Bridging the Gap

I should have thought twice about this considering the freezing (literally) cold that had gripped New York City, but the sky looked good and I figured it was a good night to photograph the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn.

Of course, I had to get to the location I planned to photograph from a little early to check things out, and that meant I was going to be there for a while. Did I mention it was freezing cold? But I was bundled up, so I wasn’t going to worry about that (complain, yes; worry, no).

Somewhere along the way I decided to embark on a completely unscientific (but amusing) experiment. You see, for a long time I’ve been saying that photographers tend to be very independent folks in general. This is often met with disagreement, until I explain that photographers tend to keep to themselves in the field. That clarification is usually met with agreement.

So I decided I wasn’t going to initiate any conversation with any other photographers I met that evening, and see if they would talk to me.

Now, I’m a pretty friendly guy. And I tend to be pretty conversational. Well, OK, I’m just talkative. But my point is that more often than not I’ll tend to strike up a conversation with those around me. But on this evening I was going to resist that tendency.

Early in the evening I was approached by a couple from Spain who spoke very little English. This was a little bit of a challenge, as my Spanish isn’t very good (but I’m working on it!). I managed to answer their questions, and even carry on a bit of a conversation with them. But they were tourists, not photographers, so this didn’t count as part of my experiment.

Once the sun had set I was settled in at my spot, capturing photographs at random intervals. At least three other photographers settled in around me at various times. Not one word from any of them.

I was then approached by a young woman with a camera. She asked if there was any chance I had a spare memory card she could buy, as she had left hers at home. Unfortunately her camera used SD cards, and I only had CompactFlash cards with me so I couldn’t help her.

I realize you’re probably thinking this young photographer disproved my hypothesis. But I would argue that she only spoke up because she was in need of a favor, and otherwise would have kept to herself.

So, I’m going to take my very unscientific experiment to have resulted in at least a little bit of proof that photographers do tend to keep to themselves. And from now on I’m going to be sure to strike up a conversation with the photographers around me whenever possible. I just wonder how many of them will be wishing I would just keep to myself and leave them alone…

Are you like most photographers I run into, and tend to keep to yourself? Or do you like to socialize with other photographers in the field? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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22 Responses to Bridging the Gap

  1. John Krill says:

    I really enjoy talking with other photographers but it usually ends up talking about equipment. Me I just like to hear what other photographers like to shoot. Landscapes, street, etc. But even then it ends up about equipment.

    You’re one of the few I’ve read that doesn’t mind starting up a conversation. Good. Next time you’re in Laguna Beach, CA let me know and we’ll flip a coin for coffee.

  2. Tom Kimmerer says:

    Well, I’m a pretty social guy, and I like to talk to people I meet out in the woods or wherever. And having a big hulking DSLR camera can be a conversation starter. But here’s the thing – I like talking about trees or landscape or whatever, but I really don’t care much about comparing camera gear, or talking shop. That’s the problem with talking to other photographs – a lot of people in our community are serious gearheads, and I just don’t find gear conversation stimulating, especially outdoors where I’d rather be paying attention to nature. As a result, I tend not to talk to other photographers when I’m on a shoot. And when I need to talk shop, I read Tim Grey or go to a Nikonians workshop or watch my video2brain lessons.

    • Tim Grey says:

      Tom – Well said! I too prefer to talk about the great subject in front of the lens, not the lens. In my role I naturally tend to get a lot of technical questions, but what I really love is the more philosophical conversations. So whenever you find your tripod next to mine, holler!

      Tim

  3. George Tuton says:

    I’m an introverted artist. Most photographers, I hazard to say, are not interested in shooting what I’m interested in.

  4. vidal a martinez says:

    i really like to speak to other photographers but i tend to agree with u that most do not .i also enjoy shooting with friends and discussing different techniques. riding home is usually fun.

  5. Larry Cowles says:

    Tin, I must say I have thought about this subject in the past. As I think about my last 4 to 5 photographic adventures, it was me that started the conversation. So, I would have to agree with you that most photogaphers are solitary. I guess there are only a few of us that speak up. When in a strange area, if I start a conversation, I can get information other locations. I’ve learned a lot and got a lot of great images I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise by starting conversations with other photographers.

  6. Scott Buckel says:

    I think it depends of the type of photographer, I have noticed that landscape photographers are more chatty than say wildlife photographers. To me the most chatty of all are the photographers that photograph portraits of people. For me I will usually acknowledge the other photographer with a Hello or something like that which can lead to a conversation but frequently it ends there.

