Outdoor Photographer Case Study
- [Colby] And today we're going to try to take things to a little bit of a next step, so we're going to cover a few things a little bit more in depth that we've talked about in some of our past segments and we're going to start things off by going over and taking a deep dive into the social media world of five prominent, highly successful photographers from a variety of different genres. Now, throughout this course, I've given you bits of information about myself and I will continue to do so including at the last segment of this class where I'll talk about the lessons that I've learned, but for right now, we're going to take a look at a few of these other photographers. If you guys have questions about it, please let me know. I don't want to speak for these other photographers, I did interviews with them. I talked to them, most of them are colleagues, people that I've known for years. So they're good friends, good business people, good individuals, and great people to learn from, which...
is why we're talking about them today. So let's start things off talking about Chris Burkard. Now, Chris Burkard is a good friend of mine, he lives in California. He is a surf adventure travel photographer that is a social media superhero, that's how I've described him before and the reason I say that is that his followers or his social accounts on most platforms that he's active on are huge. Not only the amount of people that follow him but the amount of engagements that he gets puts most other people out there on the internet, including most big broadcasts and publications, pretty much to shame. Now, let's take a look at some information about Chris. Now, as I mentioned, Chris is a photographer but he's also a speaker, he's a director, he does a lot of work with video on a lot of the campaigns that he works on, and he's also an author. He's written a number of books including a pretty awesome children's book that I actually have for my own son. So he specializes in surf and outdoor photography and this is his wheelhouse. He was originally...or is still a Head Photographer for
Surfer magazine, which is what he's been doing for a long time but he's morphed from what typically used to be almost purely about surf photography to this idea of outdoor adventure travel work, which is something that he's wanted to do for a long time. Now, total, he has around three million followers across all the different social platforms and right now he's active on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Ello, Google+, and probably a few other ones that we haven't mentioned here. Now, Chris has a team of people that works with him now, he's definitely working on a different strata than most people out there, and so he has the ability to essentially put himself out there on a lot of different social platforms. He's creating that much content in the work that he's doing that he can spread it out across multiple different medians. As we talked before, for a lot of people, that's not really reality which is why we talked about the idea of starting more simplistic, maybe on one or two to focus on before you branch into a third if you feel you're finding success with the first two. Anything more than that, a lot of us, we're spreading ourselves a little bit too thin. So when it comes to his most important network, it is by far Instagram. Now, Instagram is where he gets the vast majority of his interactions. Now, he has highly interactive audiences on Facebook and Google+ and Snapchat and a lot of other places, but on Instagram, he's in a world of his own. So on Instagram, a lot of his posts, he will get interactions that average above 70,000 per post. Now, for a lot of people, they would be just excited to have 70,000 followers. Seventy thousand interactions per post is huge and we talked about the value of that and I'll explain in a second how Chris makes a lot of his money. So his online personality, which we talked about personalities here in this class, is what I say is partly hybrid, and what I mean by that is that Chris definitely likes to bring you along in his adventures, that's part of his personality, it's part of what helped build his brand, which we'll go in-depth in a slide or two. But the idea is, is that he likes to be real in his posts, he likes to have the focus on very inspirational conversations, inspirational topics, he likes to post, obviously, about the remote places that he works in which is, again, how he helped build his following. But you won't necessarily see him share stuff about his family, a lot of personal stuff. He keeps that reserved and I can respect that. He inspires millions of people around the world but he wants to make sure that there is some sense of a personal and professional bubble, so to speak, of where his comfort zone is. Now, if you get to know him, he's a super-nice guy. I've actually run into Chris more times in places like Iceland than anyone else in the world. I'll be walking around a random waterfall in Iceland and him and his crew will come out and I'll be like, "What are you doing here? I don't understand this." But regardless, let's continue on with Chris here. So Chris's revenue streams are from a handful of different things and there's probably actually even more so that we didn't have time to list here. So, as I mentioned, he has worked for
