Photography as Couples Therapy

Soul Consoling Tower, Manzanar, CA

Our good friend, and photography teacher, Jack Graham stayed with us the other day as he drove from his home in Oregon down to Arizona.  We had a great time.  One comment Jack made really stuck with me.  He said, “You are really lucky that you and Mary share a passion for photography and can spend so much time together.”  I started thinking about how many times we have thought about having a “similar” hobby so that we could do things together.  Before photography, we really had not found one that we both really loved and really shared.  Some couples play golf together or snow ski, or have other passions that are especially related to partnerships, like rock climbing and mountaineering.  We have photography.

I would even suggest that photography has strengthened our marriage and improved our relationship.  There was a recent study that showed that couples who experienced new things or learned new things together had stronger marriages.  Photography makes this happen for us in two ways.  First, we have traveled to many new places and plan to travel to even more.  We would not have gone to places like Monument Valley or the Columbia River Gorge before our photography habit.  Second, we are continuously learning new techniques for making better photographs from workshops, books, magazines, and on-line.  These two activities have created a great stimulus for individual and joint growth.  We share new ideas, argue about different points of view, critique each other’s images, and together, make each other better photographers.

We have naturally carved out certain niches and we each have our own style.  This was not planned at all, but emerged from what we each like to do and see and what we enjoy shooting.  It just worked out for us that our styles are complimentary so that when we go out on a photo shoot, we capture very different perspectives of the same subjects.

Manzanar Monument by Peter
Manzanar Monument Ribbons by Mary
Scarf left at Manzanar Monument by Mary

If you have not noticed yet, I love the big landscape shots and love to use strong foreground and enormous depth of field, when I can.  Mary tends to the smaller landscape shots, macros, flowers, and the details.  She also “sees” natural abstracts that are just incredible.  It’s not that I can’t do macros or I do not know how, I just don’t get that rush from doing them.  I do think Mary has a more artistic flair than I do and I have more of a realist point of view.

Mary did not have her wide-angle lens, so she made this very unique image of the Mobius Arch in the Easter Sierra
Peter made the "classic" Mobius Arch image

There are only two things that sometimes get in our way – one is equipment and two is choosing trips and subjects and planning and executing on photography sessions.  First, equipment.  The good news is we have the exact same camera, a Canon 5D Mark II so that we can share lenses and any other back-up equipment like tripods, mono-pods, flashes, and filters.  The bad news is, we have to share lenses, etc.  We have recently solved this by having each of us own our own short and medium telephoto lenses.  I believe peace has been restored.  The other equipment issue is that we have one computer for processing photos.  So after a long trip or weekend, we both want to get on the computer to process, but we can only do it, one at a time.  We do a good job of sharing, but there are moments where each of us will call out, “are you done, yet?”

The second issue is planning executing on our photo shoots.  Because we “see” differently, we do not always agree on where we should go or how long we should stay.  One of us may get “obsessed” with a particular shot and will want to stay longer than the other.  There are also times when we want to and should “stick together” – like being in the middle of White Sands National Monument, where we could get lost very quickly and never find each other and lose our car.  And there are other times when we can split up safely like being in the Bristlecone Pine forest, where there is little chance of us getting lost and we have plenty of people around.  Communicating our own wants and expectations before the shoot and while engaged AND, being very open to each other’s opinion while we are in the field is essential.   Both of us also understand that the Peter and Mary team is more important than our individual needs.  For example, the other day I wanted to stay out longer in San Francisco and was willing to get stuck in the dark and cold four miles from civilization and just walk back to out hotel.  Mary was not up for it and I knew to push her into it was not a good idea for her or me.  Then there was the time that I “accidentally” pushed her to hike 11 miles in Idyllwild, CA (on her birthday) when we only expected to do a little 2.5 mile hike.  I have heard about this one incident a time or two.

Bristlecone Pine by Peter
Close-up of Bristlecone Pine by Mary

In the end, photography has enriched our lives and our marriage and we can see how our future will play out as we travel the world experiencing new places and people and recording it all on an ever-increasing numbers of mega-pixels.  To see more of our photographs, go to

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