I’m Dave Williams, here every #TravelTuesday on ScottKelby.com. Yesterday I got back from a mission in Norway where I was focussed on trying to capture some of the tranquillity and the ruggedness of the north at the change of the seasons, just at the end of the regular hiking season before the snow starts to fall. It got me thinking, which in turn made me think that I need to think about thinking. What was I thinking? What is it that makes my ‘thinking’ that of a travel photographer?
I was isolated everywhere I went – save for the odd camper or hiker here and there, it was just me. I was free to shoot what I wanted, how I wanted. But imagine the not all too unfamiliar sight of a bunch of photographers stood shoulder to shoulder, all shooting the same subject from the same perspective, no doubt using the same settings and composition. We’ve all seen it in popular places – a squad in a linear formation at the Place du Trocadéro awaiting the rising sun behind the Eiffel Tower, or the team abreast on the beaches of Malibu, CA, shooting the golden sunset beside a lifeguard tower. Each wants the perfect image, yet each has the same image.
Try as we might in situations like these our shot may be the best of the bunch, but it isn’t unique enough among a dozen similar shots. I say similar – perhaps I meant to say almost identical. Shooting that famous or familiar scene may be something we merely need to tick off our personal shot list, in which case please crack on and do it, but it isn’t the shot that’s going to bag us a buck or two. To achieve that we need to think like a travel photographer, which kinda involves thinking like a marketer as well as a photographer.
What is it about a location that makes people want to be there? What will make people want to visit? How can we represent that visually? Simply taking ten paces one way or another can make a huge difference to a scene, or even concentrating our efforts on something that is iconic of the place but not necessarily iconic in itself, like moving away from the majestic fjords and concentrating on the solemnity of a lake at a time many people won’t see it like in this shot: –
If we take a moment to think outside the box and think like a travel photographer, capturing the essence and the story of a place rather than simply it’s iconic sites, we stand a far better chance of making that sale and having our images stand out among the crowd.
The right balance of skills and inspiration can make a good photographer great. It can help us to think about what we’re doing, and what else we can be doing. A good photographer can make a mundane scene look wildly interesting and captivating, and it’s all down to the way we shoot it rather than what the actual subject is. It’s important to have a style because that helps us to create these kinds of images, but remember that our style is dynamic and our vision should be clear. When I am on an assignment it’s clear what my objective is, but when I’m shooting self-assigned it can be quite different so in those cases I like to assign myself, and I recommend you do too. Imagine the editor of National Geographic has given you an assignment – stick with it and achieve the goals and objectives in it. Make believe may seem a bit child-like, but just go with it! Think like a travel photographer, capture the essence of a place, and think about what it is that makes people want to go there and incorporate that into your shots.
I write this from the departure lounge of London Gatwick Airport – quite apt for #TravelTuesday with me, Dave Williams, on ScottKelby.com today and every Tuesday. I am a little apprehensive, though, because there’s a chance I may not be allowed entry to the country I’m flying to today. Keep an eye on my Instagram story or Facebook page to see where it is and whether I made it in!
(Clue: – the Aurora can shine bright!)
Today I want to talk to you all about luck. Luck is something a lot of us need during times like these. To keep our photography business or hobby going with strength during a global pandemic is just one of many problems we’re faced with right now. For me, it’s the cancellation after cancellation of trips, trade shows, and missions, causing a distinct lack of opportunity and content to shoot and write about. The thing is, it’s all too easy to take a back seat and go with the flow when we get beaten down as we’ve been. Perhaps models and clients are less available to you, or maybe locations to shoot are closed or limited. Whatever the problem is, it’s down to us to get lucky and find a solution.
The thing about luck is that it goes hand in hand with opportunity. When we’re presented an opportunity, we’re said to be lucky, and we should take it. So, is luck the opportunity? Do we wait to have an opportunity and, in turn, wait to be lucky?
No. The answer is no.
Luck can be described perfectly: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. We are in control of our own luck. To a great extent, we control our destiny, our fate. If now is a time when you feel like you need a little luck, be prepared to take whatever opportunity you find or whatever opportunity you can create.
Two weeks ago, I lost the opportunity to go to Greece (and the money invested in that trip). Similarly, last week I lost the opportunity to go to Hungary. Iceland has also been lost, and Canada. For a travel photographer and writer, this is a huge blow, but it’s down to me and me alone to prepare, to create another opportunity, and to make myself lucky. It’s down to the luck that I created that I’m sitting and writing this post today from the wiped-clean, dishevelled, disgusting green seat of Gatwick airport’s departure lounge, waiting anxiously for my gate number to appear on the screen amongst only a handful of flights.
