I love the social aspect of photography. Meeting other photographers and discovering the way they approach their passion has always been an enjoyable part of mine, so a few years ago I started to arrange little photowalks – mainly with groups of close friends.
Some of these friends started to invite other friends and so on, and before I knew it these walks were larger groups of people enjoying the social and educational joy of hanging out, shooting and learning together.
In my day job I’m a creative director working in experiential marketing and advertising (sorry Bill Hicks), so developing ideas for engaging events is a part of what I do. As my walks developed into more “official” affairs, I began to apply some of the tools of my trade to them to help them become more refined experiences that strangers felt comfortable coming along to.
I ended up talking about and sharing my photowalk learnings as a guest on the Sunny 16 Podcast, and following the positive feedback, I thought it might be a good idea to share my approach with the photography world in a “how-to” article. Here’s what I cover:
So here we go…
First things first: remember that you are planning an event
It helps to organise a photowalk with the right mindset. So remember that your photowalk is an event, and events need structure because you are asking people to give up time to join you, and they will have a basic expectation of a level of organization – just as would you if you turned up to one.
Always ask yourself this: If you were a stranger turning up at a photowalk, what would you expect to want to know and do before, during and after the walk? This will help you to visualize the day and highlight key organizational tasks to ensure that it goes well- and as with all good events, preparation, planning and common sense is everything.
Let’s get on with it…
What’s the photowalk about?
One of the first things to decide is the nature of your walk. Is it a leisurely stroll through a city or are you visiting an event already happening in your town? Will it have a focus on a particular type of camera or film (e.g. black and white only)? Will it have a gaming element to it? Will you be in fancy dress…naked?
If this is your first attempt at organizing a walk, I’d suggest you keep it simple, avoid themes that are too specific (as this can put people off) and just focus on visiting areas in your locality that you know and enjoy shooting in. This will help make sure that you’re not putting an extra layer of pressure on your shoulders.
I invite all photographers to my walks — film, digital, smartphone — it doesn’t matter because it’s all about enjoyment, learning and support. This puts my guests at ease and sets the tone for a relaxed day. Giving it a cool name may help to attract people too.
With the nature of your walk set, it’s time to…
Set a date
Choose a date that works for you, one that you know you can definitely do. Then stick to it. When you organize a walk, your friends will get excited and sign up, then you’ll get private messages from the odd one asking you if it’s possible to change the date so that they can turn up. Understand that no single date will work for everybody, and the most important person here is you. You shouldn’t feel compromised or pressured. So stick to your date, because it will work for lots of other people and your friends will have to try and make it to the next one.
Also, remember that you’re asking people to make their own arrangements to join you. They will be shifting their own diaries around, negotiating with partners and neglecting their kids to free up the time, and all that good stuff. They may even be moving work shifts to join you. So changing the date a week before will not go down well at all.
You don’t want to be the person that does that kind of photowalk.
Promote, promote, promote
Letting people know about your walk is the next thing. Luckily, social media makes this very easy.
Create a simple artwork that has all key details of your walk – I’d suggest you make it square in shape so that it easily sits well on major social media platforms and looks good on a smartphone screen. You’ll need to tell people:
- What it is.
- Where it is.
- When it’s happening.
- Where to meet.
- Any other contact details/links to further info if you want to add it.
Get as creative as you can but keep the main information clear:
Congratulations! You now have a sharable digital poster. This will become your “key visual” that allows any stranger to understand your event at a glance, and you now need to share the hell out of it but it needn’t be the only promotional materials you create.
You can also think about making variations that break up your message over the days or weeks that you’ll be promoting it.
You don’t have to stop there. You may even want to make a GIF to grab attention if you know how (ask google, I won’t go into it here).
Whatever you decide about your artwork, I’d suggest that you share it in bursts with “call to action” messaging to keep interest going at the following stages:
- 3-4 weeks away: “Save the date” message.
- 2 weeks away: “2 weeks to go!” message.
- 1 week away: “It’s next week! Get ready!” message.
