Frequently Asked Questions

Selecting your photo tour

What is a Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris tour like?
We design our trips using just a few important guiding principles:
1. Maximize photography opportunities
2. Create trips that are safe, comfortable, informative and fun
3. Handle all logistics so you can simply show up and shoot

Unlike other tours that offer photography as one of several activities, photography is THE activity on our trips. Each day our itinerary is organized to optimize our shooting time in best areas for photography. We time our wildlife and landscape trips around nature—migration patterns, fall color, when animals have their young, etc.—and cultural events. Simply put, our days are spent immersed in the activity that we love—photography.

While we didn’t invent photo tours, we’ve spent the past four decades refining, improving and innovating them.
What are some tips for selecting a photo tour or workshop?
If you’re relatively new to photography and/or this is your first photo trip, consider a trip that is easy and relatively close to home. Most importantly, look for a trip on which you’ll photograph subjects that interest you most—wildlife, birds, landscapes, culture, etc.

If you want help choosing a trip, call us. We’ll help you make an informed decision and find a trip that matches your interests, photography skill, and activity level. With several dozen photo tours offered each year, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
What’s included in a Photo Safaris tour?
Our trips typically include all lodging, meals, internal tour transportation, leadership and instruction, as described on each tour’s web page. Not included are bar bills, communication costs, laundry, items of a personal nature and airfare to and from the tour’s starting point. Contact us if you have any questions about what’s included in a particular trip.

When comparing our trips to those offered by other companies, be sure to note what’s included in each trip you’re considering. All photo tours are NOT created equal and some companies will “nickel and dime” you with things you would expect to be included in the cost of the trip.
What level of photography experience do I need to go on one of your trips?
Our trips are created for photographers of every skill level. No doubt it helps to understand camera basics prior to your travels. Reviewing your camera manual (and bringing a copy of it with you on your trip) is a good start. If you have questions during your trip, our leaders will be there to answer them.
Do I need professional quality photo equipment?
Quality amateur equipment will do nicely. These days Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic and other companies manufacture both consumer and professional lines of camera equipment. While you may start out with some basic equipment, you will find there is always something else you will want to add to your photo bag. Most of our trip participants start out with two camera bodies (from the same manufacturer) and a few zoom lenses. As a primary camera on our trips, cell phones are not suitable equipment.
What kind of accommodations can I expect?
We normally reside in up-scale or “best available” accommodations, but we generally refrain from extravagance. Proximity to our intended photo subjects is our primary consideration when choosing accommodations.
Do you have to be physically fit to go on a tour?
Our trips are designed for people of average fitness who are in good health. Each of our photo tours is given and Activity Level ratings of Easy, Moderate or Strenuous. These ratings can be found in the Trip Details section on each tour’s web page and you can always call us for more details about a tour’s activity level.
Who travels on your tours?
Our trips attract people interested in maximizing their photography while traveling. Our groups are comprised of like-minded individuals—working people and retired—sharing ideas and experiences regarding nature photography, camera equipment, photo processing, the environment, wildlife, cultures and more. And while trip members come to us with diverse backgrounds and photographic abilities, we find all are spirited individuals who share a love of nature, the outdoors, travel and a desire to communicate that love through photography.
Can I bring my non-photographing spouse/friend?
Absolutely!  Non-photographing participants who join our trips often tell us that they appreciate the pace of our trips and learn a lot about natural history, wildlife, culture, etc. from our trip leaders. A GoPro or other video camera is often a great way to involve friends and family with your photography travel.
How many participants are on each photo tour?
Typically between 5 and 16 trip participants. When we exclusively charter an entire ship for Arctic or Antarctica voyages the number of travelers can be substantially higher.
Is a group photo tour right for me?
Only you can answer this question, but there are many advantages to a group trip:
  • Your time and energy is freed up to focus on photography rather than logistics (especially important on trips in foreign countries)
  • You’ll be with people who share you love of photography, travel, nature, etc.
  • You’ll almost certainly learn something new about photography—from our leaders but also from fellow trip participants
  • You’ll travel with leaders who are experienced and knowledgeable about the places you visit
  • There is a level of safety in numbers—something you don’t have when traveling alone
  • We’re pretty sure you’ll make a friend or two along the way
We hear all the time from clients who are surprised at how much the enjoy group photo tours—most become of them become repeat clients!
What is the average age of your trip participants?
Our trip participants generally range in age from their late-20s to mid-70s, with most in their mid-50s to late-60s.
What is the minimum age for tour participation and are children welcome?
Tour participants traveling independently must be 18 years old. Travelers under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and minors under 16 years old must be pre-approved (by us) before enrollment.
Is it possible to have a single room or an assigned roommate?
We offer single rooming on most tours and workshops for a single supplement fee which we can provide upon request. Most trips fees are quoted for double occupancy. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations, or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available.  If you request a roommate for a ship-based cruise and one is not available, there is no additional single supplement fee.

