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Meet the travel photographer using Facebook Live to invite you along on the road

interview photographer trey ratcliff uses facebook live 0011
Trey Ratcliff

Ever since Facebook added the ability to broadcast live video from phones, we’ve seen a surge of new uses pop up, everything from citizen journalism to behind-the-scenes footage — from the fun to the absurd.

Trey Ratcliff, a photographer and travel writer who heads up one of the top blogs, “Stuck in Customs,” has started incorporating Facebook Live into his work. His new series, Becoming an Artist: Live! combines travelogues, tips on travel & travel photography, and audience Q&As – all done in real-time. Unlike his recorded Becoming an Artist videos, the Facebook Live series, which was announced at Facebook’s F8 conference, allows him to interact with an audience (and a huge audience at that, since Ratcliff has one of the largest social followings, including more than 350,000 Facebook and 100,000 Instagram followers).

In the next six months, Ratcliff plans to travel to six continents and live-stream various locations, three-times a week. Ratcliff has already explored Australasia in May, and is currently traveling across Asia. July will see him in the Americas, followed by India and the Middle East in August, and followed by Europe in September and October, with a stop as the Burning Man festival in Nevada. In addition to broadcasting live from his iPhone (Facebook Live content can be viewed later, as well) with a custom rig, Ratcliff is also using a DJI Phantom drone to send aerial feeds, like ziplining through trees and flying over the Southern Alps.

Ratcliff didn’t get into photography until late, at age 35, after giving up a career in tech. The computer science and math major is a self-taught photographer, but found a niche in shooting high-dynamic range (HDR) photography, and writing a highly popular travel blog. Besides selling fine-art prints, Ratcliff has become an online teacher, helping to educate others about photography and travel. According to Ratcliff, Facebook Live is just an extension of what he’s doing.

We caught up with Ratcliff while he’s in the middle of his journey, to find out what made him decide to do this, and what he has plans for the destinations he’ll be visiting.

Digital Trends: Can you briefly tell us how this idea germinated? Had the initial idea always been planned around Facebook Live?

Trey Ratcliff: Well, you know it’s kind of a strange thing that has fallen into my lap! I am really just a photographer. I specialize in travel, and over time, we’ve grown up a very nice and loyal fan base. I call them my Internet friends! Anyway, I also communicate, teach, share a lot, so video (including Facebook Live) is just a natural extension of that.

At my core I’m an artist, but I’ve kind of accidentally become a teacher along the way.

What type of support are you getting from Facebook to help you pull off this project? Can you tell us about some of the equipment you’ll use to handle the video capture and streaming, in addition to the DJI drone?

We decided to do a show-all about travel and photography, visiting six continents over the next six months – exciting! Facebook has been able to assist us if we have any questions or need tech help, which has been really great.

As for equipment, all you really need is an iPhone. But we embed this in something called a Beast Grip, which allows us to attach a Rode Boom mic and an LED panel for lighting. As for the DJI Drone, we can stream right from that to FB using the new DJI Go app.

How long will each episode be, and how are you facilitating the Q&A with viewers, considering the massive following you have who may tune in?

Each episode is typically 15 minutes or less. My cameraman usually facilitates the many questions that viewers ask. I tell him to feel free to interrupt me with questions from the live audience … it’s very fun!

What types of instructions and tips do you plan to cover in the episodes?

Anything to do with travel and photography. I’m always doing both, so I’ve collected lots of tips and tricks that anyone can replicate in their own lives!

You have a background in tech. You have done quite a bit with photography and videography. So, what excites you about using this new medium (live broadcasting), and what are you hoping to achieve or impart to your viewers, as well as for your career?

At my core I’m an artist, but I’ve kind of accidentally become a teacher along the way. I know firsthand how art can transform your life and open your heart. I’m really into consciousness, and I think that by helping the world get more creative that you’re adding to the global consciousness.

Will your family be joining you?

As much as possible.  It’s hard because I’ve got three kids in my new hometown of Queenstown, New Zealand, and they have a lot of school they can’t miss.

We expect to hit at least 50 locations around the world on six continents.

What destinations are you most excited about sharing with viewers?

We started in New Zealand with many of the Lord of the Rings locations, then moving onto Australia next. We really haven’t planned out exactly where we’re going to be, but we’re trying to do that now. We expect to hit at least 50 locations around the world on six continents.

It’s been pretty cool getting to share my experiences with my viewers via the Facebook Live series. When in Australia, we’ll be visiting Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. We’ll be doing shows from these places, of course, but we’re also going to do a free “Photo Walk” for my Internet friends to come join me in person and become real-life friends. We walk around and take photos together for a few hours … it’s a real gas. And then the next day, we’re going to have a paid all-day photography workshop where we really get into it. It’ll be great!

You use a lot of different Sony cameras. If you had to take only one, which is your current favorite?

I love my Sony A7R Mark II, but I also love the new Hasselblad H6D. I’m not sponsored by either, but I keep going back and forth.

Have any of the new Sony cams helped improve your workflow with HDR photography? Have you experimented with HDR in videography? And, do you now always travel with a drone in your gear bag?

Yeah, the Sony A7R II is so good and taking bracketed photos, it makes the whole workflow easier. HDR videography is not something I do too much … maybe time-lapse stuff – Google my video, 30 Days and 30 Nights in Queenstown. That’s HDR Video, I suppose.

And yes, I actually travel with two drones because I make a lot of bad-drone-decisions.

Any final thoughts on this project and Facebook Live you would like to share?

This is a brand-new format to me, and oftentimes I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m very openhearted and vulnerable and more than happy to make mistakes and try new things. This is the world we live in, so we doing it without fear and I hope some of the things I say or share on Facebook Live will help other people continue to create themselves as well.

You can watch Trey’s Facebook Live video entries here.

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