Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, attending a photo walk will inspire you to go out and take more pictures.
Photo walks are essentially walking tours intended for photographers. They’re not only perfect for meeting other camera enthusiasts, but also for honing your skills as a photographer, learning new ideas, and experiencing different places through your camera’s viewfinder.
Signing up for a photo walk is easier than you might think. Just search online, and you will find dozens of photo walk events near you. Social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Meetup.com, as well as various photography websites and forums have plenty of groups that organize photo walks regularly. If you’re thinking of going on a walk near you, these nine practical tips will help you get the most out of this exciting activity.
01. Learn as much as you can about your photo walk location
Before you go, find as much information as you can about the places you’ll visit during the photo walk. Learn about the location’s history, the different activities in the area, the iconic spots you’ll encounter along the route, and any other interesting things you might want to capture in your photographs.
A useful strategy to make the most of photo walks is to do an image search of the location (looking up a particular hashtag on Instagram is great for this). Look at the photos uploaded by other people and study them. What are the common subjects in the pictures? How were they taken? Are you going to shoot similar images? Or would you rather experiment with different photos, instead? If you plan accordingly and visualize the shoot, you’ll feel more confident on the walk since you already know what to expect.
It’s also essential to find out about the location’s rules regarding taking pictures. Laws, especially concerning photography, vary from city to city and from country to country, and it’s crucial to know the do’s and don’ts in different areas to avoid getting into trouble. As an example, some places don’t allow flash photography while other won’t let you bring a tripod. Know these things beforehand to avoid hassles.
Apart from legalities, remember to observe proper etiquette. When you’re a respectful photographer in the places you visit and the to people you encounter, taking pictures will be a breeze.
02. Bring only what you need
Photo walks can last a few hours, so it’s necessary to pack light and dress comfortably. Bring only the absolute essentials to keep the weight of your camera bag down. Resist the urge to bring unnecessary equipment. All you need is one camera and one lens. Remember that even Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the best photographers who ever lived, produced some of his best images using only his trusty Leica camera and a 50mm lens. Train yourself to do the same.
Apart from bringing a camera and a lens, don’t forget to carry these other essentials:
Taking photographs for hours will drain your batteries. Make sure you bring fully charged batteries with you so you can keep taking pictures all day.
Neutral Density and Polarizing Filters
For photographing landscapes and buildings, having Neutral Density and Polarizing Filters will make a huge difference in the quality of your pictures.
A neutral density filter, also called ND filter, limits the amount of light entering the camera. This type of filter brings out the details in situations where your photos can easily get overexposed.
On the other hand, a polarizing filter increases your image’s contrast and eliminates bad reflections and glare on windows and shiny surfaces. This type of filter also darkens skies and makes vegetation appear lusher.
Since you’ll be taking photographs outdoors, your camera lens will inevitably be exposed to dust and dirt. Bring a lens cloth so you can quickly clean your glass when it gets dirty.
03. Use one lens that best suits your need
When you’re walking the streets with your camera, you have to be prepared to capture fleeting moments quickly. Changing lenses all the time means you could miss a lot of opportunities. Using only one lens during the photo walk will allow you to focus on taking photos, not fumbling with your camera and losing precious shots. So which lens should you use? This question causes arguments among photographers, but at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of preference.
If you want convenience and flexibility, then a zoom lens is well-suited for your needs. Having a zoom lens is like having several lenses in one package. It allows you to shoot wide shots as well as close-ups without having to switch lenses. However, most zoom lenses have narrower apertures than prime lenses (which means they do poorly in dim lighting) and can be inferior to prime lenses regarding image quality.
If you want to keep it simple and get close to the action, then the prime lens is for you. Prime lenses generally have wider apertures which let more light in and have better image quality. However, since prime lenses cannot be zoomed in, using them requires the photographer to physically move in closer to the subject to take a photo.
One lens isn’t necessarily better than the other. Weigh the pros and cons of each lens and decide which one you think will be suitable for your needs.
04. Set your camera in advance
A lot of things can happen while you’re on a photo walk. Keep your camera on so you can click away at a moment’s notice. Before you shoot, set your camera to Burst Mode. By allowing you to take pictures in rapid successions, Burst Mode guarantees you can capture the moments you might otherwise miss.
Don’t be afraid to utilize Auto Mode if you’re still learning how to use a camera. When you’re not sure which setting to use in tricky shooting situations, switching to Auto Mode will enable you to shoot quickly without having to tinker with your device. Auto Mode is a foolproof way of taking photos. Generally it’s very precise meaning all you have to do is press the shutter and the camera will take care of the rest. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can depend on Auto Mode forever. Learning how to use the Manual Mode will help you unlock your camera’s extensive capabilities.
If you’re a more advanced photographer, learning how to zone focus will help you take photos quicker. Used mainly by street photographers, zone focusing is a technique that involves pre-focusing your camera manually to a set distance.
Although zone focusing requires a lot of practice, this technique is useful when the lens needs to be adjusted quickly without relying on autofocus. For this reason, many pet photographers and street photographers (who require quick focusing for action shots) use it extensively.
