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
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?
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