I returned recently from a photography tour to the Li River in China led by Ocean Capture owner, Jonathan Chritchley, but if I’d listen to the comments of another photographer, I might never have gone. With specialist photography holidays more popular than ever, it pays to choose not by destination but by photographer.
When I was considering the trip to the Li River almost 2 years ago, a professional photographer (who shall remain nameless) dismissed it as a “one-shot trip”. By this, I assume they were referring to the iconic shot of the fishermen who use cormorants to catch fish. The photographer has a very different style to me; they favour traditional landscape and travel photography whereas I seek minimalism and monochrome. Fortunately, I’d seen enough images of the Li River, including those by Michael Kenna, to dismiss the comment. I went ahead and booked the trip.
It turned out to be so much more than a one-shot trip with opportunities to photograph the stunning karst mountains that, in the local tongue, are called the Dragon’s Backbone; ancient rice terraces cut into contoured hillsides; the traditional village of Ping An, a veritable Shangri-La; water buffalo at work; limestone peaks shrouded in morning mist; and, of course, iconic cormorant fishermen. What’s more, as well as an inspiring destination for photography, it turned out to be a great adventure, with one morning shoot that will live with me forever and that was the worth the trip alone.
Not long after I took up photography as a hobby, I booked a tour to Tuscany with another well-known landscape photographer. Between making my booking and the trip departure date, my style evolved and I realised that the photographer would probably be chasing flaming sunsets while I’d be looking for scenes that translated into monochrome. That’s not to say that can’t be achieved in Tuscany – I’ve seen some wonderful minimalist and monochrome shots – but it would have been more difficult to achieve with a photographer who sees the world so very differently from me. I contacted the photographer to discuss my dilemma and he kindly refunded my deposit.
Both these instances are a salutary reminder that a location may be ‘iconic’, popular or fashionable, but that doesn’t mean it will suit your photography or deliver the results you want. This is doubly true if you’re on a photography tour where the locations and times of the shoots are, to a large extent, decided for you. It’s why ‘people’ will always beat ‘place’ when it comes to heading off with a photography buddy or group. As the Italians say, ‘meglio sola che male accompagnata’. Better to be alone than in bad company.