It’s time for our first Influencer Spotlight Interview of 2019! In this monthly series, we aim to provide our influencer community with valuable insider information about the industry.
This month, I chatted with Victoria Metaxas: a London-based photographer and influencer who specializes in content creation through her business, Victoria’s Stories.
Victoria and I first connected a couple years ago in London and have become great friends over time. I was instantly impressed by her impeccable photography skills and how she’s leveraged them to land collaborations with some of the top brands in London. As I’ve gotten to know her more and have traveled with her across Europe, I’ve learned so much valuable information that I thought was worth sharing about optimizing content creation for influencers – regardless of whether or not you’re a photographer yourself!
WH: Tell us a little about how you started your photography business and blog.
VM: I was in an office job working in digital marketing and found that not only did the 9-5 office experience not suit me, but in my role I felt totally unfulfilled. This was back a few years ago when blogs were getting big. I used to spend hours and hours every evening scrolling through my favourite blogs and Pinterest looking at beautiful photographs and yearning for that freedom to create. Consequently after a couple of months umming and ahhing I invested in a camera, took a basic photography course (so I could learn how to use the thing!) and practiced like there was no tomorrow. I started my own travel blog and used it as a reason to photograph and share about anything and everything I could.
Whilst still in my office job, I saved up some money for around 6 months (giving yourself an initial financial cushion is highly recommended if you’re wanting to change career) and decided to take the plunge booking myself on a 3-month fashion photography course in Milan, Italy. I spent 8 months in the beautiful city before heading back to London where my career really started. For a few months I worked in the photography studio at Matches Fashion and Net-a-Porter but I knew deep down that I wanted to go it alone. Before I took the freelance jump, I was shooting every weekend, making as many contacts as possible and building up a starting portfolio of clientele so I could hit the ground running when I did leave. And the rest is history.
I’ve been a freelance photographer in London for 3.5 years now, shooting for fashion, lifestyle and food brands, fashion bloggers and more recently, I’ve taken a dive into the travel photography-sphere. In addition to that, I’ve also started selling my travel photo prints online, something I never imagined I’d be able to do!
WH: You’re certainly good at taking photos of other people, aren’t you!? I’ve traveled with you so I know first-hand some of the lengths you’ll go to for a good picture (ha!) With that said, I also know you’re fantastic about putting the camera away and experiencing what’s happening around you. How do you find this balance and what advice can you offer to fellow content creators who struggle to do both things well?
VM: Becoming a photographer and influencer from nothing to someone who does it full-time, I definitely know what it’s like when you literally want to document and share every waking breath. There are a few things I’ve learned that I think people could benefit from if they’re starting out. Firstly, let’s say you’re invited to an industry event and there are a few key shots/coverage you are desperate to capture for your feed. Best advice: get there early! If you arrive first to an event you’ll likely be the only one there, making for the perfect photo opportunity. What’s better, you’ll have finished capturing all your content before anybody else and can enjoy the evening whilst others arrive later and scrabble for shots.
Next I would say less is more. When you’re learning to shoot either on camera or even on your phone, over-shooting is very easy (I still even do that to this day on some professional client shoots where I’m nervous). Try to limit the amount of shots you take and move on once you’ve got your key pictures or else you’ll find yourself with a camera roll full of photos from just one event. Finally, make a promise to yourself that once you have your content, the phone is put away. I really make a point of doing that when I’ve got my shots and I’m in a truly spectacular place where I should be enjoying the moment. Life should be experienced through your own eyes, not the blaring screen of a mobile phone.
WH: You’re a content creation queen! Tell us a little about how you’ve leveraged those skills to successfully partner with brands?
VM: When I share content, I try as often as possible to think about my audience and if they would also appreciate the shot. It’s so important to be in tune with your following and the type of content they would like. I also focus on sharing images and talking about subject areas that I believe relate back to my brand and accurately represent me as a creator. With this in mind, I’ve found that the key to successfully working with brands is a combination of knowing your audience, knowing your brand/content and also knowing the brands you’d like to be associated with. The more in tune you are with these three things, the easier it is to partner with brands positively. Companies who wish to work with you will know the partnership will be fruitful since 1) the content you share is strong in quality, 2) it will be appreciated by your audience and 3) it will be an accurate brand alignment for the both of you.
WH: Let’s talk more about editing. Your photos have such an identifiable style. What kind of feedback have you received from the brands you’ve worked with? I imagine they would appreciate that consistency…
VM: It is very important as a creative to have your own distinct style which comes across clearly in your photographs. The way you shoot and edit defines you as a photographer, they are intrinsic and one can’t exist without the other. I have had a number of people tell me they saw an image on Instagram that they knew instantly it was mine, before even seeing the photo credit. It’s such a compliment to hear such things, knowing that people can immediately pick out my style and approach to my work.
One thing I learnt is that despite editing being important, the main bulk of work comes from the image itself. I achieve 80% of my light and airy image style in camera. It’s taken years of practice but I now know my preferences in handling light and shooting my subject. When it’s sunny, I play with sun flares and when it’s cloudy (most of the time in London!) I use that flat light to my advantage. Editing is, of course, key to finalising an image, but it’s almost like polishing a wooden table – if you haven’t used the right wood in the first place you won’t achieve the outcome you hoped for. Brands often reach out to me because with my consistent and identifiable style they already know the standard and personality of image they will receive from our shoot. Having Instagram helps too, as it’s like a shopfront. From my Instagram account, brands can tell what I’m about and what sort of photography they will be able to achieve when working with me!
