Playing 3rd Wheel to a Camera: 6 Tips for Partners of Photographers

The sky was still dark when we left our lodgings in northeast England. My husband, photographer Luke Collins, carefully drove the narrow hedge-lined roads. I closed my eyes for a few more precious moments of sleep. “Why am I doing this?” I wondered.

I’ve wondered this many times while partaking in Luke’s photo expeditions — during a bitterly cold winter sunrise in Utah, on a treacherous hike a razor’s edge from a raging river in Iceland, while climbing to a mountain lake at dusk in Colorado.

Finally, we arrive at our destination. It’s still dark, dewy, and cold. Luke’s in a hurry – a glint of light is visible on the ocean horizon. I try to keep up, sidestepping big black snails slithering across the path. I clamber along the shore of huge gray pebbles while Luke sets up his tripod.

Waves crash. Salty wind blows in my hair. Oranges and pinks and purples soon begin to flood the sky. Castle ruins appear in the distance. We’re all alone on this foreign shore, just us, the snails, the click of the camera, and this beautiful scene I would never have witnessed without my photographer husband. Worth it.

I have seen some beautiful stuff since I’ve met Luke – climbed a mountain of ice shoves during sunset on the shores of Lake Michigan, stood on some epic lookouts in our National Parks — Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Bryce Canyon — and chased bright green northern lights along the ocean. I’ve also waited in the car, reading guidebooks or playing Candy Crush for what can feel like hours. I’ve stood behind him — and a bunch of other tripod-toting photographers — while becoming incredibly hangry and impatient. Sometimes being the significant other of a photographer can be tough.

In fact, I blame photography for our first fight. Luke wasn’t even a professional photographer yet, didn’t even own a camera other than his phone. He liked to snap photos on our hikes, then go crazy on filter and Photoshop apps.

One afternoon, after a hike, we turned on a movie. I put my head on his lap and could feel the tendons in his arm muscles twitching with each and every edit of a photo. I tried to relax but felt so annoyed. He’s not even watching the movie with me! That evening I started to make dinner. He sat at the counter continuing to silently edit on his phone. I left the room and sat on the couch and picked up a book with tears in my eyes. In hindsight, that was a bit of an overreaction on my part. I could have used my words like an adult, but he felt really bad.

Since then, and a few other photography-related struggles I think even Ansel Adams and his wife had to work through, we’ve come up with some ground rules. And I’ve come up with some advice for those who sometimes feel like they’re playing third wheel to a camera.

Plan Ahead. Have a clear idea about what the day holds.

Just today, Luke texted me. He wants to photograph ice shoves at sunset. I planned on preparing a dinner that requires a bit of prep work and don’t get off work til later. ‘I’ll get dinner started!’ he texted back. Win/Win. I won’t be caught off guard when I come home. He gets husband points and gets to photograph the sunset!

Also, get your family events on the calendar as quick as can be!

Now that Luke has started photographing weddings and families – I get our priorities on the calendar as soon as I’m aware of them. If there’s a day marked off on our shared calendar — wedding, anniversary, one-year-old nephew’s birthday party — he knows not to book a thing.

Get Used to Modeling. Try to get over any camera shyness.

When your significant other gets that new camera, lens, or lighting equipment, prepare to strike a pose! I’ve deep-breathed my way through more than a few photo sessions. Sometimes it is liberating – shooting a picture with zero makeup and feeling lovely when your husband calls you pretty. Other times it takes forever for him to adjust settings, then he scrutinizes the image with a frown and scrunched face like it’s a terrible picture. You feel self-conscious and toss the cat at him to practice on.

Always Carry a Book. There’s no need for you to be bored.

I enjoy checking out beautiful scenery – for a certain amount of time. At particularly epic locations, your photographer is going to want an hour or two with the landscape and you’re going to get sick of following them around and looking at the same mountain and slow-moving clouds. So keep a book in the glove box. Take in the scenery between page-turning and let them do their thing.

Five Minute Warning. They deserve a little warning.

Sometimes they do their thing too long. Maybe you’re hungry or cold or ready to move on to the next item on the agenda. I give my man a, “Luuuuke.” And that’s his five-minute warning. He knows it’s his five-minute warning. After five minutes it’s, “Ok. You’re done.” And he knows he’s done.

Designate Specific Photo Times on Vacation. Vacations belong to you too!

Your photographer might try to turn your vacation into a photography expedition. And that’s great! They will take you to the most spectacular places, during times with the best lighting. Your Instagram will be impressive. But…sometimes you want to feel like you’re spending quality time with your fellow vacationer and checking out sites you want to see.

After Luke suffered the silent treatment following a very photo-heavy few days in Yosemite early in our relationship, we decided sunrise, sunset, and epic stops in between were photo times. The rest of the day was set aside for us — grabbing a beer, checking out a museum or gallery, or just being together, taking selfies on our phones like normal couples.

Designate Specific Editing Times. Because you need them at home too!

It’s easy to get wrapped up in a project. I love to sew, to write, to play video games. Now and then, Luke finds me and interrupts me, he wants to spend time with me. Likewise, it’s easy for him to get sucked into hours of editing at the computer, and sometimes I want attention too. Speak up and ask for that attention. You not only need that together time on vacation but at home too. And make sure household duties are not sacrificed for the consuming editing process. Carpets need to be vacuumed. Litter boxes need to be emptied. And episodes of Schitt’s Creek are not meant to be watched alone.

Luke’s a photographer, that’s his calling and his passion. And if you’ve read this far, I have a feeling your partner’s a hardcore photographer too. They will take you on some crazy, beautiful journeys — but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to lay down a few ground rules!

About the author: Sally Collins is the wife of Luke Collins, a landscape and nature photographer based in Door County, Wisconsin. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Luke’s work on his website, Twitter, 500px, and Instagram. This article was also published here.