Combine daily walks with photo stories and let your feet and creativity roam free. ‘Photowalking’ is a visionary way to get you moving, clear your mind, and connect with your surroundings, as Tracey Ellis explains.
Nothing gets me out of bed quicker than opening my blinds to the sun rising over Salisbury Plains, dramatic clouds racing across the sky, or a blanket of mist hovering over the town. With Mother Nature’s magic, I know it’s going to be a perfect time for a walking photo shoot.
Every night, I check the next day’s weather for an hourly description of the forecast; sunny with a bit of fog, partly cloudy and cool, or relentless grey like it so often is in the UK. As soon as I see a glimpse of yellow sun on my screen I let it dictate my day, and my daily walk.
Often without a direction in mind, I let my natural compass guide me. I am drawn toward the sun (when it is out), knowing its glowing rays are giving me that daily dose of Vitamin D, and that wherever it is positioned in the sky will result in shadows and reflections that enhance nature’s beauty even more.
But it’s not just the sun that gets me moving. Sometimes I leave the house in a tight ball of frustration with a need to escape, and find myself three hours and ten miles later still walking and stress-free. Each step releases tension, and, like Forrest Gump, it feels like I could walk forever.
Walking is my therapy, and though I prefer to do it under the best conditions, I will still venture out on the darkest days, because somewhere I will feel the light; in the ponies meandering through the fields, in the vast landscape of the English countryside, or in the smiles of people I pass.
I begin on a familiar path, but vary the route with each walk. It’s always worth a little look, I tell myself, and sure enough there is something beautiful or interesting to discover around that unfamiliar corner.
With camera in hand, I shoot whatever grabs me; it can be a flock of birds taking flight over a church, a spider web glistening with dew drops, or a tiny village library in a bright red phone box. These images are like little gems for the soul; they provide a photo story of each walk I do, each walk that is different and inspiring, and most importantly, restorative.
Whether it’s two miles or ten, I come home feeling re-energised and refreshed. I reflect on the photos I’ve taken, which ones stand out for me the most, and share them on Instagram with my fellow ‘photowalkers’.
Immediately there are likes, comments and questions such as; ‘where is that?’ and ‘I want to go there too!’ Being able to share these special moments from my walk with others is rewarding and inspires them to do the same; to discover and explore, venture outside.
The hashtags I attach to photos are popular and plentiful; #exploremore, #liveauthentic, #takemehere, and #letsgosomewhere are just a few. Linking them to my photos allows like-minded walkers to view and appreciate my photos, and provides a platform of new places for me to discover also.
Warning – photowalking can become addictive
With so many healthy benefits, I rely on my daily walking ‘fix’ as much as a caffeine boost or a relaxing glass of wine. Unless there’s a hurricane or tornado brewing, you’ll see me out there, whatever the weather. I’ve just signed up for a 106km Ultra Challenge around the Isle of Wight, and though stopping to take photos will undoubtedly affect my time, it will also provide invaluable memories of the longest walk of my life
Feel good factors
Combining walking with taking photos is a way of maintaining a perfect balance of physical and mental health. My sense of creativity is enhanced by movement and exposure to changing scenery, and boosted by the release of serotonin, creating a ‘natural high’. It gives my day symbolic structure and deeper meanings in simple pleasures
How? Here’s just a few examples:
Connections are crucial; with nature, animals, people, or a community. Feeling your feet connected to the ground, fixed but flexible, gives that balance of being stable yet free to roam and explore, one step at a time.
Finding beauty in the smallest things; a stalk of wheat, a little duck house, a hidden gateway, the mystery of abandoned steps, a friendly cow, sometimes even a rainbow if you’re lucky. Discovering these elements along the way make every step worthwhile, and each time there is something different.
Feeling light, in body and mind. Walking has proven to lighten the load of not only stress but also weight, and taking photos while you walk gives you a sense of purpose, and provides a distraction from letting your mind wander too far in the wrong direction.
