Thursday, April 20, 2017

Alone in the Wilderness

Standing in my solo canoe.

I was reading an article by photographer Erin Babnick titled, "Is it better to photograph nature alone"? Erin points out the advantages of shooting with other photographers, not the least of which is safety in numbers. And for those starting out, going out with more experienced photographers can be a powerful learning experience. I know this firsthand. In addition, other photographers may give us inspiration, opportunities to learn new tricks, or guide us to unfamiliar locations or wildlife.

But with all those advantages, I prefer going it alone. Don't get me wrong, shooting with other photographers has been a positive experience and a necessary part of my growth as a photographer. But it is my alone time when there are no distractions that has greatly nurtured my growth and development, especially in the creative realm. But probably more the case is that I have been a solitary photographer out of necessity because I mostly photograph from my solo canoe.

The only way to get this shot was by paddling a mile or so and launching the canoe in the dark.
Whether or not I am in the canoe, I can focus my attention on my surroundings without the distraction of others. I can stray off the path and discover nooks and crannies, unfettered. I can spend way more time than necessary observing a tree or bird, or I can meander aimlessly. In this manner, I have created some of my best photographs and have gained inspiration for many more. Believe me, I draw inspiration from other photographer's art, but when alone in the wilderness, it is intrinsically derived and unique to the situation. The canoe has given me this luxury, but I would do it by foot just as often.

On this particular morning, I wasn't expecting to photograph spider webs. But there they were.
Because I go out alone, what holds me back is usually the weather.  If I had to go to a location with another person each time, I would miss way too many opportunities. And while I relish in discovering new places, old familiar places are my biggest draw. The familiarity offers comfort but also allows me to dig in and pull out that inspiration. I am not sure if I could find another photographer willing to go to these locations as often as I do.

There is nothing I enjoy more than being alone on Biscayne Bay. Sometimes, I find only my boat to photograph, but it is always worth it to me to go there.
I paddle 1.5 miles one way to the bird rookery, have been doing that for the past 9 years, at least 5 to 6 times per year. I am always alone with the birds.
Going it alone may not be for you, especially if it is fear for safety. I challenge you to over come some of your fears. Take it in steps, go to a location with others before you venture out alone. Do your research on areas ahead of time. Stick to areas where you know you will have a phone signal. Don't go in the dark. If you are hiking, get use to carrying extra weight like a first-aid kit, extra water. Dress appropriately and know the weather forecast. Always let someone know where you are going and how long you intend to be gone.

Bottomline, don't let fear keep you from photographing.

I love discovering mangrove tunnels, you never know what you'll find around the turn.
Occasionally, I camp alone in the Ten Thousand Islands. It took years of camping experience with others to get the nerve to do it!

As far as I know, I am the only person crazy enough to navigate the Chokoloskee Bay oyster beds in the dark to get to this location in the middle of the bay to photograph.