photowalk, nature

Photo: manzrussali/Shutterstock

Photowalks are a great way to get out and get clicking, either by yourself, with a couple shutterbug friends, or with a group of people. They can be wonderful for seeing a neighborhood or wild space with new eyes, getting inspired to be more creative with angles and subjects, as well as simply spending time with fun people. But photowalks require several hours committed to shooting, so you want them to be as productive and enjoyable as possible. Here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of a photowalk, including the best gear to pack, the coolest people to bring, and when to start your bar tab (oooh yes!).

Pick a location with lots of interest

A photowalk is a perfect excuse to go explore a new area. However, if you've never been to the location before, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment as far as final images are concerned. Base your chosen location on what you feel like photographing — whether that be buildings, people, busy streets, a festival, nature, and so on, and make sure the place you're headed is filled with what you most want to shoot. It will pay off in a satisfying walk if you research your chosen location beforehand and know (at least to some degree) what to expect.

Sign up for someone else's walk

If you'd like to meet new people but would rather not do all the planning yourself, find out what's going on in your area. A quick search online for photowalk clubs, or scanning sites like or Craigslist will reveal what's happening near you. This way, you can focus on the experience of the walk itself, without stressing about how many people will show up, if it'll start on time, keeping everyone together, and so on. If you're an Instagrammer, check out Instagram walks happening in your area. For example, Instagrammers SF is a San Francisco-based group that announces walks, posting the location, date and time on the account when announced. All fellow Instagrammers are welcome to join. Following similar groups in your area will keep you up to date on upcoming walks. And after all, it's not like you have to just Instagram — the groups are filled with people who use iPhones and other camera phones in addition to their other camera gear. As long as you bring something that takes photos, you're set.

Invite anyone, no matter their skill level

You'll be surprised at what you learn from people who claim to know nothing about photography. Even with a simple point-n-shoot camera, they can capture some outstanding images. Maybe it's the lack of pressure or expectation common with aspiring photographers that help them stay loose and creative, but they remind us that it's the person, not the camera, that makes the photograph. So bring Aunt Betty or your 10-year-old nephew or anyone else whose company you might enjoy on a walk, and keep an open mind.

Pack light

You don't want to be lugging around pounds of camera gear that you aren't really going to use. Unless you're absolutely positive that you're going to be switching lenses during your walk, just bring a single lens. A 24-105, a 17-55 or similar zoom, or a prime lens like a 24, 35 or 50mm are probably your best bets. Unless you're shooting at night or in dim conditions, skip the tripod or monopod, skip the flashes, skip the bells and whistles. Just bring a small photo bag with the bare essentials. You save yourself the headache of lugging gear, the heartache of missing a shot because you were too busy fidgeting with different lenses, and you're forced to get creative with your shots rather than relying on doodads for your images. It might also be handy to bring along a digital point-n-shoot or Diana camera just to switch things up and stay loose with your creativity. And of course, the lightest gear possible is simply your camera phone. Some of the latest smartphones have amazing cameras, and Instagrammers have proven the kind of art that can be made with them. Ultimately, use whatever is most comfortable for you.

Don't forget the essentials

While you want to skip loads of extra gear, be sure you remember the important stuff, including an extra memory card (or two), an extra fully charged battery, comfortable shoes and layered clothing, and a notepad and pen for jotting notes about places, times, conditions, the names and information of people you meet (either fellow photographers or the subjects of your photos) and any other information you might want to remember about certain shots.

Watch the weather reports

When you schedule your photowalk, be sure to watch the weather reports leading up to the day. Even if rain or snow doesn't cause you to cancel or reschedule your walk, it might change what gear you want to bring with you, including a raincover for your camera body and lens.

Keep an eye out for danger

Aside from watching the sky for rain, you'll want to watch out for other people as well. Smartphones are always a target for theft, but thieves have become much more savvy about the value of digital cameras. This is another reason why going with a group is a great idea, but still, don't make yourself a target by standing for a very long time absentmindedly holding your gear out in front of you. It's easy to be distracted when you're thinking about your next shot, but try to maintain awareness of where you are, the other people in your surroundings, and the general mood of the place. If you're in an area that is really busy or you aren't super comfortable, then just be savvy about when to use your gear. Compose your shot in your head before holding up your camera, use a camera strap wrapped around your wrist or shoulder, and of course, if someone really wants to take your camera, it is safest to just hand it over.

Pick a meet-up spot to end the walk

A great way to end a photowalk on a high note is to pick a final spot for everyone to meet up. If people get sidetracked during the walk, they can rejoin the group here, and everyone can dish about what they saw, their potential favorite images, and so on. The time of day will often dictate the location, but a cafe always works well. A lot of photowalks select a final meeting place at a bar or pub so that everyone can wind down with a drink and talk about their experience shooting. However, I've definitely known groups that start at the pub first and head out for shooting later. It might be a great strategy for some, but using expensive camera equipment while tipsy might not be the brightest idea. This isn't to say you won't get some interesting shots if you're one or two sheets to the wind before walking, but for your safety and for your camera's safety, save the liquor for last.

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

8 tips for getting the most out of a 'photowalk'
Grab your camera, round up some friends or strangers, and see the world through a camera lens.