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

Friday, July 20, 2012


Podstock is a tech integration conference, held each summer in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering has a reputation for being friendly, fun, and innovative; many of its attendees are part of my social network on Plurk, Facebook, and/or Twitter. While I was unable to physically be there, I took the opportunity today to join the Podstock PhotoWalk 2012 as a virtual participant.

I've never been part of an organized photowalk before, although I take my own little camera rambles all the time. For this event, I had to sign up on a Google form, choose one of the themes, tag my photos appropriately, then add them to the official Flickr group.

Since I was on my own, I chose to interpret "Take a Closer Look" as encompassing both macro shots and photos of things that sometimes go unnoticed, like the impressive gargoyles that jut out from a local church steeple.

I took my walk in the nearby city of Glens Falls, NY, reasoning that its charming older buildings might parallel the Old Town area of Wichita where my virtual colleagues would be shooting. Rather than begin at the same instant as the Podstockers, I set out an hour earlier (my time) to be sure the natural lighting would be comparable.

The social aspect of a normal photowalk was lacking for me, as a virtual participant, but I look forward to seeing everyone's photos in the Flickr group and chatting online about the experience.

And next year, I intend to be walking those Wichita streets in person, camera(s) in hand and friends by my side!

Podstock PhotoWalk - Glens Falls Edition

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ignite! Six to Succeed

As promised, I've added presenter's note to my Ignite! slides and uploaded them to SlideShare. While this is a reasonable approximation of my remarks, I spoke directly to the audience and may have deviated from the "text." In fact, I know I did: I wanted to! Passion can't be canned or recited, it must be felt and shared in the heat of the moment.

If you are considering doing an Ignite! talk (which is a bit scary but ultimately energizing and very satisfying), here are six tips that might help:
  • understand the difference. Your 20 Ignite! slides will be on the screen for exactly 15 seconds each. That can be either an extremely brief or an unexpectedly long period of time, depending on the message you are trying to convey. There is neither time nor space for the "transition" slides that are part of a self-timed presentation.
  • don't be afraid to tinker. I kept changing the images I wanted to use, as my concept became clearer and more focused in my mind. I even changed the title (but not the core content, of course).
  • be wary of text. If your slides display a lot of words, your audience will be distracted. I did read one quote, but prefaced it with spoken commentary.
  • remember that you are telling a story. Be passionate, use personal anecdotes, make what you say interesting and universal. Bring your story alive for the audience.
  • practice, practice, practice! While I didn't memorize my talk, I did write out key points that I wanted to make and timed myself via PowerPoint. On the day of the session, I carried a single index card with a few keywords for each slide, in case my mind went blank. Once the Ignite! began, however, I really had no problem "telling" my slides because I was comfortable with what I wanted to share.
  • get a friend to film your talk. I didn't think of this beforehand, so I have no live recording of my presentation. Then again, that might not be an entirely bad thing. If I ever do this particular Ignite! again, I won't feel constrained by prior outings.