Taking a Photography Workshop; Why it is Different from a Photo Tour

Taking a Photography Workshop; Why it is Different from a Photo Tour

Spylens Studio Photography Workshops | Kota Kinabalu Sabah | iPhoneography

The lines seem to crossing between the terms workshop and photo tours. When they do participants may be confused or have false expectations. The most common mistake is signing up for a photo tour and expecting a teaching workshop. One reason for this is that there is many tours offered that are incorrectly labeled as workshops.

A workshop is an educational experience to help you improve your craft. A workshop is design to teach you new techniques in the field, teach you new techniques in a studio or teach you post-production and business skills. A photo tour is designed to take you to a great location at the best time of year and get you to the right places for the best light. A photo tour is designed to maximize the photographic opportunities with minimal or casual instruction along the way. Taking a workshop is a great way to prepare for a photo tour and will increase your chances of bringing home extraordinary images.

The best way to avoid being disappointed is to be honest with yourself about what your real goals are and carefully read through the itinerary. Do you want to focus on a something specific, such as lighting, flash, macro, people, etc? Do you want to spend time with a top pro that you admire and do not care so much about the itinerary? Do you want a portfolio review or to learn about a new location? Full details of what is offered in the workshop should be clearly written in the itinerary. If it is not written in the itinerary do not assume it will be offered or taught during the workshop. Participants will all have different goals and reasons for taking a workshop but a good leader will adhere to the itinerary unless unforeseeable circumstances cause changes.

A good workshop leader will keep the group small or have a co-leader. They will offer some one-on-one time with you and review your work so you receive feed back while learning. They will glance over your shoulder to offer suggestions to improve your skills. During a workshop a leader should be teaching you and not shooting unless stated in the itinerary and because it is part of the training.

When deciding on taking a workshop, consider all the variables. Deciding to go with a big name pro generally means they are well qualified to teach but does their style and itinerary fit your needs and is your expectations realistic? Often a student signs up to take a workshop with a top professional photographer with the expectations that it will instantly jumpstart their own photography career. A workshop is a great place to network and establish relationships but do not base your decision to pay the price for a workshop with big name based on what they can do for your career. Go with them because it fits your learning goals.

In this new social media/internet era you have a lot more access to less known professional photographers whose workshop may offer great value and is more inline with your goals. A less known photographer can be just as talented but their workshop maybe 25%-50% less. Many of them will work hard to add value missing from a more known photographer and they usually give more personal attention. Don’t rate a workshop only by a photographer’s status but also by the style of their work. If you are not impressed and inspired by their work it does not make sense to take a workshop with them.

Once you have made your decision on which workshop to take it is good to make contact with the photographer by email or phone. Let them know that you are excited to participate in the workshop and you want to make sure your goals line up with what is being offered. This is a great time to ask questions and inquire about something that is not on the itinerary that you are interested in learning. The photographer should be happy to explore the suitability of his or her workshop with you and lead you in the right direction. On the other hand, if they are not able to offer something that you think is important to have in the workshop, don’t become angry with them. Instead, thank them for their time as you are still building a relationship and contact.

Good luck and remember a workshop should be about improving your skills as a photographer.

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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

  • Piper November 4, 2012 12:23 pm

    Hello Anette

    I wrote this to help photographers get the most of what they are hoping to achieve on a workshop or photo tour.

    Most all leaders teach informally throughout their tours, but some do not. There are many pro's that list in their itineraries that this is not a formal workshop. When you say all tours are mini workshops --- that is what some photographers are assuming and then are disappointed. There are some photo tours that are specifically geared for the pro or very advance photographer ( a shooter that is equally as skilled as a pro but choses not to make it their profession.)

    One of the photo tours I lead is to the Omo Valley. I spent many years photographing in this location up and down both sides of the Omo River, solo, before offering these tours. At this time this place is still challenging logistically, very expensive to do solo and photographing these tribes is not easy. I have helped clients from simple questions about their gear to working with them for a few hours on off camera flash during an afternoon break.

    You have such a short time with these tribes I think a photographer is best served by taking advantage of this great and special place by capturing quality images at the skill level they are at. You may disagree, but I think during an afternoon shoot with a tribe you are visiting once, is not the time to teach - example - off camera flash - Off camera flash is not easy and you may walk away with nothing.

