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Ways We Work

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Taylor Burk

Adventure Photographer

I came across Taylor's photographs last year while browsing through my Instagram feed. One of his images was featured on a wilderness account I follow. I really liked the shot and after looking at his feed, I quickly became a fan. I loved his approach and the natural feel his images had. The images didn't try to hard and felt really authentic. Taylor was great to chat with and the fun and natural vibe conveyed in his images carried through to who he was as a person. -Matt

Tell us a bit about what you do?

I'm a freelance adventure and travel photographer and I've been doing it full-time for almost a year. Right now I'm in Pismo Beach, California but I used to call Edmonton, Alberta home. I got rid of my place there last Spring and I've been travelling ever since. I am currently living out of my vehicle, camping and staying with friends when I can. I had no real reason to be in Edmonton anymore; I’m just not really into the city lifestyle, so I opted for something different.

What was your path to becoming a full-time photographer?

A few years ago I was travelling and came across Instagram. I wasn’t really into social media; I didn’t have Facebook or any other social apps. I was happy without it but I thought I'd give Instagram a try because I had all these photos from my travels and I wanted to inspire my friends to get out and see the world. I learned that Instagram was a great place to share photos, so I signed up and started to upload my pictures there. When I got back to Alberta I ended up getting an iPhone and I was amazed by the quality of photos it could take. They were way better than the camera I had previously.

From there I just had fun shooting my everyday life: going for walks, going to the mountains, going here and there. I had fun trying to capture different angles and perspectives. Mobile photography was nothing like anything I had done before. From there, photography developed into more of a hobby and eventually some friends said, “You should just buy a DSLR camera.” I agreed due to an upcoming trip. I wanted to capture high quality memories. I bought a Canon Rebel T3i and I took it on my trip. I had no clue what I was doing with the camera though, and I quickly got fed up with it. I preferred my iPhone just because of its ease. With the iPhone you just point and shoot, with DSLRs it has all these crazy settings. It was a bit overwhelming and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I bought this expensive camera and it was just collecting dust in my house.

Until the beginning of last summer, I only posted iPhone photos. In that time though I was learning, asking questions, watching YouTube tutorials. I had friends in photography and would learn from them, gain insight and practice, practice, practice. I would see a shot–like a slowed down waterfall or a Milky Way–and I would research and figure out how to get those type of shots and just kept practicing until I was able to capture what I wanted.

So when did photography become how you made a living?

It started using Instagram fairly early on and I was just having fun with it. I was meeting up with people and trying to make connections with others who had similar interests. Instagram has this “suggested users list" where they feature their favourite accounts. If you were a new Instagram user and didn't follow anyone, the app would give you a list of suggested accounts for you to start off with. People on the list would gain a large number of followers in a short period of time. About a year and a half ago, I made it on that list and in two weeks I went from 2500 followers to 25000 followers. From there my following has been naturally growing from popular accounts featuring my work, to word of mouth, and collaborating with others. Once I built up my following, brands started inquiring about my work. I still had a full time job, so I was taking a lot of vacation time to go out and do photography gigs. It got to the point where I just couldn’t take any more time off and my bosses were getting a little upset. I thought about things and I came to the conclusion: “You got to take a risk and chase opportunity if you want to pursue what you love to do.” I quit my job in December 2014 and have been a photographer full time ever since.

What were you doing before?

I was a plumber. I don't have an education in business or photography so I’m kick starting this business by trial and error along with tons of research. It has been very successful for me! I am very fortunate to be working with a lot of big clients and companies that I believe in and stand behind.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve been facing over the past year and how did you overcome them?

Some of the challenges this year have been around the finance side of things. Now that I’m strictly freelance, I have to make sure that I can budget properly for each month. I have to manage all the invoicing, saving receipts, paying bills, making sure the work’s done correctly, and then on top of that, making sure that I have jobs coming in regularly so I can support myself. I’ve been overcoming that by reaching out to others and asking questions on those topics. The Internet is obviously a big help as well. Figuring out how to do photography professionally, learn from my mistakes, and continue to push forward has been a big part of my year. There is the bad and good with everything. There are times when things are tough, and then there are times when there are no worries at all. I do my best to not focus on negative situations, I always try and find the positive. If you spend too much time worrying then you sink into a deep hole. I just do what I have to do in each situation and make the most of it.

How do you stay on top of your industry?

I am always trying to push myself. If I go to popular locations that other photographers often frequent I ask myself, how can I do it differently? I try to think outside the box; whether it’s including someone into the photo, climbing up to a higher area or getting down lower. The key is to always push yourself and try new things.

Gear wise I have a fairly basic set up. I shoot with a Canon 6D, 20-74mm f2.8 and a 17-40mm f4.0. The setup works for what I need. It’s definitely not about how much “shiny” gear you have. I know an incredible photographer with old gear that hardly works but her photos are incredible.

In terms of staying on top of things I always try and prioritize my time to make sure that inquiries are getting answered. It’s tough being on the road because a lot of times I’m either driving, hiking and shooting or doing errands. I come back home and I have emails to go over, and photos to edit. The workload can get a little bit backlogged because I'm the only one doing it. Prioritizing time and making sure it all gets done is an important part of making everything work.

