HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR NEXT PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR
You probably will have noticed that a lot of companies offer tours to the same countries and visit more or less the same places within that country. So, you should think, the only thing you'll need to look at, is price. Well, not really. Of course, you are on a budget but you are going to want the best deal for your money. In this blogpost I'll give you some pointers on how to choose your best Photography tour.
The destination is probably your most important decision, but do yourself a favor when you look at the different tour operators, and compare, not only by price but by program! At first hand they may all look the same, but as Ansel Adams said: "God is in the details"! I've been a photography tour guide for about 5 years now and there is a lot of competition. I don't believe there are many bad companies, you just have to find the right company which is compatible with what you expect.
All-In or not?
I honoustly don't like the term, All-In, it reminds me of those Tourist-Beach-Resort destinations :-). But it is important to know what's included in the trip. A more expensive trip may actually come out cheaper in the long end. It's very easy, and safe, for a Tour Company to leave out the meals and let you pay for it. But it is so relaxing and easy if you don't have to worry about a thing. At last, it's no shame that your Photography trip feels a bit like a vacation.
Flights included or not?
Most companies will nowadays publish a trip without the flights. Many people think this is wrong and they feel a bit deceived. But I actually think this is a good thing and it benefits, you, the client. Tour companies used to quote you a price for the complete trip, flights included. But the prices of airline tickets fluctuate a lot. Imagine what you would do, if you would be a Tour Company, and you would have to quote a fixed price for a trip? Right, you probably would take the highest price for the flight ticket you know. This makes sense, nobody wants to loose money. But this doesn't mean that that is the actual price of the ticket when you book the trip. So it is not very honest to the client. And that's why you'll now find trips with flights excluded. Who would have guessed tour companies want to save you money :-)
The size of the group?
It is very simple; the bigger the group, the cheaper the tour. And this is because the price of the tour guide (his or her fee, accommodation, food, etc) is being divided by more people. The drawback is, the bigger the group...the less guidance you'll get.
Does the guide know the area?
How many times has the guide visited the country? Has the company invested in a recon to make sure you are getting an experienced guide and the best accommodation? The more experience he or she has, the better for you and your pictures! Or, if it's the first time for the guide, are you getting a better price? Because I don't think the guide deserves a full fee for his first time, do you?
God is in the details!
Over the years I've heard many stories and I can not stress this enough, watch those details! It's no secret that my trips aren't the cheapestyou'll find on the internet. But, to me, details are very important! To give you a few examples:
When you want to visit Dead Vlei (Namibia), you can choose to sleep outside or inside the fenced area of Sossusvlei. Both options are equally luxurious but the one within the fenced area, Sossusvlei Dune Lodge, is very expensive. But, as the gate only opens at Sunrise and Dead Vlei is over 60km away from the gate, you'll never be able to experience it under the best circumstances. It takes at least 2 hours from the gate to get to Dead Vlei. Sossusvlei Dune lodge let's you leave way before sunrise, so you'll reach Dead Vlei even before sunrise. Year after year my group and I had Dead Vlei all to our selves. An unforgettable experience! And when the light is too harsh and hundreds of tourists are arriving, we have are shots and are ready for breakfast. Sleeping at Sossusvlei Dune Lodge will make your trip more expensive but, believe me, it is worth it!
Not many Tour Operators do it, but see if they arrange private charters (jeeps, boat trips, …). You understand that renting a boat, which normally can hold 20-50 people, solely for the Photography group can increase the price dramatically. But you get nothing but advantages. Not only will you have plenty of space to put your gear, but also, there won't be any other tourist that will ruin your frame by walking or standing in front of you. Let me tell you a story :-)
In 2016 I was guiding a group in Japan with my colleague, Yves Adams. A classic trip, during a Winter Japan Photography tour, is to take a boat at Rausu to look for Stellar Eagles on the ice pack that drifts from the North Pole. Every year, around that time, the ice reaches the harbour of Rausu and so it's only a short boat trip to reach them. But that particual year, the ice didn't reach the harbour. All boats carried about 50-60 people and were just drifting in the surroundings of the harbour doing, well nothing. No ice, means no stellars. Our boat was as big but we've chartered it for our group only. So we were in charge of the boat. We've learned that the ice was about 2 hours away from the harbour and so we instructed our captain to sail out and find the ice. That year, we were the only group that got images of the Stellar's on the ice pack. Such a private charter doesn't come cheap, but you get value for your money.
What about the Philosophy?
In the past the philosophy of many photography tour operators was to bring you to the best spots at the best times. And that was it. That was the job of the tour guide and from that time he could do whatever he wanted. And this may be the perfect formula for you. Maybe you just want to be left alone at that spot and do your own thing.
Or do you like some guidance when you are taking pictures? I mean, do you want your tour guide to inspire you on how to make a good composition, how you can use the available light in a creative way and how you can optimize your settings to produce good quality images?
And the tour guide...do you know him? Are your pictures more important to him than his own? You certainly don't want him to occupy the best spot at the location. You, and the rest of the group, are paying him to show you, and the rest of the group, the best spots and he should only be taking pictures when nobody else has questions. At least, this is my opinion.
Compatibility with the guide?
Are you or is your style compatible with the style of the guide? If you don't like his or her pictures, maybe you should think of choosing another photography guide for your trip. But if you have a good guide, a guide who knows how to educate, this shouldn't matter. A good guide can disconnect from his or her own style and guide you in your own. All creative and artistic guides will be able to guide you, even if you are not a creative photographer. But a 'realistic' photographer won't be able to guide you on your artistic path.
When possible, try to take a workshop with the guide. You'll quickly notice if he or she is well-grounded, kind, funny,... . In the end you'll have to spend almost 2 weeks with your guide on, what should be, your best trip ever!
The best thing you can do is to talk to previous participants and ask them about their experiences; with the tour company and the tour guide as well. And once you have made your choice, I wish you an amazing and unforgettable journey!