  7. Jon Lesch says:

    Tim,
    I also am a very social person and often initiate conversation. I find most photographers are receptive to conversation. I have the feeling that those who immediately jump into equipment-oriented discussion are less conversant than those who are more interested in nature, locations, and more philosophical topics. Akin to talking about the weather. Sometimes I can’t remember if my lens is 16-35mm or 17-35mm, but I sure am verbal about the images it produces.

  8. Carolyn Godlis says:

    Hi Tim,
    Very interesting experiment. I like to talk to other photographers but, I’m always afraid they will ask me something and I haven’t a clue what they are talking about.
    But, I do like to take photos in a group of photographers and get an interesting conversation going. I think you can learn a lot in the field in a hands on situation.

  9. James D says:

    As a natural history photographer I tend to keep to myself but if approached by anyone I’ll strike up a conversation of sorts. It’s usually about the equipment I’m using that people will ask about to start the conversation or I’ll get asked something like “are you a photographer?” whilst standing there with a big tripod, camera and lens….hmm not sure what they were thinking!

    If another photographer is in the area, I’ll usually say hello and ask them what subjects they are shooting. Sometimes people will be eager to talk and other times they just ignore you.

    I, like others who have commented prefer to talk about the craft of photography rather than just equipment although I will sometimes ask a question about a piece of equipment they are using if I’m looking at purchasing the same bit of kit, just to see how it works for them.

    Tim, if I recognised you when out photographing, I would certainly approach you and start a conversation!!!!!

  10. Bill Brennan says:

    Like you, Tim, when out shooting, I tend to start the conversation by saying “hello” or some other pleasantry to acknowledge their presence; and then sometimes a conversation will start.

    When members of our photography club are on a field trip, they tend to be quiet while “working”. However, at our lunch break the conversation is fun, lively and animated.

    Next time you are in Laguna beach, forget the coffee and stop into Las Brisas for a margarita and conversation after shooting the surfers.

    Bill Brennan

  11. Susan Tiffen says:

    I was shooting on a mostly empty beach at sunset a few months ago and saw a man/photographer on the other end of the beach shooting. Went over to say hello. I’m social & what was the worst that could happen – he wouldn’t say hello? We talked, about where we shoot, our equipment, what we do & where we live. A nice ending to a mediocre photo shoot. We friended each other on Facebook & shared images!

  12. Pierre says:

    Tim,
    Me, I will speak with anyone who will listen. Although I do know when someone does not want to speak with me.
    I have noticed, that if I do not start a conversation, most photographers will not engage in conversation.
    When I do speak with a photographer, I usually ask them where they are from, what brought them to where we are, and how long have they been shooting. Rarely gear, unless they strike up that topic.
    It does pay to speak with them though – 2 weeks ago, it was frigid out (zero degrees wind chill), I was walking and shooting in Central Park. It was so empty I was shooting the park with no people in the images. I came across a young photographer braving the weather and struck a conversation with him. He was on holiday from England. We spoke for a while and had a great conversation. We exchanged emails and plan on checking in with each other exchanging thoughts and images – very cool.

    Pierre

    • Tim Grey says:

      Pierre,

      This is great! Thanks for sharing. And if you run into me in Central Park be sure to say hello, whether I’m there photographing or doing laps on the bike…

      Tim

  13. Joe Moran says:

    Tim;
    I agree , most photographers are quiet in nature surroundings, in respect to other photographers who may see something they don’t and do not want to interrupt them. When there is nothing happening, I will start a conservation just to be polite.
    I am enjoying your pixology magazine and your daily Q &A. Thanks , for sharing.
    Joe Moran

    • Tim Grey says:

      Joe – There’s definitely an element of keeping quiet for good reason. I wouldn’t, for example, want a photographer to strike up a conversation with me in a bird blind if it meant scaring off the birds. But my larger point, of course, was that photographers seem to have a tendency to be a bit solitary.

      Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the kind words!

      Tim

  14. Henry Heerschap says:

    Not sure what it is about me – maybe it’s the high-end gear I shoot with, but I frequently have people come up and ask for photographic advice. They’ll want to know what settings I’m using and what I’m pointing my lens at. Usually they’re beginners and haven’t been able to find anyone to “mentor” them. I help as much as I can without losing the shots I want and usually encourage them to find a local camera club. My own club is really making an effort this year to provide training to our members.

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