How should a Photo Tour be
by Harry Fisch
1. A PHOTO TRIP IS A DREAM, AND WHAT MATTERS IS THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Photographic interest should come first in a photo trip. Everything revolves around it. Where we sleep; at what time we start; how we move. It’s often convenient to stay in one location for two consecutive days to allow travelers to take correct photos of what was a problem the previous day. A good location is essential to establish personal relationships with local people or to improve an approach or experience another point of view. And, why not, to be able to meet again with someone you met the day before.
Varanasi in India for instance, is a destination visited by millions of tourists every year, and most of them don’t know how to find locations with an intimate photographic interest. They have no local relationships, no friends in the area to keep abreast of what is “cooking” and what may be interesting both from a photographic and a human viewpoint.
On a photo trip, you have to know what makes every participant tick, what their interests are. No two people are alike, nor are there only two ways of interpreting reality. Everyone, especially when seeing the world through a camera looks for different things and has different ways of understanding the story being told.
2. DETERMINING THE LOCATIONS AND THE TIME SPENT AT EACH ONE OF THEM
A “Photo Trip” isn’t simply a sum of locations and a collection of snapshots and postcards. It should be designed as something to be enjoyed by the whole group and taken in slowly, “feeling” what is happening around us with the camera.
There are huge differences between what is being offered on the market. The professional who takes you to a carefully chosen location doesn’t offer the same as a tourist package. What the professional photographer offers has nothing to do with fighting thousands of tourists with cameras, running about in confusion, without any intimacy at all. What the professional photographer offers is visiting a chosen, controlled environment he has access to after years of experience in the field. Special, nearby locations where you can establish a relationship with the “other one”, with their reality.
The important thing on a trip like this is to take care that every traveler fulfils his/her dream, which is actually the reason they are going on this trip. It’s essential to provide cultural diversity and experiences in different locations, something absolutely impossible unless you mingle with the local population.
Every trip should be designed with three factors in mind and in the following order:
- Photographic interest;
- The time available,
- Convenient lodging and transportation.
3. QUALITY PICTURES AND PHOTOGRAPHER
The photographic quality and competence of the person organizing a photographic tour should be the first condition taken into account by the client. It’s difficult to learn from someone who has not mastered the subject they teach. For many travelers-photographers this trip is THE trip of a lifetime or at least a major one. It shouldn’t be a typical tour where they are treated as tourists with a camera led by a traveler with some photography skills. We sometimes wonder at the poor quality of the photos frequently exhibited by photo trip organizers. As if it this was something of secondary importance. What makes sense when a group of friends travel together isn’t acceptable when a “professional” offers his services. In the case of a photo trip, the ability to guide, assist and supervise others is essential.
4. SIZE DOES MATTER
The size of the group does matter. For two very important reasons: on one hand, a group of 15 people just can’t make “intimate” photos and on the other, the accompanying professional photographer can’t devote enough attention to the individual traveler-photographer within a large group. Sharing knowledge with people going on photo trips has to be done personally. And this is the main reason for having groups with a maximum of 10 people.
Despite this small number, the main group is usually split into smaller groups of two to three, so that they have freedom to interact with people and the camera. In these situations, and assuming it’s possible, what is best is to define a location at a point of reference or to bring along an assistant who stays with one group while the leading photographer takes care of the others, alternating his role with the assistant. Technical support and training is much improved this way.
5. A PHOTO TRIP ISN’T ALWAYS A PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE
Many courses, such as those organized by Nomad Expeditions, include photo viewing sessions. They are used to show what’s been done, to discuss it as a means of learning. But participation isn’t mandatory, so anybody wanting to go on taking pictures can do so, without anything to distract them.
But Photo trips don’t replace traditional photography courses. They are about having human and cultural experiences in addition to taking photos. They usually aren’t structured like courses intending to develop specific technical skills. Technique is only used to get the final image and experience. Participating photographers come with different abilities, from those who take photos occasionally to those who do it constantly and even obsessively. The purpose of technique is aesthetics and the pleasure of human contact. Obviously the professional photographer has to spend time solving doubts, suggesting frames and helping out, but it isn’t a structured class in the traditional sense.
6. THE ATTITUDE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER
The attitude of the photographer who is leading the group is very important to ensure that the participants have a good experience. There are different styles for this: from the photographer who spends time making his own photographs, leaving the group in charge of a local guide to the one who establishes a strong discipline in which everything is only about photography and schedules have to be strictly kept.
In quality photo trips, the photographer leading the group takes his own photographs, but he has always in mind that his main priority and focus is the client who has joined the trip. They are all photographers, but of course, the photographer who is leading the group has to devote his time to the group as a whole and to every member individually to the best of his ability.
On the other hand the daily schedule is established on a day-to-day basis: we know what we’re going to do, but we do it in such a way that the participants can have as much freedom as possible. We travel in groups and when we get to the intended location – for example a Buddhist temple – everybody is left to themselves and we only meet later on.
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