This month we’ve been featured in What Digital Camera magazine as one of the 10 recommended photography holidays 2016 has to offer. We’ve included the article with words by Audley Jarvis.
Photography Holidays 2016 – At this time of year, when the days are short, the nights are long and the weather lurches between various shades of grey, it’s as good a time as any to think about booking a holiday. And while the lure of a sun-kissed beach may be strong, there are many good reasons why you might want to consider booking one of the photography holidays we’ve featured instead.
The first thing to understand is that photography holidays come in many different guises: from bird spotting on the UK coastline to big game safaris in Africa, and from European city tours that take in spectacular architecture to Nepalese mountain treks that enable you to photograph the highest mountain range in the world. In short, no two are the same. Pick a destination anywhere in the world that’s worth photographing and there’s a good chance that there’s a company dedicated to helping you capture it.
In addition to choosing a location, there’s also quite a bit of variation in what you can expect to learn. If you’re already a reasonably accomplished photographer, then the degree of tutoring on offer might only be a secondary consideration. However, if you’re looking to develop your skills, then the quality of the tuition, along with the size of the group, will be
a much more important factor.
Over the next few pages, we’ll take a look at the main types of photographic holidays 2016 is offering, along with what you can expect to photograph and what you can expect to learn. We’ll also explore some of the issues that are common to all photographic holidays, such as your choice of kit. We’ll also dip our toe into some of the less exciting (but equally important) stuff such as visas, personal and equipment insurance, medical cover and suchlike.
On our final spread, we’ve rounded up a selection of well- established and respected travel firms who specialise in providing photographic holidays to all four corners of the globe. Use our guide as a resource tool, follow our advice and you could soon be off on the adventure of a lifetime. One that you’ll return from with the best holiday snaps ever.
What is a photo holiday?
First things first, let’s define exactly what we mean by ‘photography holiday’. As useful as they can be for building up your skills, we’re not talking about one-day intensive workshops here, even those that are held on location rather than inside a classroom. Photography holidays – just like regular holidays – involve staying in serviced accommodation and being looked after to a certain degree. Whether this entails sleeping in a family-run B&B or a five-star hotel will depend on the type of holiday you choose, the facilities available at your chosen destination and, of course, the overall cost of the holiday itself.
Regardless of whether it’s a long weekend break in the UK or a three-week trip to a destination halfway around the world, a photography holiday should always involve a proper ‘holiday’ element that leaves you feeling refreshed and recharged by the end. That said, it should also have an itinerary that focuses specifically on photography and caters to the needs of enthusiasts looking to come home with more than just a set of candid holiday snaps shot around the pool. To help achieve this, virtually all of the tour operators who specialise in this type of holiday will employ professional photographers that will join you on your holiday. Their job is to lead the group, offer practical and technical advice, and generally share the benefit of their experience with everyone. While it’s not quite as simple as saying the quality of the tutor will determine the quality of the holiday, it’s certainly an important thing to consider.
The best tour operators are those that manage to strike the right balance between the ‘holiday’ and ‘photographic’ elements of their packages. This means providing you with comfortable accommodation and good food so that you can take some time out from your regular routine and relax, but also providing you with expert guides who can take you straight to the best locations, and professional tutors who can share their experience in a helpful and personable way while making allowances for different skill levels within a group.
For this reason, we’d strongly recommend booking your holiday through a specialist tour operator – we’ve hand-picked a number of reputable firms that fit this description on the next spread. Simply popping along to your local high street travel agent and trying to describe what you’re after isn’t a particularly good idea. As usual, a bit of common sense can go a long way. When making your initial enquiries, be sure to ask for the names of the tutors that will be accompanying you and then do your research on who they are and what qualifies them to teach you before committing to anything. The photographic holiday industry actually employs quite a lot of accomplished photographers, so if you’re hoping for some one-on-one time with a particular photographer whose work you admire, then check to see if they will be accompanying you on your particular trip. Also, be sure to find out how many people will be in your group and whether the trip caters to your own level of skill and experience.
