Shooting as a Couple by Phil Starkey
As much as your non-photographer partner may completely appreciate the beautiful images that you produce and how you capture the dawn, the one thing that they probably hate the most is being woken up with a three am alarm in the summer and listening to you stumbling around the dark and falling over with one leg in your trousers whilst trying to get dressed to go out on a shoot on your own.
Thankfully this is something that Alan and I don’t have to worry about as we both are landscape photographers in our own right and are equally driven to get out there into the natural world to photograph it in all of its glory at stupid hours of the day/night. When that early alarm goes off we enthusiastically leap out of bed to get ready (or possibly if one of us is rather sluggish we’ll give the other a kick to get motivated), there’s shared flask and snack box duties being done whilst breakfast is being munched, and someone to double-check you’ve got all of your gear with you.
Once in the car, there’s the opportunity to discuss locations (usually on Dartmoor as that’s our area), and whilst Alan drives I tend to look out for mist pockets or anything else weather-related that might be of interest to us photographically, including any changes that may affect our choice of destination. After parking up and when we’ve walked out to our chosen place to photograph, we generally always split up. This is mainly due to not wanting to come away with the same images, and also because we both appreciate a bit of peace and quiet whilst we’re working and like to take in the surroundings without disturbance, to feel the environment.
Alan and I see things quite differently when photographing and so splitting off from one another helps to retain that individuality and stop our styles from merging, which would inevitably happen if we were side by side all of the time. It’s difficult not to be influenced by someone that you spend so much time with. Having said that though, there are the moments when one of us may be unsure of a shot, and so being able to hop over, politely interrupt, discuss it and get someone else to have a look at and constructively critique your shot can sometimes be a bit of a godsend and really helps with problem-solving. In circumstances like that, it enables you to come away with a shot that you’re happy with rather than having to leave after the shoot empty-handed and frustrated.
We always tend to stay within sight of each other when possible which of course has safety benefits, something that should always be thought about when out on Dartmoor. If either of us slips or falls the other is there within minutes or seconds to help if necessary. Another big benefit is kit sharing. We have a mixture of equipment between us and so if one doesn’t have something, for example, a neutral density filter, it’s a quick holler across a Tor to see if the other one has it. If so, it gets borrowed and hey presto photographic problem solved within seconds with no missing the light or the opportunity for a shot. Quite handy that. Plus it means that with sharing a mixture of kit between us, neither of us is carrying an overloaded kit bag/backpack either.
After a few hours of shooting and when we’re satisfied that we have what we want, we reconvene and walk back across the moorland together to where we parked up. Out comes the flask and snacks and we discuss how the morning went, how happy we feel about what we got, and have a good look at each other images on the screens of our cameras.
There are many benefits to shooting together as a couple, least of all the continuous emotional support and motivational boosts. However, you do have to watch that you keep your individuality and express yourself truly through your own images, otherwise it really is very easy to become one in the same person stylistically.
At present, Alan and I have quite a happy balance and as long as we continue to keep check of ourselves it should remain so. The biggest bonus of it all though is that you get to go out and gallivant with your best friend at all times of the day and night and in the wilds as an adult. There’s not many of us who can say that is there.
Phil is a specialist in land and seascapes. She gives talks and teaches landscape photography independently through her workshops, and also in conjunction with her partner Alan Howe. Phil sells her images through galleries and her website and has also exhibited.
Alan provides his land and seascapes images to a number of well-known bodies including The National Trust. He has had publications of his work in magazines and offers workshops and talks independently and in tandem with Phil.