Travel News

Photography Tours: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Locations in this article:  Venice, Italy

Kid PhotographerHave you ever printed out your vacation pictures to discover that what you thought would be the Great Pyramid turned out to be your great big thumb?

Stop relying on pure luck to get great shots on your next vacation and learn skills you can enjoy for a lifetime by taking a photography tour.

Photography tours are lead by professional photographers who are there to help you learn to use your camera (digital or film), and see your destinations from a fresh, artistic perspective.

Many photography tours and workshops only cater to advanced users, or intermediate, but some, like the Photo Tour Collection, can accommodate all levels of aspiring photographers. No need to scramble over mountain tops lugging your tripod — most PTC tours require only a basic camera, and are not physically strenuous, though you should expect to rise very early to take advantage of the morning light.

Venice night canalThe Photo Tour Collection brings together professional photographers who not only have experience in their field, but also in teaching workshops and leading travel groups. Instructors often specialize in wildlife and landscape photography, and some bring other artistic interests to their groups, like a tour where you can learn to photograph and paint Venetian waterways.

In addition, local guides and naturalists also join groups to provide their expertise in culture and natural history. Tours are as individual as their instructors; some are oriented around the culture of the country, some are devoted to wildlife or landscape photography.

Beginning and advanced photographers are welcome, as are non-photographing friends and family, as long as they are happy to linger in some locations while others snap shots. On some tours, like the African Safari, they could see much more than a casual traveler, thanks to an experienced and well-connected guide.

Morocco Palace lightThese tours tend to be more relaxed than formal photography workshops, so expect impromptu lectures or demonstrations in the field, personal tutoring sessions, and discussions around the dinner table, rather than lectures in a classroom. Some of the tours that are offered in the next year include:

On the Magical Morocco tour, you join Karen Schulman, a photographer with more than 25 years of experience on a journey through ancient Marrakech and Fes. Over the course of the two week trip, you’ll arrive in Casablanca, ride on camels into the Sahara for a sunrise shoot, shop for rugs, and visit medinas, craftsmen’s workshops and palaces. The price is $3,395 per person, based on a minimum of nine participants, based on double occupancy.

Visit The Land of the Thunder Dragon, or Bhutan as it is more commonly known, for The Colorful Paro Tsechu Festival tour. Ghosts, angels, yetis, demons and saints shape the history and legends of this Buddhist kingdom that holds onto its cultural traditions, including Paro Tsechu—a masked dance festival in which costumed dancers perform dance-dramas of the life of Guru Rimpoche. If your knowledge of Buddhism is rusty, he introduced Buddhism in its Tantric form to Bhutan in the eighth century. The cost for this two week adventure is $5,395 per person, double occupancy. Single rooms may or may not be available, but all rooms will have their own bathrooms. And that’s what counts, right?

On the Galapagos Islands and Quito tour, your instructors will introduce you to curious sea lions, friendly birds, playful fur seals and penguins. Cathy and Gordon Illg are freelance photographers who specialize in nature and wildlife photography and have over twenty years of experience guiding tours.

Macaw parrot ecuadorDuring your trip, you will visit nurseries for Galapagos sea lions, observe brightly colored birds unique to these islands, iguanas sunbathing on black lava rocks, tropical fish and Blue-footed boobies performing their mating dance.

However, there is almost as much to see on the mainland as on the islands: ornate Spanish cathedrals, the 400-year-old streets of Colonial Quito, and shops where you can buy hand-made sweaters, weavings and pottery. The cost of this 10-day tour is $3,995 per person, based on double occupancy and an eight participant minimum.

National Geographic photographs set the standard for many of us when we think of stunning scenes from exotic locations. So why not travel with National Geographic Expeditions? These workshops are limited to 25 participants and are for amateur and serious (and mostly digital) photographers. Prices include workshop tuition, accommodations, some meals, and transportation. Your instructors will send you a letter prior to the workshop with suggestions on equipment.

When you go On Assignment in Siena, you will have seven days to explore the countryside through the lens of your digital camera. Bring your laptop and photo editing software also—this is high-tech Tuscany.

You’ll stay in a 17th-century villa, have daily critique sessions with your instructors, go on location shoots, and get instruction on downloading, saving, organizing, archiving, and manipulating images on the computer. You’ll learn how a photographer approaches a National Geographic photo assignment, drive through rolling Tuscan hills to Renaissance towns, and venture to vineyards where you can sample the wines after photographing the harvest. $4,295 per person.

