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In our previous post on this topic we learned that the photo workshop is primarily a teaching venue, with a very structured curriculum leading to measureable outcomes. The keynote teacher and/or assistant instructors should be available upon demand and continuously be pushing, cajoling and exciting you to advance your skill set. The workshop is all about learning.
The photo tour was borne as a hybrid from the conventional tour business that blossomed in the 1970’s. While travelling tourists enjoyed the convenience of having another labour over the details of accommodation, meals and destinations, many tour administrators recognized a need to cater to niche markets that included an array of interests and hobbies. Specialized tours were developed to meet all types of sundry from participating in archaeological digs to experiencing the daily life of Zulu tribes. Somewhere in the middle was the hobbyist photographer whose key interest was in photographing the A to Z’s of the planet, and having someone else attend to all the details.
So what should we be aware of when researching for the right fit in a tour company?
Almost all photo tours that pique an interest involve travel to some remote location, usually out of country and more often than not to another continent. While Canadians might like to travel to Asia, for example, many Asians like to travel to Canada. Common wisdom would suggest that an Albertan could probably put together a more complete tour package of the Canadian Rockies than an administrator in Shanghai, for example. Conversely, that same Shanghai administrator should be more thorough in developing a week long traverse of the Great Wall of China than our friend from Jasper.
This is not to suggest that non-nationals cannot, and do not, provide great experiences to other countries – many do, but, many more do not. It is essential you review their credentials to gain informed insight with the administrator’s familiarity of the geography being visited.
Most importantly, ensure the itinerary has been developed with the photographer in mind. Many tour operators simply don’t understand that photographers want to have the option of being on location no less than 30 minutes prior to sunrise. Likewise, how can we be enjoying dinner when the mother of all sunsets is happening just beyond our spreads of Peking Duck or prime Alberta beef.
Review that itinerary as you might research the merits of a particular car purchase. Relentlessly research the web for everything you can locate about the company, this particular destination, the tour leader, language interpreters if necessary, accommodations, meals and dietary concerns, maximum number of participants, modes of transportation and are they certified and insured, any mobility concerns you might have, sleeping arrangements, and so on.
Is the tour leader a photographer from whom you think you could have fun? Is that photographer also known to freely share his insights, vision and passion to craft? Many tour companies only hire the well known photographer as an aid to marketing and selling the tour. Did the photographer have any input toward the tour development and itinerary? How many times has this company and/or tour leader been to these destinations; what is their familiarity with local customs and traditions?
Be wary of the quasi-photographer who is developing and leading a tour to a new destination. More often than not he is only looking to make a few bucks to augment his own cost of adding that destination as another notch in his prize belt. By the same token there are photographers who offer fabulous small group excursions, just be wary and use the telephone to interview this photographer/leader.
The photo tour is all about the experience – be that destination, cultural, or a myriad of other experiences and interests. The photographer- leader might offer an evening or two of presentations, and maybe some informal one-on-one time while out enjoying the sites, but bear in mind the photo tour is not about tutelage but experience.
With good research and due diligence you can ensure that a photo tour meets your expectations and helps fulfill the most important mandate: having fun. Always remember, if you are having fun you are doing it right!
Part III — the seminar.