A Photo Tour or Photo Workshop is a great way for the amateur and serious photographer, and their significant others, to visit an area that they wish to see. However, they are not for everyone. Photographers that go on a photo tour or workshops do so because they have itineraries built around peak photography times and locations. The average person will not want to drag themselves out of bed before sunrise to travel to a location to capture the golden hour.
But keep in mind that even within the photo tour industry there are many different types and styles of tours with a different focus and level of photography time commitment. A photo tour I set up in India for example has an itinerary where you can choose to participate in some, none or all of the photographic outings, yet still visit the highlights of the Golden Triangle. Another trip I just set up in Tanzania is pure photography; and anyone attending the photo tour without a camera will surely be bored sitting in the back of an SUV for hours watching wildebeest and Zebra run back and forth in the Serengeti.
So how do you choose the best photo tour or workshop for you? Here are some things you should consider:
1. Style of Photography
Most people are interested in more than one style of photography. People’s interests are as diverse as landscape, architecture, fine art, people or wildlife. Most tours are also focused on one or two styles as well. Sometimes the destination picks the styles for you. For example, a tour I am doing in Tanzania is most likely focused on wildlife but could also provide landscape photo opportunities. The tour operator and lead photographer also have preferred styles of photography. You therefore need to make sure the style of photography that the tour is focused on, and the experience of the photography tour leader matches up to what you are interested in.
2. Photography Goals
What do you expect to come home with? Will your expectations be met while you are on a photography tour? Discuss your personal goals with the photographer leading the tour and the tour operator. Ask if you will be allowed to take the kind of photos you want to take and what rights are needed to use the photos the way you want to use them. Laws vary country to country and your tour leaders should be able to inform you of such regulations.
Make sure the places you will visit will also give you the opportunities you are expecting. If you have specific shots you want to take, ask if you will get the chance.
3. Number of Participants
Photo tours, like all tours, come in all shapes and sizes. While they are typically smaller than other types of tours, they generally range from 6 – 16 people. On the low end, you are getting more individual attention and have fewer people vying for prime spots and time with the photographer. On the high end, you spend more time waiting for other people to be ready or to get out of your shot. Large groups can still work if you break them into several smaller groups but you need more tour leaders and guides to do this. Find out how many people the tour will accommodate and how it is staffed.
Less people equals more money and premium photo opportunities, larger tours equals less expensive but possible frustration waiting or vying for premium spots.
4. Experience Required
Some photo tours assume that participants have all the experience they need to take advantage of great photo ops. Others include workshops or hands on training to take your photography to the next level. Find out what sort of training is offered and what the experience level is for most other participants.
It won’t hurt if you have more experience than most because you can keep shooting while others are learning but it will hurt your goals if you don’t have enough experience to take advantage of the opportunities and no one will assist you.
5. Tour Leaders and Company
Who will lead the tour? What experience do they have? What is their style of photography and will they be taking photos too? You certainly want a professional photographer to accompany you on the tour but who will handle the logistics? Does someone speak the native language? Do they speak English? How are unexpected events handled? Does the tour company have the resources to correct problems quickly? The reputation of the tour company and the tour leader should be easy to check.
This was important to me… I had several choices’ partner with unknown tour operators, do all the bookings myself or identify local tour operators that have firsthand knowledge and are accredited in the country they operate in. I chose to partner with insured and experience operators. It may cost me a little more, but my guests will have peace of mind when traveling with me.
Will the tour take you to locations you want to visit? Don’t assume that all photo tours visit the same destinations in a given area. Our desire to see and experience a place is influenced by what we read or see on TV, the movies or the web. Make sure your expectations will be met. If you want to see and experience the great migration on the Serengeti in Africa, for example, make sure the tour you select takes you to the Serengeti and gives you the best chance of seeing it. However, if your goals are not location dependent and you just want the best chance to photograph African wildlife up close, for example, other destinations may give you more opportunities.
7. Travel Style
How will you get from place to place? The style of travel varies greatly in different photo tours. Some tours drive from place to place while others fly or take boats. Make sure you are comfortable with the mode of transportation. Ask how many hours a day are spent travelling vs. taking photos? Sometimes, long travel days are required to reach a desired photo site so ask about the mode and condition of transportation and how many people will be sharing it. Eight hours on a bumpy road is far more comfortable in a new vehicle with air conditioning than it is in a 30 year old school bus.
8. Type of Accommodations and Facilities
What types of accommodations are used for the tour? Will you be camping or staying in 5 star hotels? What types of bathrooms will you encounter? What level of comfort do you want? Some destinations have a lot of choices and some don’t. If you want to photograph tribes in the Amazon Jungle you might have to settle for basic lodges or even tents with a pit toilet. But if you are traveling in areas that have all types of accommodation, make sure the accommodations will meet your needs. Before you book a tour, ask for the names of all accommodations and check them out yourself. What does Trip Adviser say about the selected hotels? Ask how often you will be expected to settle for a bush toilet, an outhouse or an eastern style toilet and make sure you can accept those conditions.
The tour operator should be able to provide a fairly detailed itinerary for the trip. That doesn’t mean that things won’t change based on weather, traffic and other unforeseen issues but it gives you an idea of what to expect. Does the itinerary excite you? It should be full of places you want to see and things you want to do. If it includes a lot of early morning photography, make sure you’re up for that or they have a way to let you sleep in without inconveniencing the others. If it includes a lot of free time, make sure you know what your options are for that time. When will you upload your photos to a computer? Will there be time to process your photos the way you want to?
10. Physical Requirements
Are you in shape for the tour? Some tours require a lot of walking, climbing, hiking or other physically demanding tasks to reach the areas where you will take photographs. Others are less demanding or have ways of accommodating people that cannot walk very far. Ask how far or how much time you will be expected to walk each day and how demanding the walking is. Find out if your camera equipment will be waiting for you nearby in the car or bus or if you have to carry it with you. The tour operator should be able to explain the physical requirements of the tour.
11. Culture Shock
Most people don’t think about culture shock when they select a tour but they should. What is your reaction to poverty, filthy conditions and dramatically different cultural values? Where will you be taking photographs? Where will you stay and eat? Some people think they want to be immersed in the local culture, staying at homestays in local villages, for example, only to realize that they can never relax. Find out what the conditions are like at your hotel and the restaurant you will eat at.
Money is always a factor when selecting any tour so make sure you understand all of the costs. Before you compare tour prices, find out what is included or excluded in each tour so you can determine what the total cost of your tour will be. Does the tour include meals or are you expected to pay for that separately? What about entrance fees, camera fees and photo fees? How much should you include for tips? Is the flight to the starting point of the tour included? Are flights during the tour included? The extras can add up to thousands of dollars so make sure you are comparing total costs.
These are some of the things you should consider when choosing a photo tour. All tours are not the same so make sure you do your research to find one that’s right for you. This is your hard earned money, you deserve the best trip possible.
I hope that helps you decide what to look for when booking a photo tour or workshop.
You can always check out out workshops. We take photographers across Canada, and around the world to our favorite destinations.