Adventure and travel photographer Callum Snape had waited five years to shoot this scene (below left). Abraham Lake in Alberta, Canada, stretches 20 miles across the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Dead plants and animals decay on the lake bed and release bubbles of gas. In winter, the lake freezes solid and the bubbles become trapped, hanging suspended as if someone has pressed the pause button on a bloom of surfacing jellyfish.
There is a one-week window per year when the bubbles look their best. Callum finally got the shot he wanted in January 2016, when the wind that whips across the lake polished the surface and made the ice and bubbles trapped inside look clearer than he'd ever seen them before. He posted the picture to Instagram – and it went viral (it currently has 28.5k likes).
"I come from the old-school fine art side of photography," Callum says. "That means I put myself under a lot of creative pressure to remain fresh and inventive and not rely on post-production tricks. I shoot the scene the way I see it, and then figure out a way of capturing it so that I can use it on social media too."
On Instagram as @calsnape, Callum has more than 760,000 followers. He's an 'influencer' – companies pay Callum to promote their products and services on his Instagram account. But Callum hates the idea of being 'Insta-famous'. He describes himself as a photographer who uses Instagram, not an Instagram photographer. As he sees it, an Instagram photographer shoots to be popular. They want Likes. And Instagram photographers who post landscapes tend to rehash the same sort of image – postcard pictures. But that does not stop him dedicating a lot of time to his social channels, ensuring his best images are published at peak times. Having more fans and Likes means he can attract bigger clients. "That's probably my biggest challenge: to try to find a balance of shooting stuff for myself, that I like, and producing work that a client will love," he admits.
Callum was born on a US military base in Belgium, moved to Germany, to England, and then to Canada when he was 18. He has, by his own admission, a weird accent. He lived in Banff in Alberta, Canada for seven years, then moved west to Vancouver, British Columbia. Why? To be closer to a big airport, which is better for travelling.
He started taking photos to share his experiences of the Canadian wilderness with his family back in England. Travel took priority over the photography then. Now it's the other way around: "If I didn't have that passion for travel then, I wouldn't be doing what I do now. But as I have become more experienced, it's definitely the photo that takes priority. It absolutely must."
His career today is about these little trades: being a fine art photographer and being a commercial photographer, going where he wants and going where the work is, making a living but making meaningful work, too. It took four years to attract almost a million followers, which he now has across all of his social media channels. It's not enough to just take photographs. To succeed, he has to be a one-man creative agency.
"I market myself as a social storyteller. When I share a story on social media, the image can't stand alone. If clients want to sponsor social media posts, the written piece is just as important. These days, you need to be an agency as well as a photographer. I offer the whole package – so, as well as photographs, I provide stats reports and analysis for social media. I'm doing all of this myself at the moment, but I would like to take on staff to do that side of things full-time. It's become a crucial part of my business."
Callum receives a great deal of work from tourism boards around the world. The way he makes it work for him is to research a company's marketing plans to find weaknesses, then pitch them ideas about how he can use his following on social media to fix those weaknesses. He does that in exchange for travel expenses and, ideally, a fee on top.
"It's amazing the amount of money that's in this business now. The commercial side of tourism photography has declined, and has transitioned into social media – it's a little bit cheaper to produce, but the opportunities are more plentiful. There has been a real increase in demand for this side of the travel photography business."
I can shoot in low light and know that there will still be plenty of detail in the shadows.
Callum has only ever used Canon cameras. He started out with the Canon EOS 550D, then moved on to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the Canon EOS 6D, and now the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. "The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is pretty much all I want from a camera right now," he says. "The leap forward in technology has been really noticeable. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has incredible video performance now, and the beefed up Live View autofocus is a real bonus. Plus the ISO latitude is stunning. I can shoot in low light and know that there will still be plenty of detail in the shadows with hardly any noise at all."
Liking to travel light, he takes a carbon fibre tripod with him, along with a couple of pan-and-tilt heads. He also has a drone, which is useful for aerial shots on hiking trips. He always takes two lenses everywhere – the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM – and will sometimes carry a third, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, which he likes for its lightweight design and telephoto reach. Callum tries to do the hard work outdoors with the camera, rather than indoors with the computer, he says.
"I'm never fully happy with what I do," he says, "but that keeps me pushing harder. I have a short attention span, so post-production work is kept to a minimum. For me, the real joy is being out there, so I like to shoot long exposures with physical filters over the lens instead of playing around with the shot later."
Most years, Callum travels for much of the year. But he's also trying to fit in more personal projects because that's why he got into photography in the first place – long before he was a social media success – and that's what keeps him interested today. His message is simple: if you don't like your own photography, you can't expect anyone else to like it.
"I'm pretty selfish with my photography and mostly do it for myself. I think you have to be single-minded in your approach if you're going to succeed in life. Get out there as much as you can. Shoot photographs for yourself, first and foremost. Try not to force it. Photograph what you're passionate about."