The Inconsistent Fruits Of The Photowalk

A photowalk I would define as any walk where you have the intention of deliberately making a photograph.

These can vary greatly in length and time, and yield anything from dozens, even hundreds of images, to none at all, if nothing worthwhile presents itself.

I confess I’ve found the inconsistent fruits of the photowalk a struggle at times. 

A 15 minute wander around a local church might inspire 10 or 15 photographs.

On the same day and with the same equipment, a two hour walk somewhere else might only give me one or two images.


Here are some of the difficulties I’ve had –

  • Ending up with very few photographs from a substantial (in time and/or distance) photowalk can feel very disappointing, and like a reflection on my (in)ability to make a decent photograph.
  • Restraining from making photographs just for the sake of having some when opportunities aren’t manifesting can be difficult. Again, the motivation being – I “should” have something good to show for this walk.
  • The overall feeling that photography is not so much about knowledge and use of your camera(s) but being able to seek out compositions to capture where others might not see any. Then not seeing any.

Over time I’ve learned better how to deal with these.

Whilst I like making beautiful pictures, I feel it’s important not to judge the “success” of a photowalk by how many great images it yielded.

It’s far more helpful to consider more simply – did you enjoy it? If you did, it was worthwhile.

What are your feelings on this? Do you sometimes find a short walk yields plenty of images and a longer one ends with nothing to show for it? In short, how do you deal with the inconsistent fruits of the photowalk?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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21 thoughts on “The Inconsistent Fruits Of The Photowalk”

  1. The longer the photowalk, the more photos I tend to get. Of course whether I decide they’re all good enough in the end varies :). This is why I always enjoy going to parks and gardens, because I know I will consistently get some nice images; a street photowalk is always a bit hit and miss because it depends more on my mindset on the day.

    I guess I don’t let the inconsistency bother me. Sometimes I get annoyed if I come away with only a handful of images, but to be honest that doesn’t happen that often, because most of my photowalks are at least 2 hours long, and a maximum of 4 hours, so I will normally end up with at least 20 images that I’m happy with. I like walking 🙂 (although my back does not!).

    I think I get more annoyed if I feel like I wasted film on some shots, that’s why I prefer shooting digital when I do street photography, because my street is so inconsistent.

    1. I feel pretty similarly Mel, in that I know if I go to certain places (like National Trust gardens and old churches) there’s a certain guarantee almost that there will be plenty of photographic material.

      Going somewhere new, the potential opportunities are unknown, and the risk of being disappointed is higher. Which sounds like what your street photography sessions are more like.

  2. As you say, acceptance is key: one goes out with mixed intent; in the brisk or leisurely going itself, the walk, amble, stroll or ride, and the atmosphere – the place, the air, the sunshine or rain, and in going and arriving and returning, you encounter things, subjects, objects, tableaux, scenes, arrangements, lighting, ambience that resonate, or you do not.

    That’s fairly Zen, yes?

    On another photography site, a widely-read, highly parsed and minutely-subdivided forum of encyclopedic breadth and microscopic detail, I am just now reading through the latest additions to a spreading thread on the subject of what (or how)-to-shoot-when-there’s-nothing-to-shoot.

    We’ve all seen such discussions before, and I am always struck by the roiling frustration: that there *must* be some way of extracting art here, there, wherever, even if the locus appears to be boring, humdrum, prosaic, ugly, trite, or plain uninteresting. The undercurrent is that the *Masters* of photography could produce art anywhere, and so can you, if you but apply yourself, study the great works, master the principles and techniques.

    Well, I don’t know about that. It seems to me that the Masters probably passed up ugly scenes and boring subjects as much as you and I. And probably had a pretty fair ‘failure’ rate, too.

    I’m going for a walk today, even if the weather is chill and wet, and the places I pass are dull and shopworn with long familiarity. I’ll have a little camera. Maybe I’ll see something. Who knows? I’ll enjoy the warming legs and the fresh air.

    1. William, yes this reminds me of that book of contact sheets of Magnum photographers, which shows (as I understand, I don’t have it) that for every classic photograph there might be 5, 15 or 150 that didn’t make the grade.

      If we’re able to accept that sometimes we’ll come home empty handed – in terms of making new photographs we love – then it greatly reduces the expectations, and increase the other pleasures of just being out exploring.

      I hope your walk went well.

    1. Where do you lay the “blame”, for want of a better word Jim? Do you think that just some places aren’t that interesting, or do you feel that you have been unable to see and capture anything of interest to photograph?

      1. Honestly, I lay the blame at my own feet. I have made some truly outstanding and deeply satisfying photographs in some mighty boring places when my head was in the right place. And I have made scads of terrible photographs in wonderful places when my head was in the wrong place.

