The Who What Where When Why How of Doing a Photowalk

The Who What Where When Why How of Doing a Photowalk

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Recently I was privileged, for the first-time, to be a walk leader as part of the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. It was a great experience for me, one I plan to repeat again, and one in which I encourage all photographers of every skill level to participate. While a photowalk is something you may choose to do by yourself, I recommend taking some friends along with you. German photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) once said, “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” I agree! Let’s take a look at some FAQs concerning photowalks.

Group picture from World Wide Photowalk. The group is dressed in rain gear as it was raining at the beginning of our walk.

Group picture from the 2015 World Wide Photowalk I led. The participants are dressed in rain gear because it was raining when the event began.

Just what is a photowalk?

Wikipedia defines photowalk as: the act of walking with a camera for the main purpose of taking pictures of things that a photographer might find interesting. Obviously, but a photowalk can be so much more than that! If you invite friends or others who share your passion for photography to walk with you, it can be a social event. It can be a source of inspiration if you feel like you’re in a photography rut, and it can also be a time of learning new techniques and sharing your own knowledge and ideas with fellow photographers.

Look for shapes and colors

Take a close look for interesting shapes and colors.

Why should you attend a photowalk?

One of the main reasons to photowalk is to practice your skills as a photographer, and to stretch your skills by trying new things and learning from others. Photographers of all skill levels can benefit from a photowalk, as participants can observe and learn from those more advanced, or help and encourage those who are just beginning to develop their interest in cameras and photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new accessories or techniques; rather, practice using them on a photowalk! For example, perhaps you have never tried back button focusing before, so use the time on your walk to give it a try and have another photographer that uses it help you to get familiarized with this option.

If you are a member of a photography club, a photowalk can be a memorable outing. Some groups even set them up intentionally as a form of friendly competition. Photowalking can also be an opportunity to network with other photographers who share the same interest, or photography ambition as you.

The act of photowalking needn’t be just about the pictures –  in fact, one activity you might try is a photowalk without your camera. Sounds crazy, I know! As you see things that you would have photographed if you had your camera with you, discuss with others in the group how to photograph the object or scene. Sharing these opinions might help you see the subject more creatively.

After the walk, create a social media page, on sites such as Facebook or Flickr, where the group can share the images they captured during the walk. This is a way of staying in touch with the friends, new and old, you may have made during your walk.

Look for unique angles.

Unique angles create a striking image in an abandoned theater balcony.

What time of day is best?

This is a trick question, because any time of the day is a fine time for a photowalk. You just need to use the elements presented to you, as even the harsh mid-afternoon light can be an ideal time to shoot silhouettes. Or try a night walk in a safe downtown area of a local city, because that can be an opportune time to shoot some really awesome streetlight or headlight images. As American pioneer photographer, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) stated, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.”

Look for patterns

Patterns appear in aging structures. These three windows lend themselves to a balanced composition.

What are the best locations?

Anywhere there is something interesting to photograph can be a perfect spot for a photowalk, from a city park to one’s own backyard. If you are organizing a more formal photowalk for a group, be sure to choose a venue or area that is spacious enough to handle the number of participants, without making them feel crowded. Look for a location that might present a wide variety of photo ops such as: macro, landscape, architecture, portraiture, still life or even wildlife. Keep the walk to a reasonable time and distance (two hours of shooting is sufficient for a photowalk). Some ideas for locations are:

  • A short sidewalk or street loop in a city or town
  • A city or public park
  • A hike in the woods
  • Walk a long a river or lakeshores
  • A zoo
  • Your own neighborhood

Whichever location you choose for your walk, try to do some pre-shoot scouting, either via internet or with a personal visit, in order to be aware of the area. If you are leading the walk, try to find out as much information about the area before-hand as you can, maybe even enlisting a local guide to show the group the most picturesque spots or points of interest. Remember to give participants maps or other heads-up information so they can make the best use of their time.

Dramatic details can be found when looking beyond the obvious subject.

What if the weather is bad?

Check the weather forecast before you leave for your walk, and be prepared for adverse weather conditions. If you are leading a walk, making plans for an alternative indoor location could make for a more pleasant experience for everyone participating.

What equipment should you carry?

Well, of course, the most important equipment is a camera! Do you need a high-end camera for a photowalk? Absolutely not! Your camera can range from an iPhone to a point-and-shoot or a DSLR. Challenge yourself to shoot with a limited amount of equipment, and you may find this helps stimulate some very creative shooting.

Pack light, because doing a photowalk with a heavy pack of equipment on your back will not only get old quickly, but will also limit your mobility. Leave the bulky camera bag at home, and take only what you can carry along in your pockets:

  • Camera: Try walking with just one camera and one lens.
  • Tripod: A sturdy light-weight tripod or monopod can do double-duty as a photography tool and as a walking stick.
  • Batteries: Make sure you have a fully charged battery in your camera, or carry an extra in your pocket.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths: As you will be walking with your lens cap off most of the time, carrying a lens- cleaning wipe in your pocket is helpful to keep the lens dust-free.
  • Extra memory card: If you plan to shoot a large number of images, a spare memory card often comes in handy.
  • Business cards: As photowalks are a great networking tool, be sure to carry business cards with you if you have them.
  • Photography vest: This option allows you to carry a few more items on the walk, such as filters or even possibly a second lens if you feel so inclined.
On a fall Photowalk along a river was a great locations for reflections

On a fall Photowalk, a spot along a river was a great locations for reflections

What should you photograph?

Whatever subject you are drawn to as you photowalk, try to look past the obvious and seek out details. Find interesting angles and perspectives to capture images of subjects you’ve never noticed before. Look for objects with unique colors, shapes, textures, patterns or reflections. Challenge yourself and/or your group members to look for certain subject matter, such as: photograph anything red. Also, by all means if you are a walk leader, take a group picture on location so you can share later on social media!

Look for objects that might tell a story about the location of your walk.

Look for objects that tell a story about the location of your walk.

So get out there and walk

Walking is great exercise. Photowalking is also valuable exercise for camera-buffs. Have some fun and experiment with some new techniques, while networking with other photographers.

Have you ever participated in an organized photowalk? If so, what kind of subjects did you shoot, and were you pleased with the results? Please share your experience and pictures in the comments below.

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Bruce Wunderlich is a photographer from Marietta, Ohio. He became interested in photography as a teenager in the 1970s, and has been a passionate student of the art ever since. Bruce recently won Photographer’s Choice award at the 2014 Shoot the Hills Photography Competition in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio. He has also instructed local classes in basic digital photography. Check out Bruce’s photos at Flickr