Icelanders are slowly getting used to the idea of temporarily sharing their country with massive amounts of tourists. As tourism industry revenue has grown to a staggering 31% of the Icelandic economy, the number of travellers Iceland received in 2015 exceeded one million for the first time, and has grown even more since then. Most tourists come for the breathtaking countryside. Others, however, are not satisfied with the idea of travelling with other tourists merely to see tourist attractions. They demand unique experiences. They want to go home and tell their friends they’ve discovered places as if they were the first ones to set foot on them. To do so, a lot of travellers choose photography tours and workshops with local professionals.
Discovering new horizons
Most of these workshops are designed to teach people basic skills that will maximise the use of that Canon they got for Christmas. The appeal, however, isn’t just in the learning factor, but rather in the idea of going somewhere that only they have the privilege of seeing—those uncontaminated spots in a land that has been turned over a thousand times. Accompanied by guides who know the countryside and are willing to share their favourite spots, travellers eliminate all the time-consuming elements of the trip and delegate instead.
There’s no scarcity of photography tours that teach people how to capture a glimpse of the fickle Aurora, but others also offer an endless series of packages that cover every single activity you can think of. Iceland Photo Tours is perhaps the biggest company in this regard. Founded by Moldovan photographer Iurie Belegurschi, Iceland Photo Tours offers a vast array of trips thanks to 30 or so professionals who currently share the tours according to interests and availability. This September, for instance, you have the opportunity to spend $7000 for a two-week photography workshop that will also include accommodation. Some tours accept only a limited amount of people and other takes on up to twenty at a time.
Other tour operators, however, prefer to stay small. Australian photographer Ben Hardman belongs to a small crew of young professionals offering short tours for those who are serious about their career as photographers. What Hardman does is hard to categorise, playing with the notions of tourism and education in equal measure. “It’s most definitely niche,” he concedes. “These are all passionate, creative people that are at a point where they’ll like to jump into photography as a career form, so we teach them all that we know about shooting, self-promotion, working with companies, how to build their life around a pinpoint style, and we cover it while we’re on the road.”
The hope is that, after a one-week trip, these professionals will go home with a tangible experience of the same amazing places they had previously only seen on Hardman’s Instagram. “We take people where we want to go, mostly into the Highlands, to places we would go with or without these guys,” Hardman says. He also specifies that the groups never include more than six people. “We try to remain authentic,” he explains. “When you get twenty, thirty people at a time it just doesn’t have the same soul, the same heart as what we are doing.”
The kind of impact these tours can end up having is substantial: if done well, in fact, they can teach people to respect the environment as well as support local communities outside of the capital area, making tourism a more sustainable industry.