Desire: Photographers shooting in odd, sometimes inaccessible locations. Needed: Photographer to set up shop and work with clients amid Antarctic icebergs and penguins, Hudson Bay’s frozen bears and tundra, peak predators on vast outs in Serengeti or Maasai Mara. If this sounds like what you want, how does the placement of the photography guide play out?
I had the opportunity to speak with three of the top operators in the industry about what it takes to get a position working with them as a photography instructor. I talked to Susan Adie about G Adventures, who runs MS Expedition in and around Svalbard; Jessica Burtnick’s Northern border, who operates year-round tours in polar bear country, Churchill Manitoba; and Marius Coetzee’s Oryx photo tourThe leader in African wildlife adventures.
All three stores offer travelers the chance to sign up for adventures guided or complimented by professional photographers. The photography guide is primarily location-based to help clients take the best possible photos. For photographers, it’s a hectic job: educating, shooting, reviewing client images, handling logistics, instructing, enriching, and entertaining. The rewards for photographers are, at least in my opinion, well-deserved: an opportunity to nurture potential photographers, create new champions for today’s demanding habitats. More and more people advocate to stay ahead of the looming environmental changes, and, of course, the benefits of photographing in the most magical places on earth.
So just how do you get into this world?
Passion for more than photography
Adie, Burtnick and Coetzee all return with the same key trait they look for in photographers: passion. Adie of G Adventures emphasizes that the goal of their tours is more than just helping passengers tick a box on their bucket list. Adie explains that it is important that their resident photographers care about the product and mindset that G Adventures is promoting. For G Adventures, the residence’s photographers must encourage guests to change their perspective, to create ambassadors for the South Pole and the North Pole.
Burtnick explains that Frontiers North is always looking for photographers who have demonstrated a commitment not only to photography but also to the habitats that their expeditions contain. It’s not enough to be a good photographer, photographers must have a passion for inspiring guests to protect the fragile places they visit.
Coetzee notes that anyone looking to become a photography guide should ask themselves two questions. First, do I like the habitats that I will guide? Second, do I enjoy working with people to encourage them to love the same environment?
It seems to have been assumed that wildlife photographers love wildlife and that landscape photography is a fascination with the environment. All three vendors I spoke to emphasized that the demonstrated commitment to wildlife and environmental advocacy is one of the most important criteria for getting a photography guide into the profession. .
A portfolio to travel
Of course, you will have to become an expert in photography in the places you want to work. Oryx, G Adventures, and Frontiers North all explained to me that they only take experienced photographers on board. Honestly, these are companies. We cannot insist that they are looking for profit. Photographers should expect that their portfolio and experience will be used to help sell the adventures they will guide. Photography guides will likely spend a significant amount of time on the location. Even for residency programs designed to help residency photographers thrive, strong evidence of successful wildlife and landscape photography is a starting point.
Frontiers North hires photography guides with experience in many fields. They not only hire experienced wildlife photographers, but also astrophysicists, aurora photographers, photojournalists and landscape photographers. If you’re looking to check in, make sure you have images that might tempt passengers to join the ride.
Oryx and G Adventures both agree that recognition through awards is a nice addition to a photographer’s profile and can help sell certain rides, but both vendors offer prizes. I like that basically, a photographer’s work has to inspire guests. As Burtnick said, a photographer’s work has to be appealing to the audience, it has to be curious. After all, isn’t that really what all of these adventure providers hope to incite their guests, curiosity?
As each and every vendor says, a photographer’s portfolio must inspire potential guests.
Who can teach, do
All three vendors also emphasize the need for their photography instructors to be teachers. Coetzee is clear that his photography instructors must be professionals who not only take pictures but teach both beginners and advanced amateurs. For Oryx, their guides must be able to help guests expand their photography skills. For example, they must be able to teach guests how to apply panning, slow motion, and backlighting to wildlife situations. Oryx’s goal is to help guests take home photos they’ve traveled halfway around the world.
