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8 tips for getting the most out of a ‘photowalk’

By Jaymi Heimbuch
Mother Nature Network

Photowalks are a great way to get out and get clicking, either by yourself, with a couple shutterbug friends, or with a group of people. They can be wonderful for seeing a neighborhood or wild space with new eyes, getting inspired to be more creative with angles and subjects, as well as simply spending time with fun people. But photowalks require several hours committed to shooting, so you want them to be as productive and enjoyable as possible. Here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of a photowalk:

Research your location

A photowalk is a perfect excuse to explore a new area. However, if you’ve never been to the location before, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment as far as final images are concerned. Choose your location by what you feel like photographing – buildings, people, busy streets, a festival, nature and so on. It will pay off in a satisfying walk if you research your chosen location beforehand and have an idea what to expect.

Join someone else’s walk

If you’d like to meet new people but would rather not do all the planning yourself, a quick search online for photowalk clubs, or scanning sites like Meetup.com or Craigslist will reveal what’s happening nearby. This way, you can focus on the experience itself, without stressing about how many people will show up, keeping everyone together, and so on. If you’re an Instagrammer, check out Instagram walks in your area. Instagrammers SF is a San Francisco-based group that announces walks, posting the location, date and time on the account. All fellow Instagrammers are welcome to join. Following similar groups in your area will keep you up to date on upcoming walks. And after all, it’s not like you have to just Instagram – the groups are filled with people who use iPhones and other camera phones in addition to their other camera gear. As long as you bring something that takes photos, you’re set.

Invite regardless of skill

You’ll be surprised at what you learn from people who claim to know nothing about photography. Even with a simple point-and-shoot camera, they can capture some outstanding images. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure or expectation common with aspiring photographers that helps them stay loose and creative, but they remind us that it’s the person, not the camera, that makes the photograph. So bring Aunt Betty or your 10-year-old nephew or anyone else whose company you might enjoy on a walk, and keep an open mind.

Pack light

Unless you’re positive that you’re going to be switching lenses during your walk, just bring a single lens. A 24-105, a 17-55 or similar zoom, or a prime lens like a 24, 35 or 50 mm is probably your best bet. Unless you’re shooting at night or in dim conditions, skip the tripod or monopod, flashes, and other bells and whistles. Just bring a small photo bag with the essentials. You save yourself the headache of lugging gear and the heartache of missing a shot because you were fidgeting with different lenses. Plus, you’ll be forced to get creative rather than relying on doodads for your images. It might be handy to bring along a digital point-and-shoot or Diana camera just to switch things up. And, of course, the lightest gear possible is your camera phone. Some of the latest smartphones have amazing cameras, and Instagrammers have proven the kind of art that can be made with them. Use whatever is most comfortable for you.

Pack the essentials

Be sure you remember the important stuff, including an extra memory card (or two), an extra fully charged battery, comfortable shoes and layered clothing, and a notepad and pen for jotting notes about places, times, conditions, the names and information of people you meet and anything else you might want to remember about certain shots.

Watch the weather

Even if rain or snow doesn’t cause you to cancel or reschedule your walk, it might change what gear you want to take, including a rain cover for your camera body and lens.

Watch out for danger

Smartphones are always a target for theft, but thieves have become much more savvy about the value of digital cameras. This is another reason why going with a group is a great idea, but still, don’t make yourself a target by standing absentmindedly holding your gear out in front of you. Try to maintain awareness of where you are, the people in your surroundings and the general mood of the place. If you’re in an area that is really busy or you aren’t super comfortable, be savvy about when to use your gear. Compose your shot in your head before holding up your camera, use a camera strap wrapped around your wrist or shoulder, and if someone really wants to take your camera, it is safest to just hand it over.

Pick a meet-up spot

A great way to end a photowalk on a high note is to pick a final spot for everyone to meet up. If people get sidetracked during the walk, they can rejoin the group here, and everyone can dish about what they saw, their potential favorite images, and so on. The time of day will often dictate the location, but a cafe works well. A lot of photowalks select a final meeting place at a bar or pub so that everyone can wind down with a drink and talk about their experience shooting.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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