Guilin China Photography Workshop – 2016

[pullquote cite=”Jim Harmer” type=”right”]I've photographed many of the best photography hot spots around the world, but China is the only location I loved enough to book a return trip before even coming home. China is the photographer's dreamland.[/pullquote]


Join professional photographers Jim Harmer, Erica Kay, Brian McGuckin, and Nick Page for the photography workshop of a lifetime in China. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this photo adventure is the authenticity of every moment of the trip.

Away from the cities for 90% of the trip, you'll walk the alleyways of ancient towns which haven't changed much in 3,000 years.  Go inside the homes of people living in rural China, ride on bamboo rafts early in the morning to unimaginably beautiful locations, and photograph the exquisite people of China in their natural settings.

For portrait photographers, you'll shoot the famous cormorant fishermen, to shoot street photography of the old men and women on the streets of Daxu, to photograph the Yao women as the work the fields of the Longji rice terraces, and much more.  Landscape photographers will be won over by the unbelievable, otherworldly mountain peaks shooting out of the bamboo undergrowth as far as the eye can see.

China is the photographer's dreamland, and you have a unique opportunity to get the best seat in the house.

Photo by Jim Harmer


jim-harmerJim Harmer founded Improve Photography.com in 2011 and it has grown to one of the largest photography sites on the internet.  He quit working as an attorney to follow his dream of building Improve Photography and now hosts the weekly Improve Photography Podcast, runs a Youtube channel, and holds completely free photography workshops all around the world to thank the readers of the site for their support.  He has authored multiple books, presentations, and video courses.  His works have been published in many of the largest traditional and online publications.  He lives in Caldwell, Idaho with his wife and two boys.  Read more about Jim here.   Erica Coffman

Erica Kay is a full-time professional photographer from Columbus, Ohio who photographs over 30 high-end weddings per year. Erica donates her time to an organization which benefits AIDS orphans in southern Africa, and has photographed on 5 continents. To learn more about Erica, you can subscribe to her Portrait Session Podcast where she talks portrait photography with Nick and Darin each week.  You can also check out her incredible portfolio here. On a personal level, Erica is very neat and organized.  She's spunky and a lot of fun to be with.   Nick Page

Nick Page is a full-time professional photographer living in Dayton, Washington. Nick has a wide variety of photographic interests. He shoots weddings, landscapes, fine art, senior portraits, babies, sports, families, night photography, architectural photography… you name it. To learn more about Nick, you can subscribe to his Portrait Session Podcast where he talks portrait photography with Erica and Darin each week.  You can also see his portfolio. On a personal level, Nick is very laid back.  He's a heck of a lot of fun to talk to, and has a great mind for teaching things in a way that make sense to students.   brian-mcGuckin

Brian McGuckin is an experienced travel photographer who has shot in many countries on assignment for Expedia.  He also does wedding and portrait photography.  He's also an accomplished sports photographer who regularly shoots NFL games. To learn more about Brian, subscribe to the Thoughts on Photography podcast, which he hosts each week.  You can also check out his portfolio. By day, Brian still finds time to teach high school classes in addition to his photography.  Brian is married with children and lives in Colts territory, so don't you dare mention that you're a Patriots fan.

Student to instructor ratio– 5:1!!! The best photography workshops have no more than 8 or 10 students per instructor.  We're slicing that in half for that trip to give you the most personalized attention possible.  We want to leave you wanting for nothing the entire trip.  We will have 4 well-known professional photographers as your instructors in China, with no more than 5 students per instructor.

You'd be hard pressed to find a workshop with that level of attention at twice this price. On top of the workshop instructors, we'll be working with the very best local guides in China–Mia and Andy Beales from Guilin Photography Tours.  Their knowledge of the area is incredible.  They know exactly what locations are best to shoot in any weather condition, can navigate the country safely, seem to know just about everyone in the locations we visit and organize impromptu photo opportunities daily, and can even point out ever western sit-down toilet within 100 miles 🙂

No matter how early we wake up to shoot, they've been up earlier getting every last detail in place.  No matter how late we stay out shooting, they are already working on the next part of the trip.  On top of that, they are truly enjoyable and happy people.