- Final week: “4 days to go!”, “It’s 2 days away!”, etc message.
- Day before: “It’s tomorrow!” message.
There’s also a fantastic site called photowalk.me that allows you to enter the key details of your walk on a global photowalk registry so that people can search and sign up to it. It’s very useful because by entering the details of your walk you get to visualize the event and remember the key information that you need to provide. It also lets you set a maximum number of people for your walk if you so wish.
You can of course also set up an event on Facebook if you want, which allows you to chat with guests and get an idea of numbers.
My approach is a combination of these, to help maximize numbers and get the word out in 3 ways:
- My digital posters just ask people to turn up, and I share them in bursts.
- photowalk.me allows me to attract and engage people I don’t know.
- Facebook events help me to engage closer friends.
Now that you’re putting the word out, you need to plan the details of the day…
Planning the route
Running photowalks can feel like you’re trying to round up cats all day if you’re not organized in advance.
Plan a route with timings include a film stop, if available.
- When planning what happens on the day, think of it as a school trip for adults. By that I mean that though you are organizing an event with grownups, they might turn up late, get lost, amble at their own pace, miss key bits of information because they’re chatting to a newfound photowalk friend, etc — and that’s all fine, because they are in “fun” mode and there to enjoy themselves. You want to create a fun day with “light touch” structure that they barely realize is there.
- Remember the “walk” in photowalk. People will be taking their time and looking around and stopping to shoot so your location schedule needs to allow time for ambling, not walking.
- Don’t plan a day that’s too hectic. People want to take in the sights and sounds of a location they’re in, so keep it relatively simple, and remember that it’s not just about finding interesting locations on a walk — the routes to each location are important too, so look at taking people off the beaten track along your journey, and mix up the types of places they go to.
The point to point approach
My walks are a journey between interesting stop-off points. Each stop-off point will be a landmark in an interesting area. Once we arrive there, I tell the group that they have “XX” minutes to wander around the area and break off alone or in whatever groups they want to, and that we will meet back at the Point at a set time, after which we will venture on to the next one.
This allows them to discover and enjoy the area and then catch up, share their experiences and move on. Freedom with structure. And if they miss you at one point, they can always catch up with the group at the next.
No matter how well you’ve planned your day, things will happen that change your schedule. Usually it’s because people are just having a great time, and are happy to hang at one point for longer. If that’s the case you can always remove a stop-off point later in the day.
Pre-book a place to stop
I always have a clear idea of where we will stop for lunch, and build it into the day.
If you have a rough idea of your group size, then book a table in advance at a pub or restaurant. You can always cancel if you change your mind or numbers get too big, but it’s nice to know that you all have a seat and that you can all be together to share your experiences so far. It’s one of those touches that people will really appreciate.
Pubs work well because they can cater for larger casual numbers, and whether people want a quick snack or something more substantial, there’s plenty of options. And booze of course.
The day before
This is the time to tweak details, check everything is in order and run through the day in your mind to flag up any snags. It’s your time to get a handle on expected numbers and tweak your schedule as required. You may want to contact some of your attendees and get confirmations.
This is also the time to CHECK THE WEATHER and adjust your walk accordingly. You may want to swap out an open-air stop-off point for an indoor market, for example. Rain can really hamper a photowalk, so be ready for it. Equally, on a hot day, areas with shade may be needed at times so that things don’t get too flustered.
PRINT OUT plenty of copies of the day’s schedule accompanied by your contact details so that everyone has information on the agenda and knows what a great day they’re in for.
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“It’s Tomorrow!” post: Send a reminder social media post across all platforms letting people know that it’s definitely happening, to build excitement and attract any last-minute join-ups.
“It’s gonna be great!” post: if the weather is looking dodgy, acknowledge to all attendees that you have allowed for this during the walk, so that they feel reassured that all is well and that the day won’t be a washout. Little nudges like this will help to ensure that you get the maximum numbers possible.
