Let’s talk about going on personal photography tours. I know I’m not the only one who loves taking photos when I travel. I love taking out my camera and snapping photos of beautiful landscapes, architecture, and culture. Photography is a huge part of travel, and you always want to take the best photos possible so you can look back on them later in your life. Or you want to post them on your blog or social media, in which case it’s even more important to have the best photos possible. But taking great travel photos starts before you even begin traveling. It starts when you are at home, researching your destination and learning how to have a successful trip.
In this post, I’ll share with you how to can prepare for your very own, one-person photography tours. You want to know the best sites to photograph, the best angles, and even the best time of day. The points I’ll discuss include:
- What is a personal photography tour
- Questions to ask yourself before you travel
- Researching your destination
- Necessary photography tour equipment and gear
- What to do during your trip
- Things to do after your trip
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What is a personal photography tour?
A photography tour is when a group of people pays a tour guide to take them to the best places of a country to take photos. Photography tours are different than a workshop, which includes time to learn from a photographer and analyze your photos. Instead, a photography tour is more about getting the best photos at the best time of year and best time of day. There might be pointers and camera advice thrown around during the trip, but the main focus is to take photos.
A photography tour is usually done as a group, but there’s no reason why you can’t plan your own photography tours just for yourself. In fact, if you want to take great photos and learn how to use your camera, I would encourage you to plan your own mini photography tours for yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything big and expensive. I recently went on overnight trip into the mountains in Japan, and one point of the trip was to take photos. It was my own personal photography tour.
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Questions to ask yourself before you travel
Planning your personal photography tours should begin before you leave for your trip. If you wait until you are already traveling, you’ve waited too long. While a photography tour should be fun, you should also think about ways you can learn and grow as a photographer.
What are your photography goals for this trip? Ask yourself the types of photos you want have when you get home. They could be photos of specific places or subjects. Or they could be skills utilizing a particular photography technique. Is there a particular emotion you want to convey in your photos? Decide if your goals include getting photos of special subjects or honing certain photography skills or techniques.
What skills do you want to work on? Is there something you want to practice? Maybe you want to try out a new lens you bought for your DSLR. Or work on night photography. Or get better with your iPhone. Maybe there is something special about the place you will be visiting that you are really excited to photograph, like the Taj Mahal or a castle. Have a clear idea about what you would like to achieve on your trip.
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What season do you want to go and why? The same place at different times of the year may be drastically different from each other and will give you completely different photos. For example, Japan prides itself on having four distinct season, each with its own beauty. If you want to visit during cherry blossom time, come during the first week of April. If you want to photograph autumn leaves, come in October/November/December. This was the purpose of my recent personal photography tour to Shirakawago. I wanted to see the mountains covered in red and orange leaves.
Research your destination
What specific attractions/places do you want to photograph? Find out what some of the most popular sites where you are going. Is it a temple? A museum? A monument? Or an ancient ruin? Decide which you are most interested in, then research the best angles and time of day. Also, don’t forget to research the history and culture of your destination. This will help put different tourist attractions in perspective, and you might even discover some interesting story that you can incorporate into your photos. My main reason for going to Shirakawago was for autumn colours, but the cute farmhouses were also part of my decision to choose this place.
Check Google, Google Images, and WikiTravel. Use these sites to see some nice shots and angles of the place you will visit. This will give you a good idea of the best things to see, so you can start plan your photos before you travel and make a route. You might want to write down the address and directions to make your trip easier. For example, there are a few different farmhouses in Shirakawago, so researched some of their names and where they are in the village to be sure I didn’t miss them.
Use Pinterest. There are two parts to this. The first part is to do a regular search for your place and see what pops up. You’ll get a lot of ideas here. Then, create your own board, name it after your photography tour destination, and start saving pins that you like. You’ll soon begin to see which sites you like the most, and you can begin prioritizing them and thinking about how you will photograph them. I recently made a board for my trip to Shirakawago to collect ideas and inspiration.
Photography tours equipment and gear
What equipment will you need on your photography tours? If you are going to use a DSLR, think about the subjects you will photographing. To photograph large buildings from close up, you might want to bring a wide angle lens. If you are planning on taking street photography, a sharp prime lens might be best. Additionally, think about the time of day you plan to take photos. You may want to bring a tripod if you want to take photos at night or if you are planning on taking long exposure photos of water and waterfalls. And of course, don’t forget to bring an extra memory card and spare battery for your camera. If you are using your iPhone, you may want to bring a small tripod and your Apple earbuds – you can use the volume button on them as an external shutter to eliminate blur.
For my trip to Shirakawago, I brought: my iPhone, Apple earbuds (to use as a remote shutter), a small tripod, a large tripod, a charger, an extra battery, a USB cable, and a regular backpack.
