What do I look for on a Photo Walk? Part 1 - City Walk

What do I look for on a Photo Walk? Part 1 – City Walk


I am by no means an expert but I know a thing or two about photography. I make a living as a photographer and I work on personal projects all the time. I could not stress enough the importance of personal projects, photo walks, hanging out with other photographers and sharing your work, etc…  But this was the subject of another recent article.

Photographers have different visions. Some of us are more interested in details while others have wide angle vision. I am definitely in the first category. I am much more interested in details, I rarely shoot an entire building but I concentrate on details such as door knobs, peeling paint, textures, etc.

No matter what your style is, when you are out on a photo walk, there will be ‘triggers’ around you that will stir an emotion and prompt you to click the shutter.

The most common ‘trigger’ will be the light falling on an object or a scene. It will catch your eye and you’ll want to capture it with your camera. More often than not the result will be disappointing because your camera will not always be able to render the scene the way your eyes experience it. The moment is often so fleeting that you won’t have time to make the necessary adjustments to get the best picture possible. That’s okay, keep trying. Sometimes the best shot are the so called ‘dumb luck’ shots. Don’t spend too much time fumbling with your gear, just shoot!

Colors are another common trigger. Your eye will be drawn to contrasting colors. A person in a bright outfit, a red door, rust on a surface. Follow your eye, take your time to absorb the scene, move to shoot it from different angles.

Lines and patterns are another obvious draw in photography. I see them all the time. It can be a roadway, railroad tracks, a power line, a set of stairs or a simple railing. Lines and repeating patterns will draw your attention and can make interesting images.

Line and patterns can make interesting images.

People! When I am out in the streets shooting, my favorite subjects are everyday people. Be patient and observe the world around you. There are at least two different approaches to people photography: the candids and the street portraits. Combine both and you tell a story. I used to only shoot from a distance with the telephoto lens and I love those images. Find a great location. A street corner with some interesting backdrop (it can be a colorful wall, an amusing billboard, a spot with some interesting lighting, etc) and just wait for the scene to take place. If you are patient enough you will go home with a treasure!

Candid street photography often means finding the stage and waiting for the action to take place.

I recently started interacting with people in the streets and asking them if I could take their picture, it’s very intimidating but also addicting. Yes, you will get some rejections but a smile can go a long way. Be honest, people like a compliment and most don’t mind having their picture taken. Be friendly and respectful: “Cool outfit, I love it!  Would you mind if I took your picture?” Show them the resulting image on the back of your camera, offer a business card, they may want a copy later. I know I would! Street performers are also great subjects to photograph and they usually love the attention, don’t be shy!

Street portraits. Starting a conversation with strangers and asking if you can make a portrait can be intimidating but also very rewarding. This gentleman was enjoying a 'warm' February day. He had a stack of bibles next to him which caught my attention. We talked for 15 minutes (I mostly listened) and it made his day!

Reflections are another one of my favorite things to look for when out on a photo walk in an urban environment. I love shooting contrasting architectures or elements such as an old buildings or trees reflecting in a modern glass structure.

Reflections are everywhere around you when you walk in a city.

Collections of things are great to look for and photograph. They are really easy to find at markets. Items that are stacked, fruits and vegetable displayed in neat rows can make great subject!

Market days offer many opportunities. I particularly enjoy photographing collections of things.

The list could go on and on and I would love to hear about the things you look for when out on a city photo walk. One thing to remember: Just get out and shoot! One camera, one lens and HAVE FUN!

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Neil June 14, 2011 12:23 pm

    I theory, it isn't the photographer that needs to release, it is the publisher. It's just that most publishers won't purchase the shot unless there's a release that comes with it. There are cases where photographers sell their photos without a release, but this is rare unless it is being used for editorial only.

    As for photowalks, I've been on a couple in my town and find them to be a bit overwhelming. I enjoy the interaction with other photographers, but they're generally not great photo opportunities. I keep those special walks between me and some closer friends.

  • Rahela June 12, 2011 11:18 pm

    Thank you for this article!

