City portrait in black and white. Amazing little camera, that Fuji X100V. (From a walk today with a close friend).

Unicorn on Sixth Street.

I wish, just for me, that camera reviewers would spend a lot less time trying to write and a lot more time shooting the cameras they profess to be reviewing and then posting the results on their sites. You know, in the way that most people would want to use those cameras. Not on flat test charts. More likely on real life.


Seems like a growing swell of people want to accompany me on romps through Austin's quiet downtown. Hmmm.


Portrait for the cover of my first book, "Minimalist Lighting:
Professional Techniques for Location Photography"
published in 2008.

Maybe it's the decades of daily swim workouts or the discipline of getting up at 5 in the morning for long photoshoots (even though I am, by nature, a night owl and love staying up reading well past midnight) but I have never been a believer in the gift of raw talent in the arts as much as I believe that doing something with your craft everyday opens you up to both lucky chance and also a practiced fluidity that allows one to better take advantage when the fates toss you a bon-bon. 

Not so much that luck comes to those who are prepared but more, if you do something often enough you'll have a statistically better chance of getting everything right when you need to. At least every once in a while.

During the pandemic, and a series of lockdowns which mostly prevented doing any commissioned work, I found myself, for the first time in thirty odd years, floundering a bit to get some sort of grip on how to best use my newfound spare time but also how to keep my focus on photography fresh and practiced. 

I was a bit surprised over the last two weeks when I was able to walk into two different law firms to set up and shoot portraits without fumbling with the lights or forgetting how best to set and use my cameras. I thought I'd be a bit rusty. And maybe I was a bit "stiff" around the edges when it came to the rapport and human interaction part of the process. I'll need some more warm-up on that front.

But I guess my thought here (if there is a cogent one...) is that my daily practice of grabbing a camera and lens and heading out the front door to walk around in my home city has at least kept my fingers nimble enough to push the shutter button in time, and to also fiddle somewhat competently with the exposure compensation dials on different cameras. The one thing I do know is that my daily walking with a camera and then writing about it has kept me engaged in something I've always enjoyed. The pure act of taking pictures. 

Almost every day I get two or three e-mails or texts from friends, acquaintances, or people who've read my books and my blog asking me if they can accompany me on a walk through downtown; just to see what I do, where I go, and how I handle my style of photography. I never know what to say to them in response. 

I think the most important aspect of a "successful" walk around town is to know where the most convenient and hospitable restroom facilities are. Followed by a good understanding of the vague and ever-changing schedules of the best coffee vendors. But those priorities may just be those presented by my personal comfort levels.

To do a successful "photo walk" I think there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost is to never wear a brand new pair of shoes; especially dress shoes in which you've never walked more than 100 yards, and have done so mostly on plush carpeting. I once wore a brand new pair of Cole Hahn dress shoes which didn't really start to hurt my toes and heel until I was at the furthest point in a long walk. Every successive step back to the car was painful and I spent weeks afterwards walking in the most reliable shoes I own; my toes and heel covered in Bandaids. Hardly a great way to proceed.

Breaking in new shoes should be done gradually and in small spurts. The same applies to clothing. There are some people who are overly fearful of being cold and who come on walks wrapped up in the latest goose down from North Face, and insulated hiking boots made for treks through the arctic. Yes, 50° is a bit chilly. Especially if you are stationary for the most part; like sitting outside a coffee shop nursing a cappuccino. But if you are walking with intention you tend to get warmer. If you start out at noon on a sunny day and end your walk around 2 pm you might find the temperature has crept up from 50° to 65 or 70°. In those cases a big down jacket is more like a straight jacket to the process because you'll eventually end up having to carry it so you don't roast. I start out chilly and end up a bit warm. That's generally the nature of walking. (We're assuming Fahrenheit).

Of course, the above is hardly good advice to readers in the great Northern spaces where the wind chill is sub-zero. Then, I understand, layering is called for and I don't have enough long time experience to give any useful advice about this.

So, good shoes and appropriate clothing. The human body adores homeostasis. It will adjust. Don't indulge it.

One more note on clothing. Three of my four favorite restroom stops are at four and five star hotels and stomping into a lobby with ratty clothes, even though they may be appropriate for casual "street shooting" is hardly conducive to being ninja-like in hoity-toity spaces. If you want to pee there you need to look like you should be there.

You don't need a coat and tie but..... that MAGA gimme hat and Q'Anon T-shirt isn't going to win you a free pass to relief in the same way a collared dress shirt and clean pants will. The goal is to blend in then get out with raising any concerns. If it's a nice facility you'lll want to be welcome back.  Being 60-ish with gray hair is helpful. It may seem that I am putting a bunch of emphasis on accessing restrooms but with most of the restaurants and coffee shops closed to inside dining/quaffing about 90% of the convenient restrooms in the public sphere have gone off-line. I guess, if you are braver than I, you could just traipse down an alley and pee against a convenient wall. Not my style.

