids” are adults now.

        COVID has robbed me of my group photo walks, so I’ve done less walk around photography, and my photography has been less inspired. Thinking about your post a little more, perhaps I will try doing some alone time therapy on the weekends. It might work. It might not.

      2. That’s good to hear Khurt.

        Three kids, two are boys, aged 2 and 8, so quite a handful! I used to have more of a structure and routine for both camera time and other photography time, ie editing photos, writing 35hunter etc, but it’s all got a bit lost in the last year and a half with the family, home schooling, working from home and everything else going on.

  3. It is an interesting observation, Dan. Usually with activities we really love we have to do them lonely, otherwise it is something that can offend others as we are not going to fully pay attention to that person, or simply we expose ourselves to have to find a balance in the places we want to focus and negotiate a middle ground. After doing it in loneliness is nice to share impressions with like-minded persons. An unobtrusive camera for example is important to me, otherwise is like having to deal with somebody that wants to go a way different from us. And lately… there is a fashion these years of “inclusivity,” I don’t want to speak about the political side of it, nor if it is good or bad, just that I think somehow that fashion seems to not take in account the individual, welcoming others to share what we do is nice, but having to be in presence of other not so much, I like to gatekeep my hobbies : )

    1. Francis, yes it’s as much that I am so focused on photography I don’t have any attention left for anyone else, as it is not wanting anyone else there to distract me. Good point. And yes you end up with a compromise that doesn’t work for either of you. I like that phrase, “I like to gatekeep my hobbies”, me too! In fact I like to gatekeep many things, keep my life in separate “boxes” in my head, otherwise it all gets too messy and chaotic.

  4. My photography is generally done in my time outdoors or in my home or out the windows of my home and I am alone. I very occasionally take friends and family photos. Since COVID I have been walking with one or two people which is allowed during lockdowns and it never occurs to me to take any photos. It just wouldn’t be the same. I would feel rushed and distracted. I love the solitary nature of my photography. I do though often share my photos attached to texts sharing my day in images with friends and family. Many of them do the same with me sharing their photos and videos

    1. Thanks Susan, we sound very similar in this. I agree it goes both ways, if I’m walking with someone I want to spend time with, I don’t want to take photos, and if I want to walk to take photos, I don’t want to be with anyone else. Sharing them afterwards is a whole other matter, as you know I share fairly freely online!

  5. Most of the time alone. But this is not to have someone around that disturbs me but the fact I cannot strictly follow my own rhythm. When I go for a walk with my wife, it does not work, I can’t do photography at the same time. But it happened that we engage together in a photo walk, and then it works, because we are in the same state of mind. We can stop when we want, for as long as we want. Same for running: I generally run alone, but I like social runs, with a few people, if I still find what I like when I run alone.

    1. Yeh I think it is about rhythms, and depending on the activity, different rhythms work. When I walk with family (which we do regularly), I greatly enjoy it but the pace is dictated by our two year old, who not only has little legs, but likes to stop and look at every last leaf and acorn. On my own walking I stride out at a fairly brisk pace, even if taking photos along the way, at probably about five times the speed of the family walks.

  6. My wife often accompanies me when I leave the house with a camera. She is always in the frame when I take what might be called street photographs, i.e., pictures in developed areas that include people. We make a point of talking with each other, or pointing and waving if we are further apart, so the other people in the fame won’t think I am photographing them in particular. This was initially her idea and we’ve been successful with it for 57 years. (And the grandchildren enjoy looking for Grandma in the pictures.)

    When I am photographing subjects without people, like a fascinating chain link fence that shows the effects of drivers backing into it over the years, I prefer to work alone. If my wife is with me she patiently waits, shooing away pedestrians if necessary and being careful not to cast a shadow on the subject.

    1. That’s an interesting approach Doug, and a great way to put strangers off the scent if it looks like you and your wife are tourists taking pictures of each other. I remember one of my few street photography forays when I was on a rusting bridge which was interesting in itself, but I wanted a quirky looking girl approaching to be dominant in the shot too. I took the shot as she walked past and she stopped suddenly, glaring at me. I kept my gaze fixed on the far side of the bridge and took another shoot, as if the bridge was all I was photographing. She moved on, apparently convinced she wasn’t photographed, but the feelings it gave me were very uncomfortable, and one reason I very rarely did any street photography (at least with people in) since.

      Ha, love the image of your wife shooing away pedestrians that might encroach on your photo too!

  7. I like being alone, but I also don’t mind having people around and talking with them when I’m doing photography, music, or whatever. And honestly, having other people around probably brings out the best in me, and makes me try a bit harder.
    But I understand where you are coming from – that meditative experience of just walking around looking for something that inspires you is very therapeutic and soothing.
    I guess I’m easy going in the way that I’m content either way…

    1. Yeh I think you seem pretty flexible and laid back about it Chris. I guess I have certain expectations, or rather from experience I know that certain activities give me the space and calm and good feeling I need to make sense of life and stay on an even keel. If that’s interrupted too much and I don’t have that space and solitude, it pretty quickly has a negative impact in my mood and my ability to be a good husband, father etc. So it’s perhaps selfish in the first instance but necessary to be able to my best with others too.

  8. As an introvert who likes to do some street photography every now and then, I recommend this video portrait of Sean Tucker: https://youtu.be/ZobEFL3YFUE. Tucker is also a self-declared introvert and he shoots great street stuff, never confrontational, and without any interacting with people. You may not like the genre, but street photography surely can be done by a “lone photographer”.

    As for shooting with others, this week I captured the homecoming of the Dutch Olympic medalists. It was mostly a lot of waiting, and I was happy to be around like-minded people who made the waiting a bit more pleasant with “small talk”. And, we haven’t even talked about gear once.

    1. Robert, thanks for the link, I’ve watched the intro and I’m looking forward to watching the rest. I generally dislike small talk, though I appreciate it is the lubrication in many relationships.

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