Note, this article was originally written in 2014, I have since updated it seeing as the Toronto Film Shooters has expanded well beyond my expectations.
So you want to run a photo walk? Excellent! Running and even just attending such events are really good for you as a photographer. Because often we spend so much time sitting in front of a computer or locked in a dark room, so some social interaction is a good thing! Plus you never know you might learn something. I’ve attended plenty of photo walks and have been for the past year and a bit running my own Toronto Film Shooters Meetup (TFSM) with some level of success. I love interacting with other photographers both in shooting and just socialising.
The first thing you need to get out of the way is planning the event, and to get started is a date and time. Pick one that works for you, if you try and poll a group you will never find consensus and being deliberate and choosing one that’s good for you show leadership and people will follow a good leader. Second pick a meeting spot, usually a small independent coffee shop or a major chain (Starbucks). Leave a good 30-45 minutes before the walk actually starts to allow for everyone to show up, grab a drink and be social. The more you run the events the closer the group will get. Next, plan out how the walk is executed and there are three schools of thought here, first is a walking route that starts and ends in a different location, the second is a cyclical route that starts and ends in the same spot. And finally, there’s an open area, where people are let loose in an area and told when to meet for the after-meet meal. I’ve done all three and depending on the area, type of walk and people all methods work. As I mentioned, there needs to be a place to gather afterwards, again I usually go with a local pub or brewery with good food and beer choices.
Once you have those three things nailed, you’re ready to promote your event. Social media is a great way to promote it, but you got to target the right groups. Facebook: Yep, we love it, and we hate it, but good chance you have a lot of photography related friends on your facebook profile, send out a group message! Also, groups on facebook for your local area might yield some additional attendees as well. Twitter: Always worth a shot, be sure to tag your post with the city name, and photography even photo walk. Flickr! Yes, the forgotten photosharing social media platform, always a good choice because again local cities might have dedicated groups or groups devoted to the types of photography that you’re using. Other decisions that you may want to use are Tumblr, Reddit, and old school web forums! There’s also a new online tool, Photowalk.me to help promote your events, I make sure to post all TFSM events there. Always show up early to the spot and try and be visible and keep your phone on, loud, and charged in case people try and reach you. Having a camera sitting out usually helps identify you. And be friendly! Go up and introduce yourself if you see someone looking around lost, they might be looking for your group. And as your group gets larger and you gain ‘regulars’ it’s always important to keep an eye out for new people and welcome them warmly. First impressions are everything.
When bringing gear to these walks, don’t lug everything and the kitchen sink. I know, I’ve done it…and regretted it. I remember the very first Film Photography Project Mid-West Walking Workshop. I had like six cameras with me, and got two more at the event! Way too many and I mean I did use all the cameras I had, but many times I had to carry a majority of them with me. The only saving grace was that the event was throughout several days and the hotel I was in was right in the middle of the event space so I could easily swap out…but honestly, never again. Today I usually will decide to bring one…maybe two cameras. Often I’ll go with 35mm or 120, I’d bring my 4×5 since it’s a press camera but only if the event was a dedicated Large format event…and then I’d bring that camera, nothing more. Bring film always bring lots of film with you. Or if you are planning a walking route and the city you’re in has a camera store that sells film, make a point to visit and buy a couple of fresh rolls. It helps out a local business and gives your group a little exposure to the local shops and they might help promote the group! Often I find I’ll shoot more because I can focus on a single camera/lens combo. Plus it’s a lot lighter to bring one camera! And be prepared to shoot less than you expect to, you will honestly spend more time socialising than shooting, and you know what, that’s okay too! Because you’re there to network with fellow photographers.
Don’t panic, and don’t fret. Often you’ll do all this planning and have no one show up! I mean that even happened to me at the TFSM Winter ’14 event, I promoted it, I planned it…and it was just me. Oh well, I had a couple of drinks at the bar and moved out and did a bit of shooting, the weather was garbage anyways. Did that stop me? Nope, had a great turn out at the Spring event. And yes, you will be faced with possibilities of bad weather, detractors, and people who are pains…but again don’t panic, and stay super positive, because these are planned for FUN. Keep it loose, and if you want to do this more listen to the attendees, the TFSM Fall ’13 location was given to me by Mike and John, loyal attendees of these events, and sure it rained, but it was still a blast! And speaking of rain, go anyways! Weather will be weather, dress appropriately and bring an appropriate camera. Or instead of going out shooting, look around beforehand see if there’s an exhibit or gallery show of a local artist and go and look at other work see if you can’t find some inspiration.
One of the best things you can do as a planner is to often move outside your traditional areas. Since starting the Toronto Film Shooters, we’ve hosted meets both in Toronto and the surrounding Greater Toronto Area. But I haven’t limited the group to that having meetups in Elora and Niagara-On-The-Lake have gained several people who wouldn’t ordinarily make the trip into Toronto. Once you get a core group, empower them to decide and host walks. Several members of the Toronto Film Shooters have planned out and hosted walks for the group, one ended in a wild bachelor party before my wedding in April 2017. And this year I hope to collaborate with another Ontario group, the Kingston Film Shooters on a meetup in Peterborough. And finally, to help keep the momentum going be sure to share your images, post them on Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Create a Facebook and Flickr group, use a tag on Instagram, and if you write a Blog, be sure to blog about the meetups, even if you are just attending the walk.