As a professional travel photographer I have been traveling on my own as well as organizing photographic tours for many years. Clearly the decision of how you plan your tour and what your expectations are versus the real thing (your experience) willmake the difference between an unforgettable image or a tiresome one as well as uninteresting trip.
Any trip can be conceived as a very well organized itinerary or a casual unplanned journey but, if we are talking about a photographic trip, things can become quite unpredictable. You will always have the challenge of being in an unknown place but, furthermore, on a photographic trip` you have to add the puzzle of capturing images that meet your expectations.
Below, you will find some possible options. I hope that this will help the passionate traveler and photographer to find the best choice amid different possibilities.
Joining A Standard Tourist Tour
Joining a non-photographic tour is rarely the best idea to come back home with the best pictures of your life. Everything will be programmed to cater to the tastes and interests of tourists, not photographers. Tourists have different schedules and goals on a trip. As a tourist, you could remain ten minutes in a spot where a photographer would stay for two hours.
You will be rushing from one place to the other. Nothing is organized following a photographic storyline or path. There is usually no free time to take your own pictures and you will be shown only very typical iconic monuments and places.
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Organizing Your Own Trip
Research, time and knowledge are here the key. This is a great idea, providing that you do the proper research, you have enough time for it and, later, for the trip.
The typical first step will be to get a guide book (see note 1) . But here comes the surprise: When you consider people photography there is no such thing as a “photographic” guide book. Most of the very few existing books will only give you references of well known, touristy places. And of course, most of the time these will be interesting places for… you guessed it: non-photographers.
Obviously you will be planning a trip to “your” places, the ones you are specifically interested in.
It’s true that there is difficulty in finding special photographic spots, places that are away from the usual paths. It’s a science to find those spots, as they are usually not publicized in the travel guides.
You will have to rely in other sources: internet, pictures by other photographers, events, festivals, etc.
Here are some basic questions that you will have to address:
Decide what you want to see. Design a program; do you want to attend festivals? Are you interested in daily life? Is it a factory, a craft? Abandoned buildings or towns?
Have an idea of the type of scenario that you will encounter.- This will have an impact on the lenses mostly and the possible need of an assistant
- Is it indoors?
- How is the light?
- Will you need artificial lighting ?
- Is there enough space?
Organize it. Once you have decided what you plan to see, you have to organize the whole thing. Here a few of the multiple factors that you will have to consider;
- How long does it take to reach the place?
- Is your hotel next to the spot you want to be ?
Is it safe ?
- Will it be open?
- What is the best time for photography there?
- And the best point of view?
- What are you going to do in the morning?
- Where are you going to stop if it’s hot?
- Where is a place nearby to have lunch?
- How long will it really take to reach the place you want to go?
- Will you hire a car?
Getting There. It is not just a matter of knowing how to reach the place, many times the challenge will be to get an access. This will require contacts, time and, many times, money as well.
Finding the person that will open the door. Once you have found your special location you have to figure out who is in charge of the place, create the proper contacts to get in and earn the trust and support of the right person. You need ton figure out if there is there is a way to enter, and if, once you have entered, you can use it for your purposes, which are normally related to photography.
Why can you not find a reliable people oriented photographic guide book?
As we photographers know, what attracts us does not necessarily excite people who are not chiefly concerned with photography. And, seriously speaking, there is no such thing as a “photographic” guidebook, specifically made for people related photography. You could find something related to animals or landscape – maybe, or destinations, restaurants and attractions, but not people photography.
Good Professional Photographers are very busy trying to sell their ownpictures and travel photographers are busy selling pictures to magazines. A photographer is normally not a writer and he normally does not write guides for photographers. When a photographer writes, he normally cares about technicalities.
Travel Photographers are not normally willing to share their special locations. Photographers that have discovered a special place are not normally willing to share with colleagues; they do not want to disclose “hidden” locations that took years to find. Furthermore, many times those places are accessible to them only due to their special relationship with locals. Again, relations that have been built after years of earning confidence and trust.
