Do you travel? Probably not in the same way as one Mancunian photographer does. Over the last few years, Jack Morris – better known to his million-plus followers as @doyoutravel – has become one the most important influencers in travel, thanks to his Instagram. And though he humbly denies it, he’s become one the top travel photographers around today too.
Last month Morris produced one of his most iconic images yet, together with travel partner and fellow Instagrammer Lauren Bullen. Known to her followers as @gypsea_lust, Bullen herself has seen her own following increase dramatically this year thanks to a series of aspirational images she produced in her native Australia, and Fiji. Standing together above a river of elephants in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka, the duo look like young explorers from a timeless age, and the image resonated to the extent that both saw record feedback on their work.
Of course, like Facebook, Instagram has had its critics wondering just how real the lives portrayed really are. The truth is though, that for these two, Instagram has been life changing, as the duo explains at a rail side café in the coastal town of Bentota, the day after their elephant adventure.
“I got a job carpet cleaning after school and did that for 3 and half years,” says Morris. “I saved a little bit of money and booked a one way flight to Bangkok. I was just going to go there, run out of money and come back.”
Morris had downloaded Instagram shortly after it launched, and built up a following in its early days. But he soon figured out what most realized much later – the business potential. He quickly created multiple accounts dedicated to themes like animals and fashion, some of them amassing half a million followers each, which he sold ads against as a side income. “I wasn’t really trying, but as soon as it started to grow I thought ok I’ll try and make this in to something,” he says. “Two years after that it was making proper money.”
Once he was making more than his carpet cleaning job, Morris moved to Barcelona to focus on his new business. “It was kind of shocking in a way because it was never supposed to be like that, I knew it could be something, but not that easy. I didn’t go to anyone,” he says. But he didn’t have his dream life just yet. Instead, he found himself busier than ever.
“It took so much time. You had to answer ridiculous amounts of emails every day and then it’s scheduling every posting. There could be a post every hour, so you can’t be in the mountains with no Internet because you’d lose work. I was missing out on social life because I’d be traveling but I’d be on my phone all the time.”
While Morris was learning about opportunities on Instagram, on the other side of the world Lauren Bullen was just beginning sharing photos of her holidays. Working as a dental assistant after school, she too would save up to travel, and bought her first camera for a trip to America and Canada.
“I moved to Cairns and got more in to taking photos,” she says “I was gaining followers and that’s where it started happening, getting reposts. I didn’t know anything about it, that anyone was making money through it, I was oblivious and pretty late to the scene.”
When she got contacted by an Australian tourism body for a job, she was at first surprised. “[But] from there I was constantly taking time off work and it got to the stage I had to focus on it.”
Bullen then quit her job to work full time on her photos, meeting Morris on a campaign shoot in Fiji earlier this year. By that time, Morris had sold off all of his themed accounts to focus on his own travel feed. “I was just lucky and I didn’t really have to go back and clean any more. I still think of it as a hobby, but it is a business.”
The two now travel the world with little forward planning, not knowing far in advance what lay ahead next. “I’m trying to keep it to a route,” says Morris, who is currently in Greece. “We’ve planned it quite nice for an Egypt job, it’s just Morocco to Egypt, so from there, maybe further down Africa.” “But an email pops up in your inbox and you’re like oh, that changes all the plans,” adds Bullen.
Throughout, Morris admits his photos have been improving. He’s even sold a few. “It’s been a learning curve for me, I was never a photographer,” he says. “I was doing it every day so I thought I better get a better camera, and you meet photographers all the time so I’ve learned that way. I’m still not a photographer: I’m just a traveler with a camera.”
Lauren meanwhile, has found that fashion has a far bigger impact on her account. “An outfit can make or break a photo in my opinion” – and that’s surely true of the Pinnawala shot above the elephants, where her white dress conveys a glamorous yet carefree feel. These days she finds herself overloaded with offers, but remains extremely choosy to make sure every outfit fits her aesthetic. “If it comes and I don’t like it, I’ll tell them I’m not feeling it,” she says.
Morris meanwhile is more worried about choosing his next shot. “I’m trying to think of stuff I can put in there because I’m quite picky about it,” he says, highlighting a perfectionist aspect of his personality, even now that the whole planet is now his playground.
“Traveling was just a passion, and I thought I would just save and repeat and keep doing it. I was just lucky enough that it worked out.”