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.

Sign Up



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. I attended the workshop last year and invite any of you to check out my shots on 500px at davidlong3653. It was an amazing trip and well worth the time and money. Jim’s organization did a great job in organizing this truly unique photo experience. I was a little intimidated to travel to China, but found it very safe. I walked around several mornings and evenings in Guilin and your guides, Andy and Mia are incredible. If you have any inkling to try something new that you will remember the rest of your life, join Jim and his team on this trip.

    1. @Ben Stallman – Your flights are not covered. My airfare last year was around $1,200. We cover almost all expenses from the time you step OFF the plane to the time you board your plane to go home. That covers guide fees, hotels, food, etc.

    1. @David Jones- Welcome! Looking forward to the trip. We’ll be getting in contact with everyone soon via email.

  2. Hello. Can you let us know about airfare? Is it included in the price of the trip or is this a separate cost on top of the cost of the trip? Please let us know. That’s the only thing I’m waiting on to sign up. Thank you.

    1. @Jennifer Ellis – Your flights are not covered. My airfare last year was around $1,200. We cover almost all expenses from the time you step OFF the plane to the time you board your plane to go home. That covers guide fees, hotels, food, etc.

  3. Hi Jim,
    Just booked this workshop today and I notice your comments above say we will be in China from June 5 – June 11th, but then it states that some will not arrive until Monday June 6th. So if we do arrive on June 5th are the accommodations set for everyone on the 5th? Also do you know if airfare gets cheaper as we get closer? And last is there a general time of departure on Sunday?
    Thanks Jim
    Looking forward to this

  4. Hello Jim and Co

    I am very interested in accompanying you on this trip however I am confused about the finances involved. I read above that you “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” so what are the monies you’re collecting for? I understand that as covering the airfare but it is not clearly stated as such. If it does cover airfare, I am also unclear as to the departure points. So to restate my question, if this is a free workshop and you are covering all expenses while in China, exactly how will the funds we pay you be applied?



  5. Hey there,

    This is an old event, though thought I’d ask about any future planned trips back to China? Do you guys have anything in mind for 2017/8?

    I’d love to be able to join you all for some landscape adventures!


    Bath, UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top