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Originally published Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 7:07 PM

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Seattle tour guides double as photo instructors

A Seattle guide service, Shutter Tours, offers walking tours of the Pike Place Market area that provide history and commentary, as well as photography lessons along the way. Bring your own camera.

Special to The Seattle Times

If You Go

How-to photo tour of Seattle

Where

The Shutter Tours itinerary can change somewhat but generally includes the Pike Place Market, Harbor Steps, and waterfront. Toward the end of the tour, groups are taken back to the market, where people are encouraged to try out their newfound skills. Alums of the tour often download their best photos on the Shutter Tours Flickr website.

Costs and details

All skill levels are welcome on Shutter Tours, but your own camera and advance reservations are required. Tickets cost $40.95 each; no charge for children younger than 10. The tours run from May 1 through Oct. 4, with group size limited to eight. On your confirmed tour date, meet at 10 a.m. next to the Pike Place Market information booth at First Avenue and Pike Street.

Reservations and information

Reservations: www.shuttertours.com or 800-838-3006. More information: 425-516-8838.

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Most dreaded phrase at any gathering that has no easy exit: "Want to see my vacation photos?"

Back in the day, this painful experience was not digitally delivered but came through a big production called The Slide Show. People hunched in the dark amid the clicking and whirring of a machine that beamed a cone of light onto a screen, wall or sheet. About every fifth slide or so, heads snapped to shoulders — better for upside- down viewing. On and on droned the narrator. "Here's the Grand Canyon in a rainstorm," although it looked neither grand nor wet and could have been a close-up of the driveway for all you could tell.

Through the ages, amateur travel and vacation photos have tended to be tiresome. Terry Divyak's Shutter Tours of Seattle's Pike Place Market neighborhood takes a novel approach to turning that around, making the photo-taking experience more interesting while improving the results. His photographer/guides give tips on what makes for a good photo while dispensing information on local history and sites.

"I got the idea in New York on a tour bus," said Divyak. "I was taking pictures through a window going 30 miles an hour and I thought, Seattle could use a different kind of tour."

Embracing photography

He put together Shutter Tours a couple of years ago and it's filled a niche. Divyak gets a lot of Europeans on the tour, folks from around the United States, and locals, all with one thing in common: "People are embracing photography and they want to know more about it."

Recently, photographer/guide Valentina Vitols, 36, escorted several people on a tour through the oldest part of the market along Post Alley and beyond. Vitols, born and raised in Venezuela, has a studio in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood.

At the start of the tour, she rounded up her group of newbie shutterbugs: Lisa Wagner, 25, from Puyallup, brought her friend, Sharon Caton, 31, of Vancouver, Wash.; and 40-year-old Mike Oleson brought his digital Canon camera from his home in Marysville.

They walked to the Market's famous gum wall, where the entire side of an old brick building is covered with the mastications of untold numbers of gum chewers. Vitols began the lesson, advising her tourist/students to avoid random picture taking. "Good photography is based on three things: observation, composition and purpose. Try to tell a story."

She carried a book of samples and showed them what she meant — a close-up detail of the wall that resembled abstract art rather than lumps of Wrigley's. "Find patterns in what you're shooting," she said.

The photographers fanned out, pushing their cameras within inches of the wall, kneeling down and shooting upward.

They ambled south along historic Post Alley. "We go slow and that can be annoying for the significant others on the tour," Vitols laughed. "But you can solve that by giving them a camera."

She talked about texture and light, offering a quick how-to by posing Mike Oleson in front of a metal garage door with a grid design. Vitols took a couple of head shots then showed how light bounced off the door to illuminate his face.

Locations can surprise

As they stood at the back of that now-defunct erotic-dancing joint, the Lusty Lady, conversation turned to framing. Vitols picked a backdrop — a tall window boarded up with rust-colored wood — then posed Wagner in the window, her long, dark-red hair the same shade as the wood. The portrait was striking. "You never know what you'll find," said Vitols. "You might get your best shot in an alley behind the Lusty Lady."

One of the tour stops was the Harbor Steps, a venue that begins with a waterfall, leads to a series of stairs and ends across from the waterfront. Here, Vitols lectured on lines: "Diagonal lines imply movement or speed. S-curves are peaceful. Vertical lines dominate and horizontal lines can be restful."

Everyone looked around and suddenly, that's all they could see — lines everywhere: curves of water, blocks of steps, towering beams of buildings.

"That opened my eyes," Wagner said later. "I got a different perspective."

Caton was anxious to get home to see what she had. "You look at pictures on that little screen but once you download them, sometimes you discover something new that you didn't know about."

Oleson was amazed at how much he picked up in so short a time. "Before, I never really paid attention, and I had to have everything centered right in the middle of the frame but now I want to try different things, zoom in on the bits and pieces."

That's the reaction Shutter Tours owner Divyak hopes for. "These days, so many people are plugged in, not paying attention. They aren't looking around. Photography forces you to stop and really see."

And that's probably the most important tip Vitols gave her group. "Photographers see in a special way. Take advantage of that insight."

Connie McDougall is a Seattle-based freelance writer.

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