How do you stay on top of e-mail?

I go through my email regularly and make sure I get back to everyone as soon as possible. When I am on a shoot or on the road I set an autoresponder to let people know I may take awhile to reply.

One thing I’m going to do soon is base myself so I can crack down and stay on top of everything. I need to make sure I get caught up because it's tough always being on the go. Each day that goes by the pile of administrative work I have to do gets bigger. It's an important aspect of what I do, so I constantly remind myself to take more time to focus.

What are some of the productivity tools you use to keep organized?

Expensify - It’s an app where you can put in all your receipts and all your expenses in and tracks it all. It’s so easy. I don’t really use a whole lot of apps or things like that but that’s a good one.

What does a typical trek in the wilderness look like for you?

It depends. There are times where I am on big long treks and times when I’m not close to the wilderness at all. If i'm around the city it’s because I need to get stuff done or there are things I need nearby. One thing lot of people assume is what they see on Instagram is my day to day life. For example, the photo I posted yesterday was taken a few days ago, and the photo before that was a few weeks ago. It’s not always current which but sometimes it is. For me it’s more of a portfolio and a place to share my experiences and to inspire others.

My day is a mix of everything, I mean there are days where I am out hiking, there are days where I’m only driving, and there are days where I’m only in the city. I like to spend as much time out hiking and being outdoors shooting; whether it’s a day trip, an overnight trip, or a couple of nights.

When I’m out shooting I'm usually waiting for sunrise/sunset, shooting as much as I can during golden hour, and if possible get some work done during down time.

So what was today like?

Right now its late and I’m in a McDonald’s using the Wi-Fi. I haven't eaten at McDonald's in over three years, I’m actually against it, but they have great WI-Fi! [laughs] I can’t thank them enough for that. My office is usually a cafe though. Earlier a friend and I did a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. Tonight some friends and I are going to do some night shooting and camping on the beach.

Yesterday I was out camping and it was an interesting experience. It started as a beautiful crystal clear night so we setup some hammocks and we were planning to camp out under the stars. We went to bed around 10:30pm and I woke up at 4:30am to a couple of raindrops. It hardly rains in California, they are going through a drought, all of a sudden it starts pouring! All our gear was out and exposed because we didn’t expect rain. So we quickly packed everything up as it was becoming drenched. We decided to drive back to my friends place so we could go back to sleep. As we were driving out the rain had caused a lot of rock slides. There was a huge rock on the road and my friend hit it resulting in a flat. It was now 5am and I was out there changing a tire. I got the spare on. 20 minutes down the road the spare goes flat, Shit what do we do? Luckily we found an area where we could pull over and get service. We waited for a tow truck to come. In the time that we were waiting the sun was rising, the clouds broke free for 20 minutes and we got to see a beautiful sunrise. We made the most of it, but it was a long morning!

What's the best career advice you’ve been given so far?

One of my friends, Chris, told me to write everything down. For example, say you have some brands you want to work with or some magazines that you want to be published in; write it down. Additionally, he told me that if you have a company you love, then find out who it is that you need to talk to that deals with what you offer and get their information. Come up with a plan and reach out to them with your idea. If you never ask or never reach out you’re never going to know. Writing down your goals and accomplishing them at the same time is definitely something that's been useful.

Why do you do what you do, what makes it all worth it?

Often I get a messages from people thanking me for sharing my images saying it inspired them to get outdoors. Hearing those things mean more to me than I can explain. That is the major reason why I do what I do.

I used to be a city boy and never did big adventurous things. That feeling I got when I actually went out there doing it was amazing! To go and travel and meet new people and just be more open; it made me the happiest guy on Earth. So knowing that I can make someone feel those things and have those experiences too, that’s what makes me happy. Adventuring, meeting new people, and experiencing new things that’s what I love and just being able to have a platform to share it on, makes it even better.

Instagram has changed your life in a way...

Instagram has completely changed my life in may ways– I'd say 90% of the people I talk to on a regular basis - like friendships - I have met through Instagram. Besides the community aspect of it, it also enabled me to make a drastic change in my career going from being a plumber to a photographer.

Who has been an influence in the way you live?

In terms of the lifestyle my buddy Geoff Reid who lives in New Zealand. He is doing some amazing conservation work, making a huge imapct. He is always an inspiration, he is the one who got me into this backpacking lifestyle and the outdoors. He is currently making a documentary, traveling the country helping conserve fresh water, so I want be able to go and give my voice to help promote what he is doing.

Photography-wise I have always been inspired by my friend Callum Snape. He is such an awesome guy, a big inspiration. He has always been very helpful and supportive. I met him through an Insta-meet, at least that’s where we formally met. We became close friends and we’ve had a lot of work together recently.

Who would you to see featured on Ways We Work?

I would like to see a feature on Andy Cochrane from Oru Kayak. He is super motivated and always one step ahead of the curve. I would like to get more of an inside look into his mind.