Provence townIf cobblestone streets, fairytale towns, and cafes that serve pain au chocolate with your morning coffee sound picturesque to you, check out National Geographic’s photography workshop in Provence. Ancient Roman architecture, gardens, festivals, and colorful markets, as well as the exceptional landscapes you’d expect, will be your subjects for the seven-day tour. Your instructor, Sisse Brimberg, who has been published more than 25 times in National Geographic over her 30-year career, will guide you to creating unforgettable images with your digital camera and let you in on the tricks and techniques pros use on site, and on the computer. No need to buy postcards – you can create your own. $3,985 per person.

While larger tour companies certainly have their appeal, there are a number of excellent photographers who run their own smaller tours, often to places the big companies miss.

Santorini GreeceGlenn and Rose Steiner, both professional photographers (Rose is a muralist and printmaker also) lead a group of up to seven people around the Greek islands of Santorini and Anafi. The stark bright whites that contrast against jewel tone shades can present challenges to even expert photographers, but having explored over forty-eight islands in the past fifteen years, your instructors will teach you what to look for to get the most out of your photographs.

During your weeklong workshop, you will explore the blinding white buildings, blue harbors with fishing boats in primary colors, the little known villages of Santorini, and see the sun set in the Aegean. In the evenings, night shoots, and taking time to relax in clubs and tavernas is encouraged.

Only a short boat ride away, Anafi is a mostly tourist-free island where locals have retained many of their Hellenic traditions. Over many visits, your instructors have discovered little hideaway places that are ideal for providing artistic inspiration. Bring your own digital or traditional camera, your own film, and a laptop to store and review digital work. And of course, don’t forget extra SD cards, batteries, power cords and converters! Rates start at $2,400 including accommodations.

Silhouette Sunset ladiesOr, for a really small tour, try a company called Teeny Tiny Tours that can bring you on a photography vacation to Hawaii. Led by a professional photographer and local Oahu resident, you can get one-on-one instruction on taking the perfect picture.

A beginner’s vacation teaches you the basics, from finding the right angle, refining the composition and finding the right light (you can even get advice on which camera to bring before your trip). An “advanced amateur” vacation kicks your photography-taking skills up a notch. Each 10-day trip includes meals, accommodations, and sightseeing in Oahu, starting at $2,000 per person. 808-678-3073,

Here are a few freebie photography tips straight from the experts:

  • The most important things to consider in nature photography are “lighting, lighting, and location.” So once you’ve found the perfect spot, wait for the right light.
  • The best light for landscapes is usually at sunrise, or late in the afternoon. The shadows are softer because the light comes in at an angle. If you’re looking for a vibrant orange, wait until sunset on a clear day and look east.
  • Get close. Take a picture of a detail of your subject instead of the whole subject at once, or let your subject fill the frame.
  • Invest in a tall, sturdy tripod to create crisp images. These are especially useful for night time photography or photographing waterfalls—the water blurs, but the rest of the scene remains sharp.
  • Learn to be fast—getting a shot of well known historic sites without hordes of tourists invading your picture is only possible if you are quick to click. Animals are not known to wait around for your artistic sensibilities either!

So, when you get your pictures developed from your photography tour—how do you plan to display them? Probably in a frame on the wall.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but how about some other, more creative options …

  • If you’ve taken a photo that you absolutely love, printing it on canvas can make a stunning statement. Here, you can send your picture online, and it will come back a masterpiece:
  • At Hanging Systems: Quadro Frames, a series of picture frames hang on cables suspended from a track mounted on the wall or from the ceiling. You can put several photos on one cable, each hanging on its own hook that you can move up and down to display many at once.
  • Digital frames are a great option for those of us who can’t decide which picture to display, because like your computer’s screensaver, a digital frame can continuously scroll through all the pictures on its small flash memory card. The picture is backlit, like a computer screen, which makes the colors more vibrant.

By Lauren Van Mullem for

Previously by Lauren Van Mullem:

Gourmet Traveling, North American Style

Love photography? Check out Taking Your Vacation Photos Digital or get some advice on Making Good Vacation Photos Great.