Joining A Photo Tour Or An On-Site Workshop
Photography being an intimate process, most people believe that sharing the moment with another photographer (the professional photographer) could spoil the moment, and the picture.
They could certainly be right. This is why a good photo tour leader will do his or her best to leave the photographer by himself when taking the picture. Even more, he/she will encourage the photographer to establish a personal connection with the subject.
When looking for a photo tour, remember that the photographer has to understand (and know) what is it that you are interested in as a visitor from abroad. Things that are absolutely mundane to him will be spectacular to you. And the opposite could also be true.
Imagine that you are in Viñales, Cuba. A cowboy approaches an old train, grabs the luggage that contains the daily post, and a few seconds later he disappears into the forest. This is a daily routine for a local. A local photographer will not see this as something special. Your cultural background will give a different meaning to the scene.
The lead photographer has to be one that is interested and excels in the same kind of photography that you enjoy whether it be landscaping, monuments, people, etc.
Why would you go on a Photographic tour? The answer is clear; if you are serious about photography and do not have too much time to spare it will save you lots of time, problems and money.
You will be in the right place at the right time. And, if the photographer and tour organizer is good, it will help you to
- Avoid mistakes, experiencing before you the location or event.
- Sharing a photographic perspective
- Have access to places where you can only enter with special permits
and/or personal connections.
- Attend special photo sessions in otherwise difficult places and events,
e.g. a Voodoo session in Cuba, ballet dancers in an abandoned palace,
young monks in a lonely temple in Myanmar, etc.
- Have an organized plan and itinerary as well as all the logistics done
- Discover the most interesting photographic spots
- Get all the necessary permits in order with ease
Furthermore, you will be sharing the moment with someone who knows the place and the people. Last but not least, you will be aided in your interaction with the locals. Regardless of your photographic skills, whether you are a pro photographer or a weekend shooter, you will benefit from the experience of a skilled teacher/photographer that could help you to acquire better photographic technique or develop your vision.
The ideal experienced Travel Photographer Group Leader should see and recognize moments and experiences and anticipate the myths and icons you are expecting to discover. He would truly understand the place and the cultural nuances, as well as the possible causes for misunderstandings. He should manage the relation with locals and handle the responsibility. Even better, discover new things and opportunities for the future.
What kind of experience do you want to witness on a Photo Tour?
You have invested a lot of time in research, spent the money, found the hotels and places, only to realize that you have not found what you were looking for. Once you have found a place or event, ask yourself: is this the kind of experience that I was expecting? Reality is not the same for different cultures and people. What is of interest for a local in Havana will not necessarily appeal to you.
Probably what you see in your imagination as a Voodoo ritual could be a totally different experience from the local point of view. If it’s your first time it can be rather disappointing, especially because their idea of what you would like to see is totally different than the idea of what you are expecting.
This problem will be minimized on your second trip and more on your third trip to the same location.
Ultimately, deciding on how to plan your photo tour is a very personal matter with obvious trade offs. Budget, time, resistance to frustration, personal and even philosophical perspective. There is a traveler’s approach and a photographer’s approach. You could be looking for a more intense personal experience or getting a large number of “good” (whatever “good” means to you) photographs. Comfort could be of paramount importance or only an insignificant issue.
As a conclusion, be aware of your expectations and what your expected experience can offer. A satisfactory trip will be aligned with your expectations: only if you meet them the photo tour will be a success.
About The Author:
Harry Fisch has been a photographer for more years than he cares to remember. He has photographically documented more than 40 countries through which he has travelled. Winner of the 2012 World National Geographic Photo Contest (places), and later disqualified, his work has deserved several awards: Two Jury Awards in 2014 at the Grand Prix de la Découverte, finalist in the Sony 2012 World Photo Awards and selected in 2010 by Photoespaña—possibly the most prestigious Spanish photographic event—in the section “Discoveries”. His work has also been published, among other publications, in “La lettre de la Photographie”, which was nominated best Blog of 2011 by the prestigious magazine LIFE.
If you want to share with Harry on his next photo tour, discover hidden locations, people of different cultures and, most of all, enjoy the challenge of improving your photographic skills, visit www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com
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