• How to choose the best photo tour or on-location workshop

A photo tour or an on-location photography workshop can be the perfect way to combine your passion for traveling and photography.

A few years ago, I attended not a photo tour, but a street photography workshop in New York City, and had a whale of a time. Not only was it a great learning experience in one of the most exciting cities in the world. It also made me push my limits and therefore grow as a photographer. If you’d like me to write about it in a future post, let me know in the comments!

Choosing the right photo tour or workshop is not easy, though. There are a ton of options available, and (let’s get this out of the way right now) many of them aren’t exactly cheap.

The reason for that is obvious. In a photo tour, you’re not just paying for the usual services of a guided tour, but also for the tuition fees and salary of the photographer. On-location workshops can be cheaper, but the best ones are expensive too, and most don’t tend to include travel and accommodation.

All this means that booking a photo tour or an on-location workshop (for the sake of concision I’ll just refer to photo tours henceforth) shouldn’t be done on a whim.

Before making a decision, you should carefully consider the following aspects:

What’s the current level of your photography skills?

Try to make an honest assessment of your photography skills, as this should help you find the right photo tour for you. If there is too wide a gap between your skills and the level of competence the course is designed for, you might not enjoy the experience. If this is not clearly set out in the photo tour website, do not hesitate to ask for additional information.

What are your learning objectives?

Once you’ve established that the photo tour is a good fit for your skill level, you should make a list of your learning objectives. If they are very specific (say, you want to get better at photographing landscapes, or people, in your travels), read carefully the tour description to make sure it will cover what you’re after.

Are you ready to have your photos critiqued, often in the presence of the other participants?

Most photo tours are group experiences that involve completing assignments which are later critiqued by the instructor and other group members. If you’re not used to showing your work around and putting it up for discussion, this might be a problem. Make sure that you’re ok with this before booking a photo tour. After all, you want to learn but also have a good time. Remember, though, that you will only learn and take your photography to the next level by showing your work to other people and listening carefully to what they think about it.

Do you own, or can afford to buy or rent, the necessary gear?

This is almost a given, but still worth reminding. Generally speaking, to make the most of a photo tour, you will need to have the right gear. Attending any photo tour with a compact camera is not a great idea, it goes without saying. If the tour description is not clear about minimum gear (or processing software) requirements, ask them so that you don’t find yourself limited by your gear.

In addition to that, some of the more specific photo tours may require you to buy or rent some gear. In many cases (say you need a tripod for a landscape photography tour) this should be within your means, since you can afford to pay for the tour. But if you’re going on a wild-life tour in Africa and don’t have, say, a 100-400 mm zoom lens, get your wallet ready! Since this could add a considerable amount of money to the already high overall cost of attending the photo tour, it is worth considering early on.

Could you learn as much by attending a course or workshop nearer to your home?

Before making a decision, do some research about photography courses and workshops in your own city or country. You might find one that suits your needs and learn as much, if not more, than in a photo tour for a fraction of the money. By doing so, you could put the savings towards a trip to an inspiring, new destination where you could practice your newly-learned skills.

Who is the photography instructor?

This should be the first question once you’ve answered all those that pertain directly to you. Even if the instructor is one of the big names in photography, Google them, check out their website and see if their work inspires you and is aligned with the stated objectives of the photo tour.

If you don’t find the published work of the photographer stunning, you may still learn from them, but it’s almost guaranteed there are better options for you out there.

In the process of researching the photo tour and the instructor, you may also find other highly valuable information.

Are there any opinions by people who have booked this tour in the past? What are the instructor’s teaching style and skills? Do they tend to go through the motions, or do they show genuine interest in giving each participant the best advice and feedback they can offer?

You shouldn’t take all this for granted, as, like anybody else, some photographers may see these tours as just another source of income. Others may have no passion for teaching, or no ability to do it. It’s better not to find out when it’s too late, right?

What’s the group size?

Although many photo tour organizers understand that a small group size (no more than 12-15 people) is essential for a quality learning experience, not of all of them do. You should make sure there is a limit to the number of participants.

Very often the final price depends on the number of people who end up booking the same dates. The price difference between a fully booked tour and one at minimum capacity can be in the 500-800 dollar range, or even more. So make sure you’d be willing to pay the higher price if necessary, and check carefully the terms and conditions regarding non-refundable deposits and cancellation deadlines.

Is the tour really a photography tour?

Some tour operators have seen a business opportunity and are offering so-called photography tours where photography seems to be an afterthought. As discussed, a quality photo tour should rely first of all on a capable and inspiring professional photographer.

There are other factors you may want to consider. Ideally, the tour description should provide full details of the photography-related activities included. How many hours a day will you spend with your instructor? Where? Out on the field, back at the hotel, or both? Will you always share the instructor’s time with the rest of the group, or will you also be having some one-on-one tutoring sessions?

Finally, have a look at the itinerary and schedule. As some of you may know already, dawn and dusk are the best times for landscape photography (and most kinds of photography, really). So you should probably be wary if the tour schedule does not include at least a few photography outings early in the morning!

What’s the balance between sightseeing and photography learning in the tour?

This is related to the previous point. Some tours will offer a deeply immersive photographic experience, with plenty of time devoted to seminars and critique sessions, at the cost of seeing less of your destination. Others will strike a balance between sightseeing and indoors learning sessions. Whatever your preferences, there are choices suited for most tastes, so you should be able to find the right one for you.

Do you think I missed anything? Have you ever attended a photo tour or on-location workshop? Let me know about your experience in the comments!

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