When you have an idea of what you intend to do in the country you’re going to shoot, it’s time to hire a fixer or find a travel companion. Depending on the area you’re going, you can easily feel overwhelmed, and the help of a local can be invaluable for your Travel Photography.
A fixer is a person who helps you get around safely. She speaks the local language, and she can serve as a translator. If you can’t speak the a language, a translator becomes crucial in boosting your Travel Photography productivity.
How can a fixer help me?
Having a local travel companion is fundamental if you want to arrange events to shoot. For example, if you want to photograph someone in a traditional dress, you can ask your fixer to find one and arrange an interview for you. A fixer can also help you organize your transportation or find lodging, especially if you go to rural areas or want to stay in a traditional accommodation rather than hotels.
This kind of travel companion is even more necessary if you travel to developing countries or places where the local customs are radically different from those of your own. A fixer should know how to get around, avoiding troubles and saving you from bad experiences.
Use your friends as fixers
I like to mingle with people, and I love to melt in the local culture. For this reason, I try to search for friends and a real travel companion rather than a professional fixer. You can meet new friends on social networks. Often, new friends will be happy to get around with you and show you their countries. However, you have to remember that friends aren’t payed, and you can’t pretend anything from them.
Also, friends can help you get around, but may not be able to arrange events for you, obtaining access to reserved areas, and so on. Still, they have their lives, and they can’t possibly spend whole days or weeks at your disposal. A friend is a travel companion, not a fixer. Depending of the kind of Travel Photography you have to do, a better alternative could be a payed fixer. Based on your location, there are several ways to engage one.
Hire a tourist guide
Particularly in developing countries, when you arrive at the airport, a handful of travel guides will approach you, especially if you have a camera with you. There’s nothing bad in hiring one of them, but you have to be careful.
Guides are often related to souvenir shop vendors and may want to bring you to them. Your time is precious, and if you’re a professional rather than a tourist, you probably want to shoot your Travel Photography more than getting souvenirs. Also, you don’t know how smart those guides can be, and you have to pick one not knowing her abilities. You’ll have to negotiate prices on the spot, and you’re always at risk of being cheated.
It is much better find someone by word of mouth. A fellow travel photographer may know a trusted fixer, and can introduce her to you. Problem is, there are photographers jealous of their fixers who won’t divulge their names. If you can’t find a fixer by word of mouth, you have to contact agencies. Usually tourist information centers can point you to a good agency of tourist guides. The problem with guides is the same as above: they may be associated with local shops.
Hire a professinal translator as a fixer
A better bet can be a professional translator or interpreter. You better make clear to the agency you need a translator who can do the dirty job for you. Small agencies are usually more flexible and can certainly help you. Another resource can be your hotel front (if you’ll stay in a hotel). The receptionist can point you to someone trusted, even a relative who wants to earn some money.
Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may want to hire a driver too. In developing countries, a driver can be quite inexpensive, and a good chance to get around freely. Your fixer can find one for you.
The whole fixer and driver matter can be very expensive. In Europe, US or Japan you can spend over $300 daily for a professional guide. If you need to hire one, it depends on the kind of work you’re going to do.
The next article will be about crafting a shooting list. Now I’d like to discuss fixers in Travel Photography, in the comments. Do you hire guides or you do everything on your own?