This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Right about now, you're facing some tough decisions. The holidays may have delivered a jumble of perplexing new photographic equipment that you've managed to fill to capacity with ho-hum pictures at best.
The problem is: Santa forgot to bring you a new photographer's "eye."
In short, it's the perfect time to make a novel New Year's resolution: Take better pictures in 2012.
It's one resolution you might actually keep, as fulfilling it could be fun. (As well as rewarding.)
Shooting in photography's golden age • Riding the wave of digital technology, amateur photography has entered an age of wonder. The cheapest point-and-shoot camera focuses itself, decides on exposure, then instantly gives the idiot behind it the feedback to correct the next shot.
Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady, considered the father of photojournalism, or Weegee, the early 20th-century street photographer, would kill for your 8-year-old nephew's EasyShare camera.
"We have the best camera gear ever available for the hobbyist," says Rich Legg, a Draper-based professional who runs a stock photography business. "For $500 to $600, anybody can buy a camera that can take photographs to rival the top professionals."
And those photographs can be deleted and reshot or transmitted around the world in seconds, Legg says. "People used to shoot a roll of film and look at it a week laterthen try to remember what they did to adjust for it on the next roll."
Such power. Unfortunately, the vast majority of photographs bouncing around the globe aren't particularly good. In fact, few snapshots rise above what grandma could have taken with her Brownie.
"New photographers underestimate how much time and study it takes to learn the technical aspects of photography," says Ann Torrence, a Utah-based documentary photographer and photo educator. "The camera manufacturers don't make it easy with the manuals they provide. And you wouldn't learn to drive a car with the manual that comes in the glove box."
Just show up • Fortunately, Salt Lake City's close-knit photography community, which includes Torrence, Legg and other professionals and advanced hobbyists, offers a brilliant resource to the novice: Photowalking Utah.
On a monthly basis for the past five years, amateurs, full-time professionals and everyone in between have been meeting to shoot pictures, discuss photography and help beginners figure out the buttons on their cameras.
Photowalking outings are organized through the Internet and require no membership or dues or regular attendance. "If you show up, hey, you're part of our group," Legg says.
Previous Photowalks have included shooting wildflowers in the Wasatch Mountains, as well as the challenge of capturing the Christmas lights on Temple Square, or urban scenes in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo. One memorable event was a trip on TRAX from the University of Utah to EnergySolutions Center. At each stop, the photographers disembarked to shoot until the next train arrived.
Other photowalk events are more organized, such as an indoor shoot that visited several studios, complete with professional lighting, models and even a rain simulator.
"The camera is just a machine, and knowing what to point it at is something you can improve on by watching other photographers," Torrence says of the low-intensity gatherings. "There is always someone on the photowalk that has the same camera and can help you with the features."
Amateur to pro • Three years ago, Suzanne Plant of Draper received a Nikon D300 camera from her husband as a gift. Aside from enthusiasm for photography, she had little in the way of camera skills. She became a regular on photowalks, where she found mentors and sophisticated equipment to play with.
"If I was struggling with something, I would just ask and somebody would help me out," Plant said. "It's amazing how open and sharing everybody is."
Now, Plant has a growing business, Lookee Loo Photography, and shoots weddings and portraits, specializing in children, seniors and babies.
Keeping it small • The walks usually attract 10 to 75 photographers. And the founders never want it to grow to the point that one-on-one interaction between photographers is impossible. "If it gets too big, you lose it," Legg says. "It becomes a monster and people get lost in the crowd."
Fancy equipment doesn't matter as much as the shooter's eye. "People always ask, 'What's the best camera?' " Legg says. "Any good photographer will tell you, 'It's the camera you have with you.' "
In fact, photowalkers, even the professionals, are sometimes encouraged to bring only their cellphones or cheap point-and-shoots. "You can't take yourself too dang serious with a cellphone camera," Torrence says. "It seems to really focus you on composition and what belongs in the rectangle."
Surprisingly, it's often the professionals who gain the most from photowalking. Torrence helped organize the first walk with six other shooters on a rainy Saturday. At the time, she was documenting Highway 89 for a book and "was looking to put the fun back into photography."
"It gives me a chance to see the world as other photographers see it," Torrence says. "And I get social engagement with other creative people."
Legg, who often brings a point-and-shoot or even an old-school film camera on the walks, spends most of his time sharing ideas with other photographers.
"I need other outlets for my photography or my brain will go dead," he says. "It inspires me when I go on a photowalk."
Photowalking for dummies
Photowalking Utah holds monthly events in northern Utah open to photographers of all skill levels. The photo walks are informal, with no dues or membership required. Check the message board for information and discussion on the latest scheduled event.
Info • photowalkingutah.com
Founding photographers • To view the work of professional photographer Ann Torrence, who wrote the book Highway 89: The Scenic Route to Seven National Parks, visit anntorrence.com. To view Rich Legg's work, visit richlegg.com.
More • To view the work of Photowalking attendees, visit flickr.com/groups/photowalkslc.