How Instagram Helped this Travel Photographer’s Career Blossom

AFAR Ambassador Dan Tom started using social media casually, but it ended up influencing his aesthetic beyond what he’d imagined.

How Instagram Helped this Travel Photographer’s Career Blossom

Photo by Dan Tom

When it comes to travel photography, Instagrammer and AFAR Ambassador Dan Tom (otherwise known as @dantom) admits that he was a late bloomer. But take one look at his feed, filled with golden-hour shots of Peruvian mountain towns and California cliff sides, and you would never guess that this web designer is anything but a seasoned vet.

Where is your home base?
I’ve been in San Francisco for the past two and a half years. I was actually born and raised here, and I grew up in the Sunset District. But now I feel like I’m in the minority! Everyone I meet these days has moved to San Francisco from somewhere else.

When did you first start exploring photography?
About 10 years ago, I took a two-week trip to Kazakhstan with my church. It was only a four-person team, so everyone had to be in charge of something or other. I volunteered to document. At the time, all I had was a point and shoot camera, but that experience really opened the door for me, for both travel and photography. A few years later, I was living in L.A. and working for a small fashion retail company. My friend shot all of the lookbooks for the brand, and he was the one that inspired me to purchase my first DSLR, as well as to start a blog. From there I just started taking my camera everywhere with me. I was shooting food, street scenes— basically documenting my life. From there I traveled more and took more photos and honed my aesthetic as time went on.

How do you think Instagram has helped your photography?
Like most people, I started using Instagram really casually. I would make chicken thighs for dinner and post a photo saying, “Look, I made chicken thighs!” I would add tons of saturation and contrast, because I thought that looked good. But then a few things happened: I started following some great photographers like Alex Strohl and Jared Chambers, and that gradually began to influence my overall aesthetic. And I also downloaded some apps that allowed me to be more specific with my edits. I used to only post photos from my phone, but nowadays most of what’s on my feed is from my camera.

Since that first trip to Kazakhstan, what has been your most profound travel experience?
I was definitely a late bloomer when it came to my desire to travel. But after that first trip, I was hooked. I’ve been to Iceland and Norway and a bunch of amazing places, but I’ve always had full-time jobs, so it’s hard to get away as often as I would like. At the end of 2015, I actually quit my job and traveled through Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia for four months, solo.

That sounds incredible.
It was. There’s no better way to invest in yourself than to travel. I learned so much over the course of the trip. I learned that I prefer remote and less-visited places that are landscape- and nature-focused. Places that make you feel small. Cities are great too, but remote areas tend to suit my introverted personality a bit more. That being said, I also learned that traveling is more enriching if you say yes to things and are willing to take risks.

Where to next?

India, I hope. I can’t think of another place like it in the world, and I would love to experience the number of people, the religions, and the overall culture. And of course, document it along the way.

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