For me, I need to travel. It’s a necessity of the job that I d, although there are “workarounds” I can take to travel closer to home. More than that, it’s in my spirit. I am simply not me without travel. I need to be me, and this is how I need to do it. I’ve created my own luck exactly as I described – I prepared and made an opportunity. I’m being entirely complicit with all immigration requirements, hence the number of cancellations I’ve faced. But against the odds and in spite of the circumstances – I’m lucky.
Whatever it is you do, and whether it’s related to photography or just to your everyday life, remember that you are in control of your luck.
Put in the hard work, take some leaps of faith, be positive, and improve your odds. I promise, it will all work out in the end.
If you need help or advice from myself, any of the other KelbyOne instructors, or like-minded friends, there’s plenty of us out there willing to push you in the right direction. A great community accessible to all is the Friends Of The Grid Facebook Group, or the KelbyOne Member Community to start with.
Being here on a Wednesday is a change of scenery for me. I’m Dave Williams, and I usually write the #TravelTuesday column here on ScottKelby.com, but today I’m joining you all on a Wednesday for a guest blog post, and I’m pretty excited about it.
I’ve updated my Northern Lights book for the season, which begins now. It’s available right now, but I wanted to give some insight into my relationship with lady Aurora, so here goes.
It begins during a strange part of my life. It was a kind of ‘in-between’ time when I wasn’t sure what my path was. I knew I was progressing with my photography, but I was mindful of it becoming an income generator because it was a passion – it was my ‘happy place’ and I didn’t want that to become labour. What I’ve managed to do is find a ‘happy place’ within my ‘happy place’ – that being the northern lights.
It all started more or less the same time I began to travel. I was in a strange place in my life, and with my photography passion, I had always been interested in unfamiliar landscapes. I began to try and explore them and started with Iceland, with which I immediately felt great affection.
I was in Iceland some years ago, in January, and I woke up early in the morning to drive a few hours from Reykjavik to Solheimasandur. On a pristine, wild black sand beach, there’s a wreckage of a Douglas DC-3 Dakota belonging to the United States Navy. I travelled in darkness to reach it both by car and on foot, trekking several kilometres through slushy black sand, and arrived just in time for sunrise – my first light in Iceland. I was pleased with my achievement and had an excellent time shooting that plane, which set me up for a great day ahead.
The thing is, it was an Icelandic winters day, so it was a concise one. I had just a few hours of daylight to explore and spent much of it exploring as much of the south coast as I was able to before I ran out of time. By the evening, I had reached Thingvellir. I was on the Thingvallavegur, the main road through the park, and began to turn my search skywards for the elusive northern lights.
I was standing in a flowing, pristinely snow-covered landscape with my head turned toward the stars, straining my eyes and wondering whether I was seeing things or whether it was my imagination as I listened to the howling gale or the polar wind. Snowflakes drifted just above the ground at break-neck speeds, and the light of a new moon played tricks on my eyes, showing me reasons why Icelanders may believe in elvenfolk, or elves.
Above me, in the star flooded sky, I was watching what I thought were clouds forming. The dull greyness moved slowly, pulsating in the air, though I struggled to see it through focused, squinted eyes. The clouds seemed to move in a way I’d never noticed clouds move before. They almost swirled and danced slowly, pulsing and changing in opacity as I looked up confused.
I was beside my idling rental car which was toasty-warm, and the stereo happened to be playing Pray by Take That (my musical taste is impeccable) which contains the line, “I’m so cold and all alone.” The feeling, the atmosphere, and the lyrics connected perfectly to me at that moment in time and that moment in my life.
#TravelTuesday certainly does come around quick, even when there’s not so much travel involved! I’m Dave Williams, here today and every Tuesday on ScottKelby.com
Today, I’m sad. I’m sad because the world is a very uncertain place right now and we don’t know what’s coming next. As a travel photographer, it makes life hard, as it does for everyone in their own respects. Since last week, I’ve cancelled Greece (last week), Hungary (this week), Iceland (in two weeks), and Canada (October) because of transmission rates, as well as the previous cancellations I’ve had to make since March. I have a trip to Norway coming shortly, which hopefully, I’ll be able to make – keep an eye on my Instagram story to see whether I do!
