In part one posted a couple of days back (Click Here) we looked at what I think makes a professional photographer, and in part two we’re going to look at what goes into the planning and conducting of a typical photo workshop and if simply being a “professional photographer” is all that it takes.
You need to do your homework
When I know who’s coming on the trip and assuming they’ve never been with me previously I send out an email a couple of weeks ahead outlining what happens on a trip and attach a couple of documents containing information that have proven to be useful.
I didn’t always do this but I found I was getting the same questions on the first day on most trips,and especially from people who’d never been on a liveaboard say, or perhaps never visited Egypt before, assuming thats where the workshop is being held.
So everyone now gets a PDF that leads them by the hand from airport to airport,transfer and onto the boat and the first couple of hours, and then the first day onboard.
For veterans this may seem excessive, but the amount of positive feedback I’ve got from newcomers about how much this allayed their fears and worries and answered their questions on the first day and a half made me realise that this was a good idea.
The second document lets them know how I conduct the workshops and the running order of how the week pans out.
If it’s a trip further afield I attach something more location specific.
Contained in the email is some questions I ask of our trip goers, about their experience both in diving and photography, and what they would like to achieve from the week.
I also ask what photo kit they have, which can be anything from GoPro to DSLR, particular model numbers and any accessories they are bringing such as strobes and lenses that they are bringing along. This way if I don’t already know or am familiar with a model of camera (which is getting rarer these days), then I can download the instructions from the manufacturers website and load them onto my iPad, making it easier to navigate menus and buttons on their kit if I’m not savvy with it already.
You need to make yourself available…….all the time
It’s not my holiday and it’s a massive privilege to do this for a living so the least I can do from first light til last is make myself available to everybody, so my rule is that I am there for all the guests morning noon and night. Although you’ll occasionally find me in my cabin during crossings as even after all these years working on boats I still occasionally get a little seasick!
So it goes without saying that you need to really like people, even the ones that people find annoying, at least whilst you’re working anyway 😉
And you need infinite patience and understanding that just because you’ve been immersed in photography most of your life, not everyone else has, so a rule I have is that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
Most of the time this is easy because folk are nice I generally find, and if you’re nice to them then they usually return the favour, and we all have our little foibles and quirks which makes life interesting.
Normally I deliver a talk after the third dive about a number of different topics, and between the dives I sit with people one to one or in small groups and go through their shots so far, and this is also the time I use to teach post processing and photo editing using Adobe software.
This is all very casual, as I am aware that people are also on holiday so I do my best not to badger folk, but if they want help of any kind I’m there for them.
A very small amount of the time someone will rub you up the wrong way, life’s like that but you can’t let it show and all you can do is keep being pleasant and helpful because it would be the most awfully unprofessional thing to lose it with someone in front of everyone else, creating an atmosphere that effects all onboard.
You need the crew onside
You aren’t the most important person on the boat, and no point in trying to be.
Skipper is the boss and he’s in charge of everyones safety and well being.
It pays dividends to get to know him and work with him.
I have witnessed trip leaders back when I used to guide, try and throw their weight about and ask for unrealistic things, normally it’s a logistical issue about where the boat is, clashing with where they want to be, and then their unfamiliarity with where they actually are, which is the real reason preventing the boat from simply upping sticks and going where the egotistical trip leader demands they be.
If you have a good workable plan beforehand about what you want to do and where you want to go, then talk to the skipper and the guides about the practicalities involved.
It may look like a tiny distance on the chart from one place to another, but charts can be deceptive, the skipper may need to take a route across open rougher sea which may take much longer than you think and maybe prevent you completing all the dives you want that day and throw the rest of the weeks plan off kilter.
Even with my regular skippers and guides we have a sit down upon arrival and plan a rough itinerary for the week, this is to take into account the latest weather conditions, how rough the crossings are going to be, and working all this in with our planned route and itinerary.
On a photo trip you are asking more from the crews as their normal clockwork like routine is being chopped and changed, for us the photographers benefit.