In consideration of other guests, please consider single accommodations if you snore heavily, use a CPAP machine, or are an erratic sleeper.

Booking and registering for your trip

How do I sign-up for a trip?
A phone call to our office is the best way to register. We will confirm your place(s) on a tour during your call. To complete your registration please have a credit card (Visa, MasterCard or American Express) in hand for the trip deposit.  We will immediately email you a registration form to complete, electronically sign and return to us.  Then your registration is complete.  To Register by Phone, call 206-463-5383, Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm, US Pacific time.

Send an email to with the following:

Preferred trip name and dates
Full names of all travelers
Roommate requests (include genders of all requesters)
Best phone number to reach you during our regular business hours

Please allow 1-2 business days for response and confirmation if space is available.  Registration by phone is preferred.
How far in advance do I need to book a trip?
Book as soon as you can. Some of our tours sell out just a few days after we post them on our website. Many tours sell out more than a year in advance. Don’t be disappointed, register early to ensure a spot on the trip and departure dates of your choice!
If a tour is full can I be placed on a waitlist and notified if a place becomes available?
Absolutely, just call or email our office!  If space becomes available on a waitlisted trip, we contact people on the waitlist in the order we received names.
Can I pay for my tour with a credit card?
We accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express for deposit payments. Remaining tour payments can be paid by personal check or wire transfer, or by credit card with an additional 3% convenience fee.
When is the final payment due?
Every tour is a little different and final payment generally corresponds to when we need to pay our suppliers on your behalf. The final payment schedule can be found for each individual trip on our website by clicking on the Terms and Conditions or Special Terms and Conditions link in the right-hand column.  Once enrolled on a trip, we also send payment information via email in your “Initial Tour Information” packet.
What are your enrollment terms and conditions?
Terms and conditions can vary by trip. For a given trip’s web page, click on the Terms and Conditions or Special Terms and Conditions link on the right-hand column of the specific tour web page. We also send a Terms and Conditions form by email for you to electronically sign and return to us to complete your enrollment.

Travel Insurance

Do you recommend I purchase travel insurance?
All participants are strongly urged to purchase travel protection insurance.
This insurance is available from Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris plus numerous other insurance and travel professionals or online.  Policies are available that insure many pre-existing medical conditions when purchased within 21 days of trip enrollment.  Policies covering cancellation for “any reason” are also available.
Unforeseen causes for having to cancel or interrupt your trip are many including serious personal or family health reasons, death from accidents, home fire, flood or other natural disasters, job termination, jury duty, and airline flight cancellations that prohibit you from arriving in time before a tour departs, among others.
Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.”  They assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring cancellation.
Evacuation insurance is MANDATORY on all of our cruises and some remote land-based trips—please check the tour page in this website or contact our office by telephone or email for details.
Does Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris sell travel insurance?
Yes, we recommend you purchase travel insurance soon after you enroll in a trip--and within 21 days of your enrollment date to cover pre-existing medical conditions. We can provide Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance, Emergency Evacuation Insurance, or Cancel For Any Reason Policies. These are separate policies and you should carefully familiarize yourself with their provisions and exclusions.

Advance preparation for your trip

When should I purchase my airline tickets?
Approximately four months prior to your trip’s departure date, you’ll receive our Practical Information packet with your final invoice. This packet will instruct you on where the trip starts and ends and when you need to arrive for—and depart from—your trip. That is when you should purchase your airline tickets. When you do purchase them—or any other travel related services like extra pre- or post-trip hotel nights—be sure to add their value to your travel insurance policy. If you plan to purchase tickets for your flights earlier than when you receive your Practical Information packet, contact our office before purchasing them.
Can I drive my own vehicle while on a tour in the US?
We generally discourage this due to insurance considerations, parking issues and the possibility of vehicles getting separated in transit from one shooting location to the next. Contact us if this is a necessity.
Do you help arrange travel international visas?
We refer our clients to a convenient visa service: Travel Document Systems at
Do you book our air travel?
If you need assistance booking your flights, contact Kathy Hoffmann at 58 Stars in Seattle.  She is familiar with our itineraries and schedules and books the flights for all of our leaders.  Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris and 58 Stars are not affiliated in any way.  

