Before you go….what to know about Photo Tours!

I wanted to make sure that you know that we are aware of some very good photography education workshop leaders out there and also, we may not always be the perfect “fit” for some folks for a number of reasons. 

We totally understand that! We want you more than anything to have great photography education and want you to learn from quality organizations and people. Whether it is PEN and MPA or another company, we support great photo education! 

This is in no way to dissuade you from seeking photo tour companies other than MPA that as I mentioned, may be a better fit for many reasons. But we do want to make sure you understand what you need to be aware of when considering a photo tour. We have increasingly been asked on our tours about what it takes to do what we do and what legalities are also involved.  

With the number of people going into “business” as Photography Workshop/Tour leaders, we have seen a lot of situations that we feel would be helpful to you as a PEN member to be aware of and also pass along to others. 

You should understand that we have come across MANY photo tour companies recently that we as a team shudder thinking about people getting into vehicles with. The number of tours being offered without proper insurance, licensing and permits are staggering. 

Although there is always a risk with any travel you may do, you can take certain steps to help make sure your photography workshop is everything you hope! 

Many photography tour companies think that all they need is a business license and basic business liability insurance and they are good to go. Worse, many clients think this as well or just do not even know if their tour company is licensed and insured properly. 

When you are going on a tour of any kind, it is imperative to know that the tour company is properly licensed, permitted and insured! You have a LOT at stake including your safety, finances, and the quality of what is being offered. 

  1. Photo tour companies must have special tour operator liability insurance!

This is DIFFERENT than regular business liability insurance and is specialty insurance offered for tour operators. As an example, MPA carries TWO policies and both offer coverage internationally and covers our team as drivers in rented vehicles. It also offers additional coverage’s as we share liability coverage’s with other tour operators we work with overseas. 

This is a very important fact to know as many liability coverage’s do NOT cover outside of the U.S. and do not cover you in a rented vehicle! The other fact is that a personal vehicle unless properly commercially licensed for commercial use, will also not be covered if being used to transport you as part of a business endeavor (i.e. Photo Workshop). SO without a specialty liability policy, you could be riding in a vehicle not properly insured! 

  1. Photo tour companies MUST have a CURRENT business license. 

This is the easy part but every company doing business needs to have a current business license in the county they are based. We are surprised at how many do not even have this. The bottom line, if someone is accepting any kind of payment, they are in business and a license is required

  1. Various states require ADDITIONAL licensing! 


This is the one that we have found VERY FEW tour leaders to have and are illegally operating. Again, placing you at risk. 

As an example, in the State of California, any company that solicits any type of tour, photo or otherwise, to California residents or in California, is REQUIRED to have a California Sellers of Travel permit AND a bond to protect you OR funds to go into a separate business account as a trust where your funds can be accounted for that your funds are being used to pay for the tour that is being offered. This is a separate account, not the regular business checking account. 

If you are curious, you can contact the California Sellers of Travel and see if any company you have traveled with or are considering traveling with are properly permitted. Each business must also display their CST # on their web site and advertising. 

Contact CST at Phone 213-269-6564 Email

In addition to this, in California, Photo Tour operators are required to also belong to the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund who help oversee tour operators being ethical. 

Many other states have similar laws. Be sure to check your State laws for tour operators. Be sure to ask your Photo Tour company what licensing and insurance policies they have.

  1. EACH National Park REQUIRES specific commercial permits, Training, Insurance and Operation Plans filed! 

Each National Park requires a photo tour or workshop operator to have a valid commercial permit for that specific park. Also required are very specific insurance requirements that have to be on file with the park.

Recently we have heard from many clients that have been on other tours that their workshop leader said to them that if a ranger asks, just tell them you are a “meet-up” group. 

Every National Park is operated by a different park Superintendent and each has specific rules and guidelines to be followed by commercial photo tour operators. Sometimes, it feels a bit over demanding to us, but the reality is, the laws are put in place to protect you and the parks. 

Also of importance, is to understand that as a commercial tour operator in National Parks, specific safety guidelines and training has to be adhered to such as, but not limited to:

CPR/First Aid Training and current certificates

“Leave No Trace” Training

Operation and Emergency Plans filed.

  1. It is important to ask what experience your workshop leader has. 

How long have they been a photographer? How long have they been in business? How many tours have they led? Where have they led tours? How long have they led tours? How many people have attended their tours? How many people return to their tours again and again? Can they offer you referrals? 

These are very important questions to ask! 

  1. What education does the tour leader have? 

Have they gone to school for photography or are they self-taught? Have they attained degrees or special awards from leading Professional Photography Organizations? Do they still continue to learn? Are they full time and is this all they do? 

If they have simply decided that because they love photography and are somewhat good at it that they can now lead tours, be very careful! This has been the case with many photo tour companies we have seen that have sprung up in the last few years. 

  1. Final Thoughts.

A great photographer does not make a great teacher! Look for tour operators that are relate-able, patient, friendly and above all else, have you FIRST in their minds and hearts when it comes to learning and having an amazing experience.