Sunday, November 18, 2018

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. - John Muir

As a regular reader of this blog - you are a regular reader, right? - you know that I collect quotes and frequently use them as inspiration for my posts. This is one of many John Muir quotes that I have collected.

I love being in the woods, if I could, I would spend a good part of every day hiking along a wooded trail. There is no other place where I can get totally lost in my thoughts, or lack thereof. You will never see me with headphones on or playing music, the only sounds I am looking for are the singing of the birds or the leaves rustling. It's all about nature and recharging my soul.

A few years ago I was interviewed by a fellow blogger, one of the questions he asked was "What do you think about when you’re by yourself?". My answer, in part, was "When I am out for a hike in the woods I try not to think but to listen." My hearing is very poor but I am fortunate that the "sounds of nature" are of such a pitch that I can hear much of it. I can hear the birds, I can hear the leaves or a twig snap under foot. This is the Earth's music and nothing is more soothing.

Autumn is, for me, the best time to lose myself in the stillness that is the forest. The beauty of the changing leaves is just a part of the allure - during the fall, deer go into rut and are far more visible while out on the trail - including the elusive buck. If you pay attention you will also find squirrels and chipmunks busily preparing for the cold winter months but it is the smell of autumn that is the biggest draw. There is something wonderful about the smell of the woods when the ground is covered in leaves; this is when the urge to go camping becomes almost unbearable. You know the smell, don't you? That "earthy" smell of dirt, mixed in with wet, decaying leaves. I've also recently learned that things smell differently when the temperature lowers so maybe the smell is there year round but only noticeable in the cooler weather. Eh, who cares? If I could bottle it and use it as cologne I would.

November 17th is National Take a Hike Day and I usually try to find a way to spend time in the woods somewhere but this year it came and went without a hike. This year I simply forgot. It's been that kind of year, especially the last couple months; it seems that I have been focused on other things lately. I am going to have to try harder to make time to get out and visit my favorite trails.

I'm going to keep this post short, I wanted to share this quote with you along with a couple of my favorite self-portraits shot along the trail. Do you enjoy the forest as much as I do? What time of year do you like best? Why? Where is your favorite woodland hike? I'm always looking for somewhere new to explore. I would love to hear from you - leave a comment below.

All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Improve Your Photography: Event Photography, Part II - Charity Fundraising Walks

In the first part of this series, I gave a brief overview of event photography and some simple guidelines. While it isn't an absolute necessity, I would suggest reading that first, if you haven't already done so. You can find that post here - Improve Your Photography: Event Photography, Part I - An Introduction.

Charity Fundraising Walks

In this installment I am going to cover what is very likely my favorite type of event - Charity Fundraising Walks. I am using the word "charity" as an all-emcompassing word representing charities, non-profits, not-for-profits, research organizations, etc.... If you read my post, May is National Photography Month (2018 Edition), you will know that I volunteer as an Event Photographer for local fundraising events - eight (8) in all in 2018. I have also written about some of the events in my other blog, From the Mind of Joe Valencia, and will include links to them at the end of this post.


The preparation for these events is very similar to the general guidelines I discussed in the previous installment, as-follows:
  1. who are the event VIPs?
  2. what are the most important aspects of this event?
  3. what will the photos be used for?
  4. where is the event being held? indoors? outdoors? both? large area? small area?
  5. when is the event - daytime? nighttime? both? season?
  6. why is this event being held?
  7. why do people come to this event?
I would add the following important considerations:
  1. what does the organization do?
  2. what is their "mission"?
  3. does the organization have a "wish list" of images?
  4. what is the likely "mood" - joyous, somber, etc....?
  5. is it a casual event or "Black Tie"?
Do your research and learn as much about the organization as you can. If possible, meet with the people organizing the event and those who will be on-site that day. If you can't meet, then speak on the phone or send email. The important thing is to open a line of communication so that you can be as prepared as possible and they know what you are going to provide to them. If they are going to make a presentation to someone during a ceremony, you want to make sure you know ahead of time so that you aren't off covering some other aspect of the day. There may be other "rituals" that have come to represent the event that may not be obvious; it is your job to find out what they are and make certain to give adequate coverage. For instance, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will often give helium balloons to participants. People usually write a message on the balloon, then just before the walk officially starts everyone releases their balloon. It is a very symbolic moment and one that you better cover. I know there has been a lot of discussion about sending balloons aloft because they can harm wildlife - we did not have the balloons last year.