    I am always there to assist but I want everyone to come away with the best images they are capable of. I am only trying to help a photographer maximize their photographic opportunities. They may only have one shot at it and in a split second. When we hear of a special ceremony and race off to see something special I do not think this is the time to teach composition as the action is happening very fast.

    I am very clear to list that there is no formal teaching on these tours, but that I am available for assistance at any time. I have spent years there doing my own work so I am not there to create more images for myself. I have small groups of 7 and work with everyone throughout the whole tour. I do not have set hours for teaching a particular skill. In the testimonials my participants talk about how much assistance I do give.. I just do not want to make promises that I cannot keep.

    I think it is to the advantage of a photographer to hone in on their skills at a workshop before they go on that trip of a lifetime or to an expensive exotic location so they can really take advantage of those special split moments that create stunning images.

    I wrote this to help photographers get the most of what they are hoping to achieve on a workshop or photo tour.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your comments.

  • Anette Mossbacher August 4, 2012 01:17 am

    This puzzles me a bit.
    Photo Tour is now a "tiny" Workshop, which teaches clients just how to push the button on the camera and maybe composition of the whole scene!
    Photo Workshops teach the clients all, so full package. But the clients should have a knowledge of their gear, say about 10-30%
    Photo Tour the clients should have knowledge of their gear about say 70-80% and might be happy to learn the last 20-30% missing!

    How is all divided properly what comes in the "teaching" package and what not in a Photo Tour and in a Workshop ?
    This is a bit messed up to my understanding. Not all Photo Tours a Photographer comes along.
    I think Photo Tours are for clients who do not know how to get there or do not even know how to start to find a Tour operator for their dream destination.
    Tour Operators for all sorts of trips are easily found on the Internet:
    For example:
    ....etc. of course

    I think it should be clearly stated WHAT will be in the teaching package on a Photo Tour.
    Also WHAT is in the teaching package in a Photo Workshop.
    If this is not cleared up before in the papers, well I am sure there will be quite some disappointed clients walk away.

    Hi highly recommend Luca Martling comment to follow:
    It’s helped too when I’ve tweeted at some of the past attendees by doing a twitter search to get their honest opinions!

    There are many platforms on the Internet to find former attendees. Ask them for their experience they have made on Photo Tours/Workshops.
    That can help quite a bit.

    Have a great weekend and lots of sun :)


  • Piper July 29, 2012 12:05 am

    Brian Morris

    Awesome!! Most clients should coming away from a tour feeling they learned a lot.... A good leader will be talking about photography throughout the tour... we are photographers and love to share and talk about photography... but formal teaching is different and that was the point I was trying to make to help photographers try to understand the difference. I also know several accomplished pro's that live abroad and give workshops the countries in which they live. So if you really want to take a workshop say in an international location I would find a photographer living in that country who leads workshops there.

  • Brian Morris July 28, 2012 01:09 pm

    Many people on expensive workshop tours I suspect are seeking social contacts using photography as a passport.
    I often shake my head in amazement that people pay very large sums of money to travel to exotic locations only to spend time in a classroom learning Photoshop!! I know of tours where participants spend three days in a workshop and on the fourth day take their cameras on a hurried tour of the breathtaking location outside the lecture room. However their evenings are good social occasions.
    For a small fee I take groups of three to Fraser Island, which is a photographers paradise and only accessible by 4WD. The tour is a fraction of the cost of a workshop tour, plenty is learnt in the field and discussions over dinner and all agree that workshops should be on a weekend in their hometowns.

  • Piper July 28, 2012 11:58 am

    HI John

    I am not sure what you are disagreeing with? THe article was to explain what it means to take a workshop and why it is different than a tour and I will be doing a follow up with Going on a photo tour and why that is different from a workshop.

    Let me clarify that going with a lesser known photographer does not mean going with someone just starting out. I know so many incredibly talented successful professional photographers that don't have a "big name". Many who have focussed years in one place, such as the the polar regions, or northern india, or china, and their tours are excellent, I think most clients would come away with a lot more amazing images than from an organization that just runs professional photo tours. If you really want the best opportunity for the best photographs I would take a look at photographers that have really spent time in that place and know it intimately, A place that is their passion and where they have been highly successful by having their photography in that region... widely published , have had very credible exhibits of their work in that area, are with a major stock house with their work in that area....etc. they may not have a big name so to speak but I guarantee their work will be some of the best...... just something to think about......