To use zone focusing, twist the distance indicator (usually marked in feet or meters) on your focus ring to determine the focus of certain distances. Any subject that is within the zone that you set will be sharp.
05. Anticipate the shot
Many beginners get intimidated when it comes to anticipating the shot, but you don’t need to be a mind reader to master this skill. Learning when to take the picture is just like memorizing the lyrics of a song. Once you know the words, you don’t even need music to sing it.
Going on a photo walk is an excellent opportunity to train your eye how to anticipate the shot. As you walk around, observe everything that is happening around you. Choose a place where there’s a lot of action going on, and wait.
Believe it or not, it is relatively easy to predict people’s movements. For example, you know that as soon as the WALK signal lights up, pedestrians cross the street. That will give you the opportunity to take photos like the one above. If you miss the shot, wait for the WALK sign to light up again and you can expect a similar scenario to occur.
Once you tap into the rhythm of the places that you visit, you will soon find out that it doesn’t take much to know where and when to take photos. The secret is to stay where you predict something is about to happen and just be patient. Keep your camera in your hand and press the shutter when the right moment comes.
06. Shoot from different angles
Taking photos at eye level can become boring after a while. Change up your composition and experiment with odd angles as well. Shooting from a different point of view not only adds variety to your pictures, but it also changes the mood of your images. When you go on a photo walk, try framing your shots differently and see what kind of photos you get.
Shoot wide shots of buildings to indicate their size as well incorporate the surrounding environment to affect mood. This particular shot of St. Basil’s Cathedral not only showcases its grandeur, but the inclusion of the blue sky in the background almost makes the building look like a dreamy fairytale castle.
Shoot close-ups to include details that wide shots are unable to capture. This close-up photo of St. Basil above clearly shows the cupolas’ intricate 3-dimensional patterns that were not as apparent in the previous image.
Another way to make your photographs more interesting is to shoot from high or low angles. Provide your viewers different perspectives that they wouldn’t normally see. Kneel down and take photos of people’s shoes, or shoot high to give people a bird’s eye view of the subject in your photo.
This fantastic high-angle shot uses the escalator to provide dimension and depth to the photograph. From this angle, the lines effortlessly direct our eyes towards the main subject below.
07. Capture anything that catches your eye
Attending a photo walk exposes you to breathtaking locations through a photographer’s point of view. You will be surprised how much a place changes when you look at it from behind the viewfinder. From a photographer’s frame of reference, immerse yourself in the environment and keep an eye out for anything that looks interesting.
Look around you and search for different patterns, colorful backgrounds, and symmetry. It wouldn’t take long for you to find these things because your brain is naturally drawn to them. People love looking at orderly structures, so don’t hesitate to take beautiful visual compositions like the image above.
By the same token, we are also as attracted to anything that disrupts patterns. Our eyes naturally seek out what is out of order and what doesn’t belong. That is why we always notice picture frames that aren’t quite straight. You can use this knowledge to draw people’s attention to your pictures and look for subjects that break up the order (just mind your composition, of course).
Although it may not always be possible, try to seek out the areas with the best lighting. Excellent lighting makes the pictures more dramatic, like a stage spotlight giving focus on the actors. Many photographers usually wait for the “golden hour”: a short time frame (from thirty minutes to one hour) after sunrise or before sunset when the sunlight casts a soft orange glow. But if your photo walk doesn’t start or end during the golden hour, you can also look for alternatives such as colorful artificial lighting, ambient light from windows, or any light source that changes the mood of the picture.
08. Don’t be afraid to shoot by yourself
Sometimes, the problem with being with a large group of photographers is that it can get crowded. Photo walks may add a social aspect to photography, but it is still mostly a solitary pursuit. Don’t hesitate to leave the group every once in awhile if you think you can take better pictures by yourself.
Another issue that you might face while on a photo walk is that, since you’re all together all the time, you might end up taking the same photos of everything. To avoid this frustration, look around and search for things that other photographers haven’t noticed yet. That way, you will have a few original images that you will be proud of taking.
An excellent way to produce original work during a photo walk is to step back and rethink your image. Look at the things that your fellow photographers are shooting, and find other ways to take photos of them. Try unique vantage points and experiment with the framing. Having a distinct photographic style will undoubtedly produce interesting results.
09. Learn from other photographers
The main point of attending photo walks is to interact with other photographers. Most people go on photo walks not just to shoot with their camera, but also to learn from other people. Feel free to share your images with other photographers and ask them their opinion about your work. It’s pointless to listen to friends who tell you that your pictures are nice but can’t explain why. You need technically capable individuals that know exactly why some of your photos work, and why others don’t.
Other people might also ask your opinion about their work. Be honest about your critique, but be polite at the same time. If you don’t like a photo that they took, tell them why and what they can do to make it better. Offer them the positive attributes and not just the negative aspects of their work.
The last thing to remember about photo walks is to have fun. It is not meant to be a competition but an interactive photography lesson. Loosen up, have fun, share pictures and share memories. Many photographers meet new friends through photo walks, and having a reliable support system enables people to produce fantastic images. So don’t forget to sign up for a photo walk near you. It might just change how you experience photography.