What to expect on a photo tour
A PHOTO TOUR IS NOT A PHOTO WORKSHOP
The difference between a photo tour and workshop is how much time we dedicate to taking photos, analyzing them, and the subject matter. In both cases, we try to live and experience the culture as best we can, as well as taking photographs.
But the photo tour we spend about 80% of our photo time taking photos, and about 20% on analyzing them and honing our vision. In a workshop we take about 50% to actually take the photos, but the other half of the time is dedicated to technical work and analysis.
A workshop needs to dedicate more time to analysis of a realized shot to help establish direction and help the photographer work towards an improvement in their pictures, while a photo tour tries to give the participant the best selection of interesting photo opportunities, and the technical analysis is much less emphasized.
About 50% of our trips are Photo Tours, and about 50% are Workshops. In both, aside from photography, we resolve technical questions and meet and greet the local people, which in turn helps each participant hone their photographic vision.
THE PHOTO TOUR EXPERIENCE
What is interesting in a good photo tour is having great photographic opportunities and plenty of time to take photographs.
In the same way a golf player uses the club as an excuse to get out and take a stroll, the camera is a great excuse to get to know the best countries and cultures, capture and depict emotions, put on the hat of a photographer documenting diverse cultures, and experience personal connections with the natives of every locale.
The important thing is to live the dream which has brought us to our destination. It is not a sum of visits and locales, one shouldn’t treat it like collecting clichés and postcards.
When I organize photo tours with Nomad Photo Expeditions, the photographic experience and the personal experience, for me, must be both pleasant and unforgettable. I have travelers from all ages travel with me, from casual hobbyists to near-pros; there are no two people who are the same, who have the same way of viewing reality, nor realizing a story via a camera lens.
They are small groups, between 6 and 8 people at the most, which I keep small in order to fit in all of the special interests of each participant and make sure they’re compatible with respecting in turn the people who are being photographed.
In a photographic expedition, the size does matter. This is for two reasons: we can’t run around in groups of 10 plus and also have intimate photo sessions, and as well, I cannot dedicate enough attention to the participant photographer if the group is too large. So, on our photo tours or workshops, we never take more than 8 people per group.
To effectively teach both technical and artistic knowledge on a photo tour like ours, I need to do it in a direct and personal way. I need to see to each and every one of my participants in an individual capacity, and their needs vary greatly: some are concerned with technique, others with how to approach human subjects, and almost all of them with their personal approach to the artistic element of photography. So, for these fundamental reasons, I keep the groups small.
Also, depending on where we are, a group can split up into smaller units of 2-3 people in order to have the freedom they want to immerse themselves in the locale with their camera. When this happens, as the situation permits, I take another photographer with me, so each group has someone to ‘guide’ them so to speak. That way, we always get the most intimate experience, but with all the attention and formation the participants need.
IT’S ABOUT WHAT WE PHOTOGRAPH, NOT WHERE WE ARE
Just being in Paris doesn’t guarantee you get to know Paris, just like being in Benares doesn’t guarantee you get to know Benares. Only after years of photographic experience on the ground do you get to know a locale’s special feeling, out of the way places, and how to make ties with the people who live there as well as with their reality.
Benares is chosen as a destination by millions of tourists, but the majority leave the city without having known it at all: they don’t know what is authentic or of genuine photographic interest and what isn’t, and they haven’t made much of a connection to the locals. They don’t maintain friendships in the areas where all the interesting things are going on.
It isn’t the same, fighting against thousands of tourists with cameras just to get your shot, than to take photos with a certain degree of intimacy, in a relatively unknown space, controlled and understood through years of experience.
THE 3 IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF A PHOTO TOUR
A photo expedition should have three essential pillars in order to keep it solidly on its feet:
- Photographic interest and importance of the subject matter available
- The lead photographer
- The locations
The photographic interest and importance of the subjects at hand is the most important.
Far more than the importance of the destination itself is looking at the interesting themes and subjects in each location.
Obviously, we go on photo tours to take photos. But in a lot of cases, in order to take the best photos we can, we really need to get to know the people we are going to capture. We need to analyze each itinerary to see what the photo opportunities offer: the stops of course, but above all what is in each stop, really in: The people, the day to day places, the events, and what we can do with them.
The people, the day to day places, the events, and what we can do with them.
The accompanying lead photographer is obviously an essential element. The success of the trip relies on it. This lead photographer is the guide to all the most interesting things, and his or her experience is what helps the participants get the best shots and get close to the people living in each destination. A good lead photographer must have not only good didactic ability, and be able to teach what he or she knows, but also serve as a catalyst for the participants to improve their technique and photographic vision. Also, in these trips, everyone is together for many hours at a time; it is important that the photographer acts as a unifying factor for the entire group.
Down time and the Schedule
Everything revolves around the schedule. Where we sleep, what time we leave, how we get places. Many times it is more convenient to stay in one location for two straight days to allow everyone to take quality photos and correct any problems we may find. A good location is key, it allows us to form actual relationships with the locals, and helps us better our focus, or experiment with other points of view. And, why not, to meet up with some of the great fellows we met the day before?
THE QUALITY AND THE ATTITUDE OF THE LEAD PHOTOGRAPHER
On a photo tour, the quality and the positive attitude of the lead photographer is essential in assuring a good experience. The photographer that takes the group can always take his or her pictures, but their attention should always first be on the client; the client/photographer always takes priority.
The quality and capacity of this Lead is the first requisite a client should look at. It’s difficult to learn from someone who has no real mastery over the material they are going to impart. In the case of a photo tour, the important thing is the capacity of the Lead not only to orient the participants, but also to help and tutor them.
It’s difficult to learn from someone who has no real mastery over the material they are going to impart.
But in this aspect there are a lot of different styles, some better than others. There are a few things to watch out for: From the photographer who dumps his group on the local guide so he can take his own photos, to the one with iron discipline who keeps to such a rigid schedule that there is no real time for anything except photography, and it is done at very exact times. Clearly a balance is needed.
A good Lead with a good day to day Schedule will try to maintain a good program while still keeping things as open as possible for the participants. It’s not a tour group but it’s also not a schoolroom. These tours are about photographers developing their passion and having fun, and a good Lead knows how to work that.
For many travel photographers, this trip is the trip of a lifetime, or one of the most important. It should not be a typical tour, like a group of tourists toting cameras around famous monuments, that just happens to be led by a professional photographer. Sometimes it’s surprising the scarcity of quality photos that, on many occasions, some photo tour organizers display.
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