    What I think is great is that there are so many options available that everyone should be able to find a workshop or tour based on their end goals. But you must always read through the itinerary and ask enough questions.

  • Hamish Tear July 28, 2012 09:40 am

    This article doesn't address the kind of photography 'product' that I offer to Scotland - which is a kind of hybrid of both 'tours' and 'workshops'. With www.ScotlandPhotoWorkshops.com I am the tour guide between workshops which are offered by sub-contracted photographers on various Scottish Islands. The Scottish islands are my home and I have travelled them extensively as a photographer / writer - mountaineesr / sailor - but I could not pretend to offer a good quality workshop as I am too 'spread-out'.

    Whilst I could offer to do the workshops themselves - it is just such a better product to go with long-time professional photographers who have studios and the deepest possible local knowledge on their respective islands. However, I think that to have the word 'Workshops' in the title may scare away those who are more interested in just a photography 'tour' - as described in the article. For 1213 I am developing more of a 'tour' product to offer alongside the workshops for those who want a more casual, less expensive 'product'

  • John July 28, 2012 01:19 am

    I have to disagree on a few things, actually. I have taken a few workshops / photo tours from up and coming photographers, and my experience was that my money was being paid to these photographers to help them learn how to run proper events. There were so many things they had not figured out yet, and I had to tell them things just to remind them of different aspects of the trips.

    I have gone on more than 10 trips in the past 5 years, and I learned early on to spend the money with somebody who was a big name who has a good staff of people behind the scenes that made for good plans and itineraries. A really good example was a trip to India that I did last year. There were so many opportunities for the trip to go sideways, yet the trip leader had been there many many times before and knew how to navigate through potential issues. I am going on a photo trip to Botswana with another well known photo trip leader next year, and everything so far has been flawless. I don't want to be in a position where I am wanting for information from a trip leader at any step of the way. I want to be kept in the loop when I want to know how to pack for a trip, what to bring, what the temperatures are going to be like. I guess I don't like to worry, and my experience 5 years ago with a couple of people that were poor planners really woke me up. Not again. Life is too short to save a few bucks for a trip of a lifetime.

  • Piper July 28, 2012 12:44 am

    rohinton mehta

    Hi again

    I just thought I should also mention, I keep my tours very small at 7-9 participants so that I can spend quality time with all of them and everyone always feel they learn a lot on my tours. However, I think it would be misleading for me to say my tour is a workshop if I am not formally teaching and that is not my main objective.

    I think if we just think of workshop as the main objective is teaching and tour the main objective is maximizing the amount of photographic opportunities in multiple place in a short amount of time, it would be helpful.


  • Piper July 28, 2012 12:38 am

    rohinton mehta

    Read my last comment to Allen. My photo tours are set up for photographers that want to maximize their photographic opportunities. My tours/safari's are based in Africa and are a big investment. I am there for casual instruction all along the way and if someone needs help, I am right there to assist them. We spend hours throughout the tour talking about everything photographically. But, I would be doing a dis-service to my clients by spending that valuable time doing formal teaching in the field. There are so many options for photographers that they need to find the one that best fits their goals. I truly believe that a person will benefit so much more by taking a workshop in advance to prepare for a photographic tour that is usually a pricy investment. This way they will maximize their time creating compelling imagery in that exotic location. I think spending an afternoon in golden light with exotic subjects teaching off camera flash is wasting precious time by not utilizing it to capture as many photographic opportunities as you can.


  • Piper July 28, 2012 12:26 am


    You are very welcome and I hope you share it. I mostly run photo tours and I go to great lengths to clarify on my site the instruction is in formal and that it is not a workshop. I wrote this because there are so many people that are confused and I feel bad if someone were to sign up for my tour that expected a workshop because my goal will be to get my photographers to as many photographic opportunities as possible.
    I lead a lot of tours to the Omo Valley and I would think it would be such a waste of amazing opportunities to spend three days in one location working on flash, off camera flash, composition, etc.... this is where you should photograph at the level you are at and maximize your time in an amazing location that is non inexpensive.


  • Piper July 28, 2012 12:20 am


    That is something where you would need to do your own research based on what the stock companies needs are. Say if you want to go to Rajastan India, then you would need to check with the sock agency as to what their needs are in the area. Get a shot list from them and then find a tour that gets you to the locations where you can create those images. Or you can also just look through their site and see what images they already have in the destination where you want to travel. Then you need to go out and create more powerful images in that location other than what they already have or create images that they do not have. I work both ways with Getty images.