How will you carry your equipment? Do you have a special backpack for all your gear? I just have a regular backpack, but I bought a soft padded insert that holds my DSLR and an extra lens when I use it. I can take it out and move it between backpacks, so it’s pretty great. But sometimes I just throw my camera and lens into my backpack without it. Because I like to live dangerously. My iPhone just goes into my pocket/purse/backpack along with everything else.
The logistics of photography tours
Plan your route. Now that you know the places you visit and the things you want to photograph, create a digital or physical map with your route. (Or just keep it in your head, like I do.) You should have a general idea of which places you will visit, which days, and what time of the day. Also try and figure out how long you would like to spend there. One reason I prefer to travel alone is because I could easily spend a few hours at a single temple taking photos. But when I’m with others, I always feel like I’m rushed and making everyone wait for me. It was nice to go to Shirakawago by myself and take my sweet time wherever I felt like it.
Confirm opening times, and check for closures, construction, etc. You will also want to make sure the place you plan to visit will be open on the day you plan to go. Some places have regular closing days, seasonal days off, or are under construction. If there’s construction, you might want to skip that place all together. A castle completely covered in scaffolding won’t look very nice. Also, check the opening and closing times so you don’t get there at the end of the day when entry is closed.
Plan your accommodations and transportation. How will you get to each of your sites? Will you take a train, bus, taxi, walk, or rent a car? Make sure you find all these logistical details and make any necessary reservations. I picked up a bus schedule to a couple nearby villages of Shirakawago to plan my route for my second day.
During your photography tours
Now that you are on your trip, there are a few things you’ll need to remember and be aware of.
Pay attention to the weather. First of all, make sure you pack the appropriate clothes for summer, winter, etc. If you are taking photos in the snow, you might have to cut things short if you get too cold because you didn’t dress warm enough. Plan your photos before you travel, and also plan your clothes. When I went to Shirakawago, I dressed for winter, and I was pleasantly surprised that the temperatures were 20 degrees during the day. I would rather be too warm than too cold. Consider the rain as well. If it’s raining, you don’t need to cancel your plans. You can take great travel photos in the rain too.
Pay attention to the light. This can make a huge impact on how your photos turn out. It can be difficult to work with the light on a sunny day when the sun is high in the sky. You might have more luck if you come early in the morning or just before sunset. While I don’t usually wake up early, on my trip I wake up early the second day. It was wonderful because I was met with a crisp, foggy morning that gave me pretty photos.
Take lots of photos. That’s reason your doing this anyway, right. So don’t be shy to take lots of photos. In fact, use this as an opportunity to get comfortable with your camera and people. You’ll have more photos to choose from and edit at the end of your trip, and you’ll be able to see what types of photos worked and what didn’t.
Which brings me to the last point…
What to do after your photography tour
After your personal photography tour, you’ll want to analyze your trip and your photos. Were you able to meet your goals and improve the skills you wanted to focus one? Did you get all the prettiest shots of that thing you wanted? Was there anything you forgot to bring, like a different lens or a tripod? Make note of the things that went well and the things that didn’t go so well during your trip. Then think about ways to improve them for next time. For example, if you wanted to practice night photography but didn’t think to bring a tripod, use it as a learning opportunity. Now you know you need a tripod if you want to take sharp and properly exposed night photos.
Also look through the photos you took. See what composition techniques work well for which subjects. This might be hard because if you see something you could have don’t better it’s not that easy to just go on the photography tours again. Still, learn from any mistakes you made, and think about ways to get better next time.
Why you should plan your photos before you travel
You plan everything else about your trip, so why not also plan your photos before you travel? Doing so will save you time and frustration at your destination because you will already have a rough idea of how to move around and the best places to take the best photos. You’ll get a better understanding of the history and culture of a place, and you may be able to incorporate this into your photos. Let your photos tell a story.
Next time you are planning for a trip, don’t forget to also think about it from a photography perspective. Where and how can you get the best photos, and what will you need to bring with you? When you plan your photos before you travel, you set yourself up for success and not just luck.
To recap, here are ways to plan your personal photography tours
- Think about your goals and what photography skills you would like to work on.
- Consider what you can see during the season you will travel.
- Research the destination, history, and culture to find the most photogenic places.
- Make a Pinterest board with the best ideas.
- Plan and book your accommodations and transportation so your trip is smooth.
- Pay attention to the weather and light when you are taking photos.
Click here to download the photography tour planner. If you have an iPhone and are ready to learn how to use to take amazing travel photos, sign up for the 5-day free email course.
And let me know in the comment section, what are your thoughts on putting together your own personal photography tour? Does it sounds like fun and something you will think about in the future?