A normal dive trip is a whole lot more straightforward for crews, when you are doing the same set of dives week in and out, so photo trips demand more of them, and they work really hard to begin with.
It helps me that I can speak basic arabic, but more importantly I show the crew the respect they deserve , and they all know that I understand how a dive boat runs, being aware of what is practical to ask for and what is not.
Working in this collaborative way has allowed me to stretch the plans to the benefit of my guests in ways that would be totally off limits if i’d let my ego clash with the guides and the crews.
And I’m glad to say many of these crew I consider to be my friends and I really love working with them.
A productive itinerary
You need to deliver an itinerary that takes into account a number of factors.
Photographically productive dive sites that you will want to visit multiple times to perfect techniques.
Luckily my good relationship with crews and guides has given me some choice divesites often off the beaten track, that rarely get visited, and we are always looking for new spots that can deliver for underwater photographers.
We plan our dive days to factor in that if we are at busy sites, we will try and avoid diving when everyone else is in the water, something else which is difficult on regular itineraries.
As we may well put off a dive for an hour, which if our crews weren’t flexible to this disruption, and it is more of a disruption than you might imagine, upsetting things like crew time off, food prep, and mealtimes thrown into disarray, decent surface intervals, all things that are usually timed with more rigid schedules for four dive days and then you can see why it’s often a big ask.
We also try and pick places that don’t need rib access, and if we have to use ribs, the skippers will do their damnedest for me to pick mooring positions as close to the site as possible to minimise journey time.
All off these things maximise the enjoyment and comfort of photographers who may well be carrying a lot of kit.
Here is an earlier post I did (please click here) which outlines why spending time at the same site is very popular with photographers it also includes a video with the trip goers themselves saying why they like doing things in this way.
You’ll hear them talk in the video about the extended freedoms that they don’t get on a regular excursion or from a non photo orientated trip.
Managing everybody’s expectations
I know from my initial email out, and the guests replies, that I usually have a big cross section of diving and photographic abilities joining me on the trip.
Some people are experienced divers but are new to underwater photography, some people are experienced photographers new to diving, and every possible spread of skills in-between.
So I can never make assumptions about peoples abilities which is why I repeat the mantra of “there is no such thing as a stupid question” frequently and mean it.
After so many trips under my belt now a fair percentage of people on the trips are people who have been with me many times before, in fact one couple have been with me over ten times now.
So having people who are quite experienced, alongside first timers, was a bit of a problem for me, because I want to deliver everybody with value for money. Giving our newbies the basic skills, and providing the regulars with something new but I’ve found though that the trips have evolved and what happens now is that I do my usual daily talks, and I respond to the growing band of regulars by answering their more specific questions, on an ad hoc basis.
It’s the best way I’ve found that manages the expectations of all.
And I’m pretty sure that a lot of the regulars come along now because of the freedoms that the itinerary offers, and the camaraderie of diving with familiar faces.
Go on, have a go yourself what’s stopping you?
If you think you can lead a trip or want to run a workshop and you can gather the numbers together to make the trip work and you’ll need to plan ahead, at least a year I’d suggest.
Then why don’t you?
And if you think that you have the patience to manage complete newbies who are bit overwhelmed with it all, and take them to a basic level of confidence boosting accomplishment, at the same time providing an itinerary that is productive for those people keen to take their basic skills to the next level.
And not forgetting those very experienced underwater photographers that need the freedom to practice their skills in a great environment with other like minded souls, then give it a go.
Others have before you, and as long as you can get the required numbers onboard, and have followed this template or something similar, then you’ll have earned your free place.
You’ll have really earned your free place.
It’s a brilliant, fun,and rewarding job but you’re not on holiday and you must never forget that.
The first two trips this year are full, with the third in the Philippines very limited spaces left, but there are some places still left for Mexico, but they’ll go fast as we are keeping the numbers down as I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity. See what fun we had two years ago and click here.