    The purpose of a photo tour is to get you to multiple locations at the right time and in the best light. Photo tours are great for creating stock images and many stock photographers go on photo tours for that very reason.


  • Piper July 28, 2012 12:12 am

    Lynford Morton
    Hi Lynford, Tour by definition is multi locations. The problem is that many people sign up for photo tours- getting you to multiple destinations for the best photographic opportunities- and then expect a full workshop. I think a large percentage of workshops are in amazing places and that is a big draw to come on that workshop but it sounds like your main objective is to teach and therefore, I think it should be stated as a workshop in a picturesque location. THere are some that will cross over such as a nature workshop tour in yellow stone where the photographers main objective is teaching in the field but at multiple locations. I think if we do our jobs to define these properly clients will be less confused and happier with the end result.


  • Eliz July 27, 2012 03:10 pm

    If anyone is interested in the Western USA there is a workshop from DSlRclasses.com that is so great. You learn so much and have a lot of hands on shooting as well. I am grateful for DPS for sll of the tips and great advice. Thank you for sharing :)

  • Rohinton Mehta July 27, 2012 01:44 pm

    The article is very well written and makes great sense. I am a photography teacher myself, and I can well appreciate the confusion that participants could possibly have when joining a photography workshop. I also respect what Mr. Morton had to say. What Ms. Mackay is saying is that the participants should be well aware of what will be taught in the workshop/Photo Tours so that there is no misunderstanding later on.

    If a photo tour is also going to teach certain aspects of photography (which I think all photo tours should) then it may be safer to call a such a tour as workshop-cum-photo tour.

  • Sandra July 27, 2012 12:43 pm

    Interesting points. I have been to two photo tour/workshops.
    The first photo tour/workshop I went to was not what I expected, which was probably because the itinerary was vague. Despite its location in the DC mall, most of our time was spent taking portrait photographs of other participants and spent quite a bit of time discussing lighting in composition. I also felt that the participants that volunteered as subjects didn't always seem to have time to practice the techniques they were helping to demonstrate. However, the instructor seemed like he was willing to answer specific questions although I didn't have any in mind.
    The second tour I chose had a fairly clear itinerary, and seemed more organized. The larger size of the group probably decreased the amount of feedback/attention each person received and did result in some awkward transportation arrangements. I appreciated it more since we did do more of a tour of photogenic areas.

  • Allan July 27, 2012 08:11 am

    As someone who runs photo workshop, it is natural from a business point of view that I look at the opposition. My goal of course is, that by doing so, I can offer my clients more than the opposition. When I do this, I see photo tours incorrectly labelled as workshops, and know that people, who sign up for them, are not going to get the help they hope for. As someone who is passionate about teaching photography this is disturbing.
    Thank you for this article. I hope a lot of people read it and read it carefully.

  • Geoff July 27, 2012 07:46 am

    My experience is that a tour will get me to places I might otherwise not be able to go. Often national parks or places of significance are closed to the public overnight. Being part of a group tour the instructor can often get into the area for those special time of day. I have also formed some great relationships with fellow students away from the formal classroom workshop.
    To me a tour is an opportunity for me to apply my skills, with the bonus of a good instructor if required.

  • Alec July 27, 2012 05:19 am

    Yes you need to read the fine print when you sign up for these things so your not surprised.

    I have an out of the box question for the author of this article. How can someone arrange things so that if they go on a Photo Tour that they come away with images that they then can sell to a stock image company??

  • Lucas Martling July 24, 2012 02:22 am

    Totally. I've been very fortunate to have always been very happy with the money I've plopped down for a photo workshop. It's helped too when I've tweeted at some of the past attendees by doing a twitter search to get their honest opinions!

  • Lynford Morton July 22, 2012 01:32 pm

    I can appreciate what you are trying to do, but I have to point out that there are probably many workshops and photo tours that don't fit neatly into your definitions. I teach photo tours in Washington, DC that should be called workshops based on your article. I still prefer the term photo tour because the picturesque location is a major benefit for my attendees. I can't imagine I'm the only one in that situation.

    Thanks for the checklist on things potential students should be looking for, however. That's helpful no matter what we call it.


  • Jim July 22, 2012 11:30 am

    Glad you cleared that up.