1. In another interview, you mention that Instagram and Twitter played important parts in your success as a travel photographer, content creator, digital marketer, and speaker. When did you start on Instagram, and how has your account grown since then?
I posted my first photo on October 19th, 2010 and it grew very steadily for years, a few followers a week. Gaining 100 followers in a month was a really good month for a long time. Once in a while a blog would feature me as someone people should follow on Instagram and it was incredible every time it happened. People asked me to speak in public about mobile photography and best practices for Instagram and of course I always said yes, and that helped a bit with growth. But then in very early 2014 when I’d managed to get myself to 10K completely organically and all on my own — all of the sudden the followers started pouring in and instead of a 100 a month it was suddenly 1,000 a week.
I did some Google tracking and found that I was being featured by the likes of Huffington Post, Grazia, British Airways High Life, Paste Magazine, American Photo, Marie Claire, and even some German, Turkish and Brazilian magazines. All of the sudden, I’d hit 60K and then 75K and at this point I have no idea if it will continue to grow or not. I’m just incredibly humbled and grateful that it’s gotten to where it is now. I never really believed that I’d have more followers than my friends, family members and maybe a few colleagues in the travel industry!
2. How would you compare your usage of Instagram to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr? Which ones do you spend the most time on, and which ones result in the majority of your revenue?
I spend the most time on Instagram without a doubt. I look at it as short form storytelling. A sort of blog really. And I endeavor to always give something of value with each image I post beyond just the photo. So whether that’s a bit of history, some travel advice, tech advice or just a story that people can connect with — there’s something. There’s a caption that’s more than a few sentences of empty words.
Because I approach it so differently I think that’s why so many people contact me, interested in paying me to post. If I said yes to every opportunity, Instagram would most definitely be my biggest income generator. And then my stream would be nothing more than a glorified billboard for brand messages. I’m trying really hard to not have that happen by continuing to curate as I’ve always done, and saying yes only to the sponsorship or paid promotion that genuinely makes sense and can offer, I hope, something to my followers. Of course between the sponsored content, is a lot of content that no one is paying me to come up with. And it will always be like that no matter what.
3. What strategies would you give to other people looking to build up their own community?
Realize first and foremost, and most importantly, that a truly engaged and valuable community takes time to build, it doesn’t happen overnight. And it takes an investment of genuine care and concern for said audience. There are shortcuts to large numbers but there are no shortcuts to an engaged and responsive community of a larger size.
Of course you also have to be posting images and information that is of value. If your photos aren’t good, your captions are only hashtags or in some other way you what you are posting is not compelling — you’ll never get anywhere. Unless you’re a brand like Nike or a celebrity like Justin Bieber and then the rules do not apply. But that’s beside the point of what you’re asking of course.
4. What’s the one piece of photography advice you’ve heard that will always stick with you?
I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. These two pieces of advice have stuck with me my whole life since learning them from my high school photography instructor:
- Get it right in camera.
- Remember that the most expensive or sophisticated camera in the world means nothing in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it manually or who has no creative vision.
5. If I were going on a 2-3 month trip around the world next summer to see if I could make it as a photographer, what tips would you have on how prepare myself over the next 6 months?
Honestly, I’d sign up for the Matador Network “travel photography course” and see how you get on with that. It’s less than $200 I think and there’s no better investment I believe that would help you see if you can make it long term or not. Also, follow backpackers. That’s not my style of travel but I know it works for a lot of people. Start with my friend Matt of Expert Vagabond. He’ll help you with the practicals of long term travel and Matador will help with the “can I make this a business” part of your trip.