Modern Fashion, Under a Palm Tree
Walking along the charming colonial streets of Hoi An...
...it’s difficult for a photographer to avoid a heavy trigger finger. Considered the Fashion Capital of Vietnam, the city draws crowds of visitors seeking bargain tailored clothing and prime selfie photo ops among its romantic 15th Century buildings.
Instead of taking vacation photos,
Nicki Silvanus chooses to use the city’s rustic backdrops and lush tropical landscapes to promote international clothing brands. Owner of Under a Palm Tree Photography, she works with local and foreign models to deliver stunning collection campaigns for her apparel clients.
I sat down with Nicki at the Hideout Cafe in Hoi An to learn more about her process as a Travel Fashion Photographer
How long have you been working remotely and traveling?
I left Bristol, UK about 10 months ago after quitting my job, selling all my stuff and moving out of my house. I only have 2 boxes of belongings at my mum’s house now. It was a scary but an amazingly liberating move. My boyfriend and I bought a pair of one-way tickets to Bangkok and here we are!
Why did you start traveling?
I fell in love with traveling when I was in my teen years. Seeing new landscapes, cultures, and all the different ways the world worked really opened my eyes. When I returned from traveling in Europe in a van when I was 19, working for the man didn’t interest me much. I craved independence and to be able to work whilst traveling.
What is your brand? How do you make money?
I specialise in fashion photography in exotic landscapes. My photography alias is “Under A Palm Tree”, which was an old Instagram name of mine. When I started traveling again and shooting fashion photography, I decided to resurrect it!
I work with clothing brands who send me their collections to whichever country I am in at that time. I help them by scouting the models, location, props, and shooting their new lookbooks. Quite often, fashion brands don’t have the time or finances to fly a whole team out to an island so I effectively remove that stress for them and offer the whole shebang. We work closely to decide on what branding/theme/model/poses they want and go from there!
On the side, I build websites which is something I kind of fell into a few years ago as extra income. It became really useful when I became a digital nomad because a lot of businesses in Asia need website design help. Secretly, I do love it, even though it’s a bit nerdy :P I also write for More Than Food Magazine which has writers from all over the world contributing on topics such as food, travel, lifestyle, and events.
At the moment, I am in the process of setting up a drop-shipping store which is something I have dabbled in before. This will be going live soon and I’m very excited to grow a remote team of nomads to make it successful.
How did you first get into photography?
I used to work for a couple of UK high street retail stores and from there I went on to set up my own clothing brand. In that time, I immersed myself in learning as much about the fashion industry as possible - photoshoots, creative direction, designing, marketing, sales, styling and branding. I love photography but in the UK it was always low on my priority list because I was working full-time and I also freelanced as a stylist. Since living in Asia, it has freed up a lot of my time to focus on pursuing photography as a creative skill.
What made you want to start doing fashion photography?
We were living on a beautiful palm tree island in the south of Thailand for 4 months called Koh Phangan. I started collaborating with other photographers and models there and one day I was invited along to shoot as a photographer. We got up for sunrise and drove to the other side of the island to a spot in the jungle. I surprised myself with the images I had shot and couldn’t wait to shoot again.
From there, I started shooting a couple of times a week with girls on the island in different locations - on the beach, in waterfalls, resorts, the jungle - to build my portfolio. It was a great way of meeting interesting people from all over the world and combining our ideas.
Soon after, my friend Robyn who runs Burnt Soul, a lycra clothing brand in Bristol asked me if she could send out some swimsuits from her new collection to shoot for her website - I more than happily obliged! Robyn and I were really happy with the images and I began to see fashion photography as a viable career move whilst visiting these beautiful places. It has been an amazing outlet for me seeing my visions come to life and I love the creative process involved with working with different brands!
What’s your biggest challenge as a photographer?
I would say constantly searching for ideal lighting and weather. Because I travel with only one rucksack, I don’t have space to carry big studio lighting. The weather can change very quickly in Asia so sometimes we need to reschedule if there is a questionable forecast.
What’s your biggest challenge with living abroad?
Missing friends and family for sure. Each time we move location, it takes a while to meet new people and find our groove. Luckily, we get to meet a lot of people from all corners of the globe on our travels and a lot of them are also digital nomads.
Money can obviously be a concern because we don’t have a guaranteed monthly paycheck. However, we hustle every day to build our portfolio, skill set and client list. The more we promote, the more opportunities we find.
Before we left the UK, we also made sure to eliminate all unnecessary expenses.
The best thing is that we only spend around half the money we were spending before while in the UK. The lower cost of living definitely takes some pressure off of being a small business owner in Asia.
