Do you remember your first girlfriend/boyfriend, your first car, motorcycle or camera?  I’m guessing you do.  Now try to remember your second, third or fourth?  Hmmm….not so easy, eh? Now, think about all the brands that have become synonymous with their function: Scotch tape, Kleenex, Xerox.  It’s no accident they were also the first. When something is new, innovative and original it gets more than our attention. It gets remembered. Who flew the first plane in controlled flight?  Orville and Wilbur.  Who flew the second one?  Don’t worry, I don’t know either.

Being the first to bring something new to the game is the approach that my business partner Jim Cline and I bring to our photo tour business. Now entering our 12 year, we have consistently brought forth unique and unparallelled experiences  for our photo tour clients. Our greatest source of pride and satisfaction, and perhaps the best barometer of our success, is our loyal following. We have a customer return rate  approaching 70%.

Much of our success can be attributed to the fact that we are constantly breaking new ground. As I reflect on more than a decade in the business, I’m reminded that Jim and I were leading tour groups to Myanmar before it was popular and offering tours to Oaxaca’s day of the dead celebration before others did.  Twelve years ago we started visiting a remote village in the Peruvian Andes before a proper road was built and before other tour groups even knew such villages existed. Earlier this year I led a photo tour to the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest gathering, where 40 million pilgrims descended upon the Ganges in a single day. I was confident that it was do-able and set forth creating an itinerary. People said I was crazy. When it was over, my participants called it “epic”.

Our Philippines Photo tour is another example in our long track record of  innovation. Five years ago I had a dream to bring tour guests to the Philippines. I’d already been shooting NGO jobs throughout the country and I was captivated by the natural beauty of the country and the friendliness of the Philippine people. After an exhaustive internet search, I found not one international tour company doing specialty photography tours in the Philippines. Even non-photography tour groups were scarce, perhaps due to the political instability and the perceived danger due to religious conflicts in parts of the archipelago.

So, with a head full of ideas, and a basic itinerary gained from my experiences and a significant amount of research, I made an exploratory trip through the Philippines, developing and creating a photo tour itinerary so that I could share my love and enthusiasm of the country with others.

Now after the successful completion of my 3rd annual Philippines photo tour, word seems to be getting out and the trip is quite popular. This year, the main trip sold out quickly and even the first-time, optional extension, included 7 participants!

With things running smoothly, Jim and I could just sit back, and rest on our laurels, but I decided to take things a bit further…to push the envelope, to challenge the comfort zone of my participants. During this year’s Philippines trip, I introduced my tour participants new opportunities in photography, shooting in some parts of town that one might consider “dodgy”. During our photographic forays, we met, talked to and photographed transvestites, bar girls, and street people. We rode the skate train, explored impoverished parts of Manila that are rarely if never seen by foreigners and expanded upon our usual visit to a community living under an overpass. Then, during the trip extension in Cebu, we photographed a local boxing gym located in a low socio-economic area.  As we zig-zaged through the slum in which the gym is located, my tour guests kept asking me…”just how the hell did you ever find this place?”. I just smiled, knowing that these are the one of a kind experiences that endear customers to yourself and your organization; experiences that our competitors just don’t offer.

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as I post things on my blog and introduce people to my ideas, discoveries and information freely, I do so knowing that I will have imitators. By definition, one can’t be a “leader” without “followers”, so I’ll continue in a leadership roll, pushing the envelope, exploring new territory and attempting to bring something new, different and unique to this wonderful world of photography.

There are exciting things on the horizon for 2014 and beyond, so please stay tuned. Meanwhile enjoy the following images from a few lesser known locations in the Philippines.



Crisologo Manligues (Brix) Flores, former Asian Games boxing featherweight medalist / southpaw / trainer

Trip Advisor approved ?






10 Responses to “Thoughts On Being An Innovator” Subscribe

  1. Anthony Pond July 5, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    First off, I enjoyed the photos of the grittier side of your trip. I think your trip participants were fortunate to see this side of the country. But I mainly want to comment on your post.

    Kudos for offering something unique to your participants. Today when every photographer is offering tours and workshops it’s hard to find something truly unique and personal. I have observed that too many photo tours are really just rebranded tours offered by a local agency and that the photo leader is nothing more than a chaperone. For this reason I prefer independent travel. But knowing that you are offering a trip based on your individual experience gathered over repeated visits may be reason to give your tours a second look. Keep up the good work.

  2. Janet Marsh July 6, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    There are so many places in the world which are a first for me. It keeps it new and fresh. I’ve always felt I want to go to places that have not been turned in to a copy of America. Like taking a cruise where all the ports are the same. Show me the world thru your camera. I’ll follow you. Janet

  3. Karl Grobl July 6, 2013 at 2:08 am #

    Hi Anthony,
    Thanks for the comment, I appreciate your input and I understand your preference for independent travel. I do hope to meet you some day and perhaps even to travel and shoot together. BTW, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your “Inside the image” posts, keep up the great work.

  4. Karl Grobl July 6, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Thanks Janet 🙂

  5. Ursula July 6, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Love the photos – as always.

    I’m still waiting for the innovative “rainy-season umbrella tour”. 😉

  6. Karl Grobl July 6, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    Thanks, and no worries Ursula, a rainy season umbrella tour is in the works!

  7. kat miner July 6, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    Nicely put, Karl. Your passion for your work – all aspects of it – shines through as always.

  8. redrock July 6, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Let’s do it, Im in!

  9. Lisa Merrill July 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Traveling with you in SE Asia rekindled my enthusiasm for group photo tours, and I hope to do it again in Vietnam or the Philippines. Our late nights with Thai kickboxers and Cambodian rickshaw drivers definitely pushed my outside my comfort zone, and so many other memorable experiences helped me stretch creatively. Your blog posts continually inspire me. Thanks again!

  10. Brian Wickett July 6, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Could not agree more, Karl. I have always felt that being the first to introduce a new item, product or event is the key to staying in this photography business we are so passionate about. I was the first wedding photographer in my area 9 years to introduce the Wedding Day Storybook. Now everyone including Wal-Mart is doing it. While some new things work better than others, I find my clients appreciates all of them. I guess that why I am still photographing 40 plus weddings a year after 26 years of being in this great business. Keep up the good work Karl, I hope I find time to get onboard one of your tours soon.

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