Tour or Workshop, or?

A couple days ago Margo Pinkerton, a photographer I respect a lot, made a comment on her blog about the difference between a photo tour and a photo workshop.  She said, “There is a difference between a photo workshop and a photo tour. Photo tours often produce fly-by shots out of windows, grab shots off the bus, the less-than-perfect shot as one jockeys for position with 30 or 40 other folks.”

Now, I’ve participated in one of Margo’s workshops and it was an experience I hope to be able repeat someday soon. She, and her husband Arnie Zann, conduct workshops in some pretty exotic locations stateside and abroad. They’re in Tuscany right now and the daily posts that Margo writes are must reads.

I’m not writing to disagree with her “tour versus workshop” comment. As she describes a tour, I’d have to agree with the sentiment of her comment. However, this is a case in which “a rose by any other name…” doesn’t hack it. Unfortunately, I fear that because of the great respect that Margo commands from the many alumni of her Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures workshop, and the expansive following of serious amateurs and professional photographers alike, her comment could be read as an indictment of all photo tours. And, that would be unfortunately.

I’ve been leading Nature Photography Tours for only a couple years now. While I don’t yet have the experience that Margo and Arnie do, I’m confident that the participants in the my photo tours wouldn’t lump them under  Margo’s tour description.

Six or eight participants per tour/workshop leader should provide plenty of one-on-one interaction.

That said, I thought I’d try and identify some things to look for in a photo tour…especially if an important objective is improving your photography. The “fly-by shots out windows” that Margo mentions are certainly to be avoided. One way to do that is to be aware of where the “tour” will take you and how long you’ll be at each photo venue.

“…less-than-perfect shot as one jockeys for position with 30 or 40 other folks” is just as bad as it sounds. But, such situations don’t need to be part of a tour. Before you sign-up for a “tour” one of the questions you should answer is, “how many photographers will be participating?” It stands to reason that if that number is large (30 or 40 is really large) you’re going to have problems. Room at the windows may be one of the smaller problems. How much personal attention can the leader or leaders of your tour give you and your photography, if the tour leader (or workshop leader)/participant ratio is huge? Even if you had a couple leaders on a 30 or 40-participant tour, each leader would have to try and work with 15 or 20 photographers. I don’t know how that’s possible.

However, as the reviews of my tours attest, when the participant level is the more appropriate 6-8 participants, that one-on-one interaction can be very rewarding.

A tour doesn’t have to mean crowds, if you ask some questions:

  • Where, specifically, are we going?
  • How many will be on tour?
  • How long will be be at each locale?
  • How many tour leaders are there?
  • What equipment will I need to bring?

These are just the bare minimum. Your tour leader should welcome questions and have answers. Don’t be afraid to ask any question that will help you understand what to expect.