Iceland, India and South Africa are some of the destinations that appeal to photographers. Group tours make it easy to travel around such locations safely and in an organized way. Meals and accommodation are all arranged; and it's a given that you'll be taken to great locations, ideally at the right time of day, to make photographs. All you have to do is show up. Sounds good? Absolutely, but are you well suited to a group based photography tour?
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to participate in a photography tour? Putting myself in the position of the customer I think these are the things you should consider before parting with your hard earning money.
Is This The Right Photography Tour For You?
Does the country or region to be visited offer the kind of photography opportunities you believe you’d enjoy? If you don’t enjoy photographing icebergs or waterfalls, then Iceland may not be for you.
Large icebergs create stunning formations and a beautiful reflection on the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.
Are You Cut Out For A Group Based Photography Tour?
Would you enjoy traveling with a bunch of other enthusiastic photographers? Sounds perfect, doesn't it. But it's important to understand that, most likely, you'll all be eating together and sharing the same vehicle, day after day.
How would you react to that one person who just rubs you up the wrong way? They might be loud, opinionated or overtly political. But, just like you, they've paid to be there and are a part of the group.
The last thing you'd want to do would be to encourage that kind of behavior. Often the best thing to do is to leave them alone and hang out with one or two other participants. There's no reason for you to remove yourself from the rest of the group and you can use the first day of the tour to work out who you want to hang out with, on location, and who you want to avoid sitting next to on the bus or at meal time. I don' think that's at all unreasonable.
You might think that it's the tour leaders job to protect you from such people, but you'll probably make the whole situation harder for everyone by continually engaging with the person who's bothering you. You'll just end up encouraging them to continue to behave in the same way and, from their point of view, there's nothing wrong with their behavior or opinions. You can tell them they're upsetting you, but if they don't already know that I doubt they care enough to substantially moderate their behavior. After all they're trying so hard to tell you all about themselves and to help you understand them.
A golden angel atop the Académie de Poésie et de Musique in Paris, France
Communal Breakfast | Who’s Been Eating My Porridge?
Does the routine of hotel breakfasts seem a tough way to start the day? Do you find it a drag. No worries, I don’t expect everyone to fall in and start each and every day with a smile. If you prefer to ease your way into the day simply pop down for a bite early and then retire to your room until you’re ready to face the day or, alternatively, head down when most of the group have finished their breakfast.
The fact is that, for some of us, breakfast is not a highlight of the day. Personally I don't find the notion of bacon and eggs to be exciting, day after day. Nor, when I'm traveling in Europe, do I find all that cheese to be a good way to start the day.
It’s really nobody’s business how you start your day, as long as you’re ready to head out for each day’s adventure when everyone else is.
Warm, artificial light illuminates a subway in Paris, France
Do You Cherish Your Own Space?
The same is true for the evening meal. Just because one or more of the group might like a few drinks with their meal doesn’t mean that you’re required to drink like they do. And whether you stay up with them or find a quiet place to process your photos, talk photography with like-minded people or simply to keep to yourself is, from my point of view, completely up to you.
Just be mindful of why you’re there and the opportunities you have available to you. It’s your choice to either make the most of those opportunities, like discussing photography with the tour leader, or squander them.
Do You Snore Like A Pig?
Are you prepared to share your room with a stranger who may or may not fit the tall, dark and handsome description? Perhaps you, or your partner, would prefer that they didn't. Are you likely to be tolerant of someone else’s sleeping habits? If not, you really should consider putting more money on the table so as to secure your own room.
Of course your needs are not the only ones to consider. If you snore heavily then you might be the reason your roommate’s once in a lifetime experience fails to live up to their expectations. Let’s face it, day after day of interrupted and/or insufficient sleep is hardly going to set your roommate up for success. It may well be the reason they fall over on location and damage themselves and/or their camera.
Group Activities Are For Team Players
Are you a team player or competitive when it comes to making photos? Would you be prepared to share your spot or move to allow a fellow participant to be able to make a similar image from an area with little space to set up a tripod?
And what about gear or accessories? Would you be prepared to loan a peer a spare battery or lens if they had either lost or damaged some of their own kit? Of course you’re not required to do so. Nonetheless, helping to keep one person happy goes a long way to elevating the mood of the group and, as a result, the success of the tour.
Personally I bring extra clothes (i.e., shoelaces, spare sun hat, beanie, trousers and fleece jacket) as there’s always someone who either doesn’t bring the recommended items or loses some along the way. I used to bring an extra lens or two, but that’s tough to do these days now that airline carry on baggage restrictions are so tough. What’s more that practice was only helpful to folks using the same camera brand as me.
These days, in addition to my own camera kit, I bring a high quality compact zoom camera on tour. Here’s why.
- A compact zoom camera takes up little space in my camera bag.
- A compact zoom camera is a discrete and easy to manage piece of kit for restaurant outings and low key evening photo walks.
- A compact zoom camera provides a reasonable replacement for a damaged or stolen DSLR or Mirrorless system.
- The compact zoom camera functions as a backup camera for me, but also allows me to help a customer out when they’re in need.
Needless to say I also pack extra batteries, memory cards and various other accessories to help other folks out should the need arise.
A gardener, watering a tree, in the grounds of a railway station in Kolkata, India
Is The Workshop Leader Your Kind Of Leader?
Actually I see myself more as a facilitator than a tour leader. I take the reins when I need to, but I give folks as much flexibility and space as they require. Some folks want a lot of attention in the field, others just like to be delivered to a location and then left to their own devices.
It’s important for a tour leader to identify and respect these differences within the group and still find a way to spend time with each and every participant on a daily basis. What’s more there’s information that’s relevant to the group and the location in question, but there’s also the opportunity to connect and help individuals in a way that’s more appropriate to their own needs and experience.
With some folks I concentrate our discussions on technical matters associated with image making. With others the discussions turn more to composition, aesthetics and their own, individual creative path. It’s very much horses for courses and it’s my job not just to bring the horse to water, but to ensure it’s the right kind of water (e.g., cool or tepid, tap or air rated) according to their needs.
But it’s also my job to push folks, beyond their comfort zone, towards new experiences and new awakenings. That, more than anything else, is at the heart of what I do, both here in this blog and also in the courses, workshops and photography tours that I facilitate.
A highly structured interior view of a gallery within the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Photography Tours | It’s Your Money Ralph
Before you part with your hard earned money I think you should endeavor to connect with your tour leader so as to better determine whether you’re likely to enjoy spending your time with them. The fact is you’re unlikely to approach them on tour if you find them to be overly technical, overly boisterous or more interested in making photos for themselves.
Try to get a good understanding of the personality of the tour leader and whether the level of guidance and support they’ll likely offer on tour is up to your expectations. Also consider whether, given it’s a group-based tour, your expectations are realistic.