Attending a photography tour is a great way to develop your photography by learning from a professional photographer in a destination you’ve dreamt of visiting. Not only that, it’s also a great opportunity to connect with other like-minded people and perhaps even make friends for life.
But in order for it to be a positive (maybe even life-changing) experience, you need to investigate a little before booking. With the influx of photographers and tour operators offering photography-related tours, the line between a good and bad experience can be thin.
While most leave with positive memories, I’ve heard several horror stories of photographers who’ve attended workshops both by big operators as well as famous photographers.
Workshop vs Photo Tours
The very first thing you should know is whether you’re booking a workshop or a photography tour. You might think that they are the same, and some operators might treat them similarly, but the difference can be significant.
A photography workshop is a more hands-on experience where the guide is primarily there to teach you how to capture better images. Workshops typically include both in-field and post-processing lessons.
A photography tour is often less hands-on and the guide’s main task is to make sure you’re at the right place at the right time. While you’ll still get photography instructions, you’re more on your own when it comes to capturing the images and you’re more likely to see the guide using their own camera as well.
Many operators run a mix of the two but I recommend asking how they run the tours before booking. If you want more photographic instructions along with a more hands-on experience, make sure that you’re booking a photography workshop.
Does the Operator Have Local Knowledge?
There’s no doubt that booking with a local operator, or one who uses local guiding services, comes with big benefits.
Local operators have local knowledge and often know about secret spots where few others come. They’re also better prepared in case something unexpected happens and they’re more likely to arrange a unique and authentic experience.
This usually leads to a smoother, better-organized experience for you and the other participants.
Watch the Price
With photography tours, the price isn’t an indicator of how good the tour is. As expected when there’s a huge influx of providers, you can find tours in all price ranges. But what are the differences? Are the most expensive the best?
I recommend looking at several providers and comparing what’s included in the price. What lodging will you use and is it part of the package? Are meals included? Transportation? Entrance fees?
Don’t be surprised when you see providers with similar itineraries and inclusions have a price difference of $1000 or even more. The more you pay doesn’t mean you’ll get a better experience.
How Big is the Group?
Another important factor to keep in mind before booking a photography tour is the group size.
Bigger groups typically mean more generic experiences. Even if there are several guides and a good guide-to-participant ratio, a large group size might be problematic in certain locations.
Just imagine standing on a small Arctic beach with 25 other photographers? It goes without saying that it can be quite chaotic and you’re more than likely to have a tripod or two in your frame.
In my opinion, the ideal group size is up to 6 or 8 participants. More than this and it starts getting crowded in certain places.
Who are you booking with?
Booking a tour with your favorite photographer doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the guide. I’ve heard several stories of people booking an international photography workshop with a photographer they admire but when they arrive, they learn that someone else is actually guiding the trip.
Even if the designated guide is just as talented (and perhaps even a better teacher), it’s quite disappointing when the photographer you wanted to meet isn’t even there.
To avoid this unpleasant surprise, make sure you read the sales page and other documents carefully. You might even want to ask the photographer point-blank if he’s guiding that particular trip.
Remember, even if you’re booking via a photographers personal website, the tip above still stands. Make sure they’re the ones guiding the tour.
Testimonials are always a great indicator whether a tour is a good match for you or not; they’re a good way to hear about previous clients’ experiences and they give you an indication of how the tour is run.
Keep in mind that most operators only share the best reviews on their websites – do a quick Google Search as well. Tripadvisor, Google Reviews and Facebook Page Reviews are good places to look.
Is the trip legit?
Reading reviews and testimonials should give you an idea if the operator is serious or not. This is typically not an issue with larger tour operators but rather one with individual photographers trying to make some extra money.
You’d be surprised how often I’ve heard of clients being told, “if we’re stopped by the police, tell them we’re just a group of friends.” That’s not what you want to hear on Day 1, is it?
It’s hard to find out whether the operator has all the necessary paperwork (such as permits and insurances) and you might not get an honest reply if you ask. Still, if you find anything related to this in a review, it’s a big red flag.
Have Realistic Expectations
What expectations do you have before booking a tour? Most likely, you’ve seen the images on the sales page and you wish to come back with beautiful photos from the same places but is that realistic?
The images used to market the tours are often the result of several years’ work. In fact, it’s rare (though it happens) that all images on a sales page are from only one previous trip.
Weather is hard to predict, especially long in advance, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll have great conditions for your entire stay. I’d say the chances are rather low for you to get 7 out of 7 days with amazing sunrises and sunsets.
Also, pay attention to what time of year the images were taken. If you’re going to Northern Norway in summer, you’re not going to see snow and the Northern Lights. If you’re going to Iceland in winter, you’re not going to see the lupines.
Make sure that the images used in the marketing of a tour are taken during the same time of year as you’re planning to visit. Also, don’t expect to come home with great images from every single location. Rather let it be a positive surprise if you happen to.
Don’t Worry. Have fun!
My intention with this article has not been to scare you away from attending a photography tour or workshop: quite the opposite. I hope that you take these tips and use them to find the photographer or company that will give you the best possible experience.
We all have different expectations and doing a little research beforehand increases the likelihood of you having a good experience.
Once you’ve found the right match there are only two things left to do: have fun and take great pictures!