My biggest failures for a good photo walk were the times when I finished up all my chores, returned all my messages, drove down to my favorite route through vicious rush hour traffic, battled for a parking spot and headed out walking only to find that my chosen camera was lacking a memory card. That's hard to recover from. And I'm ashamed to admit it's happened to me more than once. The second tier of failures has to do with the vagaries of camera batteries. 

A cursory glance might indicate a full battery but ten minutes later it may be heading down to zero entirely. Especially in cold weather. I regret every time I've left the house without a fully charged spare in a handy pocket. 

So, good shoes, acceptable clothing, memory cards and fresh batteries. Those are the basics. Everything else is about equipment and process. 

The walks I hate, with few, few exceptions are the ones on which I have decided to lug around alternate gear. I'm at my best when I don't have to make any decision about gear while walking. I've learned that a primary way to suck joy out of a good walk is to bring along: A camera bag, a second camera body, a flash, extra lenses of any sort, a laptop or iPad, and a cellphone. I cringe when I see an earnest photographer hobbled by an enormous black camera bag slung over a slumping shoulder. His gait constantly interrupted by the swinging and banging of a twenty pound weight cascading against his hip. It seems so counterproductive to the fluidity and grace of making one's way down a sidewalk without undue affectation. Or, appearing normal.

A walk shouldn't be a singular event. You don't need to pack as though you'll never be back. If your schedule is compliant you could walk a route everyday for weeks, and bring a new (solitary) lens with you each time! Bringing the whole Sony, Nikon or Panasonic catalog of goods along with you inoculates you against ever having the ability to keenly focus on looking, walking, seeing and enjoying the process. And it marks one as a rank amateur. 

Walking with a small, obscure camera is preferred but if you walk with purpose and practice you can get away with a husky camera and modern, behemoth lens. But just barely. My S1R with the 65mm is just at the limit of what I find to be...comfortable. When I put on a bigger lens I feel conspicuous and my process becomes heavy. Stilted.

The one thing I think is helpful when walking with a camera is to have a route in mind.  You can always divert from the path if you feel an intuitive draw to a different spot but you'll be much more intentional in your walking with a destination to aim for. I have several routes through and around downtown Austin that I like for different reasons. Some intersect with the lake and parkland so I have landscape-y things to photograph. At other times my route is planned to connect with the state capitol and the university. Most times it's a path through the guts of our traditional downtown where it's the light and the abstract patterns of buildings that attract me. I used to be interested in people but with face masks on nearly everyone I'm not so attracted. To approach anyone now seems like an intrusion, and not approaching them is NOT my style. Some are into surveillance style street shooting methods but I love a direct engagement when I can get it. Now is not the time.

Walking with a camera is a very intentional sort of walking meditation and I find it's best done alone. You stop and start on your own schedule. What you choose to stop and photograph is totally up to you. Having a companion changes the process and compromises it. If you have to constantly engender the willing complicity of your companion you've already lost the thread of what should be a personal art form.

So, if I decide I'll walk with someone I abandon the idea that any good photographs will be taken. I still bring a camera but I seem to turn a switch in my brain that tells me the walk is just a walk and not an opportunity to stretch those photography muscles. The walk might be pleasant and the company engaging but it's a totally different experience for me than my own routine.

I'm happy to hear from others here on the blog that they are in agreement with my assessment. 

There are times though when it's hard to turn good friends down. You have to gauge when it's good to just share time together with no big "art" expectations and when it's okay to turn people down. 

When I do go with someone I try to set their expectations and indoctrinate them into my idea of "walking with a camera." Most ignore me and proceed in the way they are most comfortable. If they are pleasant companions I'm happy to set my prejudices aside and just enjoy their company. If I find we are mostly incompatible in this kind of activity I will try to make the walk as long and arduous as humanly possible with the idea of physically exhausting them so they never want to go again. You mileage may vary, mine might increase. 

If not for the pandemic I'd put aside one afternoon a month and invite all comers. But not right now. 

How do you know "what" to photograph? That's the hard part. I let the light and whatever subject matter the universe shows me lead my selections. There are some subjects I explore every time I walk a route because in some way they speak to me and I'm trying to figure out why. Other things crop up that have a time-limited value : meaning that they are here now and I may never see the same thing again. Then I try to photograph the object or person as well as I can. Most of the work from walks gets thrown out now. There's too much to keep track of and if keeping track becomes too important that means, to me, that I'm valuing the result over the process and that's never been my intention with the walks. There might be keepers but the hit rate is rarely high. I share images here before trashing them.

As I get older I keep fewer and fewer images. Mostly family and friends or beautiful, single portraits, but I refuse to burden myself with what should be, in these instances, transient art. If I have to spend time working with the residue of a walk it limits the opportunities I have to enjoy my ambulatory glide through life.