Photo by Jim Harmer
Photo by Jim Harmer


The dates are June 6 – 11, 2016.  With travel and such, we'll in essence be shooting Monday afternoon until we leave on Saturday night or early Sunday morning (recommended).  However, we ALWAYS have participants in our workshop from other countries as well.  Anyone is welcome to attend. Most participants will leave the United States on Saturday and arrive in China on Monday morning due to the time and date change.  You'll arrive in the United States 2 hours after you leave China (which is really weird).

What Makes This Workshop Unique Absolutely Incredible!

Before the trip, one of the instructors will set up a personal Skype call with each person going on the trip.  We'll look through your photos with you, ask you what things you'd like to learn, and what your strengths are, your physical fitness level to know if you're interested in some of the hikes, and what things you'd like to shoot in China. Then, we will customize an itinerary just exactly for you.

If we notice several of your photos aren't quite sharp, we'll plan one of the days to put you in a tiny group of four with Nick Page or Brian McGuckin who can work with the small group to show you exactly how to get tack sharp photos, and you can practice the technique with him at a world class location.

Want to try flash photography for the very first time?  Meet Erica Kay, who is an extremely successful wedding and portrait photographer.  She'll spend the afternoon with you showing you the ropes as you take portraits on-location. A lot of photographers want to learn to strengthen their compositions, and that's Jim's specialty.  You can spend an entire day with him and he can walk you through exactly what works and doesn't work for compositions while you're actually in the field–and not trapped in a boring class. More of an advanced photographer?  Maybe you don't want as much instruction as you do just opportunity to shoot?  No problem.

We want to know exactly what you're looking for and we can customize your trip just for you. Our overall group for this trip may be as large as 20 participants.  Having done workshops of all different sizes, we think that's actually ideal!  It means we can meet up in a big group for photo reviews and class sessions and a few landscape shoots where the number of people won't make any difference. But with 4 professional instructors, we can split up into very small groups for the shoots that are better suited to small groups (such as shooting the cormorant fishermen, where you will want to be able to move around without getting in each others' shots). This really is the best of both worlds to have tiny groups for important shoots and a bigger group to have fun with and swap photo stories with at meal and class times.

It also means we can put people together who have the same fitness level, so if you're a mountain goat we can send you on the tough hikes, and if you're a bit less fit we can avoid those hikes or have sherpas carry your gear for you.

Photo by Jim Harmer


Our local guides have asked us to not share the full workshop itinerary on the web due to competition from other unscrupulous guides, but we're happy to share the information after you've made your initial payment.  But here's the gist of the trip.

Monday – Spend the morning doing casual street photography and then some downtime to get un-jetlagged.  You'll be in a large, modern hotel in the city the first night as you get in from the airport. We'll meet up around noon for a meet and greet and a group meal.  It's always fun for me to see how everyone comes in not knowing anyone and a little timid, and then to see everyone being close friends after the trip.  By the end of the trip everyone is looking at photos of each others' kids and friending each other on Facebook, etc. In the evening you'll get thrown right in to Chinese culture with a street photography shoot in an ancient town.  You'll go in the home of one of the locals and then to a fantastic landscape location overlooking the city.

Tuesday to Thursday – We'll head out to more rural areas.  Each day we'll wake up at the crack of dawn and drive to a location or take a bamboo raft to a location along the Li River.  We'll shoot the cormorant fishermen 3 times so you can try different techniques and styles each day. We'll also go to several landscape photography locations with gorgeous overlooks around the river and mountains.  Each morning and evening we will shoot like crazy people and sleep only when necessary. During the day we'll have a few short traditional classes, but we don't want to spend hardly any time in the classroom.  This workshop is about getting out and shooting!  Each day we'll meet together for a photo review to get feedback from your instructors on your shots from the previous day and to be inspired by each other.

