Becoming a Viral Photographer: Grow Your Brand Through Travel with Phillip Blume
Lots of people travel for work, but photographers get the best deal. I’ve been in the other guy’s shoes, and it’s not the same. Before opening Blume Photography, I worked in the swimming pool business and traveled for occasional conferences, all to nice warm climates. I thought tropical pool industry events should take place inside a pool with Jimmy Buffett music for ambience. But the reality was always a bust—and I’m not talking bikinis. No, it was hours-long meetings in a conference hall with fluorescent lights. Enough to drive any photographer mad. I would bring my camera, but rarely used it.
Travel for a well-prepared photographer, on the other hand, is full of possibilities. Whether you’re a full-time photographer traveling for destination shoots as I do now, or a pool boy/aspiring photographer with a couple hours to kill between meetings, these four tips will help you make the most of your time, increase exposure for your work, and enjoy the ride. Bon voyage.
- Sell the Event
There’s a great marketing strategy called “content recycling.” Imagine you publish a blog post. Content recycling would be taking parts of the article you’ve already written, then using them in future posts to social media, or even pitching the old article to a magazine for wider publication. As a result, your content gains a bigger audience without much added work. This is how you should think about travel.
People naturally love stories about travel and discovery, no matter how mundane the discovery may seem. That’s why “the journey” is such a classic theme throughout literature. Your travel is, itself, great content. As drilled into me in journalism school, here’s how to use limited content to your advantage:
- Precede a story with lead-up coverage (as we’ve seen in the current election season).
- Report the story in a timely fashion.
- Pitch the story forward.
- Provide follow-up commentary.
Apply this to your travel photography. Announce your trip the moment it’s confirmed. Tell people what you’ll be doing at your destination. What’s the project? Who’s the client?
My most recent travel project was pro bono work for Engadi Ministries International, a wonderful charity organization in Guatemala. My upbringing taught me the value of humility—don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This value keeps our motives and ego in check. But when my aim is to increase awareness and broaden support for a life-changing cause, you better believe I’m going to shout from the rooftops. The buzz is good for me, but it’s great for my client, and for attracting future clients. Now you know at least a few real kids living in the world’s most violent slum. And if you’re connected with me on social media @phillipblume, you bet you’ll get to know those boys better. The story should never end just because I go home.
- Make Friends
I hope every wedding photographer knows the value of making friends with the bridal party and fellow vendors at a wedding. Those connections provide your future referrals. But take this a step further when you travel. Go out on a limb. Network with your fellow passengers along the way. Give out your business cards everywhere, but do it with grace. Show interest in the people you talk to. Avid travelers agree that the interesting people they meet are the best part of a trip. Don’t miss out because you’re preoccupied with yourself. Besides, showing interest and talking less about ourselves wins more friends—the real kind, who will want to work with you again.
My dad taught me this value. He “never meets a stranger”—and, as a result, our family has received countless invitations from perfect strangers to come stay with them in their beautiful homes at exotic locations all over the world. This is always the result of random 10-minute conversations my dad strikes up because he likes to meet new people.
I’ve formed the same habit, and it works like a charm—even better when traveling within another culture, because people are oddly fascinated with me as a foreigner. We met a couple who were guests at a wedding we shot in London. They’ve already stayed at our house during their American vacation, and we have the opportunity to impose on them next time we book a wedding in the UK and want to stick around for a tour of Ireland.
The friends I made recently in Guatemala were volunteers doing construction on a boys’ home for Engadi. But I didn’t just photograph and film them. I spent the evenings chatting and laughing with them. I spliced together a quick piece of video footage for them to share online. They’re excited about their travel experience, too. And you can bet a large audience back home is watching all their social media updates.
Shooting a destination wedding or vacationing soon? Book an extra night at the resort, and take the next day to make great images of the venue. Confidently ask to speak with a higher-up (face to face) while you’re there. Start with a compliment. Enthusiastically rave about how you loved your experience. Mention your credentials as a photographer, but focus on the fact that you’d love to gift your images to the resort for its marketing. (“It’s the least I can do.”) Do you think they’ll remember you next time you ask for a referral or favor? Stay in touch with your new friend; the human connection pays off big time.
We photographers usually focus on our own, small markets. That’s fine. But imagine how just one destination shoot per year, even if that shoot is at your own expense, can increase your brand value in the eyes of locals. As a travel photographer, you can earn new credibility and appeal. So try something new. Choose a destination you’ve always wanted to visit. Then seek out a client there, or find a way to turn it into a personal project.
After speaking at a photo conference out West, I realized a lifelong dream when I took my family to see the Grand Canyon. While there, I shot landscape photos like crazy. What was the difference between me and every other person there with a camera? While most of them likely never got around to printing their photos, I produced a 2016 calendar with mine. No, I’m not a professional landscape photographer. But I do view travel as an opportunity to diversify my skill set, challenging myself to create something worth sharing. In this case, we sold my calendar online to help raise funds for our expensive adoption process. New travel experiences not only give me a fresh eye as an artist, but the unique subject matter provides excitement and buzz for our otherwise niche brand at home.
- Stretch Yourself
Almost every aspect of travel stretches you, especially if you are ambitious. Travel is great, but there’s also a lot of work to be done. I encourage you to think even more outside the box and take one giant step farther outside your comfort zone.
In my video this month, I give you one great bonus tip that’s sure to expand your travel portfolio. Whether you’re a pro or an amateur, I’ve found this both simple and powerful, and I do it almost every time I travel. Click to watch the video below.
Find our complete guide to travel photography gear and favorite travel hacks on the Blume Blog all this month at www.blumephotography.com/blog.