The obvious equipment would be a camera, wide-angle zoom lens (18mm-135mm is a great range), lens cloth and twice as many SD cards (or whatever your camera uses) as you think you will need. Why twice? You can thank Mr. Murphy for that - always have spare cards in case of a failure. I also consider back-up batteries to be a necessity, too. Beyond that you may want to consider the following:
    Camera Gear
  1. Second Camera - I like to shoot with two, or more, cameras but it certainly isn't necessary. One reason for the second camera would be in case of your primary camera failing but it also gives you flexibility. A little down the line I mention other lenses - if you have a second, or third, camera you can mount a different lens on it; this makes life a lot easier.
  2. Camera backpack - it is a lot easier to carry your gear on your back than over your shoulder. If you have one with a hydration reservoir, all the better
  3. Flash unit - yes, even if the event it outdoors. I have the flash on all day, it gives enough fill light to help ease (eliminate) shadows on peoples faces. If you only have the pop-up flash on the camera - try it and see how well it works before leaving it on all day.
  4. Telephoto zoom lens - I have the wide zoom as a required piece of equipment but I also carry a telephoto zoom, just in case. It is best to have the extra reach and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
  5. Other lenses - I say "other" lenses because the two zooms I talk about should pretty much cover everything. I sometimes like to carry a fast, prime lens or two because it affords a few more possibilities. I especially like the 85mm f/1.2 because of the shallow depth of field giving me some nice, candid portraits. The "nifty fifty" is always good to have. If you have one - bring a fish-eye to use but just don't overdue it.
    Other Gear
  1. Wide-brimmed hat - a hat is the last thing you will ever think of but it is just as important as the gear above. I like having a wide-brim but also one that is flexible. I shoot both landscape and portrait, if I wear a baseball cap (or similar) the brim gets in the way when I turn the camera vertically - the flexible brim just moves out of the way.
  2. Comfortable shoes - goes without saying. You are going to be walking for hours - I typically walk 5 miles or more during the day because I never stop walking around looking for images. If you wear flip-flops or sandals, you are just asking for trouble.
  3. Rain cover for camera and camera bag - yes, most events are "rain or shine" and you don't want to be standing out in the rain without protection. Everyone else can run for shelter but it is your job to be out and about so you are going to get wet.
  4. Business cards - while you are not there to drum up business, you will find that people want your card so it is a good idea to carry some. There will also be people who would like to get a copy of their picture - I tell people to send me an email and I will get it to them.*see not below
  5. Water bottle(s) - while there will be plenty of water for participants and volunteers, on a hot day that water can run out. You also want to carry plenty of water (sports drink, iced tea, etc...) with you so that you don't have to stop what you are doing and go back to get some. A good, insulated, water bottle or two will be indispensable. Of course, if you have the hydration reservoir mentioned in item #1, you can skip the bottles.
  6. Notepad, pens, pencils - take notes, when necessary. Don't trust your memory. If you promise something to someone, make a note of it and make sure you follow through. You can also use the pad to write your contact information if you run out of business cards.
That pretty much covers the equipment that I carry with me. My advice to you is - if you think you may need it, bring it. There is a fine line between too much and not enough; err on the side of too much but keeping in mind that you have to carry everything and don't want to get too weighed down.

Shooting the Event

Set up

It's game day! You've done all of your preparation, checked everything twice and then twice more, and you are ready to go. It goes without saying but I am going to say it anyway - BE ON TIME! Actually, that's not true; you should show up early. I like to be one of the first to arrive and will often help set up. This is also time for me to scout locations for everything and start planning my day. I also seek the "person in charge" and go over any last minute changes that may have come up. Set up time is one of the times I focus on the volunteers - they are the backbone, without whom the event cannot succeed, and yet they are often overlooked by the photographers. Engage with them without getting in the way. You might be surprised at how grateful they are that someone is paying attention.


Find the registration tables and be there before the registration time starts. Photograph people as they approach the area and as they register - it isn't important to get everyone but go back every once in a while. You want to show the enthusiasm of the registrant and the work of the volunteer. In addition to the actual registration process, keep a keen eye for personal interactions. This is a time when people may see each other for the first time since the last event - capture the emotion. You are acting much like a photojournalist today.

You will find that you get a short bursts of people registering and then there is a mad crush - like an electronics store on Black Friday. When this happens, walk away from the registration area and concentrate on groups that are beginning to form.