The kit bit… This can be the hardest part of a walk — deciding how many cameras to bring, what to wear and what else you need so let me break it down…
Dress for the weather
You will be spending a whole day walking out in the elements. You need to dress practically without overburdening yourself so prepare for the weather and wear good comfortable walking shoes. You don’t want to spend the day in pain from brand new sneakers or with soaking wet feet. This will really spoil things, so be sensible. I normally go for comfortable sneakers or waterproof walking boots, and leave my thigh length stiletto boots, tap shoes and wooden clogs at home. Easy.
Carry a bag that works for you
Your camera bag is your best friend. You need something that is practical, light and protected against the elements. It’s going to carry your precious kit and it needs to be comfortable.
I’ve tried rucksacks but despite being comfortable they don’t allow for easy kit access when you want to swap cameras or quickly reload for that decisive moment, so I now use a proper camera bag as it’s designed for purpose.
For the past 4 years I’ve used the ever-popular Billingham Hadley Pro — it’s compact but generous, protective, has modular inserts, makes it is easy to swap out cameras on the go, and won’t let your kit get wet. And it looks damn fine too, which can make a real difference when you approach a stylish stranger on the street and ask to take their portrait and they surreptitiously eye you up and down to assess whether you’re a trustworthy individual or a creep.
For my most recent photowalks…and general carry, I’ve been using the new and improved Billingham Hadley Pro 2020, which is what you see in the pictures above and below.
The old scout motto…
BE PREPARED. I always have these things for myself, but also to help out my merry band of flaneurs:
- Spare film.
- Lens cloth.
- Mini camera cleaning brush.
- Business cards (a nice thing to hand out at the beginning of the walk so that everyone has your details, as well as to people you might photograph on the day).
- Fully charged phone power bank and charge cables.
- Spare camera batteries.
- Pen and small pad.
- Ibuprofen and paracetamol (for when the camera carrying aches come calling).
- Mini leatherman / swiss army knife (kept in the camera bag).
- A pack of tissues.
- Carrier bag (they are useful for a million reasons, and you can quickly use one to protect the camera in your hand if it starts to rain, or to protect your ass from getting soaked when you sit on a wet surface).
This is always super difficult for me. On every walk I’ve ever organized, I end up with camera paralysis, not sure what to bring until a last-second panic, wanting to bring all my cameras but appreciating that I would end up overburdened and not using any of them.
Also, when you are running a photowalk, you will be spending a lot of your time organizing, talking and keeping the walk flowing well so you’ll shoot a lot less than you normally do. Don’t break your back carrying around a load of kit that you won’t use. You’ll get tired and frustrated.
I’ve got my personal camera kit down to 3 categories of camera that between them cover my favourite focal length area for street shooting (35-50mm) , and I will normally take one from each:
Category one: the nice camera
This is the one I will use for nice, well planned and composed shots and street portraits, usually with a fast lens:
- Nikon FM3a with Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.
- Contax Aria with Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar.
- Minolta CLE with Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4.
Category two: the fun camera
This will be something light that is focus-free and thought-free that can be kept close at hand and used for quick snapping when the mood arises:
- Lomo LCA-120.
- Olympus XA2.
- Agfa Optima Sensor.
- Or the “quirky cheapo charity shop bargain bin plastic camera” – just to see what it can do.
Category three: the quality point and shoot with flash
This will be something that takes good shots easily, and can be used indoors too with flash for grabbing group shots and less planned moments:
- Olympus MJU II
- Pentax PC35AF-M
- Canon Sureshot Multi Tele (an incredible half frame point & shoot )
- Canon Sureshot AF1 (a waterproof point and shoot that I take out if it rains)
On saying all that, there have been times where I simply take my Pentax ME Super and make my life a million times easier. It’s light, has aperture priority and I love it.
Choosing film can be a real pain point too. Here’s some of my favourites and why:
- Fujifilm NEOPAN 400 – fast and beautiful (but not cheap).
- Fujifilm NEOPAN 100 ACROS – unbelievably gorgeous sharp and contrasty black and white film.
- ILFORD HP5 PLUS – a super reliable classic looking film with great tones and blacks- I could shoot this all day.
