If you look through photography magazines, you will find advertisements for photo excursions all over the world. Some are actual safaris to Africa and the like, with a chance to shoot exotic animals, but many others are to photogenic locations almost anywhere in the US or the rest of the world. These excursions are often expensive, and, unless you are familiar with the guide’s work, may be below or above your experience level. Although it is possible to learn a great deal working with individuals that have far more experience than you, it can also be a bit intimidating. In any case, the good excursions give you a chance to go to popular photographic locations with an experienced guide who will save you many hours of scouting to find the ideal camera positions, time of day to shoot, places to stay, etc.
Although you may not consider yourself a “guide”, there is no reason you can’t put together your own “Photo Safari” for a group of friends or local photographers.
You may not want to advertise in Popular Photography, but arranging a photographic get together is a good way to improve the picture taking of everyone involved. Most photographers approach the process of making an image differently. By working as a group you can compare the techniques others use and by observing the results, reach conclusions as to what works & what doesn’t. Of course you can do this all by yourself, however it would take much longer & you may not think of some of the approaches other photographers might use. It will also give you an excuse to visit near by or even distant locations that, for what ever reason, you haven’t managed to get to.
A successful excursion requires some planning. The first step is to decide where to go. No matter where you live (or where your RV is parked) there is some site worth photographing nearby. When traveling, think about the places you have found on your own, or the photographs you found that peaked your interest in the area. If you are not familiar with photo opportunities at your location I have found local libraries and tourist bureaus often have lots of information about the area. Some other places to check for suggestions – local bookstores & framing shops. You can often find photographs of local scenery hanging on the walls of banks, doctor & dentist offices, art galleries and restaurants. Some suggestions to look for include local scenery such as streams, waterfalls, lakes, mountains, etc. You may not have all of these, but there is beautiful scenery within 100 miles of just about anywhere. Other locations of interest include zoos, nature centers, historic buildings, and industrial facilities. Another interesting project includes street photography – shooting pictures of people.
In addition to places to go, there are things happening that are worth photographing. Check local papers, web sites & TV & radio news programs for stories about things happening the area. There is usually some kind of festival happening every week throughout much of the year. For example, I live is a small city in upstate New York. We have an annual Harborfest celebration, a Pumpkin Festival, The usual 4th of July parade, the Lake Ontario Bird Festival, state & county fairs, etc. There are a number of local organizations that offer nature walks, house & garden tours. Although it often makes more sense to shoot some of these venues as an individual, there is no reason a group can’t shoot as individuals, then get together to review & discuss the results. The chance to see what others have done at the same location is often useful for shooting the next day or next time the event takes place.
Decide on the size of your group. Keep it small when starting out – you don’t want to go through the hassles of scheduling a bus for your first project! Four or five individuals is a good size group to start with; once you have organized a couple of excursions, you can increase the size if the project lends itself to large groups. Try to match the physical abilities of the individuals with the location you plan to visit – if the individuals in your group don’t hike, that beautiful waterfall 5 miles into the woods isn’t going to work!
If you are going to shoot at a zoo or other commercial or organized venue, be sure to check ahead of time for any rules the organization has for photographers and/or groups. You should also be aware that although it may be legal to take photographs of almost anything as long as you are on public property, law enforcement frowns on just about anything that looks like you are gathering information that could be construed as preparing for a terrorist attack. A refinery can provide wonderful photo opportunities, but while taking pictures of one you may well end up with a visit by the local law!
It is a good idea to scout the location ahead of time to choose some good shooting locations so that your group has some starting points. You should also put together a list of photo equipment necessary for the type of photography the venue suggests. For example, if you are planning to take photos of a waterfall, a tripod, neutral density filters, cable release, etc. would be useful. If the location lends itself to close ups, a macro lens or a point & shoot camera capable of taking macros would make sense. In addition, suggestions of footwear, clothing, food, and other supplies necessary for the individuals would be helpful.
Although he is far beyond being an amateur photographer, Steve Bingham of the Dusty Lens website put together a workshop using the Technology Forum at RV.net. You may not have the beautiful locations of the Southwest, but there is no reason you can’t do the same.