Sunday, 9 March 2008

Celebrity Photographers' Tours

Image © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

I found another example of what I deem to be an over-the-top photo tour led by a celebrity photographer to a developed country in South-East Asia, so I thought I'd share my 'back of the envelope' ruminations about the economics (or lack thereof) of joining such a photo tour. Let me say this at the outset: the photo tour is no workshop...just a tour led by a well-known photographer.

The land cost for the 9 days tour (in essence 8 full days) is advertised at $4600 and the single supplement is quoted as $1000. Assuming that most single travelers don't want to share (I certainly wouldn't) a room with a complete stranger with annoying nocturnal habits, the total for the photo tour is $5600.

Tacking on a round trip airfare from New York of about $1500, and day to day expenses of at least $600 for the duration of the tour, we total $7700.

Now let's do some math: let's imagine that the 10 or 12 participants each return with 50 photographs that are exactly...but exactly what stock agencies, travel companies and others are desperately looking for, each photographer would have to sell every photo for at least $150 to break even. Naturally, there are many numerical variations to this photograph may be sold 50 times and so on, or two photographs 25 times. Let's not also lose sight that the returning photographers will have much of their photo inventory either identical or similar to one another...and could well compete with each other.

In the current state of the industry, with the advent of photo-sharing websites populated by photographers willing to sell their work (often excellent) for next to nothing, the probability that any of these photographers will sell that many of photographs is virtually non-existent. Realistically, I'd say that a participant in such a photo tour has a slim chance to sell 2-4 photographs for $200-250 each....better than nothing, but a rather dismal return on the $7700 investment.

People who join such expensive photo tours led by celebrity photographers must do so for a reason or reasons...are these tangible or intangible? Are there real merits in just rubbing shoulders with one? Are there bragging rights attached to it? Is it a resume thing...or just for showing off during cocktails? Is it the "if it's expensive it must be good' mentality? Are there intrinsic values in shooting next to one? What are they? Do these famous photographers have the time and motivation to attend to individual needs, for mentoring? How do people quantify the return on investment from such tours? Are "in-the-field" tips from famous photographer worth 10 times those from a non-celebrity photographer? Do the participants draw comfort from the fact that since the celebrity photographer makes superb photos, they will too?

Email me if you know....but note that I draw a distinction between photo tours and bona fide workshops which have course descriptions, schedules and in which participants learn from instructing photographer(s), and nor do I question reasonably priced photo tours operated by hard-working photographers.