Photowalks – learning to see through different eyes

(This post is reposted here from an entry on May 9 on my short-lived Wix blog)

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of joining a fellow photographer who is also a good friend for a couple of photowalks in Guangzhou.  I’ve gotta say it’s a really positive and productive thing to do, although not always an easy one, and here’s why…

1.  You can see how others approach the same subject

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, going about things the same way over an over.  We tend to end up sticking to what feels comfortable, what comes easily, and this can lead to our creativity stagnating.  When you join others on a shoot – be it a photowalk or studio shoot or whatever – you quickly come to realise that a small change in composition, angle or other settings can bring a world of difference to the resulting images.  This can lead to two things: firstly, new inspiration and drive to think outside of the box you’ve created for yourself.  By seeing how others see, how they execute the shot, you can bring freshness to your own shooting.  Secondly, if you miss a great shot and your friends don’t, this can cause frustration (if you’re competitive like I am) that then drives you to lift your game.  Both can be productive if you remain positive.  I admit I may sink into a pit of self-loathing if I’m shooting with a friend who walks away with a number of great shots while I leave empty-handed, but once I get over myself I use it as motivation to see things in a fresh way, and to take it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Afternoon Nap

On a photowalk around Guangzhou’s famous Beijing Road pedestrian mall yesterday, my favourite image captured wasn’t mine.  This is my friend Kendall’s photo, and I really wish I could claim it as my own!  Kendall often comes up with strong compositions by approaching from angles I never consider.  Two images I really like of his were both shot with the camera held over his head shooting down on the subject.  In both cases, the images are much stronger visually than anything I shot at the same time.  This image and many others can be found in Kendall’s Flickr photostream:

The shot

Here’s Kendall executing the shot

2.  It helps appreciate your own uniqueness

There is no CORRECT way to capture any given subject, just an infinite range of different angles and approaches that are dependent on what the photographer actually sees.  It’s all in the eye, and so although shooting with others can bring inspiration and open your eyes to new ways of seeing, ultimately the way you see things is unique and special – your photographs are an expression of your own unique way of seeing.  One can learn from others, but never try to imitate others.  Shooting with friends and then comparing results can help us remember that photography will always be a means of expression above anything else.  As many well known photographers say – the lens really just captures a reflection of yourself.

On the photowalk I took yesterday, the main thing I took away from it was a deeper appreciation of what makes me tick, what inspires me aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually.  I got this by analysing what didn’t work for me that day and why.  This knowledge will help me refine my own work – knowing what to approach as a challenge, what to run after and what to avoid completely.

Here’s a couple of photos I snapped yesterday – nothing groundbreaking here!


Temple reader

Thankfully for my ego I captured an image that I feel proud to call my own on the last photowalk with Kendall:

Guangzhou railway station//

I like the image because it’s not only visually striking (at least I think so), but it also tells the story of so many migrant workers who flock to Guangzhou and other major cities in search of work.  The glimmering city offers hope of earning money to send to family they have to leave back home.  Guangzhou railway station is the portal between their two worlds.  After arriving, they often find that things are not quite what they expected, and the higher cost of living and virtually non-existent low cost housing sees many living under overpasses or in parks until they can find a construction job that includes accommodation onsite.  This man is one of these migrant workers, waiting for a train to take him back home to see family, his only possessions are contained in the bucket and the bag he is sleeping on to ensure the contents aren’t stolen by thieves that roam the station.

So there you have it.  If you want a bit more of a glimpse into some events from the day Kendall and I went to the train station, be sure to check out his account on the photo below in his photostream here:


If anyone is living in or visiting Guangzhou and wants to join me on a photowalk, drop me a line.  Ciao!