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Wanaka Wandering & the value of photo tours

Wanaka Wandering & the value of photo tours

Wanaka Wandering

A photo tour in Wanaka, NZ, took us onto private property in the hills high above Lake Wanaka.

It was a magical location, off the beaten track, that provided for some unique images that showed the scale of the lake and surrounding mountains and valleys.

This image was made in the evening with beautiful blues, greens and golds in the countryside.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Value of Photo Tours

As an experienced scuba diver1 I am comfortable diving in most diving situations, yet when I go to new places I enjoy the opportunity to dive with a local guide. Even though I might have greater experience or qualifications in diving overall, local dive guides generally know a lot more about diving in the local environment that I do.

I’ve had the opportunity to take several dedicated photo tours, including one in Ubud, Bali and one in Wanaka, New Zealand. While I hear some experienced photographers question the value of such photo tours, sometimes of belittling the participants for ‘stamp collecting’ images, I think that such tours can have several advantages.

General Advantages

The right pace. Photographers often lament that when travelling in general tours the pace of the tour is too fast to allow them to stop and create great images. Other participants will complain that the photogs are slowing the group down. Specialised photo tours mean structure the pace for photographers, and everyone knows what they are getting themselves into.

Locations are picked for the conditions. The photo tours I’ve undertaken have had a general list of locations, but always advertise that conditions will be selected for the day. To suit photographic conditions.

Meet others with similar interests. On photo tours you might meet with other photographer who share similar interests. This might provide shooting partners for other days in the area.

The chance to talk photography with other enthusiasts. The travel to and from locations, the breaks and meals are times when participants and guides will strike up conversations. You can talk photography, knowing that everyone is a willing participant in the conversation ;-).

Advantages for the novice

Experiential instruction. While not courses, per se, photo tours offer guides who understand photography, and can offer tips and tricks.

Chance to try out equipment. Some photo tours will supply specialised equipment for the type of photography. This might include tripods, filters, etc.

Permission to play without being rushed. Not having non-photogs around means that the photogs can focus on the task at hand.

For the experienced photographer

Get you to the best photo spots. Many of my favourite photos have come from once in a lifetime destinations2. While I research my locations before travelling, it is nice to have someone who can take you to the best locations, at the best times.

Access to unique locations. The photo tour I took in Wanaka, NZ, went high into the hills above the Lake, overlooking the town in the distance. The location was on private property, and the operator, Ridgeline Tours had exclusive access to the site. It was a unique and magical site for late afternoon and sunset images.

Tips / tricks / critiques from another photographer. Regardless of how experienced we are, there is always someone better. The guides on photo tours generally really know the photographic techniques for the areas they are in. This critique can shorten the learning curve.

Opportunity to try out new forms of photography. You might be a great landscape photographer, but perhaps a photo tour will provide the opportunity to try out nightscapes.

Final Thoughts

I would not, nor would I recommend, making photo tours a daily activity on a holiday or adventure. But there are reasons to consider that they might be advantageous from time-to-time. If a photographer enjoys the occasional photo tour, all power to them.


  1. As a PADI Course Director I teach all levels of scuba diving from beginner to higher level instructor courses. 
  2. Or at least locations I will visit only rarely. 
That Wanaka Willow

That Wanaka Willow

Commonly known as thatWanakaTree, the Wanaka Willow is a tree that grows out in the waters of New Zealand’s Lake Wanaka.

Supposedly the most photographed tree in the world, the Wanaka Willow attracts dozens of photographers each sunrise and sunset to capture imagery of this rather unique vista.

As with all of our experiences on the South Island, Wanaka was a wonderful place to stop and make images of mountains, lakes and of course #thatWanakaTree.