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September 26, 2009

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More than snapping pictures

Unusual photo tutorial tours get amateur shutterbugs to slow down, stop shooting and start looking. The aim is quality, not lots of happy snaps. Sam Riley reports.

The pressure-cooker world of news photography and a career-teaching photography have given Sharron Lovell a wealth of experience to offer budding photographers on her unusual travel tutorial tours.

Lovell's Asia Photo Tours take participants way beyond the loads of predictable, happy snaps vacationers often come home with.

From perfecting technical skills to advising on how to approach subjects in a culturally sensitive manner, the British photographer's expeditions provide amateur photographers with the skills to turn memorable moments into memorable photographs.

There are two upcoming October tours, one near Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and the other in Fujian Province for the oolong tea harvest. (See details below)

"Asia Photo Tours balance photographic instruction with a unique travel experience," says Lovell, whose list of credits include working for the Guardian, National Geographic, Global Post, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

"Our destinations and itineraries are crafted to offer varied photo opportunities and hone photography skills in the field," she says.

Lovell has been living in China for four years and teaches photography workshops between news gigs at the Expat Learning Center in Shanghai.

After a weekend field trip in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, with students about 18 months ago, Lovell decided to try her hand at extended trips focusing mainly on Guilin and Fujian Province.

Her first extended trip was in April over five days in Yangshuo near Guilin.

She offered "immersion workshops" where participants received intensive tutoring and hands-on experience in different situations, including low-level light, portraiture and landscape.

The tours are kept small, with a maximum of 12 people, and are aimed at amateur photographers who may have the equipment but don't know how to drive it.

"Ninety percent of people who come on the course have an amateur-level digital SLR and have never taken it out of auto mode," she says. "So many people have these cameras now and they never really learn how to use them. They have this big camera but they use it like a point-and-shoot."

The small group size allows her to tailor the sessions to participants' levels and provide individual attention.

Students can learn a lot from other photographers and compare results.

"It's really interesting, you can put eight people in the same spot and they come back with completely different pictures," Lovell says.

The last five-day tour was in spring in Yangshuo and yielded invaluable lessons.

On the first day, the tour visited small traditional and minority villages in the Yangshuo area. Lovell's experience as a news photographer shone in this setting as she advised on how to approach potential subjects who might be reluctant.

"Our whole style is to find little pockets away from the tourists. I speak pretty good Chinese, we have a bilingual guide and a local guide and we really try to have real interactions," she says.

"We try and get people to slow down, to take time with others and focus on quality pictures rather than quantity. I tell them to stop taking pictures and start looking," she adds.

On the second day, photographers got up early to see the fisherman use cormorant diving birds to gather fish in a river.

On day three the tour visited a market and then the spiraling tiered rice fields, dubbed "Dragon Back Rice Terraces," for a workshop on landscape photography.

Lovell encourages students to find their own unique style, striving for one or two great photographs they can hang on their wall, rather than lots of shots.

"As a teacher, I look at the individual and try and find out what they want to learn, whether that be something aesthetic, or technical or just to gain confidence," she says. "I try to get people to discover their own style rather than just regurgitate the photos they think they should be taking."

The next workshop to Yangshuo will run from October 9 to 13 and cost 8,800 yuan (US$1,290), including return airfare, accommodation, transport, breakfast and lunch -- and instruction. Hotel rooms are shared by two guests.

Asia Photo Tours will also hold a three-day workshop in southern China's Fujian Province from October 17 to 19, taking in the annual oolong tea harvest in fields neighboring the historic port city of Xiamen.

The tour includes a day in Gulangyu Island and costs 4,800 yuan based on two people sharing accommodation and includes return airfare, accommodation, lunch and dinner and local transport.

For more information, visit, or e-mail to

Tel: 1370-1646-399


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