Travel and photography go together like cheese and wine. But as any traveler will know, there are certain things that can make your life a lot easier while you're on the road. Photo-journalists have known for years that getting a “fixer” makes things go more smoothly – especially in developing countries. But what about us normal old tourists? Well, a local guide can make things a lot easier for us too. Here are some things that a guide will bring to the party when you're on your next photographic excursion overseas.
1) The Language – Usually the biggest problem in a new country (and an opportunity to have a bit of fun with the locals) is the language. Having a local with you who understands everything (including how to approach locals who you might like to photograph) makes things a lot easier. While it's easy enough to learn a few basic sentences for everyday conversation, in more complicated scenarios a guide can pick up the slack for you.
2) The Cost – When travelling (especially in developing countries) the cost of a guide is minimal and the amount of money they will save you from getting ripped off will easily cover their cost. From taxi drivers to restaurants, having a local with you will allow you to negotiate and get (close to) local rates. Having an honest guide pays for itself.
3) The Knowledge – The fact of the matter is that locals will know a lot more about new and interesting places than either the internet or the local tourism information centers. This is knowledge that is difficult to come by for a traveler and it is definitely a huge advantage to having a local help you out. Often it can lead to new areas to shoot that other travelers and photographers will miss or simply not know about.
4) The Hassles – This one is a little more difficult to quantify, but when a local is doing your small-time negotiations like taxis, transport and food, it leaves you far more free to concentrate on your photography. You are not side-tracked by the small stuff as that is already being taken care of by your guide. It gives you more time in your day and far less stress.
5) Security – The sad fact of life is that there are bad people everywhere. When you are traveling in developing countries and carrying a lot of camera gear, you are a natural target for thieves and conmen. A local guide will know the score with keeping you in safer areas as well as dealing with dangerous situations.
6) Concentrating on Photography – Now with all of the above items to worry about under normal circumstances, travelling in some places can become quite stressful and minutiae can take up the bulk of your valuable time which you would otherwise be spending shooting or at least enjoying yourself. Having a guide with you will free up a huge amount of your time to explore places with your camera and concentrate on light and angles rather than security and hassles.
The other thing to remember is that having a local guide in many countries in the world is also often a lot cheaper that you think (as low as $10 a day in some countries) and they will often also help you out in totally unexpected ways. The key is finding an honest one who will be a genuine guide (rather than just taking you to their family and friend's shops) – often this is best done by asking online before you go on places like travel forums.