Choosing a photography holiday

Choosing a photography holiday comes down to two main considerations: how full on you want it to be, and what you want to create pictures of. Any photography holiday is likely to involve chasing the soft light of dawn and dusk, so early mornings are usually a feature of any trip, but basing yourself in just one or two locations with daily excursions means the pace will be more relaxed, you’ll spend less time travelling, and you won’t be repacking your bags every day to move on to the next destination.
In terms of subjects, photography holidays rarely focus on just one thing. Northern nations – Iceland, Scotland, Norway – embrace wild landscapes, though you’ll still get some wildlife and maybe even the Northern Lights thrown in. Southeast Asia is a dream for street photographers and anyone wishing to focus on portraiture, but there’s still plenty of landscapes and architecture to balance it out. Here are our top tips on choosing a photography holiday.

Wildlife

Perfect for anyone who’s ever swooned over an Attenborough documentary; travelling in the company of a specialist wildlife photographer will ensure you actually get photos of dolphins (not splashes) and monkeys (not leaves). Trips range from the classic – following the Big Five across the African savannah; to the elusive – tracking endangered tigers in the jungles of India. Think about the creatures and the landscapes which interest you most; special interest species include wolverines, orangutans, orcas and pandas. A trip to Africa or the Amazon, meanwhile, opens up a huge range of wildlife, including reptiles and insects, which can shift from creepy to cool when captured close-up.

Underwater

An underwater photography holiday gives you not one but two impressive new skills, as the first part of your holiday is spent gaining your PADI certification in preparation for the photography dives to follow. If you’re already a qualified diver, you can instead spend the time on fish and coral ID dives, or improving your buoyancy, which will help you manage your camera underwater. Some of the most impressive species you can dive with include whale sharks in Belize and humpback whales in Tonga (yes, really), while colourful coral and reef fish present a neon canvas waiting to be framed by your lens.

Festivals

Festivals are simultaneously the most thrilling and complex subjects to photograph. Although performers are often happy to be photographed in their costumes, masks and face paint, amid all the action you won’t be sure where to point your lens. Not to mention the complications of jostling crowds, water fights and other hazards. This is where travelling with a professional photographer really pays off; as well as knowing the best vantage points and when and when the most photogenic elements are likely to occur, with the assistance of local guides they’ll also give you a deeper insight into the celebration – whether it’s well known, such as Nepal’s Holi or Cambodia’s Water Festival, or the more intimate dances, ceremonies and rituals that remain off the beaten track for most tourists.

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are an elusive spectacle; anyone hoping to capture them on camera will improve their chances greatly by choosing a specialist Northern Lights photography holiday. Not only will you be taken out to the wilderness to await the aurora under pitch black skies – enhancing the contrast and colours – but your expert photography guide will be on hand to help you set up all your equipment, so that when the lights streak across the sky, you’re poised to shoot them. During the day, the Arctic landscape offers up more gorgeous subjects, from icebergs melting into sculptural forms, to orcas and seabirds, glacier landscapes and sea ice contrasted against black, volcanic sand.

Landscape

Landscapes are anything but stagnant; the seasons, time of day, weather and vantage points can transform the most unassuming scenery into a dramatic backdrop with the aid of an artistic eye. The shifting sands of the Sahara become abstract canvases as the dawn rays illuminate dunes; rolling Scottish hills are reflected in lakes and Himalayan peaks penetrate the clouds. Seasoned photographers aren’t afraid of clouds, rain or fog; they frequently seek it out to take advantage of the dramatic skies, replenished vegetation and fairytale scenes they evoke. It’s all about really getting to grips with your equipment to create light, depth and points of interest, and a photography holiday will really bring your landscape shots out of the background.

People

Photographing people on your travels requires two very different skills: technical know-how of your camera’s settings and lenses, and being confident enough to approach your subject and make them comfortable in front of the lens. This type of holiday has been designed for all those frustrated photographers, who spot National Geographic covers-in-the-making every time they visit a market, yet don’t quite know how to make them happen. Visits to markets and festivals are common, but your holiday may also specialise in unique subjects such as Whirling Dervishes, Myanmar's artisans at work, Berber villages, Chinese farmers or remote Indian tribes, all in a respectful, unobtrusive way.
It is more important to click with people than to click with the shutter.
– Alfred Eisenstaedt, photojournalist

Architecture

Making art out of art, an architectural photography holiday will allow you to frame famous buildings in all their glory, as well as encouraging you to get creative with light, shade and angles to create your own architectural abstractions. With a whole world of buildings to choose from, an architectural photography holiday can take you from the root-encased temples of Angkor Wat to the classic lines of Italian and Greek architecture and Capadoccia’s cave constructions. Not all the subjects are famous monuments; the backstreets of Istanbul, a Moroccan kasbah or a whitewashed Andalucian village will wow photographers, and allow you to set up your shots with few tourists around.

Combined

If learning how to take better photos isn’t quite enough for you, have a think about what other activities you might like to combine this with when choosing a photography holiday. Sailing is a wonderful option which takes you up that bit closer to wildlife, in your own giant, floating 'hide'. Alternatively, study Spanish alongside your daily photography sessions; this combination is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in Andalucian architecture, culture and social life. To tick off countries as well as photography tips, take an overland tour across Africa. You’ll be accompanied by a photographer but the focus here is on adventure, with truck journeys, wilderness camps and game walks.

Our top Photography Holiday

Northern Lights photography holiday in Iceland, coast & ice

Northern Lights photography holiday in Iceland, coast & ice

Photographic trip in the stunning west and southeast Iceland

From £3150 10 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 1 Feb, 15 Feb, 30 Sep, 10 Oct, 20 Oct
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Hello. If you'd like to chat about Photography or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

Tips on choosing a photography holiday

Geraldine Westrupp, from our supplier Wild Photography Holidays, shares her advice on choosing a photography holiday with the Northern Lights: “A lot of aurora places are really frigid for photographers; everything freezes over. But Iceland has the Gulf Stream too, so it never gets much below -2°C – it’s not that cold if you’re standing around for hours. But the aurora’s not enough – you need to have good landscape as well for photographers. They often come along for the aurora, but then find that actually, the landscape is just as beautiful as shooting the aurora. You have that in Iceland – as well as in Norway’s Lofoten Islands.”
Lesley Schofield, from our supplier All Points East, offers advice on choosing a photography holiday: “Our whole company specialises in off the beaten track and famous must-sees, so within a trip people get ample opportunity to photograph both. They get the iconic images – because why would you go somewhere and not go to its most famous and beautiful places? But then at the same time there are lovely and lesser known places. My brother has been travelling round the region for 20+ years now, and when I ask him if he ever gets bored of going to Angkor, he says no – because you’re always trying to get a better shot than the last time. You get a bit more excitement as you’re seeing it as something different. The way the light changes and everything else, you’re going to get a different shot every time.”
Nathan Horton, our photographer in Cambodia, has a passion for travel portraits:
“Travel photography has always been about breaking down the barriers between “us” and “them”. You might still be the visitor with the camera wrapped around your neck, but what I’m trying to get people to do if possible is engage with the country – not only take good pictures, but to get to know people better. So that hopefully becomes symbiotic – that you can take better pictures by getting to know them, and you can get to know them better by taking pictures of them.”
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: MAKE IT KENYA PHOTO / STUART PRICE] [Intro: © Wild Photography Holidays] [Wildlife: David Clode] [The Northern Lights: © Wild Photography Holidays] [Architecture: Aaron Mello] [Nathan Horton Quote: Eirik Uhlen]
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