Moving to a different country and making a living doing what you love is not always an easy feat. But, with the opportunities ecommerce provides, it opens the world to you as an entrepreneur and creates an avenue to continue making money, no matter where you’re at.
Skyler Burt, currently located in Oman with his family, is an American photographer and one half of Yellow Street Photos, which he founded with his wife, Heather.
In the seller spotlight, Skyler shares with us:
- advice for standing out amongst the sea of other photographers and creatives
- how he makes a living both online and off
- how he stays productive as a creative entrepreneur
- what his morning routine looks like
At the very end, Skyler’ll also share his 3 words of what it means to be an entrepreneur and his exciting upcoming partnerships and projects.
So, make yourself a cup of coffee (black, no sugar as Skyler likes it), and enjoy this thoughtful, interesting interview.
First, let’s get to know each other a little bit! We’d love to hear more about you, so tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re based, and what you do.
I’m Skyler Burt, a food and travel photographer, educator and writer. I love exploring as much with my camera as I do with my fork, which was my big push for me to start WeEatTogether.com, a foodie photography site. I’ve been traveling around Asia and the Middle East with my wife and family for the last ten years, living here and there, but we’re currently based in a small country called the Sultanate Of Oman. It’s a small country with mars-like landscape but charming and a great location to springboard from when shooting assignments abroad.
What are some of the ways you make a living doing what you love online?
We really started our entrance to the online marketplace with our studio, Yellow Street Photos, about ten years ago. We began by traveling and selling our images through stock archives such as Lonely Planet’s. We still shoot a lot of travel, but most of what we do now is food photography for magazines, restaurants, and chefs.
The online space has really opened opportunities for me in education. I love it because previously I’ve only taught photography at the college level. Although I love the classroom, there is something special about the community online.
Providing photography tools and techniques online allows me to share my ideas with so many more people from all over the globe, which is what I really love about my Food Photography Masterclass. This course is really my entire workflow as a food photographer. Live demonstrations from using the camera all the way to lighting and styling food stories. With the right tools, like Selz, it’s amazing that all this information can be placed into a single digital download and easily offered to the broader online community.
As a photography team that works with world class clients such as Lonely Planet, Forbes Traveler, and The National, where is the most absurd, interesting, or inspiring place you’ve worked from?
That is a tough question, but one of the recent stories my wife and I worked on was documenting the natural honey farmers in Oman. They live deep in the Hajar mountain range, which is a beautiful wilderness area here in the Middle East. The honey is so pure, probably the best I’ve ever eaten. Each season provides a very different taste. It was a great photography experience; a wonderful opportunity to show a tradition that has been passed down for generations.
Photographing the honey farmers was a little tricky because we didn’t have protective clothing and some of the bees didn’t play nice. The farmers told us that if we tried to run more bees would chase us down, I got stung at least 6 times one day and it’s hard to fight that natural reaction to flee. You get a strange mix of awe and self preservation when the deafening buzz of a thousand bees is all around you. It’s definitely a moment where I tried my hardest to retreat into my viewfinder and not think of my surroundings.
It was an amazing few weeks and we managed to get some beautiful images, which won us the GCC Food Photographer of the Year Award. Coupled with the fascinating experience of documenting their lifestyle, a few swollen eyes and fingers were well worth it.
When did you start to realize that your small business was working for you?
Working as a photographer, there are not a lot of thanks or pats on the back in the industry. People are expecting high quality imagery as a standard already, so when you really feel like you’ve nail an assignment, it kind of goes unnoticed.
However, as soon as I started putting content out there to teach people about food photography, I started getting some really encouraging feedback. Those people who took the time to comment with, “Hey I like what you’re doing” or “thanks for that tutorial” really inspired me. They really gave me the confidence to push forward with my online business. The more reactions I got from people, the less I started to feel like I was just talking to myself and the more I started to think that there just might be a lot of people interested in learning more about how to make great food photography.
For new photographers and creative entrepreneurs, what are some words of advice for when you’re just starting out?
I think studying under someone really helps that growth as an artist, especially one who encourages you to create. However, one of the biggest impacts on my career was simply looking at what others were doing and spending a great amount of time analyzing their techniques and creative choices. Whether it’s art, photos, or even videos, I try to take away something from whatever I’m looking at. Looking at a lot of work also helps me understand the difference between an industry standard and a trend.