Phone:  206-364-6160, 425-483-8687 (9 AM–4 PM PT)

Recommended photo gear

What camera gear is recommended for my tour?
We send a recommended gear list—specific to your trip—in our Practical Information packet approximately 4–5 months prior to your departure. For general information on what to bring on a photo tour, check Gearing Up—Notes on Travel and Photographic Gear (there is also a Gearing Up link at the bottom of every web page on our website.)

Packing for your trip

What should I carry in my carry-on bag?
We advise that you pack the following items in your carry-on luggage:
  • medications in their original, labeled containers
  • eyeglasses, contact lenses and contact lens solution
  • important documents such as a copy of your travel insurance policy, medical records, allergy information and emergency contact information
  • camera gear, memory cards and batteries
  • any valuables you bring along

Please leave expensive jewelry at home.
How do I get my photo gear on a plane?
There is no panacea for the carry-on dilemma. This is due in part to variations in airport and airline security and weight/space restrictions on various aircraft. On US domestic flights you are usually—but not always—allowed one carry-on bag plus a small "personal item." For photographers that usually means a camera bag and a laptop computer “briefcase.” Within the US there is normally no problem taking a camera backpack and computer briefcase onto a full-sized jet (this may differ on regional commuter flights due to cabin/overhead space). For their “personal item” trip participants usually bring a briefcase containing a laptop computer, several external hard drives, (possibly) a camera body, other small digital accessories, and their prescription drugs.  New cameras like the Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds systems and other mirrorless cameras are much lighter and more compact than SLR gear, making your gear much easier to transport in carry-on baggage.  A camera backpack is a good way to transport the daily gear you will need on the trip, thereby avoiding the discomfort of lugging an over-the-shoulder bag. Avoid jumbo "pro-size" camera packs that may be rejected as carry-on luggage. Some of our trips are operated in areas where wheeled ("rolling") camera bags may be used in lieu of a backpack. Remember, whatever photo gear you bring, you should be able to comfortably carry it!

In general it is easier to carry a bit more gear onto the plane if you fly business class or if you are an “elite” flyer with early boarding privileges on your airline.
How much checked luggage can I bring?
In general we ask trip participants to limit their gear to one large rolling duffel bag. This varies from trip to trip. For ship-based trips there is often room for some extra gear. Luggage space on van-based trips is very limited and we request you pack more judiciously. Porterage is not available in many locations where we travel and you should be able to transfer your luggage from our vans or other transportation to our lodging and possibly up a stairway (possibly with a bit of assistance.)
What clothing should I bring?
Clothing depends on where you are going.  Approximately 4–5 months before your trip we send a detailed clothing suggestion checklist and helpful weather information in our Practical Information packet.

Living on the road

What kind of daily schedule can I expect on a tour?
We are usually out early for sunrise and often photograph until after sunset, typically with a midday lunch break (either in the field or at a restaurant). We aim to make photography both productive and fun without beating up our tour participants. During late fall, winter and early spring, days are shorter so our field time can be shorter than on spring and summer trips. On Arctic trips, with 24 hours of daylight, we may photograph during “nighttime” hours when the light is soft and golden and sleep during midday when the light is harsh and “contrasty.”
Will I have access to Wi-Fi, Internet, or cell service on my tour?
On most of our trips Wi-Fi is available at some point during the trip, sometimes for a fee. Cell service varies depending on your carrier and the service you have purchased. In really remote locations, bringing a satellite phone with you may be the only option if you must be in contact with family or work. Satellite phones are available to rent from several online sources.
What happens if the weather is bad?
Typically we go out unless the weather is “terrible”—but we'll do our best to ensure that you have a great time, no matter the conditions. Bad weather often brings great photography opportunities and the possibility of dramatic images.  But, your safety is our most important consideration.
Will there be any formal instruction where the group gets together to look at photos and discuss photography?
Our Photo Tours are designed to get you to the right place at the right time to accomplish the tour’s photography goals. Of course, with one or more expert professional photographers leading photo tour, you always have an available resource to answer your questions and share tips, techniques and ideas.
More Questions?
Contact Us

Send an email here

(206) 463-5383
(8am - 5pm Pacific Time)


US Postal Service Address:
P.O. Box 1637
Vashon Island, WA 98070, USA


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