Photographing a Walk - Look, then Look Again - Tips and Ideas on Photowalks

Photographing a Walk by Tim Diggles

I’m sometimes asked for tips to take better photographs; that’s not really my thing, not that I don’t want to share, just that I am always learning. If pushed my ‘tip’ is to look, then look again, go back again and go back again after that because you will see more each time.

So rather than offer a load of technical things you can find on You Tube what I will do is try and share the way I work.

Photographing the walks I do is part of my work as an artist. The concept behind what I do is to illustrate my life and feelings, offering my account of the World. Due to various illnesses I have for some time been unable to walk more than around half a mile then back, so this limits my area - and yet I feel it has opened much more, I have been able to take an intensive look at my surroundings.

I live in the north of Tunstall, an area of tightly packed streets, dereliction and edges of the countryside. So my half-mile takes me into the centre of town.

Utilising limitation is where I wish to start.

Before I go out and make photographs I usually know what I am wishing to take and will wait for a suitable day with suitable light. I don’t often take photographs after 11am, the sun/light is wrong for me and it’s even earlier in the middle of summer. I sketch ideas of the sort of compositions I wish to make, these are with pen/paper or on a phone app, many of the compositional elements come from my interest in the visual arts, I especially like the British abstract painters of the mid-20th Century and early Renaissance artists such as Fra Angelico and Giotto.

When I go out I also limit my equipment, I think in terms of a specific lens and usually only take one, most often 28mm, 40mm or 55mm, I hardly use a zoom or lenses which distort and will later if needed ‘undistort’ in post-production. Using the same lens means that joining images is easier and there is a consistency to the images. Of course not everyone wants to work like this and that’s fine.

I will take all the shots at the same ISO, usually 100 (as I hate grain) and think of them all in the finished format, in the case of the images shown below from A Walk into Town 1 (The Secret Way) – I planned to finish them at 10x8 format in black and white. This keeps a consistency of image when shown/seen together. I shoot in raw at the highest quality.

Why do this when digital cameras can do almost anything? Partly it’s because I know what I am looking for, the automation on the camera doesn’t, and it also clears my thinking process.

When shooting an image I take at least 5-6 shots, I don’t use the ‘rapid fire’, and bracket them, that is take one at exact metering, one up to one-stop below and one one-stop above, i.e. if the reading is say f8 at 1/125th then I shoot that then one at f5,6 and one at f11 or one at 1/60th and one at 1/200th or thereabouts. Some cameras can be programmed to automatically bracket. Why? Well this gives me images that I can then join together in Photoshop and Lightroom  lightening up dark areas or highlighting a detail or making a sky or surface more interesting. They are also useful to create HDR images; in fact most of the images shown in the set are made up from 3-5 images. The ‘darkroom’ work on my pc is very important to me, nothing I show is as shot, everything has been worked on in Adobe Lightroom and often Photoshop; the two wide colour images below from other walks are each made up of over 20 separate ones stitched together in Photoshop.

When shooting I usually take some with auto focussing and some manually focussed and I usually use different metering modes, I wish I still had my old light meter which offered many variations of speed and aperture.

So what do I look for?

In the series A Walk into Town 1, I wanted to get the feeling of the narrow ‘backs’ where there is no horizon other than the roofs, gaps, walls – so the horizon can easily be a vertical rather than a horizontal, I use post production to ensure lines are straight, that is my preference however many great photographs use angled horizons. The area has lots of debris, some old graffiti, destruction, areas of dereliction, new built areas, gates - these were things I wished to ensure were a part of the set of images. It’s not a particularly pleasant area but a walk I often take and full of details, corners, edges. Nature has been totally removed or in newer parts artificially added, however in parts it is pushing through.

On that walk I took around 100 photographs using a 28mm lens on my Canon SLR at ISO 100, taking 5-6 of each so I ended up with nearly 700 images to work from. I edited these down to 44 final images which is quite a good ratio for me and looking through would probably cut down to around 30 if showing them as an exhibition. In the confined spaces the 28mm lens meant that I could photograph a gate, wall or whatever without too much distortion, and the distortion of the horizontals was acceptable to highlight the narrowness of the entries. I looked for gaps and found the corners most interesting. It was bin day, so in places there was a rather sculptural feeling especially with the morning light in early May, this was about 9.30am, walking mostly southwards.

A Walk into Town 1 (The Secret Way)

Tim Diggles is a photographer in Stoke-on-Trent and a member of the Photographers' Collective North Staffordshire.  You can find out more about his work on his website - timdiggles.wordpress.com.