Saturday, August 4th marked the day of my first official photowalk. The mini-event was hosted by Trevor Carpenter at the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California. Approximately 20 photographers showed up for the walk, and most of us had never met each other in person. It was great to meet some online acquaintances in addition to meeting new people altogether. In light of the experience, I’ve put together a few thoughts on photowalking… for participants and hosts alike.
WHAT IS PHOTOWALKING?
I don’t want to steal Trevor’s thunder, but it’s basically the act of walking with a camera for the purpose of taking photos… just because. It’s kind of like a group shoot, but very laid back and informal — no major agendas, just a basic plan of attack. The event is intended to get people together with a common interest and have some fun. For more information about photowalking, check out Trevor Carpenter’s website photowalking.org.
TIPS FOR PARTICIPANTS
If you’ll be attending a photowalk hosted by somebody else, here are a few ideas to keep in mind that may help improve your experience. Remember, there are no hard rules, so feel free to discard these tips as you see fit.
- It’s Not the Camera, It’s the Photographer
Don’t be shy if you don’t have a professional level SLR camera and the most expensive lenses — nobody cares! If you have a camera, any camera, show up and use it. If you’re interested in the bigger cameras, make friends with some of the other photowalkers and see if they’ll let you snap a few shots with their equipment. Chances are, they will. Most experienced photographers aren’t terribly greedy with their equipment.
- Dress for the Occasion
Know where the photowalk will be held, and dress accordingly. If you’re going to the beach, wear flip-flops and shorts. If you’re going for a hike in the mountains, wear hiking boots and jeans. If you’re hitting the streets of a big city, wear comfortable walking shoes. The last thing you want is to be miserable during the photowalk and have to turn back early.
- Be Prepared
Bring enough equipment to get you through twice as long as you think you’ll need. You don’t want to get caught right before sunset with a dead battery or a full memory card. If you think you’ll need a tripod, you can either park somewhere nearby in case you need to grab it or find a more compact model that can be carried more easily. Bring your flash along, even if it’s a sunny afternoon — you never know when you’ll encounter those random stakeboarders and you need the extra light for some stop-action.
- When Everyone Looks Left, Look Right
Most of the group will generally take pictures of the same subjects and same scenes — for the most part. There’s nothing wrong with joining in, but take some time to look around and explore areas that are going unexplored. Look for different angles and perspectives (as Thomas Hawk did by climbing on top of everything to get a top-down perspective). And don’t forget to take pictures of the group you’re with, they make great subjects!
- Be ready to Network
If you’re working on building up a portfolio, starting your own blog, or just wanting to make some online friends through Flickr, a photowalk is a great opportunity to expand your personal network. You’ll be hanging out and making friends with people who you’ve never met. Let them know who you are and what you do, and give them something to remember you by. Business cards and moo cards are a great way to make lasting relationships. Note to my readers: I failed at this one — I totally forgot to get some cards made and I’m kicking myself now.
TIPS FOR HOSTS
I don’t have any experience hosting a photowalk, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Trevor (and any other seasoned photowalking host) can certainly offer up great advice for planning something like this. What I can do, though, is talk about the things I think went very well and the things that could use some refinement. Let’s start with the good.
- Get the Word Out
Trevor did a bang-up job at getting the word out on this photowalk. I was notified about it through 4 different avenues: photowalking.org, FaceBook, Twitter, and Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection. He also had a few other methods of spreading the word (and maybe he’ll drop a comment on that). The moral of this tip: use your networks.
- Choose a Central Location
Pick a spot where many people can get to easily. Our photowalk was in Santa Monica, so Trevor had many participants from the LA area as well as a few from San Diego and San Francisco. Big cities always have lots to see and do (not to mention lots of people living in them), so they make a great location for a photowalk.
- Lay Out a General Plan
Let your participants know where to meet and where you’ll be going, ahead of time. Sometimes people show up late and miss the initial meet-up, so let them know through the invite where you’ll generally be going. They may want to catch up anyways, so give them that opportunity.
- Keep the Group Focused
It’s great to be able to stop at various unplanned locations and take pictures or strike up a conversation with another photographer. But as the photowalk host, it’s your job to keep the momentum and excitement going. If the group is losing too much focus, suggest that everybody move to a different spot. If it’s close to mealtime, suggest that everybody take a food break. Trevor was great at this sort of thing. He’s very outgoing and has enough spare energy to keep the group energy up… and he’s not afraid to raise up his voice and make some group suggestions.
- Be Friendly and Inviting
Not everybody is outgoing and open, so make it a point to introduce yourself to everyone and learn a little something about them — one on one. Give them some time to get comfortable in their new social situation, and introduce them to other members of the group as if you’re long time friends. Trevor didn’t forget about people immediately after the walk started, and that was quite a gesture. Touch base with everyone once in a while to see how they’re doing and if they’ve got any really good shots.
- Sharing the Results
Have a method of allowing everybody to share their photos after the photowalk is over. Trevor let everybody know that they can tag their photos on Flickr and Zooomr with “photowalking080407” if they’d like to share them with the rest of the group. This allows folks to show off their stuff while making online connections with the people they’ve met in real life.
And now for a few points of constructive criticism…
- Survey the Participants
In addition to learning more about your fellow photowalkers through conversation, provide a method of allowing them to network with each other. Maybe print out a blank spreadsheet with a column for their name, email, screen names for the various social networks, etc. That way, if people want to connect through a certain network they belong to, they can just write it down on the sheet. You can also take the opportunity to find out where they heard about the event — then you’ll be better prepared for promoting the next one. When the photowalk is over, send out a message to everybody that participated with the networking links (and probably keep the emails private). It will take a little extra time, but everybody is sure to appreciate it.
- Hand Out an Info Card
Aside from handing out a business card or moo card, maybe put together a little card with the event information and any instructions for the post-event. Put a note down that gives instructions to tag your photos a certain way, or that they can be added to a specific photo set on a photo sharing site. Also give them the web address of the place to look for updated on the walk or information on any future walks.
- Plan a Few Group Shots
Try to get everybody together for at least one or two group shots at some key points in the photowalk. If somebody has a tripod, use it so that everybody can get in the shot. And get creative with the shots — we had one of the photowalkers take a group photo jump, and that was pretty fun. After the walk, post the group shots all over the place, including the sites specified on the information card.
So in the end, the photowalk in Santa Monica was a great success and a good time was had by all. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next one, whenever that may be. TWO THUMBS UP FOR TREVOR FOR ORGANIZING THE EVENT! The post-walk excitement is still going strong by the looks of all the photos being uploaded to Flickr and Zooomr, so here are a few photo links:
And here are a few other articles written in response to the photowalk:
- The Santa Monica Photowalk had a great turnout
- Photowalking Santa Monica Style
- Awesome Photowalk at Santa Monica
- Photowalking Part II