Photo Walking 101 with Dianne Caroll Burdick

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by Elyse Wild | photos by Dianne Caroll Burdick

Dianne Carroll Burdick is a vessel for the art of photography. She has a decades-long work history shooting for local media outlets; her work has been shown in countless exhibitions and galleries across the state; and she has introduced the wonder of photography to thousands of students — adult and child alike — across Grand Rapids.

Photo walks are one of her favorite teaching tools. Whether embarking on a scavenger hunt or sticking to a theme, she emphasizes that seeking out images to capture is a rewarding way to engage with the outdoors. 

“Photo walks are so great because you are bonding with your community and your surroundings,” Burdick smiled. “Having to take pictures with your phone or your camera is a way to look at things differently and explore different points of view.”

While the warmer months beckon us outside, Burdick shared with us her insight on how to create — and get the most out of — a summer photo walk.

“Photo walks are so great because you are bonding with your community and your surroundings. Having to take pictures with your phone or your camera is a way to look at things differently and explore different points of view.”

Theme vs Scavenger Hunt

For most of her classes, Burdick provides students with a list of 50 items to take photos of during a scavenger hunt. The items are abstract, such as “circles,” “balance,” “old,” “young, “ “rhythm” and “delicate,” allowing them to be interpreted by each photographer.

“Instead of saying, ‘Take a photo of trees,’ it will say, ‘Take a photo of lines,’ which could very well be trees,” she said. “It’s incredible what you start to see when you take photos that way — you start taking photos of what you see, not what you know.” 

Additionally, she leads groups on literature-themed photo walks with the Grand Rapids Public Library. She says one doesn’t necessarily have to read the book the participate.

“Two years ago I did a walk around the book Dark Matter, which is all about portals,” she said. “We photographed windows and openings and alleys. It was a riot.” 

To create your own photo walk, make a list of shapes, colors and adjectives, or pick a single theme to follow. Choose an area (a park or a few city blocks) in which to walk around and check images off your list.
You don’t have to do it all in one afternoon — keep your list going throughout the summer. Invite your friends and family to partake with you, and start a Facebook group in which everyone can post their results. 

“This is very ambitious, but I encourage my students
to do an urban photo walk with 50 items and a rural photo walk with 50 items and then compare the two,” Burdick said. 

She suggests Aman Park as a location for a rural photo walk.

“The terrain is busy, and there is a lot to see.”

For an urban photo walk? 

“Downtown Grand Rapids,” she said. 

For her personal summer project, Burdick is going to do a photo scavenger hunt at every city park and compare the results. 

“It is endless what you can do,” she said. 

DSLR vs. Smartphone

Burdick is passionate about teaching beginners the basics of operating a camera; excitement infuses her voice and gestures as she describes helping students understand shutter speed, aperture, ISO and how they all work together to capture an image.

“I see it like opening a well, and in the well are all these stones, and each stone is a tool on your camera,” she expressed. “And gradually we un-turn each stone.”

A beginner-level DSLR, such as a Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D or Nikon D3500 can be purchased for anywhere from $250-$500. 

If you don’t have a DSLR and are using your phone?

“Even better,” Burdick said. “There are fewer tools to learn. With your phone, it is really your angle and composition…and there are tons of special features, and it is lightweight.”

Whether you are using a smart-phone or high-level DSLR, beginners may feel overwhelmed with options and features.

“It is more about how you see than it is about the bells and whistles,” Burdick smiled. “I have always believed that no matter how many bells and whistles you have on your camera, you are an original because everything that has made you, you up until this point in your life will come out in your photos.” 

The Golden Hour

Burdick says the best time to venture out for a photo walk is in the evening— ideally about 45-minutes before sunset.

“First of all, it is cooler out, temperature wise,” she said. “And you get this beautiful rose glow that enhances everything.”

Burdick is teaching classes and leading photo walks throughout the summer with the Grand Rapids Public Library, (grpl.org) Kendall College of Art and Design (kcad.ferris.edu) and the Gerald R. Ford Museum (fordlibrarymuseum.gov). 


When she is not editing for WLM, Elyse enjoys traveling to far off lands, taking photos, listening to live music and spinning records.

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