Becky Hayes shares some lessons learned from her photo tour venture in Buenos Aires.
GREATER AFFORDABILITY and technological advances like wireless connectivity and social media integration can be credited for the omnipresence of photography in both the travel world and our everyday lives.
At Foto Ruta, a photography tour and events company my colleague and I launched in Buenos Aires last October, we feel these advances are helping people acknowledge that photography is an awesome way to see and experience place. Wherever you are, chasing the next great shot — or, as Cartier-Bresson would say, the “decisive moment” — means you really have to be in tune with your surroundings.
The idea behind Foto Ruta is to combine city exploration with creative photography to offer an experience that helps people come into more intimate contact with the city, and to document that experience on camera. Setting up the venture has been a rewarding but challenging process. Here are some tips for anyone thinking about doing the same.
There's a fine line between a lighthearted learning experience and feeling like you're back at school.
People signing up for a photo tour or excursion are likely to want to learn about photography during the experience, but they don't want to feel like they're back at school. It's important to keep the content light and interactive, and minimise time spent indoors.
Cultural relevance is key.
Photography is a fantastic way to expose people to the idiosyncrasies and culture of a place, which is one of the things that surprises people most about Foto Ruta. Participants often unwittingly capture things on camera that are later explained to them as being hugely symbolic or of great cultural relevance. For example, our participants regularly photograph Buenos Aires' cartoneros, an intriguing unofficial rubbish collecting cooperative that operates across the city and was brought about by the 2001 economic crisis. Their photos offer us an opportunity to enlighten them on the topic.
Not everyone is creative.
Or to rephrase, not everyone believes they are creative. It's the clients that lack confidence in their own creativity or ability that are often the ones that surprise us most, and prove that photo tours can be enjoyed by everyone and anyone. It's important to nurture and encourage the less confident clients. On one of our Foto Ruta excursions, we had a chap who'd been dragged along to the event by his girlfriend. After an afternoon casually shooting with his iPhone, he came back with a set of incredibly creative images.
Consider exploring a tour format that stimulates creativity. We shy away from the traditional tour group format that results in large crowds of tourists looking at and photographing the same building or square at the same time. This only suppresses creativity and results in the same photo being reproduced over and over. Look for a format that encourages people to explore their own unique perspectives and subject matter.
Consider the safety of your clients.
The combined value of your clients' photography equipment is likely to be fairly sizable. You should feel confident that the shooting locations and neighbourhoods you take your clients to are relatively safe places to shoot. We always give our clients advice on keeping their camera straps around their necks and their pockets zipped up.
Review or sharing of photos is a key part of the experience.
Despite being one of the most pleasurable parts of the photography process, reviewing and enjoying the photographic fruits of the tour is overlooked by some photo tours. We recommend incorporating a review of the photos into the tour experience, so people can share their images and get feedback from the tour guide and fellow participants.
Choose your locations carefully.
The emphasis needs to be on selecting visually inspiring locations. If they are historical or rich in culture, that's a bonus. At Foto Ruta, we avoid the cliched tourist hot spots such as Buenos Aires' Casa Rosada and the Obelisco and focus on showing tourists parts of the city they may not normally experience as a tourist, but which are equally if not more inspiring than the standard tourist sights.
Clients come in all shapes and sizes.
Be aware of the varying demands of your clients. We've adapted our tours to meet a variety of needs and run a range of different tour options, from clue-based self-exploration tours, to street-based academia workshops that provide a learning curriculum set against a backdrop of inspiring locations.
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Becky was born in London and brought up in Oxford, UK. After a number of years working for various brands and marketing and PR agencies in London, she packed her bags to explore South America with the intention of learning Spanish. The end of the journey turned out to be just the start when Buenos Aires became home, and with Canadian colleague and photographer Joss Mandryk, set up Foto Ruta, a unique and inspiring urban photography tour company.