Friday – We'll head a few hours away to the Longji rice terraces, which took over 300 years for the farmers to build.  These terraced lines make incredible landscape photos with rice fields as far as the eye can see.  We're planning the trip to coincide perfectly with the planting season so we'll have green fields flooded with the ingenious irrigation system. We'll arrive back at Guilin and arrange for transfer to the airport on Saturday.

Sunday – You can choose to stay an extra night if you need the time.  There are some street photography opportunities right out by the hotel, but the official workshop ends on Saturday.

Cormorant fisherman in China
Photo by Jim Harmer


We will cover almost every single expense you'll have from the moment you step off the airplane in China until the moment we take you safely back to the airport.  That includes hotel rooms (based on double occupancy, we'll find you a roommate of the same gender or you can buy a single supplement), transportation within China, modeling fees, park entrance fees, guiding fees, and instructors.  You're covered.

The only real expenses you'll have is a flight to get there and back, a visa, and food while you're in China. You can reserve your seat in the workshop with a non-refundable initial payment of $900.  The second non-refundable payment of $900 is due no later than December 31, 2015.  The balance non-refundable payment of $1,995 is due on or before February 2016.

So the entire cost of the trip including every necessary expense in China and your instruction is only $3,795. Airfare to and from Guilin is not included. International photography workshops are expensive, but if you compare this to what other well-known photographers charge for international workshops with very small student-to-instructor ratios, you'll see that it's about 1/3 or 1/4 the cost!  We always work extremely hard at Improve Photography to make our workshops, products, and trainings reasonably priced so that everyone can enjoy them.

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What are the accommodations like? The hotel we stay in for the first and last night is very nice–even by western world standards. As we travel to other locations throughout the workshop, we stay at the best places we can find, but some are very remote.  They all have character and charm, but are very clean.  We always stay at hotels that have normal western sit-down toilets so you don't have too much culture shock. The beds in China are hard as a rock but our guides instruct the hotels to put us in rooms with softer beds or at least a mattress topper so we can sleep.

Is it safe? Once you land in China and meet the people, there's a good chance you'll feel just as safe there as you do in your home country.  I didn't feel concerned doing landscape photography in the city at night alone. There are risks associated with any travel and you should certainly keep your wits about you and stay with the group and watch out for pickpockets in the city, but we felt very safe there.

Can I get internet in China? Yes and no.  It's a modern place with good internet, but the Great Firewall of China is a very real thing.  Even with a VPN, sites like Facebook and Instagram and Google get their traffic throttled by the Chinese government.  So if you need to be able to access email periodically you can count on that, but don't plan to be able to use the internet like how you use it at home.

I've never done street photography.  Don't the people care that you're photographing them? Not in China!  In fact, most of the people were extremely excited and proud to see us taking a picture of them.  We even saw parents pushing their kids out in front of us so we'd take the kids' picture.  There are a few people who will wave you off and not want their picture taken, but most of the people eat it up. Most of our shooting on the trip isn't really “street photography.”  Our guides are excellent about having local people lined up for shooting situations, like the cormorant fishermen, and even some of the people in the villages who will allow us to go in their homes to be photographed.

Do I need to be physically fit? Those who are physically fit and can hike will have a few more opportunities to shoot some of the landscape locations, but the vast majority of our workshop students just have an average fitness level.  We will plan on breaking the group up for shoots that require a lot of hiking so you can be with people of the same ability level. We have both young and older people attend our workshops, so we anticipate that not everyone has the same abilities. China has very few handicap accessible accommodations, unfortunately, so those with disabilities may not be a good fit for traveling to this location without letting us know long in advance and planning the trip for you accordingly.

Will we get much time to rest? This trip isn't a vacation–it's an adventure.  Plan to wake up early to travel to a location long before sunrise and stay out long after sunset.  Having said that, we know everyone will be jetlagged so we plan flex time into the schedule where you can choose to nap in your room or participate in another shoot or listen to a class during the day. But I have to reiterate that this isn't a vacation.  Plan to shoot like crazy!  This is an adventure of a lifetime!

