8 Things to Consider When Joining a Travel Photography Workshop

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You are passionate about photography. You are passionate about travel. Maybe you just want to combine your passion for photography with travel to a destination you have always dreamed of visiting. Whatever the reasons for being there, participating in a photography workshop while travelling is a fantastic way to not only improve your photography skills, but also to experience the people and culture of that place. Added to that, you will likely be spending time with others who share your passion for the art of photography, and new friendships will be made!

We spoke to a handful of travel photography workshop educators and facilitators to get their advice on selecting the photo workshop that is best for you, as well as preparing for it, and executing it successfully.

Location


Obviously, the location is most people’s primary consideration when choosing a photography workshop. But you might want to give the environment you’ll be in a bit more thought. According to veteran travel workshop instructor David H. Wells, “Many places that are interesting places to go to, do not necessarily make for good places to photograph—you need a great place to photograph, with lots of interesting locations, people, food, etc.”

Liza Politi has been teaching and facilitating workshops for almost a decade, spanning 25 countries over four continents. She recommends checking sunrise and sunset times before you book your travel. Will you be shooting over long days, or shooting shorter days and into nighttime during your visit?

Instructors

Although most people put the destination as their primary consideration, some folks will attend a specific workshop just for the opportunity to work with a particular guide or instructor. The instructor is what can make or break a workshop. “The title of the workshop is not as important as the instructor’s style and the type of work they do,” says Ralph Lee Hopkins, founder and director of the Expedition Photography program for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

Workshop instructor Kris Davidson agrees, “Like many other kinds of creative teachings, travel photography workshops will be highly variable depending on who your instructor may be. It goes beyond the buttons and dials on the camera, with the instructor imparting more abstract knowledge about how to move through and interact with the world.”

Additionally, you can’t always anticipate the weather. Because of this, veteran photographer and instructor Art Wolfe says, “The instructors should have a back-up plan if the weather goes south—whether it is an impromptu portfolio review or critique session that can be done indoors, or moving on to an alternate shooting location.”

Worldwide 20-year/50-workshop veteran Harvey Stein recommends evaluating not only the instructor, but also the support staff. And, he emphasizes paying close attention to the type of photography that the instructor and/or workshop specializes in: “What will be photographed mostly? People, landscape, architecture, animals… ?”

Jeff Curto leads photo workshops in Italy and says, “I think great travel workshops must offer more than a ‘tour’ of the travel destination. They should ideally have quality instruction from an experienced teacher of photography. There are lots of photographers out there who are highly skilled and can take you to great locations, but the ability to have an instructor who can articulate clear goals and then help students achieve them is the key to having something that is both a pleasant travel adventure and a great learning experience.”

What to bring


With workshops all over the world, in every climate, you might be surprised to know that Liza Politi has a short list of items that she brings on every trip. She always travels with the following: lightweight synthetic long underwear, flip-flops, swim suit, Cipro (an antibiotic), bug repellent, and extra toothbrushes. She also carries a small power strip to simultaneously charge her laptop, camera, and cell phone—which makes her “very popular at airports.”

Travel details


Know if your workshop includes travel arrangements or not. Jeff Curto says, “A great travel workshop should take the pressure off the participants to find ground transportation, hotel rooms, restaurants, etc. If those details are handled by the workshop organizers, participants don’t have to think about anything but photographing and learning. I often see workshops that require participants to provide their own car, book their own hotel rooms, and include only one or two meals for a week’s time. It looks ‘cheap’ on the surface, but if you add up all the things that people have to provide for, it ends up being more expensive than a workshop where those details have been provided.”

Tech tips


Rocky Mountain School of Photography and National Parks at Night instructor Tim Cooper says that participants should “know their cameras well, bring their owner’s manual, and also pack extra batteries and memory cards.”

RMSP workshop director Forest Chaput De Saintonge adds, “Nothing is worse than losing the images you took during a once-in-a-lifetime workshop. Be sure you always bring along some way to back up your images on the go. Whether that’s a laptop you use to copy your memory cards to, or simply a tablet with a photo download capability, be sure your images are at least two places at all times.” He also emphasizes checking your ISO before every shoot, as you might find yourself back in daylight following an evening or night shoot.

Critique

The magic of digital imaging has allowed workshops to include nearly real-time critiques of participants’ work. This is one of the most valuable aspects of a modern photo workshop. Veteran photographic educator Jennifer Davidson says, “From the workshop perspective, there’s the immense value of getting feedback on images taken that day. You get to learn not only from the images you created but also from those made by other workshop participants. Then going back out and shooting more, incorporating what you’ve learned in the critique.”

When it comes to critique, David H. Wells emphasizes that “You need an instructor who can give regular nurturing feedback and constructive criticism to the students during the workshop.”

Ralph Lee Hopkins adds, “The number one factor in a workshop is facing the fear factor. You can’t hide in the workshop environment, especially if photo critiques are part of the daily program. The daily photo critique will help you work harder than ever before!”

