What I Learned Doing 52 Photowalks in One Year

December 29, 2009

Photowalk 52 - Snowy Bridge

Today I went on my last photowalk of 2009. Once a week, for 52 weeks in a row, I’ve left my house with my camera and taken photos. That was the only rule I gave myself for this project, too. I didn’t have to find other people to walk with (though I sometimes did), and there was no minimum number of photos I had to take, and no type of photo (I even counted following my sister’s kids around their backyard). The idea was, after a 366 Self Portrait project in 2008 (it was a leap year!), I was tired of taking photos around my house, and I needed an excuse to force myself to get up and leave.

It wasn’t always easy. I didn’t always get good photos. But I’m proud of myself for finishing, and I even learned a thing or two along the way – both about photography and about myself. And so I’m taking a break from my tutorial-like entries to share some of those things with you.

A Good Camera Bag Makes a World of Difference

I started the year with a small shoulder bag that could carry the camera with lens plus one additional lens. The size wasn’t that much of an issue for me at the time – I only had three lenses total and rarely used one of them anyway – but walking around with a shoulder bag wasn’t very convenient for hiking. It got uncomfortable after a while, and it was really hard to squat down or lean over to get a shot. I needed something that distribute the weight more evenly on my back, allow for easy retrieval of my camera and yet get out of the way easily when I need to take a more difficult shot.

365.82 - Slingshot 200

Enter the Lowepro SlingShot 200, which I acquired in March. It was a lifesaver for me. Not only was it extremely more comfortable and hold more gear, but it also held some extras – like an extra battery and memory cards, and even a small notebook I could use to jot things down as I walked.

I Really Like a Wide Angle Lens

I was lucky enough to receive a 10-22mm lens for Christmas in 2008, so it was brand new when I started off this project and it got a lot of use.

365.167: Photowalk 24 - On the stage, looking out.

The above photo is in the running for my Favorite Photo of 2009 (such a tough decision), and it would have been impossible to get it without that wide angle set to 10mm. The photo was taken standing in the back of an amphitheatre in downtown Akron.

I Also Really Like a Nifty Fifty

I bought myself a 50mm just in time to take 50 photos with it on the 50th day of the year (you can see that set of photos here). After I bought that lens, I’d say that 99% of my Photowalk photos were taken with either that one or the wide angle.

365.143: Photowalk 21 - Rehearsal Dinner - Chucks

The thing I love most about the nifty fifty is that even the cheap one – the one I have – can get as wide as f/1.8 which gives you an incredibly shallow depth of field, allowing you to draw the eye in to the small details – like John’s shoes in the above photo. I love the transition from the in-focus blades of grass to the bokeh grass, too.

The Golden Hour is Where It’s At

I know this is something you hear all the time, but I got my favorite photos during the hour before sunset (I only managed to wake up for the sunrise once all year, and it was so foggy that day I never actually saw anything impressive).

Photowalk 45 - Dark berries

When I first started venturing out during the Golden Hour, I focused on some of my favorite metro parks that have lakes and ponds and tried to get photos of sunsets over the water (and got some, too, that I was happy with), but it wasn’t until I started walking on the trails through the woods that I started to see how warm and beautiful that light can really be – like in the above photo from my 45th photowalk, which I might call my favorite walk of the bunch. All the photos had such beautiful warm lighting in them and in early November the weather was actually quite beautiful, too.

Composition Matters

Before I got really into photography, I thought it was the subject that made a good photo. My photowalks told a different story – there were often times I would look at something and know it would make a good photo somehow, but I couldn’t figure out how to capture it.

Photowalk 43 - Lone Leaf + Fall Comrades

On the other hand, this is just a photo of a leaf. Something we see a million times in Autumn and could have made for a boring photo. But the corner of the table, and the leaf-covered ground in the background is what really makes this one of my favorite Autumn photos.

Nature is My Comfort Zone

Out of the 52 walks, 32 were in National, State or local parks. I actually thought it was a higher percentage until I actually tallied it up right now. If I didn’t know where to go, I always knew the Summit County Metro Parks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park were open and could inspire me.

Photowalk 48 - Broken Dreams

But sometimes I would venture into the city. I usually came back from these walks frustrated. I knew one or two photos would be good enough to edit and post, but I knew I had a lot I would trash, too. Which is especially frustrating because I’m probably most inspired by other people’s urban photography. It’s something I want to be really good at, but Nature just seems so much easier to me. This is the main reason that I seriously toying with doing another 52 photowalks in 2010 and forcing myself to concentrate on areas outside of nature.

Experimenting with Editing Can be Fun

Did you know when I first started this project about 90% of my shots were completely unedited? It wasn’t because they were so good they didn’t need editing, it was because I knew pretty much nothing about editing photos. Now 100% of my photos are edited to some degree (though some are only converted from RAW to jpg, which you may or may not count as editing.)

This leaf photo is a bit washed out and uninteresting. But I knew it had potential – I liked the subject, the composition, and the bokeh.

Photowalk 47 - Hello, Yellow.

The editing on the photo really makes that leaf pop and, in my opinion, makes the photo much more interesting. Playing around in Gimp didn’t always make my photos look better. I can’t even count how many times I made a photo look much, much worse. But I played around – and I had fun, and sometimes – like in this leaf photo – I actually ended up with something worth posting.

The turning point for me that made editing fun instead of something I dreaded was when I opened a photo in Gimp without a final vision in mind. If I did that, chances are, I wouldn’t be able to achieve it and I’d be upset. When I opened a photo and started playing around with things just to see what would happen – that’s when it became fun, and funny enough, that’s when I started getting some really good results, too.

Shooting in RAW is Worth It

I’ve already written about RAW vs jpg, and I still agree that there are benefits to both methods of shooting, but for me, personally, RAW is worth it. I don’t really have a photo to share for this, but it’s so nice to be able to fix a photo that’s a bit over- or under-exposed, or the white balance is off. Obviously it’s best to get the photo right in camera – I’m not arguing that fact! – but we’re not perfect.

It was so hard picking just one photo for each of these lessons – oh, the wide angle shots I could show you! If you’d like to see all my photos from my 52 Photowalks, you can see them here (though I haven’t posted all the ones from walk 52 yet)

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  • I'm just getting my focus back to photography now and I find your post here really inspirational. I don't have the time to commit to 365 type project, but 52 walks is definitely doable, so while I missed the first couple of weeks of the year, I think I'm going to start this weekend. Thank you for the advice and the inspiration!

  • bintang503

    I really enjoy your blog, very informative and nice shots too.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I hope you visit mine and share your comments on my snaps.

  • Thanks for your insight. I'm set on doing the 52 Photowalk for 2010.

  • s2R

    What a great post to summarize your 2009! I really like your blog especially tutorials about Gimp. They really helped a lot. Thanks and have a great New Year ahead!

  • Nice post iffles, and cheers for an interesting and inspiring year. I was lucky enough to come across your site at the beginning of 2009, it's always helped when I'm lacking inspiration and you have a good eye.

    Happy new year!

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