Photo walks are a good way to hone your skills and get some terrific photographs in your area. Ant Pruitt shares his tips for getting the most from the experience.
When I began dabbling in the world of photography, one of my favorite photographers would always share his experiences with "photo walks." At the time, I didn't quite get the significance of a photo walk, but now I do. Not to get all zen on you TechRepublic readers, but a proper photo walk gives you the chance to be one with your trusty camera and absorb the energy around you. This energy can in turn be reflected in your photographs. I take my cameras with me everywhere I go, but there are some days I make plans to go shoot. Allow me to share what helps me get awesome photographs from a successful photo walk.
Deciding when to go and what your shot objectives should be
When do you go out to shoot? You can go out anytime you want in most cases, but it all depends upon your goals. Are you in the mood for landscape photography, or cityscape, or just some time out people watching to capture street photography? Knowing this will help you determine a time (and place) to go shoot.
With regard to landscape photography, I personally find the most captivating shots have vibrant colors or force the viewer to react in some way. For instance, rolling green hills in a meadow with white puffy clouds as they shade yellow dandelions below can make the viewer feel warm and fuzzy—you know, make them smile because of the peaceful scene you captured.
On the other hand, cityscape and street photography require you to consider the timing. Small towns may have more foot traffic during hours after breakfast, but before lunch time. I enjoy shooting street photography in larger cities, especially during rush hour. The facial expressions you see in the morning rush hour are different from those you see in the evening rush. Both allow you to capture a story to captivate your viewer.
Deciding what gear to take
Obviously, you can't have a successful photo walk without at least one camera in your arsenal. If it's just your smartphone, that's totally okay. But if you're like me and enjoy having a few more options, you'll need to plan it out a little more. As a drone photographer, I know my drone won't be used for street photography. Therefore, no need to pack it. And if you're shooting with a mid to telephoto lens, you probably won't get much use out of it if you're in a beautiful cotton field. Knowing your objectives makes packing for the photo walk easier.
When it comes to carrying gear, you have a lot of choices—but unfortunately, they're not all good choices. Be sure to choose a bag for your gear that will protect your items and be comfortable. You're going to be on your photo walk for various amounts of time. You'll need comfort while lugging your gear around.
One of my favorite inexpensive bag options comes from the Amazon Basics line. This camera backpack is under $30, but offers adequate protection of your gear as well as just enough space for a DSLR body, a couple of lenses, and other tools you'll need, such as additional batteries. Speaking of batteries, definitely make sure you have at least two spares, even if they're a generic brand battery that fits your camera. I've personally found that my generic spare batteries offer more mAH capacity than the stock batteries. Just check the likes of Amazon for your options.
For me, the Drone Trekker backpack is my current bag option. It's large enough to store not only my Autel Robotics X Star Premium drone, but also my DSLR and camera gear. Better yet, it's large enough to fit someone of my size. At 240lbs, I need a backpack that will fit my physical frame as well as protect my gear and be comfortable. This one does. Like a typical camera bag, the Drone Trekker offers configurable padded liners allowing you to place gear in the bag in a way that best fits your needs. This bag has a higher build quality than the Amazon Basics bag. It's much larger and is still a comfortable backpack. I did quick video review of the bag, recently. I don't want my tech or gear to interfere with my trying to be creative, and this bag seems to stay out of way.
While you're out shooting
When you're on your photo walk, take a look at your surroundings from a wide angle to a tight angle. From high above to low on the ground. Changing your point of view introduces captivating perspectives. The different angles can totally change the mood of a photograph. For example, taking a shot of a building a few blocks away says "This is a high rise building." Walking closer to that same building to capture a view looking up its side says "This is a MASSIVE high rise building!" After you've snapped some shots of an object you approached, it's a good idea to walk beyond the object, turn around and snap a few more shots. The perspective of the object will be completely different.
Be mindful of photographing people. On public grounds, you legally can do this. But today, social media, information security, and privacy breaches have made people uncomfortable when they see a camera in public. If someone has a problem with your taking their photo, just don't do it. I don't advise taking photographs of children in public, either. Children make for cute photos, but you have to respect the parents' privacy, as well.
Take advantage of different shooting modes. Shoot some things in black and white. Shoot some long exposure photos. Find an awesome spot for time lapse footage. There's nothing wrong with mixing it up on your photo walk.
The most important tip
The final tip goes beyond photography technique, like perfect framing and exposure. Your safety and the law matter the most. Do not try to capture photos in restricted areas. You could face legal ramifications. Be safe when you're on your photo walks. Take friends along, if you can. Traveling in numbers is much safer than going at it alone. If you're unable to do a group photo walk, be mindful of your surroundings.
I generally take my photo walks alone, unfortunately. But as I go out, I make sure to wear a bright colored shirt or hat so I'm highly visible. I don't want any bystanders to think some "creepy black guy is out taking photos of people." In my experience, when people see me and notice that I'm focusing on my craft, they allow me to work. In some instances, I've even engaged. Some people think it's cool seeing a photographer at work, and they'll come by and ask simple questions about the shoot and the craft. This is also a great opportunity to slide them your business card as a potential client.
The drawback of wearing a bright colored shirt or hat is that bad people notice you, too. Be aware of your surroundings! A person (or group) can try to take advantage of you by mugging you. In my experience, when I've had a funny feeling about individuals watching me, I made eye contact with them. Not in a threatening way—just enough to let them know I'm aware they're nearby. That eye contact can sometimes be enough to deter bad guys from crossing your path.
Go start yours!
Go set up your own photo walk. Sit down and brainstorm your approach. When you've completed it, share with me the shots you've captured. Get out there, be safe, and have fun with your photo walk. There's truly a rush in getting an awesome photograph.
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Have you ever gone on a photo walk? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.