Interview with Colby Brown
Alright it is time for our special guest. Let's welcome in Colby Brown. Alright Colby thanks for coming in. Joining us here.
Thank you so much.
Have a seat. Let's talk photography here. And so you recently wrapped up some classes here. What were the two classes that you put on the books here?
So I just wrapped up today, monetizing your social media presence. For outdoor photographers. And then the last two days I put together a in depth two, day course that does a deep dive into developing, your social media presence. Over all four photography's so it's understanding what the, networks are and how they work. And what are algorithms. And kind of giving you tips and tricks, to how to build your audience.
Nice and social media has totally changed photography. I've been doing this for a couple decades now. And you know it's just revolutionized the whole, photographic world.
It's a different space. I mean it has adjusted a lot of different avenues, within the photo industry. Adver...
tising, marketing, how people connect. Many photos that people are sharing these days. All different avenues have been affected. And it's really hard. It's really impossible to ignore anymore.
Yeah well I know a lot of people who are watching. Have probably already saw your class. And know a little bit about you. But we probably got a bunch of people who don't even know, who Colby Brown is so what type of photography do engage in? How do you classify what you do?
I technically in terms of marketing speak. I usually call myself a landscape, travel, and humanitarian photographer. I have my main company it's Colby Brown photography. And that's mostly what I am known for. But I also created a secondary company about five, six years ago called The Giving Lens. Which essential has humanitarian efforts. And we work, we do trips around the world, that act as fundraisers. We partner with local NGOs. And we take teams of photographers, to these different places to learn about photography. But to also kind of give back. And so that whole humanitarian side has also been part of, who I am for a number of years now. And yeah it's kind of awesome.
That's nice, very nice. So the world that you're into is kind of what I enjoy, as well it's a pretty popular world. How do you maybe differentiate your stuff? Or do you have a certain style about the way you do things? Or the way you see or present things?
It's a good question. I mean I think for me I think most photographers kind of, need some sense of style. And some sense of a vision that we develop over years. Because I like to shoot a lot of different things. Which I think you're kind of similar as well. We're attracted to, or we bring out our camera, when we're compelled to. And sometimes that isn't just with a landscape. Or just with an individual. It can be a lot of different things. And so for me I have you know it's that idea. Or that diversity that has kind of pulled me in, to photography that allows me to create. And photograph a variety of subjects. And what the connection point essentially is mostly, probably more so in the feel or the look of the images. Not necessarily so much in the content. So while most of my stuff is landscape, nature, travel. Which is kind of all encompassing as you know.
It's kind of the style. So like the colors I typically gravitate towards. Or you look through my portfolio. And some of the stuff is a little bit more moody. It's maybe slightly darker. But I still have nice highlights. And so looking through that portfolio, you can see these connection points. Rather than some of the photographers where it's like you, see they're shooting the same thing all the time. Because that's what they want to be known for. I simply want to photograph things that I love.
Nice. Nice so you still seem kind of young and kind of new, at photography but you've made a fairly mediocre rise, in the photographic world. Maybe you could talk a little bit about the early days, of your photography. What was that like? What we're you doing? Maybe what were some of the mistakes you made?
