This was an idea of our blogging colleague, Uncovering PA, who was coming in to town for the weekend, and thought it would be a good idea to get our fans out for a meetup while taking some incredible photos of the city.
We hoped 10 people would show up, but within days of posting our event on Facebook we had a reach nearing 80,000 users, over 1,000 people interested, and 300 people committed to attend. But there was one problem- we had never hosted a photo walk before, and those kind of numbers were absolutely terrifying.
Although the event was a stellar success, we walked away with a lot of good ideas all photo walk hosts should keep in mind before planning an event like this.
1) Test Walk the Route
One of the most important things to do before conducting your photo walk is to perform at least one test walk of the route (be sure to take your Sony a6000 with you). There are several reasons for this, including ensuring that there are no last minute oddities that pop up (like construction closures), that your timing will be good with ideal lighting (pending weather, naturally), and even giving you time to get your own photos (which likely won't happen too much if you have a large group).
Even though we did this, we still had a few issues pop up that were unexpected which brings us to point #2.
2) Plan for All Contingencies
Although a test walk will help you get a good feel for the route when you perform it (and we recommend doing it within the week prior to the walk), you still need to plan for all possible contingencies that would come up. On our photo walk we wanted to visit an electronic art display that we really love. It worked during our most recent visit, but on the first night of the walk it was not functioning properly, and on the second night there were trucks blocking it altogether. What would you do in this case? Where do you go?
Come up with alternatives for all possible scenarios, including inclement weather, that you can defer to in a bind. We were really horrible at this one and I felt pretty awful about it even though no one seemed to mind.
3) Having Numerous Parking (and Hotel) Options Ready to Go
One of the very first questions we got after announcing our photo walk, even before final details were planned, was about where to park and where to stay overnight for attendees of the photo walk. It may seem like common knowledge to you that a parking lot or hotel is nearby to where your walk is, but this is not always the case with your attendees. Prepare a brief map with parking locations, cost estimates, and even lodging options for those who may be coming in from out of town.
This will save you the time of having to repeat the answer over and over again!
4) Have a Sign-In Sheet
Having a group come together for a photo walk is a great way to get new fans registered for your newsletter. Have a notepad available to ensure everyone gets signed in and give them an opportunity to opt-in to your newsletter as well (we used a simple prompt with a Y/N response)! With nearly 200 attendees we had over 150 sign in and about 120 opt to join our newsletter. Not a bad conversion rate!
Just be sure to ask them to write legibly as we missed out on a lot we could not decipher!
5) Organize Prizes (And Get Them in Advance)
While we're on the topic of having such a large group in one place, this is a perfect opportunity to network with local businesses to generate some prizes! Having a few hundred ears listening directly to you is marketing gold, and odds are good your event page will have an even larger reach that you can help further market local brands. We pitched a few businesses found along the path of our walk, or relevant to the area we were visiting, and most were quite receptive about joining on for some cheap PR (now, whether you charge in addition to the prize is up to you, but we gave our first round for free as an experiment to see what future reach would be.)
Make your attendees work for the prizes and assign various tasks like encouraging them to share on a photo thread on the event page (random and best photos win!), signing in (random attendee wins!), and so much more.
A word of warning on this one- be sure you have all prizes in your possession before conducting your photo walk. We were relying on one business to put together their prize after the walk was conducted, and it was quite stressful getting them to actually put it together. Had we known this before we would have dropped them, but the promotion was already done and we were committed to it (they ultimately came through but was still a risk).
6) Crowd Control
What happens if you're the only one leading a photo walk and you have 300 attendees? Well, depending on your route it could become chaotic (and depending on the city, may start violating laws)! We were hoping 10 people would show up for our walk, and we ended up with an 85,000 reach, 1,000 interested, and over 300 listed as attending. Luckily a last minute weather change caused a lot of attendees to cancel, and it also helped encourage us to add on a second night which made our groups a much more manageable 75-100 each- and that was with three people hosting (with one in the front, one in the back, and one in the middle to mingle)!
Be careful with your routes and the number of people that may attend and, like in point #2, plan for contingencies for if the group size gets too large. (Be sure to check to see if you need any permits in your city, too!)
7) Encourage Sharing on a Hash-Tag
Although we already mentioned encouraging sharing to help pick winners for possible prizes, there is another reason we want people to share images- it helps us bring in more partners for future photo walks. We already covered that you have the reach when promoting your event, but you also can generate significant reach after your event is over. Be it through sharing photos from businesses themselves or just the neighborhood they are found in, your attendees are helping promote the region with each and every share. Create a hash-tag for the walk to share with your group, encourage they add it on to all of their shares across the social networks, and track the reach from your audience at large to help generate more interest in future events!
We found this one to be a bit slow to take off, but we think that after more photo walks using the same hash-tag, we can generate something quite impressive.
8) Get Feedback as Much as Possible
When conducting our first photo walk we often felt like we were going in blind. I already mentioned we hoped for 10 attendees and ended up with 300+ listed as coming, but most of everything featured in this list was items we came up with on the fly or had learned from other photographers we knew who had been on, or conducted, photo walks in the past. We weren't afraid to let our group know that they were our guinea pigs, and although everyone seemed to have a great time, we requested people to give us as much feedback as possible to help us improve for future events.
We ended up generating most of the ideas ourselves, but it is always good to leave yourself open for critiques and criticism from your attendees. It only gets better from here!
(Still worried about criticism? It is best to keep in mind you're not charging for the event so you do not have to offer much other than the opportunity to take photos with a group!)
9) Start Planning the Next Photo Walk Before the First One
Although we did not get much negative feedback from our first photo walk (yay!), the most common question we were asked was when the next one was going to be- something we had no answer for. We made up on the fly that we were going to do one a month or two later, but even just a few days later (and not having had any time to think about it) we were already getting messages on social media about when the next one would be.
If your group is projected to be large, it is best to start planning the next one before the first one even happens. People will ask.
Have you hosted or attended a photo walk before? What did you like / dislike about the event? Comment below to let us know about it as any good tip will help us out in future walks we host!
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