    I love photo walks, but tend to be rushed and the result still isn't satisfactory for me. :(
    Also, I'm very shy about taking people photographs - like Richa says, hesitation and fear and my natural shyness. :(

    My best results are when I take these walks alone (which is rare)... Here is my modest photo contribution to this topic:


  • Richa June 10, 2011 01:49 pm

    I like your article very much. It is easy to understand. People photography part is especially helpful for me. I am very interested in people and street photography but because of hesitation and fear I don't bring my camera out from the cover. And because of this I always miss some great shots. I hope I will be able to interact with people directly in near future. I think I will have to read this article many times for that. Thanks.

  • Valerie jardin June 10, 2011 09:13 am

    Some great comments and images! Thanks for sharing everyone! I read a couple of comments regarding model releases. If you do people photography for editorial purposes only or as so called 'fine art', there is no need for a release (just like a newspaper can publish your photo without permission). You do need a model release signed by the subject and a witness if you plan on using the image for stock (if the image is used to sell or market a product or service.) I hope this helps!

  • Valarie June 10, 2011 08:51 am

    I'm a little fuzzy on the whole photographing people subject... if you want to do anything with your photos, don't you have to make sure they sign a release form? OR can you do anything you want with people photos if they are taken out in the public? Just want to cover the legal aspects of selling art or using art of people, etc.

  • Corinne June 10, 2011 07:44 am

    Great vertical (lines and patterns) shot of the building/red fire escape ladders, and the complementary cloud shapes in the blue sky to the right!

    Also, it's great that you're comfortable asking/taking shots of people on the streets. I still find that hard to do/ask for. I think some people are uncomfortable having their photos taken. I'm probably overly sensitive to this concern. I agree that showing someone the shot afterwards can really help make someone feel more comfortable. I think your point about gravitating more toward people who might enjoy the attention (and being sent a copy of their photo) is a great thought. For some silly reason, I hadn't thought of this! Thanks.


  • Prikshit Gupta June 10, 2011 05:36 am

    Nice Article...

    I am a hobbist ... still shoot with a point and shoot... hope to upgrade soon :)
    Few Shots from my first photowalk walk @bangalore,India ,tried to capture diversity of the one of most oldest parts in the town.

    please feel free to criticize or advice :)

  • Nancy June 10, 2011 05:15 am

    I recently went on a photo walk with a fellow photographer friend. We took the same shots but realized we have totally different perspectives. I like the telephoto and she is more wide angle. I think out of hundreds of pictures we took 2 or 3 exactly the same but the rest were totally different. I'm still new at photography and this was such a great learning experience. Now if I can talk to the people and take pictures of strangers.

  • rakesh June 10, 2011 04:02 am

    Nice one,
    what i follow in street photography is to keep the tweaking of camera settings to minimum. cuz u never know when an oppurtunity is thrown at you, and there will be lapse in tyme due to tweaking. thus an oppurtunity may be lost....

  • Carol Stark June 10, 2011 02:16 am

    I just went on a Photowalk at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I found myself drawn to photographing snippets of artworks that involved music and ended up with a black-and-white collage:


  • Virginia Folkman June 10, 2011 01:59 am

    Curious, how is everyone handling getting a release from the folks you get permission to photograph and the ones you don't (from a distance) that have obviously recognizable people in them that you may want to use for publication or promotion at a later date? Any insight would be helpful in this tricky area.

    Thanks !!

  • Paul Henman June 8, 2011 11:53 am

    Great article!
    I started a photo walking group in Toronto about 18 months ago and it's wonderful to see how it's grown - some walks we have as many as 50 photographers as we explore the streets and parks. It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways people find to capture an event or scene, and often how many things I've missed as I've been busy wrangling the group or shooting myself. You can find the Toronto Photo Walks group on Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontophotowalks/ -- if anyone is in the GTA just join the group and come along!

  • Nicolas Boivin June 7, 2011 11:19 pm

    Très bon article Valérie, lorsque je sors pour une photowalk, je cherche aussi les détails, mais j'aime beaucoup photographier les personnes en noir et blanc pour mettre plus d'emphase sur leur attitude, leur personnalité.