Absolutely. Okay so I started photography back in 2006. So it's been 11 years now that I've been doing this. But when I first got into it. I didn't, like I always tell everyone I never had this like, nostalgic story or like my father handed me a camera. And I always wanted to do it. I stumbled into it. The truth of the matter is that once I graduated, from university I had the travel bug. From traveling every once in a while. I'd take a couple of semesters off. While going through the process. And once I graduated I got a real job at a hospital. And worked there for about six months. And realized that an eight to five job just wasn't for me. And so I sold everything I had at the time. Moved up to British Colombia. I actually went to school in Dallas Texas. Moved to British Colombia. Had somewhat of a quarter life crisis. Where I was like kind of what do I want to do with my life? And what it came down to is, I just wanted to get back and travel. I wanted to have travel experiences. I wanted to feel out of my element. That's kind of one of my places where I feel most at home. And it just so happens that I felt that photography, might be that medium that would allow me to do so. And so that was the kind of tripping into photography. I was very naive. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what I was doing. And so I had to buy books. And like teach myself for a number of months. And eventually what happened is I decided I wanted to get, back out there and start traveling again. And so I bought a one way ticket to Southeast Asia. To Bangkok. And what happened was on the flight over. So this is a few months after picking up my first camera. On the flight over the woman sitting next to me, was a rock climber from Jackson Wyoming. And she had been going out to the Malay Peninsula, in Southern Thailand for years. Had fallen in love with a local Thai. And was going to get married. Long story short her friend was a photographer, that backed out at the last second. And so on the flight over I convinced her to hire me. To essentially photograph this traditional Buddhist wedding. In this rural village in the middle of Southern Thailand. We were one of the few other white people that were there. Very few people spoke English. It was a surreal experience. And even though I didn't get paid a lot. But it gave me the confidence to think that I could, actually do this. And so fast forward a few years from there. I ended up getting a pretty lucky break. Where I had spent a few years traveling around the world. And building up my portfolio. And kind of building up a little bit of a resume. And I just so happened to end up getting hired, by National Geographic to start running some of there, student expedition programs in South America. In Ecuador in the Galapagos.
That's a good opportunity there.
It's a great opportunity. And I mean it wasn't you know for most people that have, you know had the chance to work with National Geographic. They're a wonderful organization. They don't pay exceptionally well. They are NGO.
Most people don't do that. Most people think that if you're doing something with, National Geographic that you've arrived.
In a some sense you have. It's not, you don't directly get the benefit from it. But it's the indirect. It's the fact that, that opened up exponentially more doors.
And that was a really launching factor for my career. And that just so happened to be around the time that social, media was coming out. And so the correlation between that as a launch pad. And a resume builder for me. And social media that just seemed to make sense for me. Correlated into me being able to find success quite quickly.
Nice. So I don't know about you but when I look back on my photos, I'm categorized by year. And so like when I need a photo. What I'll do is I'll like well I'll look back as far, as a certain year. And before that it's just like it's the learning curve. It's still going on. Can you pin point when like that learning curve is like, okay this is when I started to really get it?
I think so. I mean I do the same thing actually. So my light room catalog is very similar. I essentially have it by year. And then usually by continent. And then country. And then kind of whatever I'm doing. And so looking back at my stuff. I think there definitely probably was a turning point, probably you know four, five years in. Where I look back now at least. And I'm not necessarily so embarrassed, by kind of where I was at. And kind of the level I felt that I was working at, and kind of what I was doing in terms of processing. And things like that. And of course camera technologies improved. And software has changed. But our vision has changed as well. I think you know talking about the idea of style. I think I also didn't have that early on. It takes a while to build that. That idea of building what is your own creative vision. And so I feel that once that kind of came together. You see a shift in my portfolio. In terms of the quality of content that was coming out, of it but also kind of how there is that common thread now. Between all the different styles of my work. And so I don't necessarily have like a pin point. A specific time or necessarily by trip. But just looking back I know that there is this kind of, somewhat of a divide that happens rather quickly. Because all of the sudden it was like I know what I'm, liking I know what I'm shooting. And all of the sudden I find myself shooting less. But the quality is actually getting much bigger.
And I think that's you know something that everyone, struggle for but I think it's hopeful because no matter, where you are, no matter what age you are. Things can get better and better. And you look back and it's like you know I look back, on ten years ago. And I'm thinking oh wow I thought this was good. It's like this was the you know the cover of you know what, I thought was the best thing ever. And then things change.
So you're taking all these photos. You're a professional photographer. How do you make money through photography?
