When possible, I prefer to photograph alone. I think most photographers do. But when I am truly exploring remote areas, far from trails, roads and rescue, I prefer to have a partner. But choosing who to ask to come on a wilderness trip is not easy.
I have a very select group of friends I travel with. It has taken many trips to get comfortable with this select group. Some of my partners have literally saved my trips. Once I was on a trip where it just poured rain for days. If I had been alone, I would have packed it out early. But my partner was more than happy hanging out, hiking in the rain, reading books. The final day of that trip dawned gorgeous, and one of the images from that day ended up being on the cover of one of my books!
The single most important thing is self sufficiency. You can’t focus on serious photography and on taking care of your own well being if you’re worried about the skills or health of your partner. Their skills should equal or surpass your own skills in the mountains.
The next is personality. You want someone who is low key, adaptable and self entertaining! Being on a trip with a photographer can sometimes feel like a solo trip to your partner. Getting up early, staying out late is the norm. It is not uncommon on non travel days for my partner and I to split ways for the entire day. Find people who like to pick berries, look for wildlife, read books, take tundra naps or bag small peaks on their own. You may notice I didn’t say, someone who likes to take photographs. I honestly prefer to go with non “serious” photographers, unless I am working as a guide.
You want to make sure you can and want to spend lots of close up time with this person. Some trips just suck. You fly in and then a storm comes and your tent bound for days. Spending that much time with someone can really test a friendship. It is not uncommon for couples who embark on major expeditions together to split up at the end of the journey.
If you think you have found the perfect partner, make sure you go on a least one shake down trip before the big expedition. Everyone likes to do things differently, from setting up camp, cooking and safety. Make sure that your partners understand that it is a photo trip and though you may have a destination you want to reach or even a peak to bag, the plans can often change because of the weather and the light, getting the shot trumps everything but safety.
Once you go on a few trips with someone you really click with, you become almost dependant on them. I plan many of my trips with certain partners in mind. I know what they like, the type of terrain, the scenery and the difficulty level.
One final note. Talk to your partner about having their picture taken. Some people love it, others don’t. My trips aren’t people photo shoots, I am after the wilderness, the mountains. But it is important to capture those “behind the scenes’ shots of the trip. This makes for a better story later, pleases the sponsors and may even bring in a few extra bucks. Plus, partners are usually stoked to have a fantastic image of them on the trip to remember it by, just make sure your willing to have the camera pointed at yourself too.