Solo, Teaming up, or Photo Tour

Solo, Teaming up, or Photo Tour



Picking up a camera seems to unleash a new curiosity about our planet inspiring most of us to seek out an exotic destination and experience for our selves what we have already viewed through the eyes of another wanting to capture our own experience and vision. But, then comes the hard decision of the logistics and whether it is best to go solo, with a few photography friends, or choosing an organized tour.


Flying by the seat of your pants and going off to an exotic location to freely capture your experience simply as a documentary of your journey is a dream but is probably not a reality for most serious photographers. In order to have a successful photographic journey it is important to have some idea of why you are there taking photographs.


The best way to answer that is to be very honest with yourself and ask; why this destination, what really drew me to it, is it more for me personally or does it fit my business model, and what do I really want to achieve? Are the images for stock, editorial, fine art prints, a personal project, or just because. Once these questions have been answered it will be much easier to make a decision on how and with whom to travel.


Going Solo

The answer on whom to travel with should be based on how specific your out come is. If you are planning a personal project where it is all about your vision; you need to gain access to specific areas, capture specific images, and get to locations far off the beaten path where you may have to stay in a small dome tent for several days, then going solo would probably be the best choice. If not you maybe very disappointed when you put out a lot of money for a photographic tour because it is easier and then return home without all the images you truly went there to create. Traveling solo gives you complete freedom but it is usually the most expensive way to travel, requires a lot of research, and when there are problems they all fall on you.


Teaming Up

If you are going because you want to explore the area, see what you see, photograph whatever inspires you and hope to capture some amazing editorial or stock shots, then teaming up with one or two other photographers is a great way to go. You share the responsibility of all the research, share the finances, work through the unexpected together, collaborate creatively, and it is always more fun to go with someone that go it alone. Traveling with one or two other photographer’s still gives you a lot of freedom and is a great way to go, but it can be difficult to find other photographer’s that you know personally that want to travel to the same area as you at the same time you can travel.


If you decide to travel with a few other photographers make sure you know them and have some kind of relationship with them. Be careful of someone you may meet over social media as they maybe misrepresenting themselves, their abilities and knowledge. If you choose to go with another photographer you have met over the internet, just do your research and check out their website, talk to others who do know them personally, have some verbal conversations over the phone or skype and make sure you will be comfortable traveling with them. If there is a problem there is no leader to resolve the issue and you may have to deal with a difficult situation.


Organized Photo Tours

Taking a photo tour has many advantages, even for professionals.


The biggest advantages is there is very little to do except thoroughly read through the itinerary, pack your gear and clothes, and go. You also have some available 24/7 to take care of any problems that arise. You still need to read through all the details in the itinerary, make sure they are going to the places you want to go and will get you there for the best light and ask questions about anything you are not sure of but it saves you loads of time, research and responsibilities. A photo tour it is a great way to network and spend quality time with like mined people sharing a passion and their knowledge. I have maintained solid friendships that were started on a photo tour. Photo tours are all most always cheaper than going solo but most leaders try to stick with the itinerary because the people who have signed up on the trip did so based on the itinerary. Don’t chose to go on a photo tour because it is easy and then be disappointed that you were not able to make a side trip to an event or village that you really wanted to visit.


Taking a big trip, one that could be a trip of a lifetime, usually is a big financial commitment so slow down and invest the proper time in planning the right journey whether you go solo, with some friends, or with and organized tour. Don’t have big expectations attached to your out come. Knowing why you are shooting, such as for editorial, fine art, or just for fun will help you make decisions in planning your trip but don’t go into a magical place with the idea that what you shoot must get you published in National Geographic, signed with Getty Images, or a solo exhibit at a respected gallery. This can ruin your experience and will usually not produce the compelling images that come from the heart. Let the camera be an excuse to explore and discover a place you never would have gone to before you dreamed of capturing it through your own lens.


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Piper Mackay is a full time wildlife and cultural documentary photographer whose work is based in Africa. She speaks at events throughout the US, teaches workshops in the US, and leads photo safaris and tours throughout Africa.

Some Older Comments

  • bobby July 28, 2012 11:43 am

    There is a big difference between a photography tour and a photography workshop. I suggest you ask the company which it is. You can also tell by who the leader is. If you merely want to be brought to the right place at the right time of the day you can research that yourself and just get a guide. A workshop is when the photo instructor will be teaching and has a specialty in photography instruction. I went with Epic Photo Tours and they offer workshops. Bobbi Lane teaches at ICP, Maine Workshop, Santa Fe and Julia Dean, she will be leading for Epic Photo Tours. They price it right and offer well curated experiences. THe groups are always 7 or less i believe. I heard David Wells will be leading a trip to India in the spring and he is a workshop teacher as well

  • Mike Gulbraa July 26, 2012 05:20 am

    Like the article and say get out and shoot. My company offer photo tours all over the world at very competitive prices - most of out international trips are all-inclusive - RT economy air, all meals, all lodging, all ground transport, all flights involved while on tour, all guides as needed, etc. No better deal in photo tours out there.
    Please check out
    Mike G.