Many guests on adventure trips are not professional photographers. Visitors will often take these trips to learn about photography. Adie points out that photography guides are with their guests almost 24/7; therefore, photography guides must be patient and understanding as guests encounter increasing photography difficulties. Tour guides must be able to help guests learn about and work with almost any camera brand. Burtnick notes that guests will often bring upgraded rental equipment, with little knowledge of how the new equipment will work. Here, the guide must be able to step in and help the guest find out.
Anyone who’s ever been on an expedition or hunt knows that there’s a lot of downtime while animals sleep until midday, or expeditions include long distances. Here, photography guides with G Adventures are expected to host small workshops or ship-wide workshops. Similarly, Frontiers North hopes their photography guide is knowledgeable about the history and ecology of Hudson Bay to enrich passenger downtime, providing lectures for the entire group. Coetzee hopes its photography guides will review images with their guests and hold private seminars to help guests take their photography to the next level.
It’s fascinating to sit in the middle of Ngorongoro crater to watch cheetahs hunt, while a male bear chases a female in Wapusk National Park, or while a young elephant seal crawls to the ton. attack an animal that dominates the beach, to pick up your camera and answer shutter speed questions from a visitor you’re only half paying attention to. However, as Coetzee says, guides must be present for guests. Building your portfolio should come close to a second of guest demand. The best photography guides know this.
There was a time when big-name photographers took guests out on safari, took their pictures and helped the guests as an afterthought. In a competitive world, the needs of the customer must come first. How tour guides help shape the guest experience will be a fundamental factor in shaping their view of the trip as a whole. A good experience means a repeat guest, it means more money flowing into local economies and helping the local environment.
Also of note, guides spend a lot of time on social media, sharing their experiences with a wider audience rather than working with their guests, much like tour guides working on a list. their investments first. If I walk into any kind of retail or service store and the staff are more interested in their phones than helping me, I won’t have a good experience. If you want your customers to have a good experience, stop focusing on yourself. You certainly won’t win the job competition with a reputable supplier if your feed is rife with stories of your guests standing around while you inflate their tires.
Adie explains that G Adventures guides must be able to inspire guests to become ambassadors for the South Pole or the North Pole. Through their photography and workshops, photographers must help guests see the fragility of the environment they are in, to see how much help it needs to survive. We are on the verge of losing some of the most iconic wildlife and habitats on earth. If a photography guide can’t encourage their guests to get up to these locations when they return home, what good are they?
Burtnick used an interesting word when we talked about the soft skills an instructor needs: advanced. For Frontiers North, a guide has to be able to do more than show off a few good photos and teach a new technique, they have to be able to do more than fill their downtime, they have to capable of providing experiences of depth and breadth, to help guests feel like they’re connected to a place.
There are a number of other skills that may be of interest to tour operators who are looking for tour guides. As you probably know, no hunting or exploration trip is without its hiccups. Permits are revoked, border gates are closed, weather slows down progress, lost passports, flat tires, drifting roads, etc. Getting familiar with the local logistics can save the day. Understanding the language and culture of a particular place can help you solve many problems in the long run. As Coetzee said, being able to help a supplier holistically, on a real-world basis, makes you not only an instructor but also a partner.
Perhaps it would also be helpful to acquire some of the skills that travel providers are always looking for. Learn to ride an inflatable boat (zodiac sign), take some advanced first aid courses, get it with a gun so you can run a polar bear patrol. All of these are useful extras that can help you land a spot.
Get there from here
But, of course, COVID. The past two years have weakened the tourism industry. Most vendors are in rebuild mode. My suggestion is to reach out, but be patient. These days, skeleton workers are struggling to meet the return demand.
Build your portfolio. Find ways to show your passion for the positions you want to work for, get involved with relevant charities or NGOs. Building a strong resume on successful teaching experience and taking the time to complete a few courses can make you a more attractive photographer.
I’d be happy to see any other suggestions in the comments section below.
All images are used with the permission of the photographer as noted.