Sam Ciurdar is a father, a husband, a photographer and a filmmaker. He has worked for brands like Ancestry, John Hancock USA, and White Claw. Learn more about his passion for visual storytelling.
How did you get started on social media?
I got my start on social media like everyone else — hearing about the latest and greatest, then downloading it! I’ve tried them all, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat – but for some reason, Instagram just has always stood out the most to me. Probably because I have always liked to shoot images. Like most, when I first used Instagram, I shared a lot of stuff that now most people share on their “Stories” (photos that aren’t particularly curated, or photos of my food, lifestyle, workday etc.). I’d slap a cool filter over my delicious looking dinner and boom! Upload to the tens of twenties of my followers. 😉 Over the years, I became more polished and intentional on curation and consistency. I wanted to share images and experiences I was excited about. Through that, I grew my following to what it is today.
What’s your favorite platform? Why?
As a filmmaker and photographer, Instagram is hands down my favorite platform. Through other peoples images and adventures, I’ve discovered so much I may never have known otherwise. I also like Instagram because people seem to be the most genuine. Of course, there are still trolls like any platform, but I’ve gotten lucky with a pretty awesome following that seems to enjoy and support my work!
How would you describe your audience?
Hard to say. I’ve expanded from shooting primarily outdoor landscapes, which is where most of my audience came from, so before I’d say they all love the idea of exploration and adventure. However, as I’ve become a husband, father, homeowner – I like to share all aspects of my life. I like to share some of my commercial work as well, so there’s more than just the landscape shots on my feed now-a-days and like I said, I seem to have a pretty supportive tribe for the most part. 🙂
How would you describe your storytelling style?
Describing your own style is such a hard question to answer. As a filmmaker, I’ve been influenced by so many films and directors over the years, and without realizing it, those things have become a part of me now. For example, I really love shooting wide shots where the subject is small and you can really feel the magnitude of the surroundings. I like to add subtle elements into some photos like a lens flare or some rain to really liven up the photo. It’s so important to be inspired by others and take that inspiration to create something of your own. Those who try to “steal” someone’s style always fail because people recognize a counterfeit. You can most definitely borrow and emulate in your own way, and as you borrow, you come up with something new, which then becomes your style. It takes time to find your eye. Something fascinating is that you can have two creators given the same exact task, and both will approach it completely differently. Ultimately, I hope that my style and work can either inspire, entertain, or provoke thought.
What makes great branded content?
Some of the best branded content is when the product is shot very organically. I’ve participated in campaigns where the brand requested surroundings for the product that made zero sense. The audience would look at what I’ve created and think: “Why is this happening?”. When you force product photography, people know instantly and they check out or even become angry. You don’t really want to garner that kind of response. For example, if you’re shooting hiking boots, the viewers naturally want to see them in an outdoor environment with the underlying theme “adventure”. Companies are having to relearn marketing since social media stole the stage which means we’ve had to try and educate our clients on the massive importance of shooting products in their elements, instead of hard “in your face” product advertising they’re used to. When companies have understood and given the creative flexibility to create content organically… those are my favorite clients to work with and end up being some of my most prized work.
Any tips for aspiring visual storytellers?
Shoot what you want to get hired for. If you’re a wedding photographer, and all you shoot are weddings, your portfolio and website only showcase couples – the chances of you shooting a car campaign is very slim. Likewise, if you want to shoot weddings and fashion, but all you shoot or landscapes or architecture, chances are you won’t be hired for weddings or fashion shoots. The client wants to know that they’re in good hands. If you don’t have a portfolio yet, offer to shoot for free for brands. Or, just go shoot! Network with others in your area and go play. I can’t stress this enough, you need a portfolio of sorts. Having a website where you show off your work is a great way to share your style and worth to brands. In short, shoot what you want to be hired for, and have a portfolio!
“I’ve been fortunate to work on a few projects through Open Influence, and the best part I’d say is the people who help run their campaigns. I’ve had quite a few emails hit my inbox on opportunities, not all pan out – since the brands typically have the final say, but regardless of that – the people I’ve talked with have all been honest, kind, and genuine! I really believe they have the creators best interest at heart, and whenever I get the opportunity to work with them, I know I’m in good hands. I’m a guy who loves establishing relationships with the clients I work with, and the people at Open Influence make it super easy!”
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