    For those of you not speaking French, I'm also interested in details and people photography when doing a photowalk. When photographing people, I mostly shoot B&W because it gives more strenght to the attitude and personnality of the person.

  • Kurt Anno June 7, 2011 11:05 am

    Love the City Walks!!

  • Marlo June 6, 2011 07:58 am

    I recently found the group 100Strangers on Flickr. Check out 100strangers.com, too. I started my 100 strangers project over a month ago and it has been a great adventure. Getting turned down stinks, but the people I've met along with just talking to them about what they like and do more than makes up for the disappointment of being rejected.

  • Luciano Alexandre June 6, 2011 06:00 am

    I photographed in this way for the company I work for.


  • Luciano Alexandre June 6, 2011 05:58 am

    I photographed in this way for the company I work for.


  • Holly June 5, 2011 12:39 am

    Thanks for a great article and some great advice. I'm impatiently waiting to get out on a photo walk, have wanted to do one for some time, but weather always seems to be against me on my days off =/ I do hope to get out soon though and with these tips it should be that much more fun! Thanks again!

  • Matthias June 4, 2011 10:32 am

    I love photowalks, and i go as often as possible.

    Your suggestions are spot on - they describe exactly what i look for on my walks. Apart from people.
    Sadly, the legal situation regarding photos showing people here in germany is so restrictive that you basically cannot do it.
    You can actually take the photos but, apart from a few exceptions, are not allowed to show them publicly without consent by the person(s) in the picture.

  • Alan Schantz June 4, 2011 08:34 am

    Wonderful suggestions, especially one camera - one lens. Keep it simple, just look for shots and take them. Don't get caught up with your equipment. I love what my 5D mark II can do but my Canon S90 is always in my pocket, hence has taken some of my best photos. Having any camera with you means you won't miss great shots that present themselves all the time.

  • Perry June 4, 2011 04:28 am

    On city walks, I look up or down but never ahead, all while avoiding getting hit by cars.
    Here are links to a couple of my city walk photos.

  • Kurt Anno June 4, 2011 03:24 am

    This is my absolute favorite thing to do. I do it as often as possible. I love all the things you mentioned, but especially the people. Engaging them in conversation, later tells the story. I ask their name and what they do. I love the interaction and makes the shot mote impotent to me. Great article!

  • Aparna E. June 4, 2011 02:42 am

    I love photo walks. That's how I learned to use my camera. I always look for cool angles, lines, patterns in buildings, structures or streets. I love reflections, distortions and trying cool framing techniques. There's so much to see out there!! :D


  • Amy Osborne June 4, 2011 02:07 am

    I loved reading this article. I am currently enrolled in a museum field study course and I have found myself taking photos of reflections in buildings and anything that catches my eye, although most things are structural. I have found by looking up, I capture some great photos.

    Thank you,
    Amy Osborne

  • ScottC June 4, 2011 01:49 am

    I love photo walks, I'll even drive a ways to get somewhere "new" I can walk :)

    From a tunnel with a pedestrian sidewalk:


  • Claudia June 4, 2011 01:36 am

    My husband and I are both photographers, so you could say we have a naturally built-in mini-Photo Walk. We always have a good time and we always come home with something that surprises us, which is great fun. We also have different perspectives - he sees the world in wide angle and I see it in telephoto, so we can be standing near to one another and capture very different images. I always say "it's in the details". http://claudiaward.smugmug.com/Cars/Southampton-Antique-Auto-Show/14158556_6FavJ#1044738575_xgaEA

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 4, 2011 12:25 am


    I love chosing a prime city location and going on a Photo Walk either alone or with a group of like minded Photographers. I tend to concentrate on architectural detail, leading lines and perhaps trying to find a story. I will spend a long time at one spot, looking for different points of view, orientations and elevations.

    Here are three examples of the Convention Center in San Diego after a rain. Same place but all unique! I guess patience helps - dont just walk and snap, take your time and take in the city...it is supposed to be fun afterall!