Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.0, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.0, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

I just attended a terrific event hosted by the photo club at the Art Institute of Portland, and before hand we did a one hour photowalk around the block. Portland, Oregon is a terrific place to photowalk because there are always lots of people walking around and the light is always excellent. I’ve done lots of photowalks, and these are three things I do to make making pictures simpler and my pictures better–the third one is the most important.

1. Shoot in Aperture Priority

Set your camera to the big “A” or “Av” settings. This is Aperture Priority mode (or Aperture Value), and when you use it you simply choose the aperture you want and the camera chooses the shutter speed for you. Of course, you still have control over the shutter speed by using the Exposure Compensation button (looks like +/-), but instead of thinking about it in fracitons of a second, you just have to think in terms of brighter and darker. If you make a frame and it’s too dark, just turn the compensation higher. You’ll be able to predict what’s needed by the overall tones of your scene. If the scene has lots of dark areas, set the compensation to the minus (darker) side; if it’s got lots of bright tones, set it to the plus side. This wall was awash in sunlight and it was quite bright, so the camera naturally wants to darken it so it’s not too bright; I set the compensation to +2/3 of a stop to make sure it stayed nice and bright (+.7).

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/5, 1/100s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/5, 1/1000s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

2. Stabilize and Wait

The key to using Aperture Priority mode is that you’ve got to keep an eye on the shutter speed (it’s displayed in your viewfinder). If you choose a smaller aperture for more depth of field, that shutter speed will drop lower to let in enough light. So, crank up the ISO, and take a page from my pal Chris’s book and stabilize yourself. Chris is leaning against the wall, and has the camera pressed to his face as another point of stabilization. He’s using focus peaking to manually focus his GH4, so the other hand is free to work the focus ring. Once you see some good light, stabilize yourself and wait for some worthwhile action to happen. For instance, while making the image above, I was also waiting for some people to walk through a gateway that had some great light; it never happened, but I was ready for it!

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3, 1/800s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3, 1/800s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

3. Photograph People’s Faces, Not Their Butts

The first time I started making pictures of people on the street I tried to be surreptitious about it, sneaking a shot when they weren’t looking. I didn’t want to be caught, you see. So I’d wait until people walked by to photograph them. You know what I ended up with? A lot of pictures of their backs and butts. BORING!

Now I’ve got a simple formula for you to use to make pictures of people on the street. Once you’ve got your camera settings dialed in, hold your camera in front of you and say, “Excuse me, when you look over that way there are some interesting reflections in your glasses, and this dark wall makes a great contrast. Would you mind if I make a quick portrait of you?”

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.2, 1/250s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.2, 1/250s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Or maybe you could try this one: “Hi, I don’t mean to bug you, but you’re hair looks really great as it blows in the wind. I’m practicing photography, and I was wondering if I could make a picture of your hair?”

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.2, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.2, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

But this one is my favorite: “Howdy! There’s some really terrific light reflecting off that building and you’re standing in it and you look awesome. Could I make a portrait of you?”

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.0, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Nikon Df, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3.0, 1/500s, ISO 320, in-camera monochrome with yellow filter.

Next I always say, “I’m Levi, what’s your name? What brings you downtown today?” I photographed a guy from out of town, a musician heading to her concert, and a marketing student on his way home from class. You just never know who you’ll meet when you photograph people’s faces instead of their butts.

Take these three tips with you, and step out the door and see what adventure awaits. If you really want to have some fun, set your camera to JPEG, switch to monochrome with a colored filter like yellow or red and go to town.

Levi loves photowalking with others. Join him next week in the best town in the world to photowalk during the Out of Chicago Conference. There will be classes and photowalks galore, and you can register here. Also join Levi on Twitter: @PhotoLevi.


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Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Ha ha ha… Levi… your posts always come after I burn my fingers and learn the hard way. :)

    I was at the Wooden Show Farm and was walking when I saw sunlight come through dark storm clouds and light up my foreground. I composed and clicked. Then when I checked… the image was shaken. I had been walking and my momentum and breath could not be countered by the camera’s IS. I had nothing to lean on… but I took a deep breath, paused and then clicked. I got a beautiful shot… but by then… the best light was gone. :P

    Reply
    • Oh, Jyoti, I can empathize. If I had things set perfectly each time I saw the perfect picture, I’d be the best photographer in the world. Ah, well–we’ll just keep practicing and getting ready for that perfect opportunity.

      Reply
  2. There’s only so much that one can pump up the ISO if one is using film. I choose ISO 400 negative film for its range of latitude.
    I’ve been a photowalk leader for the past two Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk for the local hometown. My suggestion is to use one lens for less weight. I used two lenses for my first photo walk, a 28 and a 70-205 and changing the Cokin adapter ring to the other size was a chore when swapping lenses; the next year, I just used my 28.
    After I registered to lead my first photo walk, I thought “What if Saturday is a home game?” Fortunately, the college had an away game. The second time, I checked the football schedule and it was a home game, so the venue was a city away from game day traffic.

    Reply
  3. Portland is indeed a great town to photograph. I don’t do enough of it when I’m down there! My biggest takeaway here was one you probably hadn’t intended: Shooting b/w in camera with a filter in front of the lens. Just like the old days with film. I do that regularly with my film camera, but have never tried it with my digi. Maybe that approach will free up my time on the computer and get me out shooting more. Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  4. […] 3 Tips for Fabulous Photowalking – Three great tips for photo walks […]

    Reply
  5. Wonderful article, I loved the digitalis dalmatian cream section

    Reply

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About Levi Sim

Photography is my life, and I'd like my photography to be part of your life, too. Whether I make pictures with you or help you learn to make your vision pop out of the camera, I'm happy to help.

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Photography, Portrait, Shooting, Street

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