Selling our souls or enjoying life’s freebies?
A few weeks ago, we were approached by Julie King and associates regarding a trip to Dubai that would be sponsored in terms of return airfares and 5 star accommodation. My first response was – hang on, really? Is this a scam? There’s got to be a flip side to this right? After very brief discussion with Marianne, we decided to enquire further since a free holiday wouldn’t hurt right? At this stage, it was only early February and Julie was looking for social media influencers to promote Dubai as a stopover destination en route between Europe and Asia. The deadline was that this needed to occur sometime in February or early March. Given the relative short notice, we felt that it would be difficult to impose on relatives to look after our kids Charlotte and Jaime. The most realistic way for this to work would be to somehow incorporate this as a family trip. The requirements of us were fairly straightforward : regular Instagram story posts (5 per day) and one static post per day for the duration of our stay and all to be linked to Tourism Dubai.
We wrote back indicating that it would be possible in the first week of March (when I had miraculously managed to find an empty slot in leave allocations at the hospital)but that we would have to bring our kids along with us. In return, we would be willing to up the ante in terms of static posts since I felt that I had seen many interesting futuristic images of Dubai shot from rooftops. During this negotiation period, we were all truly excited. I contacted Daniel Cheong, Sebastian Tontsch and Dale from DK photography who had all frequently visited Dubai. I am thankful to all of them who were more than willing to share what was possible to shoot using Dubai as a base. As a result of my enquiries, I now see Dubai as a genuine possibility for a future independent visit. I had looked forward to shooting from several locations: The rooftop of the Shangrila hotel, rooftop of the 4 seasons Sheraton , Dubai Marina , rooftop of the Atlantis overlooking the Palm Jumeira and various possible locations for Dune images. I had an idea that during a week’s stays, I could quite conceivable come up with at least one usable architectural image per session of shooting. It was also quite an opportunity to test NiSi’s new V6 filter holder system and I was looking forward to using the night filter for cityscapes in particular.
When looking a gift horse in the mouth however, you may end up finding that you’ve been lurking in the mouth of a hyena. First, after being provided a list of potential hotels, we didn’t hear back for nearly a week. When we did hear back, we were then told that the images weren’t for Tourism Dubai per se, but for the specific hotels we were staying in. No dramas, many of them either had fantastic places to shoot within or vantage points from. We chose Atlantis and Bab Al Shams as possible bases so that we could come at the Instagram stories from the viewpoint of family travel ; something that ‘everlook photography’ is already known for. Images of our kids doing kids stuff would certainly not be out of keeping with what we have displayed on our feed in the past. Atlantis looked like the best option given it’s theme park setup with plenty of family activities and adult activities such as diving for Marianne (who has recent completed her training!). Given that we were asking for two rooms to accommodate the children, we were asked by Julie if we could supply high resolution images to soften the deal. We were fine with that given that it’s pretty unlikely that any of these images would end up as ‘portfolio’ images though we did ask that the hotel would only have ‘non exclusive’ rights to them.
Silence. The request for those hotels went through two weeks before planned departure and there was no response for a week. We had to know what our travel plans were so that we could inform the school and extracurricular activities that we would be absent for a week. By Monday night prior to the planned departure there was still no response from the Atlantis. Even a response in the negative would have assisted with planning another hotel but nope, nada. By Tuesday morning (before a planned Friday departure) Marianne and decided that this was a bridge too far crossed and we called off the entire trip with disappointment. If you were to ask me whether I would have been disappointed to miss out on a trip to Dubai the month prior, it would have been an instant ‘no’. However, after the significant amount of energy expended, not so much through the negotiations with Julie, but the background research into what would optimise our visit there, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. This left me pondering a few issues.
- The life of a ‘typical’ instagram influencer is clearly not a lifestyle we are suited to. I don’t know how ‘last minute’ many of these arrangements are but we are definitely the type of people to plan out a trip months in advance to give us freedom of choice after hitting the ground. We don’t have the freedom to muck around ‘before’ a commitment to travelling and then inventing plans with two young children without knowing potential multiple plan B’s. This, as a family choice makes it difficult to suddenly fly off somewhere ‘on a whim’. For those reading who are instagram influencers who go on paid promotion missions, I’d love to know what the typical time frame of a gig is!
- The gravy train of social media influencing has certain left the station on a fixed destination. Marianne and I both suspect that the hotels were uncomfortable with ‘using’ us as influencers given the nature of our social media feed (glorified landscapes). I certainly intended to present Dubai in a light that was representative of our ‘style’ for this location. I felt that during our trip to Fiji last year, we were able to capture images in the ‘everlook’ style that belied the ‘usual’ tourism promotion style images of Fiji. I guess institutions want to put their money where the crowds already look not where new audiences may or may not choose to look. As an anecdotal aside, I was told that at work, some of the younger doctors who follow our account are trying to expand their social media audience base and were doing things like waking up extra early to get the ideal light on their housemate sipping coffee. My response was that this could well end up with their image being featured on ‘instarepeat‘ (‘disembodied hand holding steaming coffee mug). I don’t particularly feel like stepping aboard this gravy train and perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that we didn’t go on this trip lest we start to head down ‘that’ path. Now to contradict myself with the next point !
- Some people are far more convicted with their chosen path than we are. I believe that as a photographer, I am primarily a landscape photographer and that all other genres are a distant second. That said, I do take the occasional selfie (with nature in the background), we used to photography weddings and I love taking pictures of my kids. I don’t discriminate between wilderness images, man made landscapes/cityscapes and easy access iconic locations. In my teens, I learned a valuable life lesson for myself (which may not be applicable to everyone). The lesson was that following principles for principles’ sake led me to an endless loop of questioning self worth which led to self doubt and ultimately years of depression. Once I learned that moral principles are merely guidelines for regulating my behavior rather than totems etched in black or white, I was able to enjoy life so much more. I’m no anarchist, I’m just more flexible with each individual situation than I was when I was younger. In this scenario, I felt ‘morally flexible’ enough to allow for a big corporation to pay for a free family experience. I’m always on the lookout for win-win situations. We may well have learned that we disliked the trip , but a mistake in retrospect is yet another valuable life experience.
- Lastly, it’s hard to write a post like this without coming off as being some kind of hypocrite whose eaten a gigantic bunch of sour grapes. If you feel that’s the way this has read then you’re free to make that choice just as I’m free to tell you that despite the disappointment, the process of what went on in the last few weeks has been yet another humbling learning experience. We’ve since been approached by ‘icebreaker’ to promote their gear in nature which seems far more in line with our style of photography so we’ll let you know how that all goes! Perhaps expect to see a few more images of Marianne and myself in among the epic landscapes 🙂 .