When the registration area gets busy, start to walk around and check out the teams that are forming. You will notice that many people are wearing the same t-shirt or maybe a hat. Introduce yourself and ask them to gather together for a group shot. Some events have a separate area for "Team Photos" - the JDRF does this, I was the Team Photographer for six years - but that doesn't mean you don't do it, too. Your team shots may be more informal or the team may never get to the "official" area. If they are wearing team t-shirts, ask if you can shoot the shirt - front and back if they are interesting. Don't just shoot and walk away, try to learn some of their story, why are they there? How long have they been doing the event? You don't have to have long conversations, there is time for that after the walk.

Opening Ceremony

If you think you have done a lot of work up til now, think again. This is when the real work begins. If you are lucky, the opening ceremony will be held very close to where the starting line is - you'll know why in a minute.

Plan to get at the location of the ceremony about 10 minutes or so early. This way you can make sure you are in a good spot and don't have to push through the crowd. This is usually the time when the event organizer speaks, along with any VIP's and they may present special awards or recognize people/teams for their contributions. This is where your homework and preparation pay off. If you are smart, you will find out exactly what will be done so that you know when everything is about to end. You have to be at the start line before everyone starts to walk. If you can, ask the speaker to stall for a minute or two after they are done to allow you time to get set.

The Walk

The first thing you do is get some images of the starting line with people lined up and ready to roll. If there is a team carrying the event banner make sure you get them all in, along with the banner. Once the walk starts you are going to be very busy - I like to try to get everyone in a picture at the start. It is impossible to get each person individually but try to get as many into an image as possible. I will start out in the middle of the path and then run side to side when there is enough of a break so I don't mow people down. Watch for people mugging for the camera. If there are children - give them a "thumbs up" or "high five" as they go by. Always be vigilant for any interactions between participants and capture some candid moments.

Once the last walker is out it is time to turn your attention back to the volunteers. There may be new people - some come for setup and leave, others come after setup or registration. You can also spend some time getting to know the volunteers - find out why they are there, how long have they been volunteering, etc... If you can round up all of the volunteers to get a group shot, all the better. If there is a "silent auction" or raffle, take the time to grab images of the merchandise - an overall shot and some closer shots of some of the more valuable prizes. You can sit and take a break but not too long - the walkers will be back any minute!

You want to be at the finish line shooting, just like you were at the start. I would even suggest that the finish is more important - or at least more photogenic - than the start. At this point you will get a lot more mugging and posing by the walkers and many will have that distinct look of accomplishment on their face that you don't want to miss.

The "After Party"

Most of the events I have covered will have food and drink ready for the walkers when they return. This is when everyone is at their most relaxed, including volunteers; everyone except for you, of course. It's okay to take a break, get something to eat, drink, etc... but I always grab something that I can eat while I walk and shoot. You will have plenty of time to rest when you get home. This is the time when teams may interact or groups may gather to honor the loved ones they are there to pay tribute to. This can be a very emotional time and you have to be sensitive to their feelings. This is also the time you can get to know participants better - spend time learning their story.

If there is a "silent auction", you should get a shot of each winner when they come to collect their prize. You should have already gotten images of the merchandise while everyone was out on the course.


I have covered most of the "mandatory" stuff and if you do everything above you can go home knowing that you will have a happy customer. Of course, there is always more that can be done - right? I try to get a high vantage point and get an overall view of the crowd, typically I use this opportunity to shoot a panorama or two. This is also a great time for a fish-eye if you have one! If the course is laid out in a circular fashion, I try to run to spots along the way to capture walkers during the walk, in addition to the start and finish line. If the event is being hosted by a local business - restaurant, bar, etc.... - and there are employees, include them in your shots and make sure the business gets a copy; this will improve your chances of the continued support of the business and it makes the employees feel good, just like it does with the volunteers.

A Last Thought

When I was a volunteer with the New Jersey Folk Festival in 1984 I had the good fortune to run into a newspaper photographer who was sent to cover the festival. We spoke for a few minutes and he gave me a bit of advice that has served me well for almost 35 years. He said that if you remember, "women, children, dogs, veterans", you will be a successful event photographer / photojournalist. Those aren't the exact words he used but I am keeping it "G"-rated.

And so ends Part II in the "Event Photography" series. As a photographer, I have never worked harder or been more physically exhausted after shooting but I have also never found anything as rewarding. I hope this post encourages you to get out and volunteer for a worthy cause or gives you some ideas on how to "up your game" a bit. I have listed below links to some blog posts I published about some events I have done in the past and then links to organizations that I currently volunteer for. If you have a local chapter of one, or more, of these groups and want to volunteer that would be wonderful I have links to the organizations main page and events page. I would love to hear about your experiences - either comment below or send me an email.

My blog posts


All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at