Friday, July 27, 2012

Photowalks: The Art of Observation

After remotely participating in the Podstock PhotoWalk last week, I decided to learn more about this type of activity.

Let's start with some definitions: according to Wikipedia, "Photowalking is the act of walking with a camera for the main purpose of taking pictures of things that the photographer may find interesting." A more specialized version of the photowalk is street photography, which focuses exclusively on people, captured candidly in public venues. Another variation of the photowalk is the photo safari, a term used to describe a structured photography learning experience in a class or workshop environment.

Successful photowalks usually include:
  • a pre-planned route so that participants can join a walk in progress or duplicate the experience at another time. Scout the area ahead of time to be sure that it is accessible and pedestrian friendly. A map is also helpful.
  • a specific date and time Photowalks are inherently social, so decide on an agenda and let people know about it well in advance. Invite local photo clubs, add it to your newspaper's events calendar. Promote the activity on social networking sites.
  • a ringer Although photowalking is meant to be fun, that does not preclude acquiring new insights and skills. Some organizers intentionally include a professional photographer in their group. A savvy "amateur" would serve the same purpose: offering tips and suggesting ways to capture images in unique ways. 
  • a designated sharing space and tags After the walk is done, people will want to share and compare their photos. Set up a Flickr group or similar site, choose common labels, and enjoy reviewing the day's products. If your photowalk is sponsored by a club, set aside meeting time to reflect on the experience and discuss future expeditions.
Necessary gear:
  • a camera It's not the device that matters, it's the photographer's eye. Too much equipment (multiple lenses, tripods, etc.) will only get in the way (and become quite heavy, as the day wears on). Photowalkers can achieve success with a simple point and shoot or even a smartphone. Be sure that the camera is charged and you have enough memory (include an extra memory card, if necessary) for a goodly number of photos.
  • appropriate clothing This is a walk, after all! Comfortable shoes are a must, and, depending on the weather and time of day, dressing in layers might be a good idea. Remember, though, as with the camera gear, you will be carrying whatever you bring along, so choose wisely.
  • a water bottle and light snack for hydration and energy.
  • Virtual photowalks I was a virtual member of the Podstock PhotoWalk group, setting out at approximately the same time and in a similar environment to that chosen by the Kansas photowalkers. I have recently learned of a different type of Virtual Photowalk, one where a person who is unable to physically participate remotely chooses shots for an on-site photographer to take. John Butterill realized the potential of this type of partnership, and has created a Google+ site for volunteers who "Walk the walk for those that can't".
  • Tourist photowalks Find yourself in a new city and want to explore a bit? Join a photowalk and learn more about the local architecture, history or landmarks. Either sign up for a commercial tour, or enquire about area photo clubs that might be hosting a public event.
  • Cityscape photowalks Document the architecture of a community; the resultant images could be shared with county historians or museums.
  • Themed photowalks for students: Get acquainted with a building or campus...promote your library...encourage school spirit...all through photowalks. The curricular applications are endless, from photographing geometric shapes (Mathematics) to recording plant and animal life for later identification (Science) to seeking out intriguing images for story starters (English Language Arts). 

Photographer Elliott Erwitt declared that " is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place...I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

And Paul Strand reminds us that "Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees."

Additional resources:
10 Tips For A Great Photowalk 
Find a Photo Walk Near You
The Photowalk Daily
Ten Photowalk Tips

"Photographer" by E.B. White

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