Is the initial payment refundable? No.  Your initial payment reserves our time and availability and it keeps us from accepting another into the trip.  We cannot accept refund requests.

What happens after I make my initial payment? We'll contact you via email and invite you to a private Facebook group where you can meet the others on the trip and ask and answer any questions you have. A few months before the trip, we'll hold a webinar all together so we can chat and talk logistics.  We'll also schedule your one-to-one conversation with one of the instructors in the months leading up to the workshop.  We'll be with you and help answer your questions along the way. Our goal is for you to already have some photo buddies on the trip before you even get on the airplane.

What about a non-photographer accompanying spouse? The cost for a non-photographer accompanying spouse is $1,000 less than the cost for the photographer.  They'll be able to attend everything that you do as a photographer and are even welcome to snap pictures with their cell phones if they are interested.  We'd be glad to have them. To sign up with a non-photographer accompanying spouse, just check out normally by adding to cart for both of you.  Your $1,000 will be deducted from the final payment.

Do I need to be an advanced photographer? Definitely not.  I expect to have a good mix of beginning, intermediate, and advanced photographers on the trip.  We always do, and with 4 instructors, that won't be a problem at all. If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses and a desire to learn, you're in!

What about natural disasters or other unforeseen events? In the event of a natural disaster, government instability, etc, we will do our best to reschedule.  We highly recommend getting trip insurance to protect you in these situations where we may not be able to hold the trip and cannot refund all of the money. Obviously, this is a very rare scenario.

53 thoughts on “Guilin China Photography Workshop – 2016”

  1. You indicate the workshop isn’t street photography, but I see people in most of your images in the video. Could you please say more about the itinerary tuesday-thursday with regard to people vs landscape. My own preference is people, but some landscape is ok too. Can you be more specific so I know whether this itinerary is for me? Thanks very much.

    1. I’d say it’s about equal parts portrait/landscape, but we will be able to customize the trip quite a bit so that everyone gets to shoot more of what they would like to shoot.

  2. Jim, I wanted to see what it would cost and if it would be practicable for my non-photographer wife to tag along. We’ve been planning China for a while so it would be fun to do this trip instead! Feel free to email me. Thanks.

    1. @Brent – I’ll have to get with our guides on this one, but unfortunately I don’t think we could reduce the price as much for a non-photographer spouse as much as I’d like because we are limited to only 6 in a car, so even without the instruction the spouse is taking up one of those spots. I think we could only reduce the price by $400.

      On other trips we could do a lot better than that, but this one is a little unique because of the travel between locations.

      Hope you’re still able to make it. Would love to get to shoot with you.

  3. I have permission from my wife to sign up so this may be trip #4 for me. I may sign up by the end of the week. Looks like a great trip and I know all the instructors are wonderful. Thanks for offering this workshop.

    1. Woohoo! Hope you’re able to make it happen, John. I love shooting with you. Missed you in China this last time.

  4. Bonnie Williams

    I was really disappointed I could not go this year. Is the increased cost because there will be 3 additional instructors in 2016? Feel free to email reply.

    1. Yes, this is an official workshop. The one we did this year was more of a “come shoot with Jim” 🙂 We’re pulling out ALL of the stops on this trip and we’re going to make it absolutely the best photography workshop anywhere in the world.

  5. I am planning on making my initial deposit, but wanted to know if you could suggest or describe how one gets travel insurance…just in case.
    I look forward to the trip, as well as seeing you in Utah this fall.

    Thank you so much,
    Scott Fishman

    1. Hello Scott! I have used Allianz and it has helped me both in Europe and in China. I signed up for it through my AAA Office, but you can go to http://www.allianztravelinsurance.com/ and sign up form there. AAA Travel uses it as their main insurance for travel & I have had nothing short of great experiences working with them.