Apart from that, I can’t complain. Life is more stress-free than ever! I enjoy working on projects that I am passionate about. Being able to take a day off to explore a new area is amazing and reconnects me with nature. Currently, we are in Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, where we are surrounded by incredible landscapes like paddy fields, islands, mountains and beautiful beaches.
Walk me through your day. How do you prioritize your tasks?
I wake up and cook breakfast with my boyfriend. Usually some guacamole, poached eggs, greens and sourdough combination with a fruit smoothie.
I use Trello to organise and reorganise my work load (usually multiple times a day). I normally have more than one project on at a time so I need a to-do list that is easy to amend and to share with other people. The evening before I will order my tasks for the next day so I feel prepared when I enter the day rather than panicking over it when I wake up!
I usually work on my laptop for 4-6 hours a day depending on deadlines. I like to work from home, a nearby cafe (Hoi An is famed for its quirky coffee shops), or I head to the beach so I can go for a swim and work. I spend a lot of time editing photos and organising next projects.
3 or 4 times a week, I attend Hatha Vinyasa yoga to unwind which helps me stretch out after intense laptop sessions and keep in shape. Yoga is amazing and I can really see the mental benefits as well as physical ones.
What's the best way to get started with remote work?
My advice for people that want to start working remotely: do some research on what kind of industries cater to remote workers. There is a high demand for IT developers, content writers, and salespeople. But there are loads of other avenues like virtual assistants, stock photography, graphic designers, Amazon Fulfillment, affiliate marketing…
The list goes on and will only continue to grow as our world moves online. See if you already have any of the skills involved in these areas.
I found this article enlightening and it features many job sites specifically recruiting remote workers - https://skillcrush.com/2014/10/10/sites-finding-remote-work/
Remember that some jobs won’t be advertised online and you can create them for yourself. For example, I did loads of research on different income avenues before I began my digital nomad journey. Travel photography was mentioned a lot but fashion photography never came up.
I’m not suggesting that I am the first person to work as a traveling fashion photographer but I haven’t read about anyone else working in the way that I do. There are so many opportunities available, so keep your eyes open for ways you can solve problems for others.
Before you run to the office and hand in your notice, spend 6 months or so building these skills, looking for clients, and begin to earn an income from it. I would recommend having at least £5000 in savings before taking the leap so you have a buffer.
A great way of making your savings last is moving to a low-cost country in SouthEast Asia and staying in one place for a couple of months. The cost of traveling snowballs when you are constantly moving around.
What excites you the most about traveling?
The variety of activities and sights is a constant stream of inspiration. I love not knowing what tomorrow might bring! I think I lacked this feeling from my life when I lived in one place as I would get bored easily. Now when we are ready to go to a new city or country, we can move on with very little inconvenience.
What is your 1, 3, 5 year plan?
I prefer not to have a regimented plan for the future as there are too many unknown variables but here is my overall vision:
1 year - Continue traveling and working as a photographer. By next year, I would like to build up a semi-passive income of at least £1000 a month.
3 years - Buy property in Europe/start a property portfolio. Buy another van and convert it into a campervan.
5 year - Let’s see where the wind takes me ;)
What has been your favorite country so far?
I would have to say that Thailand and Sri Lanka have been my absolute faves as they have been countries where I have had some surreal adventures. Although, I am heading to the Philippines with some friends next month and suspect that this might even top the list!
Advice for other digital nomads?
If you haven’t done it yet and you are thinking about it - Take the leap.
If it’s fear holding you back, create an action plan of the steps you will need to take to get back in the position where you are currently.
After this, create a “mood board” or “vision board” of what your life will look like if you achieve all of these wonderfully amazing things. Think about what your work-life balance will be like, the landscapes you will see, your bank balance, your health and your social life. Analyse all these areas of your life and see what improvements you would make. Cut up colourful pictures and motivational phrases from magazines and stick them on a wall, preferably near your bed so you see this every morning and every night.
Doing these two exercises will allow you to visualise the risk and to see if it outweighs the potential gains. It will probably get you really excited about the possibilities out there if you take the leap of faith.
If you are already doing it, well done and get in touch! I would love to hear from you. Always keep alert for new opportunities, collaborations and ways of working. Some days when I feel sluggish or unmotivated, I do a little gratitude test which puts me back in a super high ready to face the day.
Oh, and Hustle, hustle, hustle!
Peace out ;)
Nicki Silvanus is a Fashion Photographer currently traveling and living in SouthEast Asia. If you have any questions about her journey as a digital nomad or have a photography project she would be good for, follow her at:
Under a Palm Tree Photography: www.underapalmtree.co/
Instagram - www.instagram.com/underapalmtree
Facebook - www.facebook.com/underapalmtreee