While the majority of specialist tour operators are honest and trustworthy, be wary of unscrupulous ones trying to dress up regular holiday packages as photographic ones purely on the strength of the destination being quite photogenic. Likewise, be wary of any operators who simply offer to hook you up with a local guide once you arrive – hiring a local guide is not the same thing as travelling with a professional photographer whose job it is to mentor and help you. Of course, if you’re a skilled photographer with your own equipment and you want to travel independently then by all means do so – you don’t necessarily need to book a specialist photography holiday to do so though, unless of course the idea of having a set itinerary and travelling with a group of like- minded individuals appeals to you.
Last but not least, if you suspect you’re being given the hard sell on something that isn’t what you’re looking for, then walk away and speak to a different tour operator instead. Word of mouth can go a long way in helping you to weed out the good firms from the bad ones, as can a bit of basic research using travel photography forums and more mainstream resources such as TripAdvisor – just remember to read between the lines, as there will always be a small percentage of professional grumblers on most advice sites and forums.
Location vs learning
Most specialist tour operators offer a range of holiday options that are designed to cater for specific tastes. If you have a particular interest in shooting landscapes, wildlife or even architecture then there’s almost certainly a tour operator that offers the right holiday for you. If you want to be even more specific – for example, if you’ve always wanted to photograph wild elephants in sub-Saharan Africa or the aurora borealis in Iceland – then there are plenty of tour operators who specialise in these, too. Ultimately, you’re only really limited by your own imagination and finances. That said, geopolitical events will unfortunately rule out some destinations on account of them being too dangerous to visit.
One thing that’s well worth considering in advance is what your holiday priorities are – by which we mean, are you more concerned with getting away for a few days to develop a specific set of photography skills in the company of like-minded individuals, or are you more determined to visit a particular part of the world and photograph it to the best of your abilities with the help of a professional? If the former, then the good news is that there are plenty of excellent short breaks to be had in the UK (and Europe), where the scenery is often just as beautiful and the tuition every bit as good. While staying in the UK doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll come home with a suntan, you could also use the savings of not flying long-haul to upgrade your accommodation to something a bit more luxurious for the duration of your stay.
By now, you’re probably looking out of the window at the grey skies above and thinking that a photography holiday sounds like just the ticket. But before you rush out to book something, there are a few more practicalities to consider. Depending on the type of holiday you opt for, you may need to consider a few basics such as your level of personal fitness. Some holidays will require a certain degree of walking in order to get to your location, some of which could be quite demanding, whereas others will be tailored more towards those who are less mobile.
Visas and holiday insurance are two other factors that you will need to consider in advance. Some tour operators will be able to assist you, however others will require your to organise your own visa. There’s no set time limit for how long it takes to organise a visa; for some countries it’s a relatively straightforward process that only takes a day or so, whereas for others it can be a long and arduous process. Be sure to check in advance with your tour operator and make sure you have enough time to organise things properly.
Also, if you’re looking to take a lot of valuable camera equipment, you’ll need to ensure it is adequately protected in the event of accidental breakage or theft. No two travel insurance policies are the same, so be sure to check exactly what is covered, what it is covered against, and whether the maximum amount the insurer is willing to pay out adequately covers the total cost of your equipment. Likewise, when booking a holiday – photographic or otherwise – you should always enquire with the tour operator as to how well you are protected in the unfortunate event that the company becomes insolvent before your trip. Be sure to find out whether this covers your flights and/or your holiday. If your tour operator requires you to purchase your own flights, you should also ensure that these are covered by some form of adequate insurance, too.
You should also make yourself aware of any medical or health requirements for the destination. The vast majority of responsible tour operators will not deliberately endanger either themselves or their guests by travelling to dangerous destinations or areas where this is ongoing conflict, but that is not to say that there may be other health factors such as malaria to be aware of and protect yourself against. Most tour operators will be able to advise you directly, and the Foreign Office Travel Advisory service (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) is also worth having a look at before committing to any trip.
Last but not least it is, of course, entirely up to you how much equipment you want to take with you, but you may want to check the luggage allowances of the airline you plan to fly with. If you own a lot of expensive gear, then it’s almost certainly worth investing in a dedicated photographic flight case in order to protect your equipment from heavy-handed baggage handlers. Vanguard and Peli specialise in hard cases for photographic equipment, with prices starting from around £150.
You can book one of our photography holidays 2016 via our booking page.
Many thanks to What Digital Camera Magazine