Immersion


In talking to workshop professionals, there is one theme that is repeated by all of them: Immersion into the local culture. On the surface, a participant might think he or she is joining a workshop just to improve his or her photography, and there is something to be said for being immersed in photography for a period of time, but one huge key to successful travel photography is exposure to and engagement with the place you are visiting, be it on the other side of the world, or down the street from your residence.

Jeff Curto says, “Being able to practice, breathe, eat, and sleep photography in a concentrated way, and do that in a place where you’re being exposed to new vistas, new foods, new ideas, and new ways of doing things offers real synergy for learning.”

Culture is one thing that can set a photo workshop apart from a traditional tour. “Conventional tour guides are often full of information but they are not always very helpful to photographers. Only certain guides have the experience and expertise needed to enable you to get the photographs you seek while in a workshop setting. You need tour leaders/organizers/ guides who knows the local culture, language, food, etc. They also need to be willing to adapt to the peculiarities of working with photographers,” says David H. Wells.

Liza Politi gave us some tips for preparing for a workshop’s cultural aspects. She always learns how to say, “Hello, goodbye, and thank you,” in the language of the places she visits and teaches. She also recommends mentally preparing for the foreign environment. “Things don’t always work like they do in the U.S.,” she says, “Be ready for power outages, or no air conditioning—be ready to live like a local. Don’t stay at the big cushy hotel. Be safe, but look at smaller hotels near the locals. If you like a certain place, return to it again and again. People might notice you and engage you.”

When asked about the most important aspect of the travel photo workshop, Jennifer Davidson says, “Travel workshops are a way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place with an expert at your disposal to help improve your images. You’ll not only learn to look for different perspectives on iconic landmarks, but will also find yourself interacting with people in cafes, bars, markets, and on the street.”

Learning and passion

Art Wolfe reminds us that “A workshop participant should expect to have a thoughtful and nurturing learning environment, as well as a good time. It isn't all seriousness, all the time! Laughter and creativity go hand-in-hand.”

“There’s no doubt that taking a workshop will help you become a better photographer faster. But remember, the one thing that can’t be taught is passion,” says Ralph Lee Hopkins. “That you have to bring with you to the workshop.”

12 Comments

I would suggest that the instructor have an up-to-date projector if they are to show participants photos during the course.  Nothing ruins the experience more than showing a photo to the class that you have worked on and it is shown on a hotel's 8 year old projector with out of date specs. 

Great tip for the instructors! Thanks, John!

Any advice on workshops to hone your skills with marine mammal photography? I love being around the water!

Hey Flip,

One of the workshop instructors featured in this article is Ralph Lee Hopkins who works with Lindblad Expeditions and is known for his wildlife photography. I would encourage you to reach out to Ralph and see this other content we have with him.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/canon/artist/ralph-lee-hopkins

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/6-tips-wildlife-photography-national-geographic-photographer-ralph

Good luck!

How do you evaluate instructors? All are going to have positive testimonials on their websites but is there an objective way to compare them?  I know from experience that Art Wolfe is exceptional but how to evaluate others?

Hi Al,

Great question. Not all instructors and workshops are created equally, so definitely do your homework! This article should give you some great questions to ask and/or research.

Yes, instructors will likely have nothing but glowing reviews on their website, but check to see if anyone has thrown down a review on Yelp or Trip Advisor or some other similar sites. My father took a very expensive workshop from a very well known photographer who provided such harsh feedback that it nearly caused my dad to give up photography after 50 years of taking remarkable images. You definitely want to avoid those scenarios!

I am sorry I cannot be more specific, but do you due diligence and scour the internet for objective reviews before you throw down your credit card.

Good luck!

Just re-visting this article and noting these great questions, including Al's here. 

My advice for finding the right instructor?

1) CALL them... I'm surprised at how few of my prospective workshop participants call me on the phone and ask me questions about the why/how/what/where/when of my Italy Photography Workshops. A phone call can give you a lot of information about whether you are likely to get along well with the instructor - if their sensibilities mesh with yours. 

2) EMAIL them... again, most of us workshop folks are just regular photographers and teachers and we're happy to answer questions posed by prospective students. We want to fill our workshops, sure... but we *really* want to fill them with people who know that they want to join us on an adventure.

3) VISIT the Facebook page. Many workshops (mine included) have a Facebook page that most of our "alums" belong to. Tapping into the community of past workshop participants can help you get a sense of whether the workshop - and the instructor - will be a good fit for you.

Great additional tips, Jeff!

Thank you!

I could have done a better job...

Hi Brian,

May you please elaborate on your comment?

How so?  To make such a comment and not provide any details or proof leaves me a bit doubtful. I personally found the article concise and helpful.

I am glad you enjoyed the article, PJM! Looks like Brian F. might have moved on to his next web target!

Thanks for reading!

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