During the walk on Saturday, I saw a comment made on our G+ Events page that kind of stood out to me. It read along the lines of this:
“Limiting the walks to just 50 people seems a bit elitist to me.”
After I shook my head and thought, “Geesh, there’s one in every crowd,” I did think that there might be some people who are just curious why we have a limit at all, so I thought it might be worth giving you an insight into how that limit came about.
When I first had the idea for this worldwide event, I did a lot of research, including talking extensively with Jeff Revell of PhotoWalkPro.com (he’s done a lot work on finding “the right” number of people for a walk), and Jeff recommended that between 35 to 40 would be ideal, but whatever I do make sure I do not to go over 50 people. After the very first walk I ever led years ago, I can tell you without reservation — Jeff was right on the money (and 50 is on the high-end for sure). Here’s a few of the reasons we think 50 is the right maximum number:
(1) I want each walk to be a quality experience for both the walker and the leader
When I lead a walk, I want to meet everyone participating in my local walk, and believe it or not, in just two hours with 50 people, that’s not as easy as it sounds. For example, you’re only walking for 120 minutes total, which leaves you less than two minutes to talk to each person, but that’s only if you spent the entire time talking, and never took a single photo during the walk. The people who volunteer to lead walks do it to promote and grow their local photographic community and to make new friends along the way. Having a group size that’s manageable, and getting a chance to meet the walkers is as important to them as it is to me. The quality of the experience for everybody is that important.
(2) Believe it or not, finding a restaurant or bar to willingly accommodate 50 people is harder than I ever imagined
You’d think restaurants or pubs would be falling over-themselves to have you deliver a large group of people to their business, but that’s often not the case. I’ve been turned down by restaurant after restaurant (including ones in Paris) that either didn’t have enough staff, or enough seats, or just didn’t want to be bothered with that size of a crowd coming in all at once. I can’t imagine how many doors would close if it were 75 or 100 people.
(3) The more people you have walking in a large group, the more potential you have for someone to get lost in the shuffle
Ask anyone who has led a walk —- keeping an eye on your walkers, making sure they follow the route, and making sure everybody stays together (and stays out of trouble) and winds up where they’re supposed to be isn’t as easy as it seems for the leader (which is why we’re so careful about who we allow to lead a walk). Think of how tricky it is to manage 50 people in a meeting room, then take those same 50 people and let them loose on a busy street. Now, give them all cameras. See what I mean? It’s kind of like putting kittens back in a box (and the less kittens you have, the easier it is on everybody). :)
(4) It’s supposed to be intimate
It’s supposed to be a small group getting together to share their passion of making images. Big crowds are intimidating to a lot of people (imagine 100 people coming down a city street — it looks more like a mob, right?) so keeping things small keeps the intimacy, and the feel of being a part of something very big, while still being very small and friendly. I got to sit at lot of people’s lunch table after my walk, chatting and sharing photos. That’s very important to me, but with a larger group, I would have probably had a chance to talk to less than half of the folks, if that. We want a small, fun group. Not just a big crowd.
(5) When a walk reaches 50 photographers, someone can apply to lead another walk in the same town
We only limited the number of photographers in a walk — but not the number of walks in a particular area. If a walk fills up (or even gets close to filling up), and we get a request from someone who wants to lead another walk in that city, we add that walk, which expands the number of open spots by another 50 (and there are numerous cities that have numerous walks, at different times, like the two walks I participated in, in Paris).
I hope that gives you some insight into why we limit our walks to 50 people per walk. We do it to make your photo walk experience a fun and memorable one, and to make it manageable enough so your leader will actually want to lead another walk next year in a town near you.