[Tweet “if you really want to stand out, then take time to survey the market and find where you want to be.”]
Having those standards are a must, but I think if you really want to stand out, then take time to survey the market and find where you want to be. Photography, for example, is very broad and a lot of the time you’ll see the same thing over and over again, whether it’s with a particular style or a subject. Once you realize what’s repetitive about your market, then it easier to position yourself from the rest of the noise by either doing the opposite or doing it better than anyone else.
A lot of solopreneurs find it hard to stay productive and organized when it’s just them doing all the work. What are some of your favorite tools for staying productive and organized whether you’re home in LA or traveling the globe?
For me, running an online and offline business is difficult. Most of the time I feel like I’m holding the pieces to many different puzzles at once. Offline I have my shoots and my clients and online there will be articles or tutorials and I often find myself suffering from information overload, which kills my productivity. There are actually a lot of classes online that will help out with staying organized, I’ve taken one myself.
One of the best tips I pulled away from the course I took is to download my thoughts as soon as they pop up if I think it’s an idea I’ll want to revisit later. I’ll literally dictate them to the Evernote app on my phone and this is great for when I’m driving or travelling because the cloud makes it easy to have access to them on all my devices.
I also have a few other random apps that I really love and help me stay organized, like Paprika, which is a really great tool for hunting down recipe ideas and it will automatically turn the recipe into a shopping list, which saves me a lot of time. Also, the Creative Cloud is another great time saver as it not only gives me access to all my archived images on any of my devices, but it’s integrated into the variety of editing software I use.
What does a typical morning look like and how does it impact your success as a small business? Are there any specific things you do to start your day off right?
My mornings start off with coffee and then I transition to a larger cup of coffee. Actually coffee is a large part of day, but recently I’ve tried to add a few other routines to the start off my day. What I’ve found to really have a big impact on my day is to carve out time each morning, just 20-30 minutes, before anything else to only be with my thoughts. A little time to disconnect without the phone, email, or Facebook. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk, but most of the time I’ll just meditate. When I do this I feel more focused and less overwhelmed when I go off to start my work for the day.
What’s your most favorite coffee company and type of coffee / origin and how do you like to prepare your coffee (French Press? Regular ole’ coffee machine? Espresso?)
I know I’m going to offend the coffee aficionados here, but I guess I love coffee too much to be particular about a brand or a type. If it is there and no sugar is involved, I’ll drink it. Although, when I’m back in my hometown of Portland I have to make a Stumptown stop just for memories sake.
What does a typical day look like for you?
With the nature of my work, I never really have a daily routine. My day usually revolves around the project I’m working on. Each project has stages, so some days I’ll be writing or editing photos and video on the computer all day, while other days I’ll be either in the studio or out on location shooting. Each day is rarely the same, which is good because it keeps me interested and motivated.
If you could sum up your experience as a small business owner 3 words, what would they be?
Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
What’s next for you?
Video is slowly becoming a large part of my business and in the coming months, I have a few video adverts I’ll be creating for a chef and his restaurants. I am also a brand ambassador for the Royal Robbins outdoor clothing company and I’ll be continuing a year long adventure project for them. However, the biggest project I’ll be working on is my next course which will be a companion course for my Food Photography Masterclass. This new course will take a more serious look at professional food lighting and production for those interested in taking their food photography to the next level. I have a lot of plans for this course, it should be different than most anything out there and I’m really excited to launch that.
Any last words for our readers that you’d like to impart?
Always make it more about the memories than the money!
[Tweet “Always make it more about the memories than the money!”]
Where can we find out more about you online?
I like talking creativity, food, recipes and photography tips over on my blog at http://weeattogether.com, but you can find me almost daily on Instagram @we.eat.together or on Pinterest @weeattogether
Also subscribe to my YouTube channel for loads of great food photography tips and tutorials.
With over 10 years of traveling Asia and the Middle East, Skyler is a camera toting, old school explorer who loves real adventures as much as he loves real food. Today, you can find him in Oman, either on the trail or at his table sharing his passion for photography with everyone at WeEatTogether.com.