    1. Yeh but it’s not always about the result. I have had lovely photowalks where I’ve taken a few dozen pictures, greatly enjoyed it, but then realised I’m on frame 40 of a 36 exposure film, and I’ve failed to load the film properly. I feel an initial disappointment, but then this doesn’t detract from the experience I just had of making the photographs.

      1. Ah, interesting aspect.

        So you are already one step further in your struggle for ‘less is more’.

        Are you propagating the virtual photowalk w/o even using a camera at all?

        This meets my thoughts about the fact that a picture needs to materialize in the photographers mind before being banned on film or sensor. You ‘see’ a picture before taking it.

        Following your thoughts … why not leaving any hardware out of the equation and storing pictures (not) taken in ones brain only. To hell with all those photo sharing sites.

        Not bad … but where are all the other aspect then … doing photography … in a de-materialized world …

      2. A virtual photowalk? Well, now that depends which part is virtual. No camera, yes for sure, and I’ve done this.

        And as I mentioned I have messed up loading film a few times so had the shooting experience with nothing to show for it in terms of pictures in print or pixel form, but I still have the images burned on my retinas at the time I released the shutter. I’ve also shot a (film) camera deliberately not loading it with film for the same reason – to experience the pleasure of hunting for photos and using the vintage gear, but without needing the physical proof that I did it afterwards in the form of pictures. All in the mind. Surprising how much of the pleasure of photography (for me) is about the hunting, not the final image. Perhaps 85, even 90% I’d say.

        If the virtual part applies to the walk, then no. Walking is such a core element of my life, I wouldn’t want to give that up.

        Then this overlaps with the post I wrote recently about a photography fast, and how it feels to deliberately not make pictures for a period of time. I think it has some merits and is worth trying.

  3. Your third point about being able to see but then not seeing rings true for me as well. However, when I don’t have a camera to hand I see so clearly!

    1. That’s strange because I tend to be more the other way around. Cameras have most definitely helped me see and find beauty better than before I photographed…

  4. Dan, If the walk is somewhere I’ve been before then I tend to arrive back home with less shots…. but on the whole I don’t tend to number count for me its about getting that “image” that gives you the goosebumps….
    BR Lynd

  5. I rarely go on “photo walks”. I sometimes choose to take my camera on a walk but the focus is the walk and meditation and my seeing the beauty and having a peaceful experience. If I do chance to see something I would like to photograph I do so. I am never after a number of photos. I have never been interested in how many photos I take. I know you have an interest in numbers, Dan so that would be a focus for you xoxo susanJOY

    1. This is what I’d like to be more like, just walking without my photography eyes, just enjoying it for what it is. I think you have quite a rare gift there Susan.

  6. I think a lot of people will share your experiences. I often find that taking a couple of ‘bad’ photos of anything nearby at the start of a walk helps take the pressure off finding the perfect image to make and lets you take more and better pictures during the rest of the walk. Once you’ve taken a couple of deliberately bad photos, it frees your mind up to making pictures of anything interesting that comes up, rather than focusing on getting the ‘perfect’ shot.

    1. That’s a very interesting tip, thanks Alex.

      I’ve never consciously done this with photographs but used to do it a lot with writing and indeed I still do. Just writing a couple of sentences of whatever comes out helps you get a bit of momentum and then you find the better stuff starts to flow. It doesn’t matter if you then delete the initial words afterwards, it’s main purpose was to get you started.

  7. Hi Dan, I also share your feelings.

    I often go for photo walks on weekdend mornings, from 5:30 AM to about 7 AM, and no cup of coffee can compare to the feeling of completion when you have a “good” photo walk. I even don’t send the films to develop long after that. The satisfaction has already come each time the shutter was realeased.

    But some walks dont end that well. Although I manage to finish one roll or half, I still dont feel the satisfaction. Sometimes it’s so bad that I dont feel like going shooting for 1 or 2 following weeks.

    I think the ejoyment comes from the light, the colors, something different, or even the thrilling I feel when I shoots strangers. Some days have, and some days don’t have it. I guess that’s how life is, and on those days we just need to find something else to fill in, like coffee. Photography is not the only pleasure we human have, isn’t it : )

    1. Hey Guppiz, thanks for your thoughts.

      Yes, absolutely, the largest part of the enjoyment of photography comes in hunting for and making that picture, not in seeing the final image afterwards.

      And yes, some days things fall into place better than others. I actually notice this more with bikes than photography. Sometimes I’m sailing along with what feels like hardly any effort, then another day with the same kind of weather, same bike and same route, it’s a real struggle to get the same momentum.

      Life’s unpredictable ebbs and flows!

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