The Ultimate Adventure for Photography Buffs
The latest smartphone camera technology and push-button enhancements mean it’s easier than ever to produce postcard-perfect travel images—and make any vacation look like the trip of a lifetime. But sometimes, you just want to feel the weight of a real camera in your hands and use it to document a place in a way you likely won’t find in your Instagram feed. And that’s exactly the purpose of the new destination workshops from Leica, the storied, German brand that’s been making some of the best cameras out there since 1914.
The first of these trips, which are limited to 15 people and have a 1-to-5 student-to-instructor ratio, will take place in India during Diwali (Oct. 9-20), with stays in Jodhpur, Varanasi, and Delhi. The following month is Myanmar (Nov. 6-17), which stops in Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake, and Bagan.
Both amateur photographers and professionals are welcome—and you don’t have to own a Leica or even have any interest in purchasing one (though you may be tempted, since each guest can request specific gear ahead of time to try out, including the new SL). As Tom A. Smith, the manager of Leica Akademie North America, puts it, “the person who will get the most out of these trips is someone who is ready to be challenged and taken out of their comfort zone. It’s an amazing vacation, but one that’s a learning experience—we won’t be spending a lot of time by the pool.”
What you will be doing is studying the art of visual storytelling, from approaching a stranger on the street for a picture to downloading, editing, and backing up your work while on the road.
“An emphasis is placed on capturing what you want with the camera, vs. relying on filters and software,” says Smith. Lessons come courtesy of lead guides Craig Semetko, whose book India Unposed was born from three months of traveling through the country, and photographer Seth Butler, who has spent the past decade documenting Myanmar. Come night, you’ll rest up in boutique hotels such as the iconic Claridges in Delhi and an eco-resort set on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake.
Local, Expert Relationships
To create the itineraries, Leica turned to Momenta, an organization that champions the work of photojournalists and leads seminars around the world—and has particular expertise in these two countries, having worked with local guides (who are also expert or hobbyist photographers) for many years. It is these relationships that help set Leica’s Destinations getaways apart from other photo tours, especially when it comes to access to real cultural experiences.
“We found out about a novice monk induction ceremony the day before it happened, and we were able to get into it,” says Jamie Rose, the chief operating officer of Momenta Group, of a recent workshop in Myanmar. “That’s something nobody else would have had.” And in India, Rose adds, they are seeking out more private aspects of Diwali—visiting people’s homes and attending smaller events where guests can feel like they are truly part of the community.
Since photography is typically a solo pursuit, Leica built single rooms into the $6,995 price—travel companies usually upcharge for singles; here you get a $500 discount to share a room; the fee includes essentially everything except international airfare and alcohol. You’ll also travel in small vans or cars instead of large tour buses, and you’ll get more quality time in each location instead of checking a long list of sites off a bucket list.
According to Smith, the Destination workshops have been in the long-term plan for the North American market. The trips are a natural progression from Leica Akademie's successful Landscape series, which travels to National Parks around the U.S, and, more than anything else, sells the Leica lifestyle. Like putting on track races for Lamborghini fans, when you’re hawking cameras ranging from the D-Lux (Typ 109) at $1,095 on the low end to the $34,500 Leica S Edition 100, you want to engage your loyal customers.
Eight new retail stores in U.S. cities, including L.A., Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C, are helping that customer base grow, too. “These have had a huge impact on awareness from the younger generation,” says Smith, who credits the stores with attracting more 30- and 40-somethings to its programs, which typically skew 50-plus. Search Instagram under #leicacamerausa for a taste of what these burgeoning Leica devotees can do, and you could, too.