Warning! Things You Need to Know About Photo Tours

This post is  for those photographers who plan on leading their own photo tours.

(And for those planning to participate in a tour.)

Making money in nature photography is a difficult proposition. The competition is fierce and the prices paid for photos is low. There is a glut of great images out there yet there are very few photo buyers. One way that many hungry photographers (myself included) supplement their income is to organize and lead photo tours. Not only are tours fun, but they get you out shooting with like-minded people. It seems everyone has jumped on the Photo Tour bandwagon, from high-profile shooters who never used to lead tours, to the local guy who just picked up a camera a year ago.  It makes sense:  what could be easier than taking a bunch of people out to your favorite locations and showing them how you do things… and get paid to do it?

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Liability Issues

I’m no lawyer, and my comments here do not count of course as legal advice. But I would like to highlight some things to consider before you lead or take a photo tour.  First, once you take other people out in the capacity of a paid business venture, the issue of liability comes up. Do you have liability insurance for when you accidentally smack someone in the face with your tripod? What if someone falls off a cliff or slips on ice and breaks a leg? Nature is dangerous; do you have insurance to cover the eventuality of an injury? And do you have basic first aid training and a first aid kit with you at all times?

Another issue to think about are waivers.  Do you have a liability waiver form made up by a qualified lawyer? Do you get people to sign this form before your event? A document that you crafted at home may not cover you. You may need to pay a qualified person to help you craft a proper document.

Speaking of liability, if you carry paid participants in your vehicle and get in an accident, your insurance company will likely not cover you because personal insurance does not cover commercial activity. So if you want to taxi around participants, you’ll need commercial insurance on your vehicle. Things are starting to sound expensive eh? Still wanna do tours?


Most photographers lead tours to publicly owned land in the form of National, State, or Provincial Parks. These parks often require that you have a permit for any commercial enterprise. You can’t just take a group of people into a national park, have them pay you for the service without the need of a permit and payment to the parks administration of a fee of some sort. So do your homework and get the proper permits. Most parks will not give you a permit unless you can prove you have liability insurance.


If you want to shoot on private property you’ll need written permission or a consent form from the property owner. Do not take participants onto private property without landowner permission or your liability insurance will be voided. If you are taking participants to photograph old barns, or a funky old church and you want to be able to sell the photos from the shoot, then you will also need a property release form signed by the legal owner of the building. And if you photograph people on a photo tour, you better get permission first and even better get a model release for everyone you photograph. It is better to hire models specifically for your photo tour so you can get releases for payment. Also does your liability insurance cover paid talent?

Work Visas

If you are planning a photo tour to an exotic local, do you have all the proper documentation in place to do commercial activities in that country? Do you need a work visa? Do you have all permits and insurance to cover you? Foreign tours are especially tricky — you do not want to be booted out of the country in the middle of a tour simply because you neglected to properly set things up. I know of numerous foreign photographers who lead tours in the Canadian Rockies that do not have permits, work visas or insurance. They are a disaster waiting to happen.


You have to deliver something to participants beyond what they would get if they came on their own to a location. For instance, I get people to places they would not find on their own and I get people to the right places in the right light and offer help with instruction in the field as necessary. Other instructors offer formalized instruction. What are you offering? If this is just a way to get paid to shoot, then look for other avenues of revenue.

For those looking at joining a photo tour, ask important questions. Do you really want to go with someone who has shady business practices or is simply ignorant of the requirements needed for successful tours? If photo tour leaders cannot provide you with information about insurance, permits, permissions, releases and waivers, then steer clear!

©Darwin Wiggett - Rockies Spring Photo Tour


14 Responses to “Warning! Things You Need to Know About Photo Tours”

  1. A great heads up Darwin, there is lots to think about for sure.

  2. Thanks Darwin. This is a great post. I think people don’t realize that when you add the word “professional” to the title “photographer” you have in fact entered a completely different arena. If you make this your livelihood, you have to cover everything. Don’t forget the insurance on your equipment too. Before you know it, finding profit becomes…well a job! And if I might pat myself on my back, I do have it all – gen. liability (covers me and others with me everywhere), inland marine (for gear), health, auto, dental, homeowners, life (got to protect the family), and even a first aid and cpr cert. Taking pictures is only a small percentage of living the dream. Now I have to go back to work to pay for all of this. Have great weekend.

  3. Great post, all to true. I would be the New kid on the block and I have done my home work, why didn’t I just come to you first it would have been a lot easier! Once again I am impressed with how freely you share information kudos!

  4. Darwin,

    Twenty years ago very few photographers offered Photography Workshops.

    Today there are a lot of photographers offering workshops and charging huge sums of money. However, it seems people are willing to pay hugh sums of money. How would you explain this?

    It is a case of buyer beware.

  5. Hey Darwin

    Excellent article on an important subject, IMO. It’s disappointing to see so many well-known photographers out there running tours and workshops without the requisite permits, etc. Hopefully this kind of article might just kick a few in the a$$ and get them to dot their “i”s and cross those “t”s.



  6. Really good article and information, Darwin. I wrote something very similar a couple weeks ago about photo workshops. On the liability insurance front, if you have a permit to operate within a U.S. national park you are required to carry liability insurance at whatever amount they demand. You are also required to provide them with a copy of your policy to prove that you have one in effect. Most agencies also require you to be at least CPR and First Aid certified.

    I’d like to believe that all tour and workshop leaders have the required permits, insurance and medical certifications but the reality is that many of them don’t. At Arches and Canyonlands, the rangers are making a concerted effort to crack down on those who are running illegal, unpermitted events within the parks and I think that’s a very good thing.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Darwin. Good stuff, as usual.

  7. Great post. A lot of very good info for both tour leaders and participants.

  8. Being a participant, it makes me happy that you have brought this out. Nice work Darwin, no wonder you are so successful with your workshops.

  9. Nice post Darwin. One of these years I will like to join you for one of the tours… Should be a lot of fun! 🙂


  10. Great article! Thanks for taking the time with this – definitely brings a lot of potential issues up that someone could run right by when planning their first workshop. This one gets bookmarked and filed under “resources.”

  11. Darwin,

    Thanks for pointing this out so that future potential clients are aware of the fly-by-night operators. I have always had all proper coverage and permits in place, certified in first aid and CPR and offer in depth instruction and in-field location at proper times that clients would not otherwise have found or known – Have been for 5 years will continue to do so. Also, keep up to date on current laws. 5 years ago the California State Parks did not require a commercial permit for leading a workshop. this year they are requiring it. Laws change, and its our responsibility to remain legal if we are to stay in business providing our service to others. Thanks again.

  12. Great stuff, as usual, Darwin. As you know, I’m in the process of starting up a Canadian wildlife photo tour company and the costs of setting it up are substantial. It’s been two months already of getting permits in place, insurance, first aid requirements, etc. Not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of enterprise!

  13. J Michael Collins Says:

    I don’t totally disagree with your premise on liability and permits, but I do take issue with your use of the term tour. A tour typically provides direction on “where” to photograph and a workshop provide instruction on “how” to photograph, the two phrases are not interchangeable although quite a few people try to. I know it seems like a small point but your article seemed to interchange the two.

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