Selecting your photo tour
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 over four decades refining, improving and innovating them.
Van Os Photo Safaris specializes in immersive photography tours, focusing on maximizing your photography field time with wildlife and nature. We distinguish ourselves from photography workshops that consume some of your precious vacation time with image processing in hotel conference rooms—something you could easily learn at home through numerous affordable online Photoshop courses.
If you’re a budding photographer or embarking on your first photo journey, we recommend choosing a first trip that’s convenient and not too far from home. The key is to select a trip where you can capture images of what fascinates you the most, be it wildlife, birds, landscapes, culture, etc. On this “shakedown cruise” you will get experience organizing your camera equipment and packing for transporting your gear to the trip departure point. It’s a great time to work one-on-one with a trip leader on field technique.
Should you need assistance in selecting a photo tour, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to guide you in making an informed choice and finding a trip that aligns with your interests, photography skills, and activity level. With the array of photo tours that we conduct each year, you’ll have lots to choose from.
We are in the “trip-of-a-lifetime” business—a company that delivers unparalleled nature and outdoor photography experiences.
Our trips typically include all lodging, meals, internal tour transportation, entrance fees, 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 exclude things you would expect to be included in the cost of the trip.
Our trips are created for photographers of every skill level, and we do our utmost to provide a photographically productive and enjoyable field experience. 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.
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. Though used frequently by our travelers for social media images, cell phones are generally not suitable equipment as a primary camera.
We normally reside in up-scale or “best available” accommodations, but we generally refrain from extravagance. Comfort and proximity to our intended photo subjects are primary considerations when choosing accommodations.
Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and are planned with the utmost consideration for the well-being of our participants and their photography. We generally provide all meals designated as BLD (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) in our tour’s website information unless specified otherwise due to logistical circumstances. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d’hôte. There may be instances for optimum photography reasons where we have picnic breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the field. In such cases, we cater for the meals ourselves or provide an occasional box lunch as logistics demand. Our goal is to ensure that our participants are well-fed and ready for a day of photography.
Sometimes, due to timing, distance, remoteness or a great photo opportunity, we might find ourselves in a less-than-ideal mealtime circumstance. As such, we make every effort to provide satisfying meals and avoid venues like fast food restaurants and convenience stores. We firmly believe that a granola bar does not constitute a meal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our trip participants generally range in age from their late-20s to mid-70s, with most in their mid-50s to late-60s.
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.
We offer single rooming on most tours and workshops for a single supplement fee which can be seen on each individual trip’s website page. 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 some circumstances due to the boutique size and limited number of rooms at our accommodations, single rooms may not be available in all locations.
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
BY WEBSITE TRIP REGISTRATION
Use the “REGISTER NOW” button featured on each trip page with the following:
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.
BY PHONE DURING BUSINESS HOURS
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 and return to us. Then your registration is complete. To Register by Phone, call 206-463-5383, Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm, US Pacific time.
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!
Absolutely, just use the JOIN WAITLIST button on the appropriate “sold out” trip page or call our office! If space becomes available on a waitlisted trip, we contact people on the waitlist in the order we received names.
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.
Terms and conditions can vary by trip. For a given tour’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 send a Terms and Conditions form by email for you to sign and return to us by emailed scan or postal service mail to complete your enrollment.
We understand that it can be disheartening to cancel or change your long-awaited photo trip. However, we plan ahead before each tour and make nonrefundable payments to hotels and other suppliers. As a result, we must strictly adhere to our cancellation terms and conditions policy for all guests. We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance in case you need to cancel or change your plans.
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 Terms and Conditions section in the individual tour pages in this website or contact our office by telephone or email for details.
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
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.
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.
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. 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
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 https://photosafaris.com/gearing-up (there is also a Gearing Up link at the bottom of every web page on our website.)
Packing for your trip
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.
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.
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 in airports as well as from our vans or other transportation into our lodging, and possibly up a stairway in a classic boutique hotel (with a bit of assistance.)
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.
Life on the road
We are usually out early for sunrise and often photograph until after sunset, typically with a midday lunch break—either as a picnic in the field or at a restaurant —and with a little personal time at our hotel. 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. The winter in high northern latitudes may allow for nighttime aurora borealis photography. Other trips with dark clear skies may allow Milky Way photo sessions. On summer 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.”
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.
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.
Our Photo Tours are meticulously planned to ensure you’re in the perfect location at the ideal time to capture stunning photographs. With one or more seasoned professional photographers guiding the tour, you’ll always have someone on hand to answer your questions and share valuable insights, techniques, and ideas. We prioritize practical experiences in the field over classroom learning, so we don’t compromise on your precious photography time by conducting Photoshop and other image processing tutorials in a hotel room.
This approach caters to all participants, regardless of their computer skills, from beginners to experts—maximizing the in-the-field time you’ve traveled so far to experience.
To be sure, our trip leaders are happy to review your images privately, and gently critique them, and provide answers to your processing questions as the itinerary and time allow.
We recommend attending a Photoshop class closer to home or by exploring some of the thousands of post processing tutorials available online that you can access for free.