This is an incredible story that one of the RAW readers put me onto. Shantanu is the man behind PixelTrade. I’ll let him tell you what it’s all about.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up around Byron Bay, Australia. My parents were hippies and my diet was vegetables from their garden and milk from the farmers cow. Fast forward to now and I am a grown male with strong bones who has spent time studying acting, architecture, and many other things. I’ve travelled to a few different continents for all sorts of reasons from holidays to photography work to simply escaping from the west. Like most people I could write a book from a rainy mountain cabin about my life, the people I’ve met, the feeling of six degrees of separation only being four and how near death experiences have made me realise what’s important. Photography.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
Inspiration came from a day in the park, a friend had an SLR which I borrowed for a few hours. I started on all the really fun stuff like seagulls and badly framed portraits. I was so chuffed at the end of the day that I decided I’d start saving for a lens kit to take on my travels that were coming up. After getting back from overseas and spending most of my time behind the camera I decided the focus of my little existence would become photography. There are so many moments where inspiration came and pushed this idea of focusing on photography to the next level.
What is “The Pixel Trade” all about?
I am traveling around the world without using money. A single cent.
I’m achieving this through trade. As a professional photographer I’m trading my services for a few days, photographing any subject, in return for the necessities: food, shelter and transport.
The way it works, I take photographs for any project someone has, as I would a client: portraits, products, music, architecture, weddings, fashion, anything. The edited photographs are my part of the trade. In order for my journey to continue I ask to be introduced to a new trader during my stay. A friend, an associate, anyone that would benefit from having professional photographs taken. The pixel trade will continue, leading from one place to the next. Naturally along the way I require other things like clothing or hard drives so I try to trade with appropriate businesses who can provide this.
What made you come up with the idea?
The clearest origin of the idea came earlier this year as I battled to split my time between my architecture studies and my love and work in photography. My mind was full of ideas of using photography to enhance or experiment with cultures around the globe. I had ideas for India, Europe, America and many other places. My aim was to find one which didn’t require working with other people, or relying on others. One of the hardest things for me to do. So earlier this year I began to wonder how I could travel around the world using photography as a form of payment. I didn’t want to rely on peoples compassion to put me up in return for very little, if anything. I wanted to flip that equation, I wanted to offer a lot more in return for very little. That’s when I decided to try and travel without spending a single cent and offer my services which would usually cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in return for food, shelter and transport.
How is it going so far?
So far incredibly well. The project has grown in the first few months, much quicker then I would have thought. I started getting contacted from people all over the world to inform them when I was trading close to their country. The only way I can get nearby is by trading my way there. So far I have trades who have flown me all around Australia, as an airfare is very cheap. A couple of people have traded flights to New Zealand and America, which is where I’m currently trading. Once people overseas realise it’s cheaper to fly a photographer somewhere in the world rather than paying a guy next door for a single day, I think will increase the international audience fairly quickly. This is obviously most beneficial for weddings and projects which usually cost a lot of money. Same service but just the necessities are the cost. I am doing them a favour and they are doing me a favour as all the project needs to succeed is the next person.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
The gear I travel with fits snuggly into my camera bag. I have two 5D MKii and 4 different lenses. One of my favourite lenses is the 70-200mm 2.8f… but the lens I find myself hating life without is the 50mm 1.2f. Everyone has read reviews about it and all the good things you read are the reasons why I love it so much. It also allows a photographer to remain discrete. The 70-200 requires a lot of awareness to blend in without looking like a spy.
How do you market yourself and has social media been an important part?
With the Pixel Trade I haven’t actively been searching for media coverage. It has all happened through word of mouth and as a result blogs, magazines etc have seen it and pushed a side of marketing for me. One of the basic ways it works is through word of mouth and that is very powerful if the people speaking about it really enjoys the project and wants to share. Social media is something I’ve always been against, not for any great reason. I have a lot of philosophies about it which shouldn’t get into, but I of course registered The Pixel Trade through Facebook and Twitter etc and use them mainly to announce a new trade being posted on the website. That’s not to say I suggest people don’t use it. It’s probably the biggest and one of the most effective forms of advertisement today.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
One of my favourite photographs was convincing my friends and myself to go on top of one of the tallest buildings in Brisbane, climb the window cleaning crane, which was on the edge of the building and play a game of twister. We look back on it now and it seems incredibly stupid and of course it was. This photograph was the second of a series that is still ongoing in a way. The first photograph was stopping peak hour traffic leaving the city on a Friday afternoon because of a game of twister in the middle of the highway. You can imagine that we felt the need to do something rather daring in order to top the highway shoot. As a result I got a series of photographs which most people think the people were photoshop’d. That for me marks a significant point of what photographs are becoming because people don’t know what to believe is real anymore.
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
There was a sign on university campus which I always walked past and one day the visuals came to me when I read, ‘no smoking, no naked lights’. A girl with a lampshade on her head, naked, smoking a cigarette. Now all I had to do was convince a girl to take her gear off for such a photograph and sound professional. So one day over green tea I very casually said, ‘do you want to take off your clothes, have a smoke and wear a lampshade on your head’? She didn’t need any convincing, turns out she always dreamed of doing just that. That’s not really true. There is more to the story but I will save that for another time. Lets just say the campus wasn’t as empty as we imagine it would be on that morning. Back to the question, I was using the 70-200mm and we waited until a reflection of the sunlight moved on from the sign. Otherwise it would have looked like the scene described but not really for any reason as the sign was white. I had already decided I wanted it in Black and White so the editing was really tweaking with the contrast and trying to recover some of the brighter light so enough of the sign came through.
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post ?
This thought changes in percentages often. What I mean is I always believe the camera and the photographer are the most important. Without a camera you cant have post but without post you still have a photograph. What post helps with is creating the finished product. Whether the product is supposed to be as real to life as possible or as far from it as possible it doesn’t matter an element of post can help in achieving this. A lot of people really enjoy filters processed over the images and all of that. But it’s a trend that will change and your photographs will suddenly hold no value if all of them have a vintage wash over it. If it holds value to the person/client it is intended for then there is no issue. But if not than I believe it needs to be more considered.
Whats your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
I’m not one for accessories. I’m not a fan of filters or gadgets, this may change in the future as I change but for now the one accessory I would say I use is a remote. I use it for all different reasons but my favourite is in portraits as people relax more when you’re not behind the camera and they don’t really know when you’re going to take the shot.
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
I used to have a blog with blogspot but since starting The Pixel Trade the only two places I have my photographs is on thepixeltrade.com and my folio site shantanustarick.com. Flickr, 500px and similar websites are great for all sorts of reasons but I also think exclusivity is going to be the next thing. Clearly that doesn’t apply to The Pixel Trade project. Photographs that cant be found on the internet will be very important. The last few days I have had a bit of a block, trading continually for three and a half months begin to wear the mind out a little. I usually just go for a walk & convince my trade to make some good food together, have a few hours off and jump back into it.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
Not really, and not in an arrogant way. I like starting with entry level equipment and making my way up and learning along the way. You very quickly realise that equipment is only one part of photography, there is so much more. I will continue to grow and develop as a photographer and the equipment will change and evolve alongside me.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
Don’t attach yourself to rules. Society is in a great point now where the old rules of many industries are being broken, so do the same. Explore the subjects you like to photograph, why that area in particular, from there pro will just come pretty naturally. Pro is measured usually by others and not yourself.
Visit Shantanu Starick – thepixeltrade.com