  • Richard Crowe July 18, 2012 11:52 pm

    I would like to add another choice. It is doing the trip alone or with a few companions and them booking some short day tours in your areas of interest. I am seriously considerin this method for a future trip to Istanbul. I once visited the Grand Canyon and really benefitted from a tram tour which I took mid-day (worst time for photos in that area). I learned a lot about the Canon and was able to return to various areas in my own vehicle later on. Another touristy mini-tour was the pseudo cable car tour of San Francisco. I learned a lot about the city from that tour and was able to return at my leisure to shoot. There is (or was) a tour across the Golden Gate Bridge aboard the top a restored fire engine. Sitting on the top of this tall vehicle enables a person to get shots of the bridge impossible in a private vehicle. I once hired a privat (not a tourist type) sampan to do a tour of Aberdeen Harbor in Hong Kong. That was great because I could ask the operator to sail anywhere that looked interesting. Finally, I took an afternoon tour to the farming area outside the Chinese City of Yangshuo. There we visited a Chinese family living in a 350 year old farm house. I would never have had access to this house on my own...

  • Richard Crowe July 17, 2012 11:49 pm

    If I were going on a "Photo Tour" I would make darn sure that it is actually a "photo tour". I recently attended a seminar on travel photography presented by a well known tour leader and travel photography book author (who will remain nameless).
    I talked to a person who had taken his tour to Eygpt and she was bubbly with enthusiasm. She said that he really helped her with her photography and taught her things like exposure and composition. She said that, although it was touted as a "photo tour" he actually just tagged his group along with a "standard" tour group. But, "He was there all the time to help me with my camera!"
    Although she apparently loved the tour, it would have been frustrating for me. I don't need to take a tour to learn basic photography and I absolutely HATE trying to photograph on a "standard" tour.
    Tours which specialize in photography are expensive but, unless you take one of these you might find yourself on a tour like the above. If that is what you need and want; it would be fine. But, it would not be my kettle of tea!

  • Britul July 14, 2012 08:26 pm

    excellent .... and good pics too ... :-)

  • Rosy July 13, 2012 05:54 pm

    Hi, thanks so much for this. I think too if you choose a photography tour, search for one that has a style that is similar to yours. I would also specify that it is a photography tour for photographers...not just people walking round taking photo's. Do the research and ask if you can go further afield and let the company know what your objectives are and if they would take that into account to provide you with an experience that meets your desires. If they can't, you can always find someone that can.

  • Wayne July 13, 2012 12:18 pm

    As an amateur photographer who has only recently been on dedicated "photography tours" (Cambodia, Bhutan, & India) I can honestly say that I really enjoyed them. Spending time at any location to shoot is just one advantage. Being able to share and learn from others is great, but you also get a little more courage when several of you are shooting the same scene; you don't always have to be the one to break the ice. And while I wasn't enthused about certain parts of the itinerary before the trip, I was often pleasantly surprised by places I would have bypassed on my own. I would encourage anyone who is interested in going places that might seem too foreign or too primitive or even locations that you might be familiar with to check out available tours.

  • Piper July 9, 2012 01:08 am

    Thanks for all your compliments everyone. IF an area is really unsafe and you are not working for mainstream media, don't go!! THere are plenty of safe area's with amazing photographic opportunities. I have had to cancel several of my expeditions at the last minute due to civil unrest. However I have travel through very remote area's in AFrica but because I had a great guide that I complete trusted.

  • Rosa July 8, 2012 04:43 pm

    Very interesting article and wonderful images Piper! I enjoyed reading it.

    There is even a fourth possibility: A private organized tour for one or more people. I believe that there are many people who like to go on an organized photo tour but don't like to do it in a group with strangers. It's the same like a private language course, you pay a little more, but you have the teachers full attention and learn much more. Out of my own preference, I started to offer private photo tours and workshops in Morocco, where I live.

    I admire your photography Piper. If you ever come to Morocco, maybe you have time for a chat.

  • Shobhit July 8, 2012 02:30 am


  • EnergizedAV July 7, 2012 12:59 am

    Great photos and good advice. I personally would never consider traveling alone, especially in unfamiliar turf. Even if I,m the only photographer I want some one to watch my back or be there in case of an accident.
    Thanks for giving us a bit of your insight.

  • Scottc July 7, 2012 12:46 am

    Great photos! I've never made it to Eastern Africa, my time there was spent in the West.

  • Rosa July 6, 2012 10:40 pm

    Thank you very much for this interesting article Piper.

    I think that all three versions of traveling makes great sense for certain people. You explained that really nice. There is even a fourth version: Booking an organized photo tour or workshop for you or your friends only, so that you don't have to travel with strangers in a group.

    I am not a "group person" and always liked to travel alone when I wanted to photograph. But since I live in a foreign country now, I realize how much more someone knows who is really familiar with the area than someone just passing through as a tourist. That's why I started to offer what I was looking for: Photo tours for private single people and small groups, specially designed for each person.

    I hope you travel to Morocco Piper, would love to meet you one day!

  • raghavendra July 6, 2012 04:34 pm

    wow, a total fun.
    picture tells the stories

  • Steve July 6, 2012 02:52 am

    A great article and super photos.
    If you are going to an area where it is dangerous then It i9is inadvisable to go alone. You could team up with another photographer but in somewhere like Africa it is quite a good idea to find a qualified guide who is also keen on photography. Then you get a knowledge of the area the wildlife and the people.

  • Mridula July 6, 2012 02:22 am

    So many mouth watering pictures! I am not a professional so most of the times I don't get to choose.