WH: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on to date and why?
VM: I really enjoyed my time spent shooting for Harrods with their social media team. I shot fashion and lifestyle imagery for the account, which involved having chance to photograph some of the coolest designer fashion pieces, sometimes before they even hit the shop floor. Part of why I liked it was being on the same creative wavelength as the girls on the team. We both had the same vision regarding the type of content, backdrops, props and general vibe that we wanted to achieve through the images we captured. Shooting for social media is very different to shooting for an ad campaign for example, and I think I’m able to bring together my experience in both social media and photography to create images that people can connect with. And before I forget, one of the best mornings I had shooting with the Harrods team was when I was asked to photograph some parts of the department store early in the morning before it opened – having chance to walk around Harrods when there was no one else in there was an incredible and unique experience within itself!
WH: Let’s shift gears for a minute. In addition to travel photography, you also have developed a business centered around selling your travel photography prints. Tell us a little about that journey and what inspired it.
VM: I started my print shop, www.victorias-stories.com, last year, where I sell a curated collection of my favourite travel images from a number of beautiful destinations. The journey began a year ago during Christmas time when I was going through my travel photography from the year. I realised how many wonderfully colourful, inspiring places I had been to and the idea came to me that I could give people the opportunity to bring a bit of colourful wanderlust into their homes with my purchasable photo prints. The collection of photographs from Italy, London, Greece and Paris teleport you to so many picturesque corners of our world. Whether you had the trip of a lifetime in Venice or are yearning to visit the colourful streets of Notting Hill one day, with my print you can be reminded of that dream. I felt it was such a shame for them to remain locked away on my hard-drive, never seeing the light of day other than on an Instagram feed or blog. Now instead, people around the world can enjoy those places from their lounge and maybe even be inspired to get their bags packed for their next adventure.
WH: What advice would you give to someone looking to get started monetizing their influence?
VM: Firstly, be unique. Really work on your content to make it something you’re recognised for, whether it’s the way you edit or even the style of caption you put under your images – companies need to pick you out from the crowd to represent their brand. Secondly, pitch pitch pitch. This is another way to stand out from the other influencers in the industry. Everyone (including myself) thinks work gets handed to you on a silver platter, but this isn’t the case at all. Most of the time I’ve learnt that the people who win these amazing projects with a dream brand actually pitched for it themselves. Brands are always looking for new and innovative ways to marry content to their product, so be the person that gets in there with a great idea. Lastly, don’t be afraid to be picky. It’s so easy to just say yes to freebies or any job that comes your way, but each and every brand you represent in turn represents you, so it’s important to be selective with who you work with. Obviously if you’re just starting out then you will need to be accepting a wider variety of jobs to get you going, but as time goes on saying no is not a bad thing – it frees up more time for the right brand collaborations when they do come along.
WH: Have any predictions about “what’s next” in the influencer world?
VM: I think things will be starting to turn back to the blog era of long-form content a little bit more. People have seen so much tumultuous activity on Instagram with the uncontrollable algorithm changes (people’s engagement – likes, comments and shares – halving overnight for no reason!) so I believe a lot of influencers will be returning to their blogs; a space that they own and can control as they like. Regarding travel, I think a number of influencers will be researching and visiting more of the unknown locations in our world, since many of the popular ones have been what you could call ‘over-shared’. Finally, I can see a lot of influencers taking their influence offline to create something different away from the content sphere. Many are starting their own fashion lines, writing books, guesting editing magazines or even becoming musicians. There is currently an evolution in the way people are moulding their career paths and it’s really incredible to see the next steps your influencer journey can offer you!
WH: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in the landscape of Instagram or Facebook, and how have you adjusted?
VM: The first thing that comes to mind would, of course, be the algorithm difficulties people have faced, as touched upon in the previous question. Most accounts have seen a halving of engagement on their photos over night, which is quite frustrating as a content creator because evidently the effort taken to create that photograph didn’t suddenly half too. Life isn’t about numbers, but unfortunately in the influencer industry it is, so that’s been a little tough to stomach. It really teaches you to solidly believe in the work you create and follow your gut, if you like the photo, share it. I have also noticed that brands are far more savvy and selective regarding who they work with. Their content requirements have become more specific and tailored than before when initially the influencer took the lead. That’s not to say they don’t give as much creative freedom, it’s more that they outline exactly what they are expecting out of the partnership. I personally prefer working to more structured briefs because that way both parties know exactly what is required and what to expect, so if all goes to plan no one feels let down with the outcome of the project.
WH: Final question: what is the biggest piece of advice you can share with aspiring influencers (or those on the rise?)
VM: You do YOU. Find your style, this might take a while (it took me a couple of years) but once you find it, stick to it, because people will follow your account to follow YOU. People connect with people at the end of the day, so if you’re content is true to you, your personality will shine through. The initial way that I started searching for my style photographically was to shoot a bit of everything – fashion, lifestyle, food, events, couples and so on. Slowly but surely I was drawn towards the projects I enjoyed the most. This approach would easily apply to fashion bloggers, food writers, travel influencers, interior designers, whatever your interest might be. Try a bit of everything and in time you’ll discover your true calling, which will come through clearly via the content you share.