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How to Choose a Nature Photography Trip

by Grace Scalzo | April 11, 2016

How to choose a nature photography trip - Copyright Grace ScalzoMany nature photographers love to travel. While we enjoy creating images of familiar subjects near home, getting outside our own corner of the world is a thrill unto itself.

My inbox is constantly receiving solicitations from nature photography travel companies. Blogs, websites, and magazines are filled with advertisements selling tours and workshops. Most contain enticing, glossy photographs of exotic wildlife and places. Once you have decided to take a nature photography trip, how do you select a destination and a company to hire that will help you fulfill your dreams?

Pacific loon on tundra pond - Copyright Grace Scalzo

The first thing that I think about is subject matter. For me, this is quick and easy as there are certain subjects and destinations that I have dreamed of seeing, some for as long as I can remember. Take the Great Bear Rainforest for example. I had read a book by Charles Russell about spirit bears back in the 1990s before I was interested in photography. When I became involved in nature photography and found out that I could actually take a trip to see these beautiful creatures, I knew that I had to make it happen. I have been there twice and guarantee you that I will return. I feel the same way with the Arctic; visiting the land of the midnight sun, walking the tundra, and seeing the wildlife and people that live there holds a fascination for me. For you, it might be lighthouses on the rugged coast of Maine, animals in Africa, or southern oceans. Assuming that your budget and free time are not unlimited, go with your passion. Choose a workshop that will take you to the place of your dreams.

Spirit bear crossing log - Copyright Grace Scalzo

Spectacled eider - Copyright Grace Scalzo

Secondly, consider the difference between a “tour” and a “workshop.” Generally speaking, a tour is based less on the technical aspects of photography and the company that you hire will likely be serving as a field guide, helping you to navigate an unfamiliar location and finding the target species. A workshop usually involves assistance with your gear and photographic skills. Lessons in exposure, camera use, compositions, and other matters will be taught as you photograph. Perhaps some post processing will be included. Evaluate your own level and needs and decide accordingly between the two.

Black bear cub - Copyright Grace Scalzo

Cattle egret - Copyright Grace Scalzo

Third, I would consider style. Look at the websites of the photographers whose trips you are considering. Do the images that you see excite you? Are they technically good? I have seen images on websites that inspire me to travel with that company. Others fall short. It can also be helpful to look at images that participants from past tours have created. I expect that a professional can create good images, but it is meaningful to me if their customers come away with pleasing images.

Snow bunting - Copyright Grace Scalzo

Lastly, investigate the recent reputation of the company that you are considering hiring. Talk to people whose opinions you value who have travelled with the company in the last year or so and ask about their experience. Here is a helpful list of some matters to be considered before sending in that deposit:

  • How long has the company been in business and how many times have they led groups to the location that you are considering? Do they know it well? Do they rely on local guides to help with current conditions? Is there anything else to do in the case of inclement weather?
  • Do the leaders photograph with the participants? In some cases depending on your own needs, you may want the leader to be focused on your attempts, while in others, you may learn by watching what he or she does in the field.
  • How large is the group? This is very important, especially if you are going to a place where the subject matter can be stressed by too many people. Even the number of people in one vehicle can be uncomfortable if too crowded, especially with lots of gear in tow.
  • What is expected from your leader? You may be on vacation and hoping to photograph 24×7, but this is a job for many of the people leading tours and they may actually need some rest and down time. It would be wise to get that ironed out and understood up front.
  • Make sure that you are up to the physical demands of the trip. Ask many questions and assess your own abilities realistically. The tour company needs to be honest with you and clearly spell out what you will be expected to be able to do. You don’t want to get hurt or hold back a group if a mismatch occurs.
  • Ask about the field ethics of the company. Are subjects baited? Are calls used? What is their practice regarding nesting birds or young? You want to be sure that you are with a guide who shares ethics that are similarly aligned with yours.
  • Will the company help you with the logistics of the trip? Flights, insurance, airport greetings, currency changing, etc. Do they provide a list of specialized clothing and equipment that you will need?
  • What is the total cost of the trip and exactly what is included? Most companies spell this out very clearly.
  • What is the refund policy should you need to cancel, or should a change happen on their end?

Any company worth hiring will be happy to spend time with you as you contemplate your photography trip. Ask the questions that will give you the information that you need. When you have confidence in them, sign up and have a blast. Nothing opens your eyes and stirs your soul like a great nature photography trip.

Red-necked grebes - Copyright Grace Scalzo

About the Author

Grace Scalzo has loved the outdoors since childhood. The combination of photography and nature ignited a passion for the art form. Grace's images have received numerous awards including publications by NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) and Nature's Best Photography Magazine. She has also authored a children's book: Hungry Birds by the Seashore.

Grace believes that if people feel a connection to their environment, they will care about preserving it. Photography has great power in showcasing our natural world. It is with this in mind that she creates her images, prepares slideshows, and speaks to Audubon groups, photography clubs, libraries, and nursing homes.

Grace participates in local, grassroots conservation efforts including horseshoe crab counting in Long Island Sound, and diamondback terrapin studies which include finding and protecting nests. She has established and maintains an active trail of bluebird houses. She is also an administrator of a Facebook page dedicated to Long Island wildlife photography where she works to improve and encourage ethical field practices among the growing membership.

2 thoughts on “How to Choose a Nature Photography Trip

  1. Great article Grace. Lots of info on what to and what not to do when thinking about a photography trip. Love the photos too, especially the grebes.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the very informative article and lovely photos.

    I appreciate your point about ascertaining the ethics of the tour leader.
    I would hate to find myself on a tour or workshop where bird calls were used during the nesting season or animals or birds were baited.

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