As a professional photographer in today’s digital realm, I have witnessed how digital has taken over the world starting first with the internet, to my actual camera changing from film to digital, to how I edited my photos. Social media marketing and branding have become as important if not more than the work we produce itself as we see with blogging, social media, and influencers. I fought these changes one by one but soon realized I was fighting a losing battle. Instead of fearing change and becoming a "dinosaur," I knew that I would have to adapt in order to bend and pivot with the trends.
In certain ways, I LOVE the abilities digital has given to me in almost my 2 decades as a professional photographer. I have been able to embrace my vibrant color-saturated style, I have been able to reach a larger audience in one click with my work than most photographers in the past could in their lifetime. I can curate my work and show it to thousands of people from a hand-held device, but technology has connected yet disconnected all of us.
Digital has made our already impatient profession, even more instantaneous; shortening our deadlines and heightening our immediacy and demand. But no matter what trends come and go, the act of being a photographer has remained relatively the same. You still have to have people skills. You still have to create quality work. You have to be true to your own style. You still have to understand light, exposure, and composition, but now we all have to be “triple threats” as well. We have to be able to write, shoot video, create imagery, share it, and know our audience. We need to consistently feed out audience's unsatiated demands for fresh new content and beauty and deliver it to them daily in the palm of their hands.
I realized that in order to compete in today’s changing marketplace as a vendor, that I would have to be more than just a “photographer.” I would have to brand myself as an overall experience. I would have to show videos and Snapchats of my personality and a glimpse into my everyday life. I would have to show not only my work but the process it takes to get the shot. I have learned that bringing back the “journalism” in “photojournalism” and having a story behind my work is imperative. I have searched for more meaning in my work and once I started writing again, it all started to flow and make sense.
Today’s true social media influencers, understood this a few years before the rest of us starting taking them seriously. In fact, they have proven to all of us (including large brands), that not only do they understand consumers better than large marketing firms, but that they are here to stay.
But what about us professional photographers and writers? Why have we been omitted from the category of “influencer?” The fact is, we should ALL be influencers and we ALL have the power to transform our audience through our words and images. I realized this year that I needed to become a photographer influencer myself in order to be competitive. That I have a great responsibility and power that I can harness through my work to make a difference. Again, I found myself questioning the trends and whether or not I was still relevant, and then I met Nastasia Wong, AKA Dame Traveler.
What people don’t give credit to influencers for is their ability to navigate through their audience, engage with them, understand them, track them and their behavior and learn from it. They understand how important authenticity is to keeping your audience engaged. I was astounded when I realized the level of care and strategy that goes into each one of Dame Traveler’s posts. As visual artists, we should all learn a huge lesson from influencers about how to curate your work, be consistent with your brand, and understand your audience. But let’s face it, not everyone can be an influencer or is good at it, or we all would be one. And not every influencer can take amazing photos or write a compelling story.
It is almost impossible to wear all of these hats simultaneously and wear them well. This realization that “I can do it all,” but probably not as well as I would like, sparked the creation of my new business venture, Jetset Collective Media, where I have pooled together like-minded travel content creators, photographers, social media gurus, and writers to combine our forces to be able to tell greater transformational stories. Working together as a collective with fellow travel influencers like Dame Traveler and studying the trends, developing storylines, and creating lasting, impactful content has added a whole other level to my photography business and my personal work. Finally, our passion for travel and creating beautiful imagery can take on a greater meaning and make more of an impact.
I LOVE how not only MY industry is evolving, but the travel industry is following suit.
This quest for deeper meaning in our lives and deeper connections with our audience has finally seeped into the travel industry. Just like how my clients demanded more from me as a photographer and I had to brand myself as an experience and not just a photographer, “Experiential travel” became the travel trend of 2016. Rather than just visiting far-flung locations, vacationers were looking for ways to tap into native cultures, meaningfully interact with locals, and feel like far more than a tourist. In a world heavily disconnected by technology, we humans are trying to find better ways to connect and find authenticity. So where does a thoughtful traveler go from there? What’s next?
Industry leaders are saying that “transformational travel” is the next evolution for 2017. It is similar to experiential travel but taken a step further. Transformational travel is travel motivated but defined by a shift in perspective, self-reflection and development, and a deeper communion with nature and culture. Today’s culture is device- and pace-driven. We are disconnecting from ourselves, our relationships, nature, and culture.
As an adventure travel writer and photographer, I have been drawn to travel photojournalism for the exact same reasons. Pushing your own boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone through adventure travel can lead to deeper transformations. It has been compared to the “hero’s journey”—where travelers venture into the unknown to learn wisdom from cultures and places outside their own, returning home to implement this knowledge, ultimately changing their lives and the lives of others around them. It’s this post-travel action that separates experiential travel from transformational travel. We are at a point where the planet is pleading for higher consciousness and deeper meaning, and transformational travel can give us that. Many travel companies and influencers already see this shift occurring.
Travel and tourism are the best educational tools you will ever get to experience in your life. The best education you will ever receive about the world and cultures around you is by traveling, getting out of your own comfort zone, and seeing the beauty and different people that make up our world. The most interesting shifts occur when people engage in meaningful dialogue with people from other cultures. These interactions will not only help bridge the gap between people who are fearful of traveling, but it will help people to start seeing the world less in black and white.
In a world where intolerance and fear have crept into our everyday lives, the shift to transformational travel is necessary now more than ever. People want to feel more connected and one great way to do that is to travel in a way that positively impacts conservation efforts and transforms lives. Even the travel industry is looking to inspire people on a deeply personal level, creating emotion through the powerful medium of storytelling and transforming their life for the better. Bringing the story and meaning back into your itinerary is a trend that I fully support.
It is no surprise that the influencer trend has found a permanent home in the travel industry and that travel brands are shifting to find more meaning and authenticity. It is all stemming from the same place. Humanity is looking to reconnect again. In our often superficial, hyper-connected world—a landscape where the gauge of a good vacation is measured by Instagram likes rather than actual impact—it’s perhaps no wonder that the traveler of 2017 will be looking for a deep shift that lasts long after the physical journey ends.