The point, I guess, is this: travel photography isn’t necessarily about travel. We don’t have to travel to shoot travel photography. It’s more about the result. In our travel photography, we aren’t just showing where we are, but we’re inviting people to want to be there, too. It isn’t so much a genre as it is a result. Travel photography is the art and skill of giving somebody the feeling that they want to be there in your image, through your image, and at this time when travel isn’t an option for so many of us, it’s the ability to have people feel they’re living vicariously through our imagery – through our experiences.
We can all still do this right now – we can “do” travel photography without travelling. Take a look through old photos from trips away, or go somewhere locally and take some new photos, and get to work however you want on making someone want to be there in that photo, at that place, and live vicariously through it. It could be basic adjustments or full-on composite work, but whatever it is, it’s practice. It’s important that we all keep on top of our skills and our sanity right now and do things like this, which will maintain and develop our skill set, as well as provide focus and accomplishment. I went not too far away to get this shot on the south coast of the UK last week, just to stay “in the game.”
If you’re up for a bit of this, try finding places to shoot near you by searching your location on Instagram, Flickr, 500PX, or LocationScout to see what other people are shooting near you as a little source of inspiration. You really don’t have to travel to shoot travel photography.
Not long after the invention of photography came the first selfie. It’s #TravelTuesday and I, Dave Williams, am here as always with something from the world of travel, photography, and life. Today – selfies!
The person who first sat for a selfie was Robert Cornelius who, in 1839 in Philadelphia, sat for a little over a minute in front of his camera to capture the self-portrait that followed suit of so many painters before him. So many photographers have continued this self-portraiture tradition since the painters and our faces and bodies hold incredible storytelling ability, so it makes sense to do this.
It can be surprising how many photographers are reluctant to turn the lens on themselves, knowing that some of the world’s most famous photographers specialise in self-portraiture. If you’d like inspiration, look no further than Gilmar Smith, who takes amazing portraits and self-portraits alike.
Exactly what is it about turning the lens on themselves that stimulates photographers? For many famous self-portrait photographers, their body is a canvas on which they can layer ideas and delve into their inner psyche. For others, it can be a commentary on society. This genre of photography can also be a visual expression of inner emotions or even a photographic diary. In this age of the selfie, it’s easy to think “isn’t a self-portrait the same thing as a selfie?” Not exactly. A self-portrait is more considered than an off-the-cuff snap of the situation.
Using yourself as your own model doesn’t necessarily mean a seated portrait, but is more an excuse to experiment with poses, costumes, and artistry with the only model you’ll ever have who won’t complain—yourself.
What a self-portrait does for us, whether staged, environmental, or in action, is that it serves as a reminder to us of the activity, the emotion, and the situation we were in at the time we took it. It’s a reminder, as well as a piece of art, and with that little piece of enlightenment and explanation, I hope those who have never taken a self-portrait will give it a go.
Photography can be vague in terms of subjects and styles, but it’s fair to say that those who stand out are very specific with what they do. When it comes to hobbyist photographers the same is also true—people find their niche and tend to stick to it. Whether it be portraits, automotive, landscapes, macro, or any other subject, here’s how to find your specialty.
The beginning for a photographer is exciting. You’re taking pictures of everything and everyone, honing your new skills and working on techniques. This might be accompanied by a distant notion of wanting to turn it into a career or a side hustle, or it may remain a hobby, but you’re still at the diagnosis stage. There’s no need to rush into narrowing down your focus—stick with the exploratory surgery of your photography for as long as it takes. When you’re ready, ask yourself these questions: –
1) What Are You Drawn To?
In my opinion and for the sake of your own well-being, your niche should not be decided by demand first, but rather that which you are naturally attracted to. For me, there were a few. I had and still have a love affair with aircraft, and despite not being very good at it, I like to shoot photos of people. What got me into photography in the first place was the realisation that photography was an expensive hobby and if I were to be able to afford the new gear, I needed to find a way to fund it. I started to shoot weddings and quickly developed interests elsewhere, moving on to shoot yoga and portraits. My interest developed further still and I moved to my passion in photography: travel. I was fascinated and wanted to learn how to photograph things and create my own style.
Try not to pigeonhole yourself too much at this stage. If you like portraiture and photographing animals, don’t immediately decide on only one. Make this decision when you’re really ready.
2) What Variations of This Genre Are There?
Firstly, there are more than you think. Secondly, there are more than you are even aware of. Sit down and write a list of every different way your favourite genres can be applied. If it’s portraiture, there are headshots, fine art, fashion, editorial, photojournalistic, and so on. Narrow down your niche within your niche.