Surfer magazine for a long time. Now, the work that he has there is probably a little bit less than what he used to do because that used to be his main focus, and now he's grown his brand and his business so much that he's doing a lot of other things. So, marketing campaigns. Chris is truly at this stage one of the probably most premier photographer brand influencers out there on the market, which means he gets to charge a very, very pretty penny for the work that he does with a lot of other companies. Now, Chris also teaches workshops, so Chris does workshops in many places like I do. In Iceland and Norway, he takes people out on big sailboats and Chris has such a unique approach to photography in the terms of the type of work that he does. Adventure travel, he does a lot of, obviously, surf photography, so he's in cold Arctic places and he's bringing people along for these unique adventures and makes a pretty good living doing that as well. Now, of course, he also sells prints and does image licensing, anytime you get an individual that is sharing so much content and it's going so far and wide, you're going to get benefits from that. And he owned his...he opened his own gallery, I believe, within the last two years in California. So he has a space there, a place where he actually teaches, he has images up there. I believe he has a rock wall in his gallery. Chris is doing very well for himself and he's worked very hard to get to where he is. So the turning point, so what was the turning point for Chris that really helped him or that made him feel like he was going in the right direction? Now, what it ultimately came down to specifically for Chris was his cognitive choice to dedicate the most of his time early on to the middle part of his career to travel to places that other people were not willing to go. He was an adventurer at heart, has always been, and he was willing to go work in remote, challenging locations and create pretty amazing pieces of art, photography images that was very captivating and pulled the audience in and his ability to do so and mixed with his personality was really what helped give him a lot of momentum when it came to social media. So his turning point was saying, "Hey, this is what everyone else is doing but I'm realizing that the stuff that I'm creating in this specific genre, this specific niche, is going farther than everywhere else." And so it was that aha moment where he was like, "You know what? Maybe I should dedicate more of my time to this, it seems like I've found my niche. I can figure out ways to perfect this, to make this mine," and Chris did that. A lot of people are doing adventure travel remote stuff now but Chris has pioneered that, at least in terms of social media from a photography standpoint. So social media helped... Chris has been around and doing this for a while and social media was always...or has always been at least somewhat connected to the work that he was doing, but when he was originally teaching...or when he was originally working with
Surfer magazine, it wasn't really as prevalent as is now. So, Chris, like myself and like a lot of the other photographers, pretty much all the other photographers that we're talking about today, all are products of hard work, good timing, the fact that most of us started our companies at the beginning of social media, and persistence. So, confident stubbornness, if you want to call it that, his ability to sit there and figure out and realize what he wanted to do, realize what was working for him, and was able to push things in order to be known for that, that's what he has been known for. He created his brand through understanding his audience and that's pretty big. So, building his following. So, what I meant for Chris in terms of building his following is a lot of the stuff that we just talked about led to his followers growing so drastically. This is a mixture between Chris's style of photography. Again, the remote stuff helped, the epic travel stuff helped. A lot of his images you'll see like this, it's a beautiful location, there's going to be an isolated individual or a couple individuals, and they are images that make you feel like you could be there. These type of images do exceptionally well in places like Instagram, and since his brand was wrapped around this idea of adventure travel photography and allowing people to come along with his...come along with him on his adventures, it was perfect. So the style of his photography, the fact that a lot of his images are that idea of...they're bright images, a lot of them aren't shot, like a lot of landscape or travel photographers or at least landscape photographers, during sunrise and sunset, where a lot of us try to focus on that because we love these beautiful reds and oranges and other colors, but there's so much contrast. Most of Chris's images aren't like that. That's actually an interesting segment or something to quickly talk about is the idea that if you actually look at postcards... When you go see postcards when you're traveling around different places or you're in your local airport, a lot of the time those postcards are not the times where photographers typically are trying to focus. Photographers like myself, we're up at odd hours of the day and we're shooting these dark, cool scenes because we think they're great and it's what speaks to us, but for a lot of audiences, that's not what they're about. They're about the experience, they're out...they're not going to sit there and realize, think that they're going to go to places like Patagonia and spend multiple days out there trying to get this one perfect sunset, they want to go out there and see what the mountains look like during the day, and Chris's style, again, pulls that, it pulls to it. And Instagram's following or Instagram's user base from a market demographic standpoint, is primed for this stuff. So Chris was able to build his following by producing great images but images that spoke to people, that allowed his audience to feel like they were a part of what he was doing. And I'll talk a little bit about Chris's captions because he made it a point to something being important, but you can see here in the captions for a lot of the photos, if you look at Chris's feeds not just on Instagram but other places, he tries to keep it light-hearted, he tries to keep it inspirational, he likes to get people