The below article on Why I choose guided wildlife photography tours is the opinion of a well known wildlife photographer who has done numerous trips to Wildlife both in his own and via Guided Wildlife Photography Tours. He explains below on why he chooses the guided ones versus the self-tours and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Why I Choose Guided Wildlife Photography Tours? by Zhayynn James
Over the past few years I have travelled often on wildlife photography tours, mostly guided wildlife photography tours lead by a seasoned, accomplished skipper, with excellent photography credentials, etc. There have been occasions where I have opted to do a wildlife tour on my own. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both.
Undoubtedly Self-tours sound like a classic no-brainer because you get to choose which direction you go, how long you stay with a subject, which angle you want to shoot, and most importantly for some, you save money! I have enjoyed that freedom when on holiday and it definitely feels worthwhile.
Why Guided Wildlife Photography Tours?
However, I make the distinction of being a wildlife photographer who wants to make the most of every tour to learn more vs being a satisfied wildlife photographer. For the sake of argument I may be good, but there is so much that I am yet to learn and there’s no place better than learning right there in the field, from award-winning photographers who have done this innumerable times. There hasn’t been a single tour I have been on with guided wildlife photography tours that I haven’t learned something new, a better way, a shortcut, or had my knowledge fact-checked and found wanting. Now that’s just me as a wildlife photographer and the same doesn’t hold true for everyone. Others may be better or may have more knowledge, skills or have reached a standard that they feel comfortable with.
I equate the role of a skipper or mentor on a photography tour to that of a boxing coach at ringside. Now it’s not that the boxer doesn’t know how to box, right? The coach isn’t teaching the boxer how to throw punches, but he/she is there to get the boxer to win. The coach can see more than the myopic view that the boxer has, because he/she is vastly more experienced, can offer insights, can spot mistakes and openings. Ali, Tyson, Holyfield. All greats. Every one of them had their coach at ringside critiquing, advising, offering insight, spotting opportunities. Because they needed real-time advice, not reviewing videotapes after the bout was lost, and opportunities missed. That is EXACTLY the role of a skipper/mentor on wildlife photography tour. At least, that is what I experience with guided wildlife photography tours every time. The skippers/mentors are right there to tell you how best to capture that image, to check your image and critique it, to advise, to check your settings and help you squeeze the best out of that moment. After all, what’s the big idea if you couldn’t nail that image and didn’t know how to execute it in those tricky conditions, only to have an expert review your image after your tour was over and then tell you what you should have done? Pointless. You don’t get to apply what you learned until the next tour, that too only if a similar opportunity arises. What good is that? To me that is a wasted opportunity.
Expert Drivers versus Skipper:
Many driver guides out there are excellent. They know how to predict animal behavior, favorite places, etc. But they are not photographers and their sense of vehicle placement is not always in alignment with what a photographer sees or requires. Precious seconds lost in aligning, re-aligning, etc. Whereas a seasoned skipper/mentor will be in constant conversation with the driver guide and tell him in advance how the vehicle is to be positioned, the appropriate distance based on what lenses and cameras people are carrying in the vehicle, etc. This is critical especially when shooting action. There are so many factors that a skipper will assess and evaluate from a photography perspective that a driver guide will not be considering. Now imagine a vehicle where there is no skipper, but all paying participants are ‘equal’. Who decides which is the right spot, the right angle, the right distance from the subject? Remember, all parties are equal, so all have an equal say. This is where the confusion begins. On a guided tour, the skipper makes a decision in everyone’s interests and makes allowances for people with various gear configurations. What’s the purpose of saving money if you’re going to be compromising on your photography because you don’t want to debate or overrule your equal partner and get into an argument?
Self-Tours versus Guided Wildlife Photography Tours:
If you want to save money, yes, Self-tours are undoubtedly cheaper. No doubt. As i said before, if you are happy with your level of photography and none of what I mentioned above applies to you, then enjoy! However, if you are more interested in learning from the best, evolving, having someone right there to guide and correct you so you can nail that shot, that to me is worth spending money for. After all, if saving money was the key factor, staying at home saves you the entire trip cost. 😉
This image was taken in December 2015 on a Guided Photo-Tour tour skippered by my friend and mentor Jayanth Sharma. I captured this image to show just what being a mentor means. Gorgeous light, magnificent setting, but note that he has no camera in hand. Instead he is focused on guiding a fellow participant on how to make the most of the setting and the moment. This is what I pay for. This is why I recommend guided wildlife photography tours. This is why I travel with one.
Zhayynn James is a Wildlife Photographer whose work has been published in several leading online and print publications including Sanctuary Asia, Vanity Fair & Wild Planet Photo magazine. His work has also received recognition in several National Geographic photography competitions.
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