      1. Darin,
        Thank you so much for the travel insurance info. That is super…I will check it out today! Are you planning on going to this China trip next year? Sounds like you travel quite a bit. Have you been to China? What are your thoughts?
        Thank you again for your response!
        Scott Fishman

      2. Darin,
        I am really embarrased. I know you as “Darin” from the Podcasts (which I truely love, by the way. By far the best photo podcasts I can find!). Of course you travel and have been to China! You also went with your dad. So cool! Listening to the lastest Podcast on your China trip was really inspiring. Can’t wait to go, and sorry you won’t be there this trip.
        Again, sorry for missing your identity. You and Jim make a great team. Keep up the super work!

  6. Hi, do you have more specific information about where in China the workshop will take place? What about options to extend the trip to travel elsewhere? Tks, Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa,

      The workshop will be in Guilin, China but we’ll travel all around the area to shoot the landscapes and also the cormorant fishermen and the rice terraces.

      The workshop will be in the Guilin area for a week but you’re welcome to stay longer on your own if you wish to visit other areas. I’m sure there will be other attendees wanting to do the same. We may even be able to get a group to travel together before or after on an unofficial part of the trip.

  7. Garima Tewari

    Hi – I wanted to check what (knowledge and experience) level photographers can participate in the workshop?

    1. Hi Garima – No need to worry about a specific skill levels. We always have a wide range of beginners to pros. Since we’re having multiple instructors on the trip, we’ll be able to put you with a group of people in your same skill level.

  8. Bill Thompson

    LOVE the podcast, I download it every week. I like the fact that you guys are so generous with your time and your knowledge.

    My question is this: it appears that airfare is not included for the trip; is that right (I’m retired living on a limited income)?

    1. @Bill – That’s correct. Makes a lot more sense for everyone to buy their own airfare since the prices vary widely depending on where you’re coming from. We have listeners all over the world.

  9. First, since my payment was accepted, does this mean there was still an open space for me? Second, my website is for astrophotos but I have spent the last two years trying to become a good landscape photographer. I traveled o Antartica two years ago and took some photos that I will put on my web site so you can get an idea of what my level is. I will be on the Utah trip. Looking forward to meting everyone. Ken

  10. @Kenneth – Yep! You’re in. It’ll probably be a little while before we get everyone all together in the Facebook group and do the Skype calls to everyone for the trip, but we still have lots of time left. But rest assured we received your payment and you’re set to join us for the trip!

  11. where exactly are we flying to? I’m trying to calculate the total costs…
    to Guilin itself? to arrive and leave from there?


    1. @CandyK – Yes, we’re flying into Guilin. I often see flights from the US for about $1,100 to $1,300. I find the best prices on tickets are about 2 months out from the date you leave, but that can always change.

  12. Hi Jim,

    Same question as Kenneth. Submitted a payment online and just want to make sure it is received and I am confirmed on the trip. I didn’t get a confirmation email (other than one from paypal).

    Really looking forward to the trip.



    1. We got you, James. Excited for the trip! We’re just saving the registrations for now. As dates start to get closer we’ll put together the facebook group and all connect up to get ready for the trip!

  13. I was checking general climate information on Guilin and noticed that this workshop takes place during the peak of the rainy season with an average of about 13.7 inches of rain/month during May/June. How do you anticipate this will impact all of the outdoor photography?

    1. @Barry Wulfe – Yes, it can be rainy but it’s also the cool (it gets INCREDIBLY hot in the summer without AC) and it’s late enough to avoid the thick cloud cover. It rained several times during our trip this year, but the rain spurts were relatively short parts of the day. Also, it’s late enough to get irrigation in the Longji Rice Terraces. We picked this week because it’s about the best conditions of the year. Hope you’re able to join us!

  14. Having lived in China 15 years (I am living in Guangzhou now), it’s just funny to me when people ask questions like “is it safe”, “is there internet” and “what about natural disasters”. China is a land more modern, cutting edge, and exciting than anything you know at home. Come to China, guys.

    1. @Jonathan Hoogewijs – Of course! We have attendees from multiple countries at almost every event we do. Would love to have you come.

    1. ImprovePhotography

      @patricia_solano:disqus – We could definitely hook you up with our guide if you want to stay more days.

  15. Hey Jim, Are there many places left. I have the annual leave, but need to wait for the funds!!!!

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