Photos can reflect mood, or change it. If it’s a grey day and you’re feeling sombre, try a black and white filter for monochrome melancholy. Or brighten a dull day by finding things with vibrant colours; a red umbrella or bright blue door. Be spontaneous and use your natural instinct, follow whatever catches your eye.
‘Cityscapes’ can provide just as much inspiration as walking in the countryside. Many city walkers are walking with purpose; to get from point A to point B, but on a photowalk you can absorb a city differently. For example, you can focus on architecture, words in the wild (on signs or graffiti), or capture the flow of daily life on a busy street. Urban stimulus for photos, or ‘street photography’, can be gritty or pretty, and make you notice things you might never have before.
Daily photography rituals
Sunrise/Sunset – check for the exact time of sunrise/sunset and make an effort to be outside at least a half an hour before. You will not be disappointed with the light you see, how it transforms your photos, and the dramatic sky changes every few seconds.
Try different angles – instead of the usual landscape shots, try taking photos squatting down, or step on a bench and take them from high up. Tilt your camera so the photo is lopsided, sometimes this can give a quirky, unique effect. On your walks don’t forget to turn around once in a while and take in the view behind you, or just stop for a few minutes to absorb what’s around you.
Pick a theme a day – flowers, close-ups, macro, minimalism, animals in nature. Sometimes focusing on a certain style of picture can be more fun than randomly snapping away.
Enter competitions – both Instagram and Twenty20 offer photo competitions which give you a theme to work with. The photo community votes and you can earn ‘honors’, sometimes even selling your photos!
Competition examples: Something Green, Creative Camouflage, Family Outings, Spring Style, Bright & Bold, Music & Art Festivals.
Play with filters – filters can make any photo look better or dramatically different. You can show off your style by experimenting with a few; watch out for too much saturation though, that is never a good thing.
Create a daily photo journal – 365project and Capture Your 365 are great websites to give you ideas and get you started. Try it every day for a month or a whole year if you’re committed.
How to join a photowalk
Many cities and towns host photowalks. They are a great way to tour a city and take creative, quality photographs. Whether as a tourist or a local, you’re bound to discover something new and unusual (and photo-worthy) on these walks, and probably make friends along the way. They are often used for corporate team-building as a way of being mindful of your surroundings.
There are photowalks for the creative tourist, night-time only walks, even secret walks which take you off the beaten track. Some offer practical advice on how to use your camera, whilst others focus more on the highlights of the route alongside fanciful stories of history and intrigue that make the photos all the more interesting. Consider re-discovering your own city this way and join a photowalk or create your own.
For more serious shooters, London Walks takes small groups on a full day’s tour and suggests bringing a DSLR rather than a smartphone. It combines history and photography and is suitable for beginners with some knowledge of photography.
For the more adventurous, Secret London Photo Walk offers walks away from the tourist crowds, with unusual themes such as ‘Poverty, Parks and Prostitution’ as well as fun night-time walks. In smaller groups, photography tips are given rather than tuition.
For the general all-rounder, Walking Photographer Tours is a Yorkshire-based company that covers almost all the bases, from city to countryside, workshops to socials, they have it all.
For the more exclusive, Going Digital offers a range of bespoke photography walks with each workshop tailored to its venue. On the website you can enter any town or city in the UK and find a photowalk near you. Prices start from around £75 but you get quality tuition from an expert.
For the more casual snappers, Photowalk Meetups are a good way to meet local people in your area who just like to wander and shoot in a less structured atmosphere. Each group is named for what it represents (Walking Friends, Socialisers, Over 40’s), along with a description and number of members.
For the Instagrammers, follow the official Instagram community in your area. These groups often host ‘Instameets’ on the weekend, and it’s a great way to put a face to a follower and meet people in your area. Search ‘@igers(city,town,county)’ to find the official community page.
Virtual Photo Walks is a not for profit organisation that offers virtual tours for those who are isolated or unable to walk to visit distant places.