From studying architecture to working with some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, Alen Palander, with a stroke of luck and persistence—has become one of the largest social media influencer brands in the world.
Considered one of the early adopters to the social media revolution, Alen has traveled extensively photographing majestic landmarks and jaw-dropping views.
We caught up with Alen in a Toronto café to talk travel, photography and how he became one of the top influencers in the game—here's what he had to say.
First off, to give some context to our audience, could you give us a brief background about yourself and tell us how you got into photography?
In university I studied urban planning and focused on urban design. Growing up I always had a keen interest in architecture. From a young age I always had this idea I was going to be an architect. When I graduated and started my masters in architecture I realized that there was something else developing within me and it was this whole side of photography and film. The thing is, at the time, I never saw it as a career choice.
I really enjoyed traveling the world; photographing the architecture and its local people. In some way I lucked out because that was the beginning of social media. I always saw social media as an outlet to share my work with people and express my creative side, but I didn't realize or even anticipate that my social media brand would be where it is today.
Yes it's crazy how things work out like that, your timing and ability to build your social were definitely key components to your success.
Your photography has also led you to an array of opportunities. You've traveled, you've worked with a number of big brands—was that always the goal, to travel and follow your passions?
You know because I had an interest in architecture, I wanted to see places around the world. Because of that I started photographing them and sharing them with my family and friends which led to social media.
At the time, when I decided to drop out of my masters of architecture program at the University of Toronto it was because I wanted to start working full-time as a photographer and social media person.
I was doing photography, video and social media for different brands already while I was in school and it was just one of those things that you realize the potential for growth was huge.
A handful of years later I've launched my own company called Palander Studios, and what we do is we create content for commercial brands. Within the last year and a half we have been doing campaign creative development, so brands would reach out to us and we would come up with the entire concept behind the creative.
So as far as social media goes, when did it really start to take off for you?
When I first started my masters program I had to say no to a lot of projects because I thought that there wouldn’t be any time because of school. I feel like it was then, when I was in school it started to take off, but I was hesitant because I had massive assignments and projects. When I decided to leave school it allowed things to go to another level and more brands started to reach out.
I know you photograph, but you also shoot and produce video. Now working with these mediums, how do you stay inspired in doing what you do? After doing it for a number of years, like with any creative workflow, sometimes it's hard to maintain inspiration.
So I’m very fortunate with the job opportunities I get and because a majority of them involve traveling I get inspired by the places I see and the people I meet. I try to find creative spaces to work in. I try to curate my surroundings so that I'm constantly seeing something that is somewhat shaping my perspective or helping me think of new concepts and this is very important strategically for me to stay inspired.
From all your travels so far, what has been one of the most memorable aspects of your travels to date?
Well I’ve been to 45 countries. Surprisingly it’s not a lot, I thought it would be, but in comparison to others I’ve met not really. One of my friends from New York has been to every single country in world and it took her 18 months!
So each place is something different. People are very important to me. Everywhere I go I try to meet local people and network. And I’ve been doing this new thing recently where I post very spontaneously on my social “Hey whoever wants to meet up today come to this coffee shop. I’ve done it in Lisbon, London, and New York. And you know what 20-30 people would show up. I would make an announcement about 3-4 hours ahead of time and honestly it’s intuition. Whenever I'm in a new city I really want to meet new people, local people.
What are some of the challenges you've had while traveling and simultaneously igniting your creative process?
I think challenges for me come from many different avenues. In the larger picture, the greatest challenge for me is to stay inspired and motivated. Nowadays the problem is with social media. It's not like you are producing one piece of artwork a year and showcasing. It’s a very quick pace, almost a run-and-gun style where you are constantly posting and sharing content. You don't have much time to spend creating substance around it and I think that's very challenging for me because I’m not really that type of person. You know I wanted to be an architect who designed purposefully, something that is really well thought out.
On the business front I don’t think there is a blueprint for someone like me to take the right steps in creating a business. I find there is massive gaps on what’s available online as a resource for us. And that’s something I’ve always tried to focus on - how do I allow people to understand the process I took and simplify it for them, and that’s why I started my YouTube channel. I wanted to give back to the community a bit because I never had someone to teach me, I never had a mentor. I learnt photography, video and how to start a business on my own and the process is so much longer.
Who's your favorite photographer right now?
I don't really have a favorite photographer. There really isn't a photographer that comes to my mind that I think, ‘wow this is the photographer that really inspired my photography.' I was more inspired by architects and designers. There's this one famous female architect that recently passed away her name was Zaha Hadid. What intrigues me about her is that she faced so many challenges because the industry is like a big boys club. She had these incredible ideas and really brought modernism to a new front. She designed these contemporary minimalist designs that were inspiring for me and I started to visit her work around the world. She was the one that really inspired me.
Which is favorite city to travel to right now and why?
As far as my ‘favorite city’ there are so many it’s hard to choose.
When it comes to architecture there are a lot of cities that have elements that I enjoy. I like the way Hong Kong is able to maximize the space they have, they have a good understanding when it comes to sense of space.
Barcelona is also great when it comes to a sense of space.
I also really like Barcelona because it has great weather and a strong element of culture. I’d be content really with any place in Italy except for Milan and I really liked Hong Kong as well.
Based on your experiences would you have any advice for visual creators/travelers?
The most important thing about doing something you want to do is you have to allow yourself space to breathe and really talk to yourself about what it is you want to do. A lot of people are so fixated on doing things because it’s either this whole idea of the fear of missing out on everything, or someone else is doing something crazy and you are not or that maybe you convince yourself you are not capable of doing it. For me I really took the time to go through the process of making decisions that lead me to where I am today.
The second thing is if you are someone who is constantly doing the something the same way, stop doing it that way. Make an aggressive decision to do something completely different...something that you thought you would never do and challenge yourself. And that’s the time I think people actually start getting creative when they have discomfort in doing something.
For example, I always say this to photographers...if you are always shooting cityscapes then stop shooting cities and start photographing people on the street instead. I think to get better you need to do something different. And not only that, stop looking at other peoples accounts. I think more people are creating content because they are being inspired by others than actually inspiring themselves to create content.
So what’s next for Alen?
I think I've been doing so much output and not enough input if you get what I mean. Like I’m constantly creating content, sharing content, its always go,go, go. I haven't had much time to really reflect on things and absorb the moment, to really figure out what’s happening with my brand and its identity online. I think that’s going to be my main focus and really pull back and figure out what I need to do next.
To connect with Alen visit his channels below!
Also make sure to check out our last Venque Traveler feature here:Traveling with a mission to inspire - meet traveler and entrepreneur David McC.