Our readers, most photographers for that matter, are familiar with photo walks like the ones Levi Sim does for Photofocus in various cities. We take the ability to participate in a photo walk pretty much for granted. Now imagine that you are disabled. Your greatest challenge isn’t confinement caused by not being able to move. It’s boredom. You spend 24/7 in bed or in bed and a wheelchair. Your world has shrunk to the size of your room.

Virtual Photo Walks

Now imagine you, in bed in front of your computer, are linked to a photographer actually on a photo walk. By linked, I mean the two of you are talking. You see what her camera is seeing right then. You can have her move the camera around, create a new composition and make a photograph of what you see on your monitor. This isn’t a recording. It’s a live, immersive, real-time experience. It can be just you and the photographer. Or the virtual photo walk can include a lot of others, but not without your permission. You’ve been imagining for a few moments. Here’s how virtual photo walks started and how they work.

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Screenshot of a Virtual Photo Walk. Photo: Courtesy virtualphotowalks.org


While paddling his canoe one day John Butterill asked himself “How cool would it be to attach a phone to your camera and hang out with five [to] ten people? And they would see exactly what I was seeing through the viewfinder of my camera.” With that rig John did a Google Hangout from the river. Cory Fisk, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer of ten years and confined to her bed, was on that Hangout. Her world was the very limited view through a pair of sliding glass doors. It was of a bird feeder in front of a plain brown fence. That was her whole world. So John said “Tomorrow, I’ll take you for a walk…” There’s more on this .

The view from John’s canoe. Photo: Courtesy virtualphotowalks.org

The walks today

Through “Virtual” guides with camera and smart phone, disabled people participate through the internet; interacting with the guide live during the walk. It’s really a mobile, private video meeting. These experiences are secure and moderated. Disabled participants can ask their guide to move the camera to see exactly what interests them. It might be a wide angle landscape, a macro version of a flower or the Colosseum in Rome. Real life trips are difficult if not impossible for disabled persons. They are also really expensive. Virtual photo walks are free for the participants. Photographers volunteer to be guides. The rest of the costs are handled through Virtual Photo Walks a 501c3 public charity. Virtual photo walks have taken place around the world including Singapore and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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The Coloseum in Rome, Italy. Photo: courtesy virtualphotowalks.org

How to participate

I had a great conversation with John Butterill. He is totally enthusiastic about getting photographers involved with these walks. There are links on the Virtual Photo Walks website. At the bottom of the homepage is an easy explanation of how to get involved along with links for participating in a walk, the Facebook group, how to become a volunteer or a sponsor. Next time you are planning a photographic adventure no matter where you may be, consider taking a disabled person along to share the experience. You’ll both be smiling!

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Smiles abound during virtual photo walks. Photo: courtesy of virtualphotowalks.org