How to plan your photo tour to India
India is essentially a photographer’s all you can eat buffet; from the whirlwind of the festivals, to the bustling throngs of the marketplaces
The exquisite architectures, and the hundreds of peoples and cultures, you can and will find any photographically appealing scenario you could possibly imagine in this incredible country. But, though it has an endless supply of spectacular fodder for your camera, going there unprepared can lead to frustration and stress.
If you’re going to tackle the beautiful behemoth of the subcontinent, here are some must follow tips.
- 1.- Do as much legwork as you can ahead of time, including planning your India Photo Tour narrative.
So much of good travel photography relies on storytelling, and to tell a good story, you need to know what it is you want to say from the outset. So spend time doing your homework before you arrive in country – this means not only researching what is around, from famous landmarks to opportunities in the Varanasi ghats and side streets, but deciding what facet of this many faced gem you want to focus on. Going on an India Photo Tour not having a scope or a focus will drive you mad when you’re ambushed in country by every possible photographic opportunity.
Good travel photography relies on storytelling
- 2.- Make friends where you can.
It also means making contacts ahead of time whenever possible. You will need locals who know where you can go to get the best opportunities, and to speak ahead of time with proprietors of certain venues if you want to photograph them. There are some things, like cremation burials for instance, that you probably can shoot from a boat along the river, but if you want the best pictures you can get, you’ll need to be up close and personal. In order to do this at a semi private ceremony, you’ll need permission in advance. Local operators and local guides can often help with this, unless you prefer creating your own contacts. Realize you’ll need to throw them a ‘pitch’ to help your case.
Make contacts ahead of time whenever possible
- 3.- Focus on your photography.
Once there it might be tempting to try the myriad of things that will be at your fingertips, but remember what you are there for: your craft and your art. You’re going to need time to properly set up your shots and wait for good opportunities once you have chosen locations, and if you take too much time for non-photographic related activities, you may find yourself suddenly out of time at the end of your trip, with only half your shot list complete.
Plan around your photography sessions, don’t plan your sessions around other things.
- 4.- Specify your needs with your guide.
Be aware that many guides and aides will have their own agendas. They are being paid to make sure you make it to certain establishments or routes so that they and their fellows get more payout. They aren’t scamming you, but they are not necessarily helping you get the best pictures either, so be quite specific about your needs and be up front about them when you hire a guide.
- 5.- Be culturally aware.
India has certain distinct differences from the West – besides the fact that there will be constant noise, from honking horns to yelling merchants along with general din, there’s a significant difference in personal space as well. Don’t be thrown if you’re approached by people who suddenly have your hand in theirs or one on your shoulder, and expect to suddenly be the center of attention anywhere near a merchant district. Just stay cool and go with the flow, even if it’s nothing you’re used to. Rely on your guide to help create a buffer if things get too overwhelming.
Stay cool and go with the flow, even if it’s nothing you’re used to
- 6.- Be bold and give it the old college try.
Don’t be afraid to approach people, smiling, and ask to see a place that is seemingly off limits. Sometimes they aren’t entirely so. You should always be extra polite and respectful with authority figures, but realize often these guys can help you out quite a bit if you ask for something nicely.
Also, don’t be shy of asking people if you can take their picture. Indians are by and large quite friendly and open and have less of a problem acting as a photographic subject than westerns do. A ‘no’ is still a ‘no’, but don’t let shyness stop you from asking in the first place!
7.- Stay positive.
India can be dizzying, and perhaps full of road bumps both literal and figurative when you’re on a trip there, but keep a smile on. You’re still on a once in a lifetime adventure, and a calm, positive attitude will transmit to everyone around you. Indians appreciate this kind of attitude, so remember to keep smiling even if your air conditioner breaks, or your bus was late, or what have you. It will be all forgotten once you’re back out there with your camera, making the most of your time in this incredible country.
If you want to experience a unique India join me on my next India Photo Tour