involved, he likes to tell a little bit of a backstory. This is important stuff. As I mentioned, that personal nature of what Chris likes to do is the fact he likes to bring people along, he likes to show people behind the scenes. So Chris actually has a behind-the-scenes Instagram account that by itself has 150,000 followers and those are just behind-the-scenes photos of his adventures, so it's like the behind-the-scenes photos of his photos. And even with his behind-the-scenes stuff, he's been able to create a following because people are truly interested in the work that he's doing because they find it captivating. So Chris's Facebook, let's take a quick look at...we're going to look at his Facebook and his Instagram page and look at a couple different statistics and information to see what we can garner from it. So Chris has a business page and a personal page. Now, most of Chris's stuff lives on his business page, his personal page does promote some of his...a lot of his business stuff. Again, like I said, you won't see a ton of stuff about his family, he reserves that for stuff that's in private, the stuff that he does with his wife and his two sons. But his personal page is a place where he also allows other companies or other individuals that he's working on projects with to tag because generally, it's easier from a mobile standpoint. You can tag other people that you follow but you can't tag businesses from a mobile phone on Facebook. It's a limitation which I don't understand why they have it but it's true, so he's learned to leverage both of them. Similar to me, but again, a little bit more distance between his personal...the family, the close-knit, person who he is behind closed doors, but he still likes to let people in as much as he's comfortable with. He likes to post, at least on his business page, generally one to two times a day depending on what he's trying to go after. And that's pretty much average for Facebook and we have a section talking about how many times you should post on each of these different networks. But this is about average for most people, one to two times a day. The posts contain a lot of backstory but are never too long in length, again, this is a really important thing. Most pages on Facebook or most of the time the algorithms on Facebook will penalize you for long-form content. You sit there and you're talking and you're talking and you're talking and all of a sudden, you have eight different paragraphs and all that stuff, no one's going to read that, I'm just going to be honest. For the most part, people just don't read it. So having a couple lines of contextual information is important but just don't take things too far. He doesn't jump into the comments too much and I only mention this is because Chris has grown his stuff so large that he gets so much interaction generally on all of his different platforms that it would really be impossible for him to truly be able to jump and engage. Now, he does from time to time and he is active on these social platforms even though he has other people helping him run a lot of his channels, so he'll comment on photos of mine and other people and I see him engaging, but he isn't in there every time someone says something or asks a question. He just doesn't have the time, he travels a lot, and the rest of the time he's spending with his family. So, once you get to a certain level, I totally understand it. For me, I still try to and sometimes fail at trying to stay connected, trying to staying engaged with all of my audience that I can. But for Chris for now, a lot of the times he just doesn't have the ability to jump in, there's only so many hours in the day. Now, Chris, if you look on his Facebook feed, at the very top of his post...and you can't see it on the mobile phone but you can see it on desktop, you can see the source of where content is usually published. Oh, actually, it does say it, never mind, it does say it. Excellent. So right over here, you can see under "Chris Burkard," it says, "Instagram." So Chris, because Instagram is his main source of his following and his engagement, will purposely publish to Instagram with the idea that he's then going to take that content and he's going to push it back to Facebook. Now, I wasn't able to do a complete deep dive and look over months and months and months of Chris's stuff but from what I gathered, I don't think there was one time where I saw that he was posting to Facebook the same thing that he was posting to Instagram, there was always a difference. So, something to think about. Remember I talked about stagnating your posts if you're going to do cross-linking, I think it's highly valuable, I think it's great to maximize the stuff that you're doing and minimize the amount of work that you need to do but if you do it in a way that spams your audience, generally you're going to get penalized for it ultimately at some point. We have a question, yes, in the back. - [Woman] So you're saying that he posted the same picture but he changed the text? Is there a different or... - No, I'm saying that he doesn't...when you look at his Instagram, look at his Instagram feed, it is not going to be a direct correlation, at least right away, for what you're going to see he posts on Facebook that day. - Okay, so that he waited... - So he'll wait a little bit. Sometimes, there might be some days where there was a same-day post but it's not going to be right away, he's maximized...he's found the opportune times to posts on each of the different platforms and he will leverage that, using the idea that he's going to initially publish to Instagram and then take that content when he's ready and then cross-link that back to Facebook because it creates a direct post like this, seeming like it is in Instagram. Compared to Instagram where if you did that to Twitter, it would create a link back to