3) How Can You Offer Value to This Genre?
So many of us—and I used to be terrible for it—look at the working world to see what they can get out of it. Instead, you need to look at what value you can add to any area you choose to enter. Why would anyone pay you to shoot this niche you’re discovering? What is it about you that makes someone want to book you rather than the next photographer? If you can’t immediately answer this question, don’t despair. Sometimes, even a niche requires further honing to find your angle, particularly if it’s a competitive field.
4) How Difficult is Entry to This Field?
Even if you instantly knew the genre you loved, found the right variation, and are confident you have a valuable service to offer, you are some way off of being set. The next step is finding someone to pay you to work within your niche, and this step varies in difficulty wildly due to a number of factors. How competitive an area is, and where the income can actually come from, are two big factors.
If the market is overpopulated and there are photographers left, right, and centre trying to dominate the niche, you might find it hard to outshine people or get any recognition. At the same time, it indicates that there is a good amount of demand and you just need to get your foot in a few doors. If there are very few photographers working in your desired niche, there’s a chance with the right work that you can be the leader in the field. However, you need to seriously investigate why there are so few? Perhaps I’m naive, but I believe you can make most areas work for you if you’re clever about it.
5) How Can You Secure Your First Job?
Now comes the step where there are as many pieces of advice as there are cameras. Some will tell you to do work for free, some will tell you to “fake it until you make it,” some will tell you to build a portfolio and get your name out there. Truth be told, no answer is demonstrably wrong or right. I took a path that weaves between and partially through all of these, and it’s one that seemed the most pragmatic to me. It went like this:
Create some images of your own volition so you have example work to show. This means creating your own shoots, booking your own locations and models if necessary.
Collect the details of small and start-up companies you’d like to work with, then reach out and build a connection so you can work together to help one another grow.
Work out a rate that doesn’t preclude people from taking a risk on you, but isn’t a waste of your time. It should work out that you make enough money and the client feels value.
Having secured the first job, use it as leverage to approach other companies, and add the killer shots to your portfolio.
Let’s unpack these points a little more. Creating a small portfolio of high-quality images to show companies is crucial. There’s taking a risk on a new photographer, and then there’s blind risk. Prove you can create work of a desirable standard on your own dime, and it will pay you back.
Searching for companies and small brands to approach couldn’t be simpler in the modern age. Use Google, use hashtags and location tags on social media, too. Instagram is a fantastically powerful tool for this sort of thing, and DMs aren’t unprofessional so feel free to use them too. Some may advise to “aim high” and approach the big companies. You’re welcome to do this, and I did, but to get past their gatekeepers took industry connections, persistence, and social proof, which all take time.
Working out a rate isn’t as difficult as people make out. Do your best to work out how much time it would take you to complete your desired job, and fly close to it to begin. If you’re charging more than even you think your work is worth, you’ll be found out sooner or later. You might pull in a good job or two, but it’s unlikely you’ll build a successful career.
The contact part is seemingly easy, but crucial to get right. If you ignore everything else I say, just heed the advice of this small paragraph. Tailor every single email, DM, or phone call to the company you’re approaching. Research their story, their products, their market, their aesthetic and discuss it. If you can’t be bothered to do this and you instead just copy and paste a message to every email address you can find, you won’t get anywhere and frankly you don’t deserve to. Be open and honest about being new to the area and wanting to establish yourself in the industry, and why you chose them. And address it to a specific person – find out the name of the person in charge of marketing, for example. FYI – pretending you’re an influencer is transparent and easily disproved by anybody.
It really does only take one. Someone will give you a shot sooner or later. I got very lucky and the first brand I spoke to hired me, and then so did many others. However, this won’t always be the case and you have to have patience. Because I spend the time to write personal messages that are well-informed to my prospect’s image and goals, few people ignore it. In fact, I very rarely get outright “no” to my contact. In fact, it’s only happened once – every other contact leads to communication that may eventually go to a “yes” or “no,” but that communication is the start.
Finding a niche can not only make all the difference to your business revenue, but to how fulfilling your career is. It’s great to be an expert in an area and for me and many other photographers I’ve discussed it with, the deeper in your niche you go, the more diversified you become. Counter-intuitive, but true.
I wish you the best of luck and if you have any questions, I’ll make sure to answer them on my social media – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If, however, you’ve developed your own niche, perhaps share your words of wisdom too!