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How to Choose the Right Photography Tour

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A small alley with a man, a woman and a bicycle on a brick-lined road.

Photography Tour vs. a Workshop

How is a photography tour different from a workshop? First, let’s look at what is similar. Both venues are devoted to taking photographs and analyzing them. In both, we are trying to experience the culture while developing techniques that help us produce images as authentic and inspiring as possible.

However, the difference between the two relates mostly to how much time is dedicated to taking photographs versus analyzing the results and the techniques that were used to make them. In a photography tour, about 70 – 80% of the time is devoted to taking photographs, with the remaining time allotted for resolving technical questions or problems. In a workshop, the focus is mainly on analyzing the photographed results so that the photographer can easily replicate the results in the future, improving both their technique and photographic vision. Of course it depends on the workshop, but generally both aspects — taking photographs and analyzing them — receive an equal amount of attention in a workshop.

The Photography Tour Experience

One of the most important aspects of a good photography tour is having great photographic opportunities. Having the ability to immerse yourself within the subject is absolutely essential for creating exhibition-quality imagery. Immersion is the quintessential ingredient that elevates a mundane moment into a great photographic moment. All Off Beat Photography Workshops & Tours are designed to move at a slower pace than most photographic tours, gently opening windows of time, enabling each participant to personally connect with the subject matter they are photographing. It is this approach that makes the tour experience unforgettable, affording each participant once-in-a-lifetime photographic moments that result in fantastic (sometimes award-winning) images.

Another important feature of a good photography tour is that the group is small. On a photography tour, the host photographer should not only get the participants into unique and engaging locations, but also provide intimate and personalized tuition for each participant, equally, throughout the entire journey. The is the reason Off Beat Photography Workshops & Tours limits all of its tours to 5 to 7 participants. With this policy, the host photographer has the opportunity to give each photographer individual tuition in the field where the hands-on learning really takes place. In addition, when it is time to move from one location to another, everyone can travel in the same vehicle, affording more educational opportunities when the group interacts among themselves as well as with the host photographer.

Finally, to guarantee intimate photography sessions in the field, a small group of 5 to 7 photographers can be broken down into pairs so the subject we are photographing is not overwhelmed or intimidated. Since the group has an odd number of participants, one photographer will always be paired with the host photographer. By alternating this selection on a daily cycle over a 14-day tour, each participant is guaranteed several hours of individual attention and instruction from the host photographer.

Your Expectations

Before you can choose the photography workshop or tour that fits your expectations, you have to know what you want to accomplish with its help. The first fundamental question to ask is, “Why am I willing to spend all this money and time to do this?” You need to sit down in a quiet place and honestly examine where you are now with your photography — “What photographic skills do I have now, and which ones do I still need to learn?” Then brainstorm (not fantasize) where you would like to be one year from now (or whatever time period you select). As your list grows, start selecting what you think would be the top three goals, and ones that are also feasible to accomplish in the time frame you have chosen.

Now, you can consider some other aspects that are necessary in order to accomplish these goals. You may need technical lessons that provide practical methods for using these photographic techniques in the field. Perhaps you need to learn how to develop visual narratives for a photo story, or gain a deeper knowledge of the aesthetics of visual art and they can applied in the field. Next you need to determine which of these goals is most important and which workshop or tour will most likely provide the experience and instruction you need to fulfil your goal. This kind of research can be time-consuming, but it is absolutely essential if you want to have the best experience possible. Most often if you find a photographer whose work you love and would want to emulate (or at least learn some of the inside information on how they make these award-winning photographs), taking a workshop or going on a photography tour with them will be the most gratifying and successful.

Photographic Instruction

If you choose to go on a photography tour, try to find out what the host photographer intends to provide for their participants. Quite often you can get this information from the tour’s Itinerary. However, you can also contact the host photographer and ask them directly for answers to your questions or for more clarification. On a good photography tour, the host photographer will try to get some basic information from the participants before they embark on the tour — information about their photographic skills and interests as well as their expectations for the tour. If the host photographer is genuinely interested in helping the participants achieve their goals for the tour, this information is imperative in order to shape the various aspects of the tour into a unique, coherent, and educational adventure for everyone.

In addition, the host photographer should not only be a professional photographer, but also a seasoned educator who knows how to communicate information simply so that it can be learned and acquired in a short time. Quite often a professional photographer can have exceptional images with several years of high-profile publications, but they don’t have the professional training or experience to teach effectively. Obviously, finding a tour where the host photographer has both qualities is the ideal situation, but it’s also quite rare. Although you may not be able to find the ideal, at least be aware that a good photography tour will have a host photographer that attempts to do both.

Kashgar open market with food vendors preparing pasta and momos.

The Tour Arrangements

If you are going on a trip to some exotic location, obviously you want to travel with someone who intimately knows the location. Many photography tours hire travel experts or agents to handle the various details and logistics of traveling in a foreign country, but others handle their own destination details. Usually the tours that cost the least are the ones that are being managed totally by the host photographer. This can be a good situation since the photographer has probably been visiting or living in these destinations for many years and knows the culture and customs, as well as having personal contacts there.

In some cases, these small operations promote sustainable tourism, a type of tourism that is designed to lessen the ecological impact on an environment and maximize sustainable human development and social equality within it. Off Beat Photography Workshops & Tours is one of the tour operators practicing these new forms of tourism. The host photographer, Mick Stetson, is totally committed to providing a professional photographic education and a culturally enriching tour that benefits both the traveller and the local people of the host country.

The Photographer’s Experience & Attitude

The success of a photography workshop or tour is determined mainly by the host photographer’s experience and attitude towards their craft and the people they are trying to inspire and educate. The host photographer is the guide to all of the most interesting photographic situations. It’s their experience in a location that will provide participants with opportunities to intimately connect with the local people so they can make the best possible images. Although many of the locations may be tourist spots, the host photographer should know (through their personal contacts in a location) where to go to get off the beaten path. This is where unique photographs that truly evoke the essence of a culture can be found.

When a group of strangers come together to pursue their photographic passions, there are many non-photographic aspects that make up the dynamics of that group. A good host photographer will also need people skills that enable them to lead the group as a cohesive, inspired unit, giving each individual the attention they paid to receive and the ability to learn and have fun in a group environment.

The Necessary Photography Gear

A lot of this depends on the type of workshop or tour and its particular location. A street photography workshop that lasts 1-2 days and takes place in your local community will have different equipment requirements than a tour going to some exotic, remote location for 14 days. Usually, you can find a recommended equipment list on the workshop/tour operator’s website. If it’s not there, contact them directly and have them send you the recommendations in an email.

For international tours, there may also be recommendations that relate to inoculations, clothing, visa regulations, etc. If you can’t find that information on the website, ask the tour operator for it personally before making a monetary commitment to join the tour.

What’s the Bottom Line?

The bottom line for picking the right photography workshop or tour for you means that you need to do your research, a lot of research. Even after that you may still have some doubts about which one is best for you. However, if you believe joining a workshop or tour will help you improve the craft you are so passionate about, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and rely on your own intuition.

Off Beat Photography Workshops & Tours

Life-changing Adventures for the Intrepid Traveller

If you have any other questions or comments about this topic please enter them in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you. All the best light, moments and adventures for you on your next photographic journey.

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