Instagram, but because Facebook and Instagram are the same company, they essentially can work together so it becomes this direct link and Facebook tends to favor that. - Got you. - All right, so Chris averaged around 3,000 interactions per post, sometimes that's 7,000, sometimes it's 1,000, sometimes it's less, depends on if he's pushing a product, pushing a print sale, pushing a workshop, just posting inspirational stuff, when he posts inspirational stuff, depends on the image, depends on a lot of different factors, but on average there's probably around 3,000 interactions per post. Now, Chris's Instagram. So Chris's Instagram handle is @ChrisBurkard, again, if you haven't followed him before, you're one of the few people on the planet, but you can sure go ahead and make sure you follow him. And Chris's behind-the-scenes, which is not an (inaudible) there's supposed to be an @ there but it's "burkgnar," a play on the Vikings, Ragnarök and whatnot. And this is actually Chris's behind-the-scenes stuff here, so you can see it's him sharing small little bits and stuff that he comes across on his travels. Super-playful, a lot of fun. So he uses a similar caption style to Facebook with the occasional CTA, so a call-to-action, so he's not necessarily saying the same exact things but he is changing things up, but his style is similar. So, generally short captions, inspirational, wants people to be engaged, wants to inspire. Sometimes will have call-to-actions, trying to spur that engagement, asking questions, posting stuff timely, things like that. He doesn't use hashtags on Instagram, probably because he doesn't have to. Again, Chris's Instagram is like a large planet in a universe where a lot of the stuff is just coming to him. He averages one post per day, religiously. I couldn't find a day where he did not have a post up but it was a single post a day. He averages around 80,000 interactions per post. That's huge. In comparison, a lot of my stuff even on my best day was 5,000. To 80,000, that's impressive. So, parting advice, so Chris had two pieces of advice that he wanted to share with you guys. He recommended that you post often but you shoot more. Make sure that you're out there and you're being consistent with your posting but he recommends that you spend the majority of your time actually creating content. Now, he also wants to make an emphasis on the idea of making sure that you're telling a story and this is something that I am a huge proponent of, I've actually taught classes and given seminars on the idea of storytelling, photographers as visual storytellers. Because in this day and age, there's so much content out there. There are billions of photos being shared every day across multiple different platforms. And so sometimes, an image by itself, a beautiful image by itself is not necessarily enough to captivate people at least for a long enough time for some value to come out of it. Now, you need that captivating photo like this image to pull people in and pause when they're streaming through their Instagram feed but after that, people want to know a little bit more about it. So I highly recommend that you tell a little bit more, give a little bit of a story, give a little bit of a sense of purpose to what was happening. When it comes to storytelling, I recommend that people sit there...or when it comes to storytelling, you have a story arc, so you have a main character, you have a general setting, and you're directing people towards a direction. But when it comes to photography, you don't have to finalize this or you don't have to wrap things up nicely like you do in a book or you do in a movie. So from a photographer's standpoint, you want to set the scene, you want to give people an idea of who the main character is, and you want to set them on a path. Now, these things are done both in the caption and in the photo, but if you can, that idea of creating a more captivating photo and giving it a little bit of a backstory completes more of that circle. Doesn't matter if you're doing adventure travel stuff or it's wedding photography or food photography, paint a picture with your words. That was Chris's advice, pay attention to the caption, that was one of the mistakes that he felt that he did early on in his social media career, is he didn't respect the caption, he didn't take advantage of using the caption as the space for the artist to actually interject more of themself into their image that they are sharing with the world. So he also recommends for people to find a style of photography that you truly like, that you truly enjoy, and he wants you to find ways to own it. Own that style. Maybe it's a style of the type of stuff that you're shooting, maybe it's how you shoot, maybe it's how you process, maybe it's how your images look, maybe it's where you're located. Regardless of what it is, find a style that you like and own it. Find ways to make it your own and practice it until you perfect it. It takes time and effort. Chris, like me, has been shooting for a number of years, these things don't happen overnight. But even myself, who, as an individual, as we talked about before and we'll continue to talk about, shoots a wide variety of subjects because I'm interested in them, you can look through my portfolio and you'll generally see a lot of common threads, how I process my images, the colors I tend to work with. Overall, my images still have a similar style or feel that is my own. Now, for Chris, Chris's work is tied a little bit more towards the work that he does at the areas that he's at, answer his light processing style that is very natural, very endemic of a place like Instagram. It's beautiful, it's soft, bright colors, solid blues, nice earth tones. These are the spaces that he's been able to create his brand for the type of work that he likes to do and he's been rewarded exceptionally for it.