Nikon Learn & Explore

Partner Up for Better Pictures

Shooting excursions with a friend can have technical and creative benefits

Not long ago we learned that two members of the extended Nikon family—Bill Durrence, Nikon School instructor, freelance photographer, workshop leader, and Bob Watts, Nikon District Account Manager for the New England area—have a 20-year history of taking to the road on their off days for photo shooting expeditions of two, three or more days. Both were quick to point out the benefits of what we began to call Bill and Bob's Excellent Buddy System. We were almost as quick to start taking notes.

Here's what they had to say on the subject of not going it alone when you go out to shoot:


The Same, Only Different

First, and probably foremost: it's best to join up with someone who's into photography as much as you are. "You don't want someone wanting to be elsewhere, or who is impatient as you search out angles and perspectives," Bill says. "And, of course, you want someone you're comfortable with. The test of that is if you need to talk all the time."

"We're very accommodating to each other," Bob adds, "There's a lot of, 'Hey, let's pull over here,' and we do. If you're with others who aren't into shooting, it won't work that way. A shared passion for photography means more and better pictures."

Both photographers like the idea of partnering with someone who will often make different decisions about what constitutes photo opportunities. "Someone who looks at the world differently will open things up for you," Bill says. "Bob and I will often stop on a country road, get out of the car and head off in different directions. We've each seen something that looks good, but it's a different something."

What about different methods of operation, we wondered. "Bill is very meticulous and precise," Bob says. "He takes his time, and that's something I needed to learn because I'm a bit more of a run-and-gun person. I took the picture and moved on, and sometimes it's good to sit and experience the scene and the light. I learned a lot by watching how Bill would shoot."

"To me the biggest lesson is the idea of walking in someone else's shoes," Bill says. "It's seeing what he saw that I didn't, and maybe that opens my eyes to new things. Take a group of photographers and stand them all in the same spot, looking at the same thing, and they're all going to get different photographs."

Learning Curves

For Bill and Bob, the partnership is pretty much about visual perception and observation, not verbal learning. They are often in sight of each other and pick up ideas by watching each other's subject choices and, sometimes, seeing the results. "I've thought, Hey, that's kind of cool," Bill says, "and I'll shoot it too, but it won't be the same picture. I'll interpret the subject differently. The benefit of what we do is not in the skill set, but in the reaction to the world."

But level of skill is an important factor. Both men agree that if you go out with someone whose skills aren't up to yours, the experience can turn into work. "Bob and I will talk about things," Bill says, "but they're likely to be technical things about newer gear that he's learned from his product training. With us it's more sharing than teaching." And that sharing is mostly rather casual. As Bill points out, "Often in the car, leaving a location, there's 'Did you see this?' or 'I tried to do that.' We do show each other the photos we've taken, but it's not a formal thing; more like, 'Look at how this worked out,' and one of us will turn the camera so the other can see."


And Share Alike

A great and practical benefit of the buddy system will come into play for you if you and your partner in pixels are fans of the same camera system. When that happens, there's a good chance you won't have to carry every piece of equipment you'd like to have with you, and that you might, in fact, need. When you share, you lighten the load. "One of us may have a more exotic piece of equipment," Bill says, and in fact, he and Bob often swap the wide zoom for the Nikon 1 cameras, the 1 NIKKOR 
6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 VR.

Another benefit of sharing gear is that it can be a test drive for equipment you'll want to own.

Making Plans

Because of their busy schedules and often limited time for shooting,  Bill and Bob like to have...well, let's call it a flexible itinerary.  

Bob, who tends to suggest the areas and locations that will be of interest to both of them, is the navigator, the man with the maps and the GPS.

Maps? "GPS today is cool, and we use it," Bob says. "It gives us a lot of freedom to wander—you're heading in a direction and you say, "That road looks good, let's go down there. You can wander and not get lost. But for me, half the fun of going on one of our expeditions is the prep for it, and I love looking at my Delorme maps to choose sites, scenes and routes."

Bob not only looks, he notes as well—places, routes, times of year and times of day for the best light. "The nicest light is always early morning and late in the day, and we've had some long days on these trips, getting up before sunrise to be ready to shoot when the sun comes up, and then staying late at a location for twilight and beyond."

Generally Bob and Bill's travels are idea-driven. Though they allow time for spontaneity and exploration, they always have a specific direction and destination. Often that destination is a place where artists lived or created their art. It's an interest and a fascination both men share. "It could be painters back in the 1800s, like the Hudson River School artists," Bob says. "We once went to the Adirondacks, then swung down to Lake George to find the site where Georgia O'Keeffe spent the summers with her husband."

Bob's highlighted maps most often reflect his interest in locations that have artistic and cultural significance. "If you can combine your photography travels with your hobbies, interests or just your curiosity about something, it's all that much better."

Beyond the Image

"Years ago I scouted a location in the Florida Keys a day before a workshop I'd be teaching," Bill says. "When the people arrived I told them that I was sorry, I hadn't anticipated this, but they were going to have to do some wading, and they couldn't do it barefoot. But there was a discount shoe place near the hotel, and we'd stop on the way so they could get cheap pairs of shoes or sneakers. And one of the women said, 'Wow, if I'd known there was going to be shoe shopping involved, I'd have signed up a lot sooner!'"

"It was a lesson I learned: yes, we all want to go out and take pictures, but we also want to go somewhere and have a nice dinner, maybe visit a gallery, look at artwork. We all want to experience more than the photography, and I think the photography is better if we do that. The travels that Bob and I do are also about more than photography. They're about friendship, about hanging out, having a meal, sharing stories, talking about what we're seeing."

There are job benefits as well. Bill's experiences and images add to his Nikon School presentations, while Bob shows retail clerks real-world photos that demonstrate what Nikon gear is capable of.

And, in November, 2014, the Nikon Photo Gallery at Hunt's Photo & Video in Melrose, Massachusetts, featured images from Bill and Bob's 20 years of photography trips. "It was nice to have that little show together," Bob says. "In the age of seeing images on screens, it was something special to see our photographs printed, matted, framed and displayed."

We made a final note—"Photography is the framework for friendship"—and thanked them for sharing their stories.