Malaysia-based Matt Brandon, also known as the "Digital Trekker" is a humanitarian photographer who treks between Cambodia, Nepal, Tibet, Egypt, Turkey, and Malaysia working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to tell their stories through his photographs.
As a photographer and a PhotoShelter member since 2008, Matt has worked with clients including Partner Aid International, NeighborWorks, the BBC, Honda Motor Corporation, the Bombadier Transport Corporation, among a long list of others. To bring in revenue, he also hosts his own photography workshops as well as being a guest instructor all over the world to teach local photographers the art of photography.
Growing up with an interest in World War II's war correspondence and photography, Matt was inspired to pursue his love for photojournalism and picked up his camera again when he moved to Kashmir, India to work for a travel agency. "India is a photographer's dream," Matt said. "The colors, the people, the culture - there's so much beauty right in front of you."
Once living in India, he met people from various communities, including employees from local NGOs. With relationships established on the ground, he started doing favors for organizations close by, shooting community-based photographs for free. And after a fortuitous meeting in a print store with the owner of a large photo agency in India, Matt's work got passed along and client requests from other NGOs started to come in.
Matt's work continued to gain exposure when an earthquake hit Kashmir in 2005. Physically being in the area and able to take photos of the aftermath gave him the ability to capture the images that other photographers couldn't reach. His photographs documenting the earthquake got international attention and ended up on the BBC.
Ultimately moving to Malaysia to work more closely with local NGOs with limited budgets struggling to get their own message out, it became clear that Matt could bring in more revenue through his workshops as opposed to client work. Often partnering his workshops with other photographers including PhotoShelter members Gavin Gough and Ami Vitale, Matt describes his workshops as fluid and organic. "Everyone focuses on the "hows," but I also point out the "whys," Matt said believing that the answers to these questions improve your overall technique. "When you understand how and why you use a lens, you can better capture the emotion of your subjects."
In the field, Matt's relationship with his subjects varies from shoot to shoot. To break down barriers between himself and those he wants to capture, he'll often smile and hold up his camera to let people know he's there only to take photos. He'll also take the time to learn simple phrases like, "Can I please take a photo?"
"One of the most important parts about photographing people in their environment is knowing when to quit. It's not a matter of leaving. In fact, you often stop photographing so you can stay," Matt said. "You need to learn when enough is enough by reading body language of those around you. You don't want to create a tense environment by wearing out your welcome."
When out in the field, Matt likes to use either two Canon 5D MKII or one MKII, as well as his Canon 1D MKIII. ""The oddest object in my kit might be my Pogo Printer," Matt said. "I am big advocate of giving back, so I like to print out small business card size prints at the moment for many of the people I work with."
Traveling all over the world with his camera bag to work with NGOs and host workshops, Matt thanks PhotoShelter for making his life and the lives of his clients much easier. After a glowing recommendation by friend Gavin Gough, Matt was originally drawn to PhotoShelter because he was in need of a system that could house both raw files and high resolution files to pass along to clients.
"PhotoShelter is incredible for image delivery and provides a great stock source for clients to thumb through," Matt said. "There has been more than a few times when clients have contacted me while I am running a workshop and said they needed X, Y, or Z image. It was simple for me to send a link for them to download the image off of Photoshelter. Without question, the system helps to improve overall client relationships."
Matt also likes to promote PhotoShelter directly on his website and utilize the Refer-a-Friend program as much as possible. "I'm fairly certain I pay for PhotoShelter's service every year through referrals alone."
Although Matt believes nothing replaces face-to-face meetings with new and potential clients, social media sharing through Facebook and Twitter is also key to helping Matt get the word out about his work with NGOs and ongoing workshops. But his "#1 marketing asset" is his Graph Paper Press blog, which he considers an extension of his personality and integrates seamlessly with his PhotoShelter site using the Modularity theme.
"I recently received my newest corporate client from my blog," Matt said. The client's marketing director read what I was doing with other NGOs and thought it was a nice fit. I was able to show her quickly and easily work that is being stored in the galleries of my PhotoShelter archives."
To enhance word of mouth marketing, Matt also works closely with a group of sponsors who advertise his work on their websites and help drive traffic to his homepage. They also tweet and Facebook about Matt and share news about his latest venture.
So what's next for the Digital Trekker? Inspired by a visit to Iraq in 2010 when he taught NGO field workers photojournalism skills and techniques, he wants to continue to give locals the tools they need to tell the stories of their own communities. "I teach NGO employees how to tell their stories through still images and multimedia applications like Soundslides Plus," Matt said. Moving forward, this is slowly opening a new market to help Matt reach a wider audience and he plans to expand these instructional workshops within communities that need it the most.
In the upcoming months, Matt will also be hitting the road to host workshops across the world. So far, he's scheduled to make stops in Vietnam, Tibet, Ethiopia, and Cambodia. Definitely sounds like the life of a digital trekker.