The Zen of Photowalking
When Scott first started the Guest Blog segment he told me that I was going to be on the hook for one in the future. I figured it was no big deal, I mean hey, I blog every day, right? What could be so hard?
Then he started rolling out the parade of superstar personalities that reads like a Who's Who of the Photography world. I wasn't really sure how I was going to contribute anything of value after the likes of Vincent Versace, Joe McNally, Moose Peterson, and so on.
Then the other day Scott and I were talking about the plans for his World Wide Photowalk and I knew I finally had my in. Having hosted several photowalks I can say with some confidence that I know my way around these events. With that being said, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what makes a photowalk so special and how you can maximize your experience when participating in one.
Most photographers have walked, camera in hand, through unfamiliar spaces, shooting their way along their route. So what makes this any different from a photowalk? It's the social aspect of sharing the experience that makes photowalking so unique. Many of the photowalks that I have hosted were attended by complete strangers but they all had two things in common, a love of photography and a desire to share their passion with like-minded people. I was reminded of this fact during my last photowalk in Georgetown.
One of the things I enjoy most as leader of the walk is spending time meeting all of my fellow walkers along the way. As I worked my way through the crowd of clicking shutters, one of my fellow photowalkers stopped me and thanked me for hosting the event. He went on to explain that most of his contact with other photographers is via the Internet. He reads blogs and participates in some on-line forums but had never spent any real face-to-face time with other photographers. Just getting a chance to talk about gear and software and techniques was reward enough for him.
For others, it's a chance to explore new places with the comfort of being in a group. Setting out in an urban environment by yourself to shoot can sometimes be pretty intimidating. Being among other camera jockeys can help remove inhibitions and really help get the creation juices flowing. Being part of a large group allows you the freedom to explore your surroundings with a certain amount of anonymity. It's also quite a blast to move through the streets with 40 or 50 other photographers like a swarm of paparazzi on the hunt for Brad and Angelina.
Preparing For The Walk
So how should you prepare for your photowalking experience? It's actually pretty easy. Charge your batteries, make sure you have your memory card in your camera, and pack up your sense of adventure. Seriously though, one of the questions I am most asked often is what to bring. Personally I try to travel as light as possible. A great zoom lens can be your best friend. If you're like me and Scott, you have suffered the "I don't have the right lens" syndrome at one time or another. I try and remedy this by carrying two lenses, a wide zoom like a 17-55, and a longer tele-zoom like the 70-200. I find that these two lenses are usually more than ample to cover most shooting situations along the way.
Also, with the exception of an extra camera battery, I usually try and leave all of my accessories at home. I can't remember when I ever regretted not having a flash or cable release with me. Photowalks are a shoot and move event so the lighter your load, the more comfortable you'll be. Speaking of accessories, I highly advise that you leave your tripods at home. Besides the fact that they are generally a pain to carry, they are also a bit of a nuisance in urban environments, not to mention the fact that using one will really slow you down.
The Camera Question
The other big question I get is, "Do I need a fancy DSLR to participate?" Not at all! You will find every manner of camera being used by your fellow photowalkers. Whether you have a 60 year old Graflex camera, a D3, or even a point & shoot, the most important thing is that you get out there and use it. Truth be told, I have even had people show up with nothing more than a camera phone and a lot of enthusiasm. They probably didn't come away with the best images but they had a blast along the way. So don't be intimidated if you don't have a bag full of camera bling because more often than not, it's the person behind the lens that makes the biggest difference.
That brings me to my next point and that is, don't be afraid to mix things up. Shooting urban areas sometimes means finding new angles and vantage points. If you find something interesting, take a shot and then try looking at it from different locations. Shoot from up high; get down on your knees; just look for new ways to see your environment. And for goodness sakes, don't forget to pull your eye away from that viewfinder and look around. That great shot might just be right behind you. If you see someone shooting something interesting, don't be afraid to move in and try and see what he or she was shooting. I like to call this "Stealing Scott's Shot." Trust me when I say that some of my best shots have come from following Scott around and using his great perspective to see something new. Of course it doesn't hurt to put your own spin on the shot but sometimes it helps to see things through someone else's eyes.
After The Walk
Speaking of other perspectives, some of the greatest and most enlightening aspects of the photowalk experience are sharing your images after the walk is over. The first chance to grab a peek is during the chimp-fest following the walk and then in the online galleries where everyone can show off their work. I always find it fascinating to look at other photographer's images that were shot in the same time and place as mine and come away with completely different images. I always think to myself, "Where in the world did they get that great shot. I was right there and never saw it!" It always inspires me to examine my own work and try and improve on my ability to see creatively.
So to summarize:
Step 1 – Sign up for a photowalk
Step 2 – Travel light (your feet and back will thank me)
Step 3 – Mix it up with your fellow photographers
Step 4 – Take the blinders off and get creative
Step 5 – Reflect on your shots and those of your fellow walkers
Step 6 – HAVE FUN!