The Photowalk Challenge

Every time I read a blog post or entry into a photo website discussion about a photographer’s “photowalk” near their home and then subsequently see stunning photographs of ocean vistas, mountain ranges, quaint countryside scenes or brilliant cityscapes, I’m impressed.  And jealous.  I have none of those instant inspirations near my suburban home and so how can I possibly be inspired to make great images?  Must I really wait until I get a chance to walk around Yosemite National Park, as I did recently, in order to capture memorable images?

The answer?  Of course not.

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The challenge, the opportunity… is to seek and find a creative boost in the ordinary places of our everyday lives.  Such is the challenge of the photowalk… to make images when there are no oceans, mountains, countryside scenes and grand scale cities nearby.

This morning, I took such a challenge.  The sky was decidedly overcast such that I could not take the easy way out.  An example of the easy way?  Photograph anything (a fire hydrant, a dumpster, a tree stump… anything) against a gloriously contrasty sky and you have a winner.  Today’s sky was anything but glorious or contrasty.  Also, we’re nearing the end of a long winter here in New England and there’s still plenty of snow on the ground.  And mud.  Soon enough, green will start popping through the gray and brown, but not today.

I loaded some gear into my trusty Crumpler Bag and set off for the wooded area near my home.  I was packing a Pentax K5 digital SLR, the Pentax 18-135 weathersealed zoom lens, aPentax 100 macro, the Pentax 55-300 and a Tamron 10-24.

Here are a few of the shots from today, along with some advice.

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I took a bag full of lenses because I wasn’t sure which situations I’d encounter, plus I’m testing a few of them.  Typically, however, I find it better to grab one or maybe two lenses for the shoot.  Doing so forces some discipline in composition and requires you to look at scenes a particular way.  For example, walking around with a wide zoom, such as the Tamron, dictates a broader and more expansive view.  Taking only the macro or perhaps a fixed prime might lock you into a perspective and/or (depending on the focal length) demand that you look more closely at the finer details.  Minimizing lenses also lightens the load and frees you up from constant lens changes which can be frustrating.  Part of the beauty of the photowalk is that it’s relaxing and allows you to absorb and appreciate your surroundings.  Have you ever noticed the times when you’re a passenger in a car as opposed to when you are the driver?  As a passenger, even on streets I’ve driven a thousand times, I find that I notice details far more intensely.  On a photowalk, be the passenger.  You’ll notice more.  And your images will show that.

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Always remember that safety comes first, but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.  The joy of discovery and wonderment at what’s around the next bend adds to the joy as well as prompts your creativity.  Again, don’t go into dark alleys or wander so far off a trail that you can get lost… but to the extent possible, don’t be afraid to get your boots a little dirty or to stroll off of the well worn path.

Also, choose a theme when you go out on a photowalk.  Or try your hand at a specific look or genre.  For example, shoot only for grainy black & white or try to capture the “end of winter”.  On a city walk, focus on street photography and perhaps only try to capture people shopping at markets or city workers doing their jobs amidst passersby.  On the one hand, choosing a specific theme can be limiting, but on the other hand, when you look for discrete settings and contexts, you will frequently find that you’ll notice more in your surroundings, thus sharpening your creative instincts.

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Time of day is important, with early morning and near sunset being best because of the better light.  But if it’s close to noon, don’t despair.  It only adds to the photowalk challenge!

I’m inviting 2 Guys Photo readers to add their own suggestions using the comment feature below.

Finally, you may have noticed that the equipment listings above include a link to B&H in NYC.  We are now an affiliate of this on-line store and your clicking through provides a small financial benefit to Ed and I.  It won’t cost you a penny extra.  We’re not going to change our standard of living through these links, but our hope is that using these clickthroughs will help us to maintain this site and offer more content.  Thanks for considering using them.  By the way, B&H is second to none and always one of our top recommendations for gear.  They are honest and their customer service is unsurpassed.

Posted by Rey

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7 Responses to The Photowalk Challenge

  1. I thought about this post for 24 hours after reading it to see what I could come up with to offer back. The main thing I thought of is to take friends or kids with you. If nothing is popping out at you, chances are kids will either point out something you’ve missed or offer a photo of themselves.

    Also, I think it’s great to scope out several barns, trees, fence lines, etc. that you can go back to at various times of day and during various seasons. It’s amazing how many nice shots you can get at the same location but on different days. I enjoy the progression of shots of an area as changes occur over time.

    If you usually shoot landscapes, spend a walk trying to look for close-ups or vice versa.

    Break some rules. See what it looks like if you shoot into the light. Try an odd camera angle. Look up when you’d look down or down when you’d look up.

    Most of all have fun because how you are feeling shows up in the shots you take.

  2. 2guysphoto says:

    Maryann – some great tips… thank you. I especially appreciate the advice about photographing the same spot during different seasons. A gallery can be made more interesting by displaying scenics at different times of the year. Also agree about changing camera angle. Thanks!

    Posted by Rey

  3. arthill says:

    An excellent and thought provoking post. I started doing this walking around the neighborhood with a camera thing several years ago. Manhole covers, unusual signs, weird tree formations and unusual looking houses are some of the things I’ve done besides the obvious flowers. It’s good to route your walk by a park in nice weather for some interesting sports shots.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thanks for your comment, Art. I really enjoyed “getting to know you” through the profile post on this site.

      Rey

  4. First, let me say that I really enjoyed this post, Rey. I’ve been a fan of Ed’s work on SmugMug for some time, and it’s great to see what you guys are doing with this blog.

    For photowalks, I would definitely agree that less gear is better. I often take just one lens or even just my point-and-shoot camera. I may miss some opportunities, but I find it easier to see images when my mind is concentrating on one focal length. Another approach that I tried recently (at the prompting of another photographer) was to treat a photowalk as if I had been hired to shoot a commercial project. So I gave myself a brief in advance. I was trying to capture some of the flavor of a small coastal village, and so I took pictures of street signs, colorful house numbers, a man eating a sandwich in the park overlooking the bay, etc. It’s similar to what you suggested about choosing a theme. It’s just another way to focus.

  5. Hal says:

    On Sunday mornings, two or three of us go out to take pictures of interesting places or things in our local area. We usually leave at at 7:30am and take pictures for approximately and hour and then have breakfast. Last week we went to an area of town that is noted for graffiti. Our pictures were fabulous. We live in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.

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