Pursuing Your Passion: Tips from Gareth Pon, Africa's Top Instagrammer

Pursuing Your Passion: Tips from Gareth Pon, Africa's Top Instagrammer

South African Photographer, Filmmaker, and Influencer Gareth Pon has recently been named the top African Instagrammer for the third consecutive year, and looking at his ridiculously eye-catching Instagram feed, it's easy to see why. I caught up with Gareth recently while he was speaking at a conference in Dublin alongside other content-creating heavyweights, such as Dan Rubin and Philip Bloom.

As a longtime admirer of Gareth’s work, I had so many questions coming into this interview, most of which were aimed at learning how to arrive at a place where I am able to do the work that I am truly passionate about. From following his social media accounts, you’ll quickly find that Gareth has the envied job of working for and consulting with big brands, traveling the world while doing so, and all the while maintaining a top-notch Instagram feed. If you’re like me, then that probably sounds very appealing to you.

Gareth spoke about being surrounded by creativity whilst growing up. He initially studied fashion, followed by animation, during which he switched to a major in film. After being stuck in a very uninspiring corporate film space, he had the choice to either start a production company or use the money he had saved to travel: "I studied film because I love it, but I was doing corporate work that I hated."

He initially started using Instagram to sharpen his composition skills for his cinematography, but discovered an international community on the app, which inspired his decision to travel and meet people. Since then, he has built an Instagram following of 266,000, which (along with the title of Africa’s top Instagrammer) allows him the opportunity not only to have brands approach him with work opportunities, but also to be selective about the projects he chooses to work on. We spoke a lot about how he got to where he is today, and here is some of his advice that stood out to me.

Backing Yourself

For many photographers, having the opportunity to be paid to travel and take pictures is a dream, and sadly, there are very few people who actually make it a reality. I was very interested in finding the secret to Gareth’s jet-setting travel schedule (he is currently in Japan), but found it very interesting that his first trip was fully self-funded.

I studied film to tell stories and communicate emotion, and I wasn’t honoring what my medium enabled me to do.

Sure, sometimes, you have to just knuckle down and get work done to pay the bills, but an all too familiar approach from many creatives is to sit back and to wish for the opportunities that those around us are getting. Many success stories started with someone backing themselves, taking a risk and following their dreams. It takes a lot of courage take the leap, whether it’s traveling the world, funding your own side project, or giving up a steady income to pursue what you’re most passionate about, but you will never know if you don’t try.

Building a Brand

Branding yourself as a creative is such an essential ingredient in succeeding, but it is often complicated in that it is so specific to you, your skills, and your passions. This means that while you’re able to learn from other professionals, you cannot easily find a winning formula of your own without trial, error, and lots of soul-searching.

Gareth raised some important points regarding building your brand, including the need to stand out, as well as being careful about the type of work you associate with your brand. He recommends not taking on work which you’re not passionate about, as it will dilute your brand. This is where it gets complicated for people who are still trying to develop a brand, yet can’t afford to be too picky about the work they choose to take on. I myself am in this bracket, where I would love to be in a position where I could focus on creating cinematic short films, but can’t afford to turn down corporate interviews. So, how then do you go about building a specific niche?

For every 1 person who makes it as a photographer, there are 99 who won’t. Whether you’re a photographer, filmmaker, or writer, you’ve got to carve a niche for yourself in order to stand out.

When I asked Gareth how to go about crafting your brand when you’re doing work just in order to pay the bills, he suggested it’s important in that case to “call a spade a spade.” The easiest ways to lose your passion for your medium ares when you expect that you should be passionate about every project you work on and when you put too much pressure on projects to elevate you to the next level. When you’re able to admit that a certain project is only good for paying the rent and is not going to do anything for your career, you can give it the minimal creative attention it deserves. This allows you to remain focused and give your full creative attention to the projects that matter, and those are the projects which will build your brand.

Dreaming Big

One of things you’ll notice if you have a look at Gareth’s website, Instagram, or Twitter profile, is that his dream is to travel to space, and he’s not shy to put it out there.

I always encourage creatives to have one ridiculous dream so that everything else seems easy to achieve. It enables our cautious creative minds to be more daring

I had a feeling before meeting Gareth that putting his dream out there was something to do with coming across as very ambitious, which in a weird way, lends a sense of confidence to his work. I suppose there is even a chance of someone fulfilling that dream one day — no matter how slim the chances are, they’re increased by putting it out there. When Gareth went on to elaborate about setting a high benchmark and everything else seeming more attainable, I understood that it was more than just a dream and was a tool for positive thinking. This was probably the most memorable moment from my meeting with Gareth, as so often negativity surrounds our goals and ambitions, and that is why it’s far easier to give up than to push on to get to the next level. There are many people that are capable of creating amazing creative work, but those who have achieved some degree of success will have required positive thinking and positive actions throughout their career.

Have a look below at some of Gareth Pon's Instagram shots, and give him a follow to keep up to date with his work and travels.

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