- Kodak Portra 400 – Always great results and colour.
- Fujifilm Fujicolor C200 pushed +1 –for a cheaper Portra look (…Poortra?).
- Lomography Color Negative 800 – just gorgeous rich colours and looks fantastic pushed to 1600 too. Highly recommended and good value.
Film is very light so I’ll also take random handfuls of stuff from the fridge to try out, give away or swap with others on the walk. It’s all part of the fun.
On the day
It’s here! That day you’ve been planning, promoting and imagining in your mind for weeks. Will it go well? Will anyone turn up? Will the weather hold? WHO KNOWS? Now is the time to just enjoy whatever the day brings.
I once organized a walk and it rained so hard all day that in the end, there were two attendees apart from myself — and one of them was my son, who I had to bribe with a free burger to join me. We still had a fun time and took pictures.
I usually document the day on social media to let everybody know what they’re missing, engage the other attendees and generate interest from non-attendees for future walks.
Be there early
Try and be there for early comers. It’s nice for attendees arriving early not to feel alone and lost — and it shows that you’re organized. If you rock up late to your own photowalk it’s not a good look at all.
Hand out an itinerary + any important info
As attendees arrive, greet them, hand them a printout of the day’s itinerary and introduce them to the others so that they can start to mingle, look at their printouts and get a sense of what the day will provide
The group talk
When everyone has arrived — or when you’ve reached the allotted time for the meetup point and need to get on with the walk, bring everyone together and give them a quick group talk. Keep it simple but cover these things:
- Thank them for coming.
- Go around the group and get everyone to introduce themselves.
- Welcome them to the day, and let them know that there’s lots of things planned, so to try and loosely keep to the schedule (at the start anyway).
- Quickly go through the schedule and what you’ll be doing.
- Let everyone know that they can call you if they’re lost.
- Let everyone know that they should mingle, make new friends and enjoy sharing tips and techniques with each other.
- Safety talk: Remind people to be safe and streetwise, and that they photograph people at their own risk. And if in doubt, ask permission from your subject when taking a shot. Laws regarding street photography vary from country to country and irrespective of the law, some communities or people may not take kindly to having their picture taken. So remind attendees to be respectful and polite, and give them a heads up of any areas that may be worth avoiding so that everybody has the best day possible with no mishaps.
- Answer any questions that attendees may have.
You’re ready to go — apart from one final thing…
Take a group picture
As soon as the group chat is over, grab some pictures of the whole group- this is one memento that everybody will cherish and share and help to get the word out about the walk. This is also probably the only time you’ll see everybody in the group standing still in one place…
So off you go — because you’ve organized and spent time thinking about the day beforehand, you can now spend your time enjoying the day, meeting new friends and stressing less.
The film stop
If you can pass by a film shop at some point in the day — ideally in the first half of the day — that may be of use to help attendees to stock up. It may be worth speaking to your local film store and asking if they’d provide a little discount on film if you bring a group in. These local relationships are always worth fostering.
The walk is over and you’re all in the pub. Enjoy a relaxing drink and relive memories of the day. Well done — you’ve organised a photowalk, made new friends and learned lots for the next one.
While you’re in the pub, don’t forget the obligatory “all cameras on the table” shot- this has become a tradition on photowalks and is another lovely moment that everyone will photograph and share
First off: Share, Share & Share during and after the walk… Get everyone to share moments and shots from the day on social media. This will again help to promote your walk and make non-attendees want to come along to the next one.
Learn and adapt
After the walk, sit down and think of what you’ve learned- both from your own experience, and the feedback you’ve received. Call friends on the walk, and ask them what they honestly thought.
- What worked?
- What could have been better?
- What didn’t work at all?
Then use these learnings on your next walk.
First and foremost, I hope that was all of use. There are lots to think about, but I hope you’ve seen that most of my brain-dump is just common sense, consideration and a bit of planning.
My final and most important bit of advice would be this: Have fun, and so will your guests. They’re there to take pictures and make new friends and if you’ve facilitated that for them, you’re 90% there.
Thanks for reading,
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