Every photographer is different. Understanding these differences in visualization, compositions, skills and spending time in the company of like minded individuals are some good skill enhancing activities. The new terminology for these short trips is ‘Photowalk’. I still call them short photography trips with friends.
(Dry branches at low tide – clicked on a photography trip with few of my friends. Nikon Df with Zeiss 25mm lens)
I remember when I was in college, I used to go out on photowalks with my colleagues (there were just four of us interested in photography then). For me those were short outings with friends who shared the same interests.
I also became friends with a professor in the college who shared the same interest. It’s been decades now but we still are friends. We went for a photowalk not so long back. By the way, he is very quiet and a brilliant fellow. Apart from being my teacher in the college, he taught me many more things, both related and unrelated to photography.
Coming back to the short photography trips, those were great learning opportunities. I could indulge in photography and learn from my friends. On one trip, I saw one of my friends smearing the UV filter with fingerprints. He explained to me that this was the easiest way to get soft-focus. Those were the film days and very few took the pains to scan the pictures and photoshop them. Another friend of mine enjoyed climbing high places to take images of architecture. He used a 35mm camera and this helped him overcome the ‘falling’ back problem with tall structures. View cameras were expensive then as they are now. With yet another friend, I saw how effectively bellows can be used with standard lens for macro photography and get away with good depth of field by tilting the lens (on the lines of large format cameras). Apart from transfer of techniques, photowalks give an opportunity to look at things through the eyes of another photographer.
I recently discussed concept of photowalks with a photographer. He gave me some very interesting insights into the chemistry of photowalks. Why don’t they work at times and why do they work depends a lot on the composition of the group and also on the purpose of the photowalk.
One of the common fears is that the photographers will copy the same compositions and subjects. This is especially true for the wildlife and bird photographers. If one photographer spots a rare bird not so far off, then the other photographer will also try to capture the same bird. So what is the problem? Every photographer has a different way of visualizing things. The final result from each photographer will be different. Another problem often quoted is that if there is someone who is not very well versed with photography than that person can sometimes be a source for irritation, with a flood of questions. It is a matter of outlook. I enjoy all things related to photography. When someone keeps shooting questions about photography at me, I feel happy. There is another photographer in the developing so why not help?
Story of one of my recent photowalks –
(Barnacles on a dry branch – Nikon Df with Sigma Macro 105 lens, f/9, 1/80 sec)
Let me tell you about a photowalk that I undertook with my professor-friend and some other photographers. We were in a coastal city. After careful timing of the tide, we went to an area with shallow backwaters of the sea. At low tide, the water rushes back to the sea and at high tide, it looks like a lagoon. There was a group of five photographers and a kid (my daughter). We reached the place early morning. The water was already rushing back to the sea. Within a matter of minutes the water from whole of the area had drained back. We could walk on the sandy bed. Armed with our cameras, all of us ventured in. When the tide went low, there were lots of crabs that got exposed. Some small fish also could not return back to the sea and got trapped. Various coastal birds came sweeping down to feed on these crabs and fish. All of us clicked to our heart’s content and then when it started getting hot, we returned back. Later that day, when we saw the images clicked by everyone, what a surprise we all were in for.
One of them had captured beautiful images of birds in flight when they were swooping down for food. There were mostly seagulls, some egrets and even a few kingfishers. Another photographer had captured enchanting images of very young birds pulling out crabs from the sand. There was photograph where two of the birds were cooperating and pulling out a single large crab. Yet another photographer had captured close-up shots of the crabs. There were five distinct varieties of crabs in that area. One of the photographers captured images of my daughter collecting sea-shells. He also had some beautiful images of some kingfishers. I was intrigued by the landscape and the left-overs of the tide. My photos consisted of close-ups of sea shells, barnacles, dried logs, mangrove trees and landscapes. All the photographs in this article are from that photowalk.
(Crabs – this photograph is a crop of another image, gifted to me by one of the non-photographers on the trip. I am posting it here to show the variety of crabs that were there. Yes, we had some family members too enjoying the outing!)
We all had different pictures. I got to see things through the eyes of my fellow photographers. A new perspective for me. Everyone of us found something new to learn. Difference in visualization, difference in interests, difference in photography skills and yet we got together, did some photography and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Enjoy your photowalks! Here are recommendations –
For a good photowalk, the number of photographers should be limited. High numbers is a convention of photographers and not a photowalk. Lately, I have been seeing a trend where some beginner photographers start a ‘XYZ Photography’ (We, The Photographers), have a social media presence and then conduct photowalks. Be wary of such photowalks. These are just group of crowds that gather up for a walk with heavy equipment and some snacks but with almost no quality photography being done.Such crowded events end up having similar idea repeated across photographers with no real learning or feeling of attaining something. So, limit the number of photographers. I believe in upper limit of 6 persons (the maximum I can cram in my car).
The right mix of people – For good photowalks, the difference in age or gender does not matter. Photographers can have varied levels of skill sets and should be willing to learn or teach. They should be comfortable with each other, preferably should have known each other before venturing out on a photowalk.
The right location – A lot of people have their favorite genres. Ideally the photowalk should have ample opportunities for all. I prefer photowalks on the outskirts of cities, where there are subjects for birders, landscape photographers, abstracts and even opportunities for something out of ordinary. The right location gets the creative juices flowing easily.
(My daughter enjoying her little trip where she could walk around on sea-bed collecting shells and scaring away crabs. She was a subject for many photographs with her antics there).
Avoid these on a Photowalk –
Don’t plan a photowalk in the crowded areas of a city. Street photography is nice but a hoard of photographers touting their cameras around takes the candid out of the genre.
Another word of advice – Do not share cameras and lenses. Lending out may be quite uncomfortable for some but out of humbleness most may not voice their displeasure. Sharing equipment on photowalks is a big NO.
Finally, do not leave your family behind. Take them along if your trip is planned for someplace away from home. This will be a good break for them too. They may not join you on your photowalks but will surely enjoy visiting a new place.