Solitary Pursuit

We’re getting close to the Worldwide Photowalk on October 13.  As of today, there are more than 1,300 walks around the world, with more than 23,000 photographers registered to participate.  We don’t want you to miss it, so sign up to join Mark and me in Williamsburg, Virginia.  We still have some open slots.  (Click here for our walk.)


Pardon me for a moment while I contemplate photography as a solitary, sometimes lonely, pursuit.  I’m not going down some pity lane here.  My life is pretty good, and I’m lucky enough to have everything I need for happiness, including a fun family.  I’m just mulling over a few issues that come with having a passion for something that most people don’t spend much time considering.

If you’ve been pursuing this photography thing for any length of time, you know the feeling.  You just got a new camera and can’t wait for the battery to charge so you can get out there and put it to the test.  You shoot a scene with 50 photos, from every angle, while your family is cajoling you to move on already.  You spend waaaay too much time, alone, in front of a computer, in a darkened room, trying to restore an image (viewed on the screen at 400%) by getting rid of every scratch and blemish.  Ah, the price we pay for our art….  ;-)

You learn to deal with it, and, after a while, it becomes a habit that satisfies.   I don’t mind going out alone on photowalks or events because I can concentrate on making photographs for myself, without any distractions.  Besides, while I’m out there, I’m usually not alone, and I meet lots of new folks.  During my recent Antietam trip, I met a couple of photographers also taking in the event and talked to several of the re-enactors about why they do what they do.  Don’t be shy; interact with those around you.  You can learn something interesting from almost everyone.  And, of course, within photography, there are variations, too – people photography is much less solitary than nature, landscapes, or catalog illustration.

model in a haughty mood

Civil War re-enactor at Manassas Battlefield, VaMy time on the computer is solitary, but I’ve usually got something going on in the background, like photography podcasts.  Since I teach this stuff, I need to keep up with the latest software.  I loved working in my old darkroom and the computer has just given me a quantitative leap in options and made the work less messy.  It can be disappointing to show someone some little difference that really makes your photo better and receive a “Why bother?” answer, but I do this mostly for myself.  I need to make these changes; small changes can greatly enhance a photo.  People who don’t see the difference probably can’t hear the difference between a Magnavox and a Bose, either.

Blues singer

I’ve traveled my entire life, for personal and professional reasons, so getting out of the house and traveling to someplace I’ve never been doesn’t stress me.  It's always more fun traveling with a partner, but I'm usually on my own.  Although, many people don’t like the inconveniences of being on the road, my goal is to get somewhere new every month.  I’ve been to all 50 states and five of the continents (still need Africa and Antarctica).  For some reason, it never gets old.

Grizzly bears in Denali National Park, AlaskaRome's ancient buildingsYou can keep your photography from isolating you by finding others just as “weird” as you are.  Go on organized photowalks, with lots of lots of kindred spirits.  Join a photo club in your area.  Volunteer to provide photos to a charity.  Find a photo buddy and plan trips and projects that interest you both.  Go to a photography conference.  Connect online in forums and websites.  There are lots of opportunities out there to reduce the solitary nature of photography for those who look.

Photowalk group shotWe all love it when people like our photos, but some will never understand why we go to such lengths to create them.  If you want get better at photography, you won’t let this scare you off.  Embrace it and go make some photographs, even if you have to go alone.

Mountain goat, near Anchorage, Alaska