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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Traveler


Joe Van Os has pioneered exotic photo tours to locations where individuals on their own would find access difficult or impossible. As a 30-plus-year veteran of the business, he shares his insight on photo tours and photo safaris.

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A group of penguins gathers in front of a large snowdrift, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Snow Hill is one of the most accessible locations in Antarctica for photographing penguins.

Joe Van Os knows how to travel. It's obvious by the itineraries he has put together as director of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris for the past three decades. His lifelong fascination and study of the natural world continues to influence new trip development to the planet's most spectacular nature photography locations. Based in Washington State, Van Os tailors his trips for in-depth photo exploration of wildlife, wild places and exotic cultures off the beaten track. Itineraries focus on maximum time at locations with dramatic photo opportunities rather than running from place to place with numerous short stops along the way.


Japanese macaques with their young in geothermal hot springs, Jigokudani, Nagano, Japan. As many as 100 macaques gather in the hot springs in the Japanese Alps.
OP: What was the impetus for starting your photo tour business?

Joe Van Os: It started out as nature tours in 1979, but I quickly realized that I was in locations where I had incredible access to wildlife and the ability to photograph them. Shortly after that, I moved out to Seattle from New Jersey, and early on I met Art Wolfe, John Shaw and a whole lot of others out here. We became friends, and I kind of morphed the company into a photo tour company.

OP: What's the difference between a photo tour, a photo workshop and a photo safari?

Van Os: A photo tour and a photo safari are virtually one in the same. Safari means "journey" in Swahili, and that's what we do. We're primarily set up to take people to photograph at the best possible locations at the best possible times. We don't really do workshops, per se. On our trips, we do offer tips and a variety of instructional things to get clients the most out of their shots, but we don't sit down and do classes. What really separates a photo tour from a workshop is that a workshop has a component where you have class time. We're happy to do a critique, but we don't sit down as a group except for on our ship expeditions, such as going to Antarctica or Spitsbergen when there's time at sea. A photo tour is heavy on the in-the-field photo-taking and light on the classroom end.

OP: So it's about getting a photographer to an opportune place at an opportune time to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.

Van Os: With help, of course. Most of us in my company have a strong biology background. We know when to be at places when events happen in nature. Our emphasis is on knowing when and where to be at a place at the premium time. Also, we're often able to get access to places that an individual would have a much more difficult time getting to.

Left to right: Giant panda among ferns, Wolong Panda Reserve, China, 1996; Atlantic puffin at Látrabjarg in the west of Iceland. Látrabjarg is one of the three largest bird cliffs in the country; Black-footed albatross taking flight, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

OP: Your Midway tour seems to be a great example of that. It's really off the map for even the most seasoned traveler.

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