So I make money through a handful, of different revenue streams. This is something I actually talk quite a bit about. In each of my social media classes here at Creative Live. Essentially the idea that I think most photographers, these days and I think you'd agree. Have to have some sense of diversification. I mean there's just so much going on. And so much has evolved. That it really helps take away a lot of the stress. From sitting there and having kind of all your eggs, in one basket. And so for me photo education of course, is a big portion of things. Like you I am a photo educator. I have been for eleven years. Each of my companies run tours all over the world. I've written books. Do video tutorials. All those things. That's a good chunk of what I do. Maybe around forty percent. I also work quite a bit on large marketing campaigns. In both the tourism and tech industries. Where I'm working with company's like you know Sony, and Samsung and Microsoft and LG. Or destinations like governments for like the Canadian, government and tourism like you know Jordan tourism board. Or Australia tourism board. So those things make up a big portion of what I do as well. Probably another forty to fifty percent. And then most of the rest of the stuff, is like image licensing. I do sponsorships. I've worked with quite a number of company's and brands. Because of my social following. And all of that together has allowed me to you know create, a very nice brand that let's me live quite comfortably.
So you have a very large hat rack at your house. Because you're wearing a lot of hats.
You know in my class I kind of joke that being a, photographer is probably the second most, popular career choice. The first to be a rockstar. If you could be Mick Jagger wouldn't you probably take that?
I would probably take that.
Yeah but you know once you get past 25 or so. You're thinking okay that's not probably gonna happen. But that photography thing seems really nice. And so one question that I want to ask all my guests. Just because I know there's people at home, going like that's awesome. That is so cool. That's what I want to do. The question is what percent of your time is actually, shooting photographs?
That's a good question. Yeah most people have this like over romanticized notion, of what we do. I'd probably say that the percentage of time that of, working time that I'm actually shooting out in the field. On a given overall year comparatively, probably like six percent.
Maybe six to nine percent to be optimistic. I mean the reality is that you know photography. When you're doing this for a living. You're an entrepreneur alright. So I love business. That's why I've started multiple. I'm starting more. I have other one's down the pipe line. Like I love that stuff. Almost probably as much as I love you know creating work. Creating photography work. And so a lot of the stuff that I do. I'm constantly building. I'm constantly trying to think ten steps ahead. And so while that number might scare people. Especially new aspiring photographers. The reality is that it takes a lot to make what we do. You know happen. It makes all that come together. And yeah I mean I love time away. I love getting out and shooting. But I also have a family at home. So I also want to like, I always say that I want to work smarter and not harder. Which means that every year that goes on. Not only do I want to be more financially successful. But that I also want to not work as hard. Which for me often times means not so much time, out in the field. So when I do travel it's more pointed. It's more specific. And I'm more effective. So that I can go home and you know play Lego Batman, with my five year old son because that's what I love to do. And that's my driving force.
Nice, Nice. I just think it's funny to get that question out there--
Because I think most people are gonna say ten percent, or less on it. And it just doesn't seem right. And one of the things in my classes, I don't necessarily encourage people to try to make a, living from photography. I think it's a great activity. It's a great lifestyle. And if you just work your normal nine to five job. And you spend all day Saturday photographing. What is that like fourteen percent of your time?
Yeah. You're doing better.
Like double of what you get, to shoot.
Absolutely. Well that's the rule. That's the reality. Mixed in with the fantasy. Or the romanticized notion. That people that do this for a living. Who travel the world all the time. Only beautiful places. Nothing bad ever happens. We get paid exceptionally well. And all we do is shoot. And that's just not reality. I'm sorry.
Click here to ask John Greengo your questions for future One Hour Photos!
Every month, John gives you an hour of expert guidance and immediate feedback with ten student questions and ten critiques in this exciting new series we're calling One Hour Photo. John will also sit down with one guest photographer who will offer insights, advice, industry knowledge, and participate in a photo critique of student images, and this month's guest is Colby Brown.
In this hour, John responds to questions about lens recommendations for different types of cameras and genres of photography, photography tips for how to get great sharp images in low light conditions, the differences and benefits between auto ISO and manual mode, just to list a few.
Colby Brown is a photographer, photo educator and author based out of Eastern Pennsylvania. Specializing in landscape, travel and humanitarian photography, his photographic portfolio spans the four corners of the globe. Throughout his work, one can see that he combines his love of the natural world with his fascination of its diverse cultures. Check out his CreativeLive classes.