The Pop Profile series is a peek into the creative process of some of the most talented people making content on social media. It’s a chance for them to step out from behind the camera, into the spotlight, and let us pick their brains. This month, we’re talking with Matt Van Swol.
The Pop Profile creator highlight was created to give people an inside look at the many layers of our creator community. Matt Van Swol is a prime example of our multi-faceted group of influencers and content creators with an expansive array of talents and passions. Prior to taking incredible landscape photos, Matt was a nuclear scientist looking for a creative outlet. He found his outlet, and ultimately his true calling, and took the leap into entrepreneurship as a creative directly and photographer. We chatted with Matt about how he made the shift from scientist to content creator, his favorite branded collaborations, and cultivating happiness.
A bit about Matt
I’m Matt Van Swol, I’m a full time Creative Director, Landscape Photographer, and father. When I am not on a plane, I can usually be found in my studio editing, playing soccer with my kids, spending time with my wife, Erin, or wandering some remote part of the planet shooting photos. I’m all about telling interesting stories that inspire people to action.
Getting started as a content creator
I got started as a content creator around three years ago as more of a hobby. I was working at the Department of Energy as a nuclear scientist and needed a creative outlet. I started shooting photos and learning how to edit, about two years later, I quit my job to do product photography and marketing full-time. My favorite thing about being a content creator is simply the freedom to create whatever is inside your head. In my old day-job, I wasn’t allowed much room for creative or original thought, being a content creator allows me to pitch whatever creative/crazy idea comes to mind.
His favorite brand collaboration
It’s so hard to choose! I think my favorite gigs have been the unpaid ones. Recently, I did a branded collaboration with UnitedHealthcare where I took the entire amount they were paying me on Popular Pays, and used it to purchase and give away 50 gift cards to medical students studying for their end-of-year exams in the library.
Outside of Popular Pays, I worked with Apple to photograph an engagement of a gay couple in the deep South, where I am from, entirely on the iPhone XS and XS Max. It got picked up by Out Magazine and I got so many incredible messages from the LGBT community. That was really fulfilling and one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever done.
On his creative collaboration process with a brand
I usually research the brand to discover what products they are promoting and see if they have any philanthropic pushes. I try to put myself in the brand’s shoes and think about what sort of ad or message would inspire me (a very cynical person) to action. Then I start writing a caption, usually tied to emotion, and then create content that fits that emotion. As an example, in a gig I’m doing with Firestone, I thought about past road trips that I did as a kid with my family. You know the ones that seem to go on forever and ever. The ones you did to visit family far away, where you played crazy games in the car with your siblings or parents? Think about that emotional bond you share with your siblings or parents whenever you take a road trip somewhere, it’s kind of crazy the memories that pop up when you start thinking about it. I wanted to capture that emotion visually and with captions for Firestone, so I ended up taking a road trip to my siblings (that are grown and out of the house now) and take them on a road trip with me to catch up, talk about life, and go somewhere new and exciting.
His advice to people considering following their passion instead of a paycheck
There was one day I was working in the lab at my old job and I was just miserable, thinking of any way I could get out of there and do something else. I didn’t want to be stupid or rash in my actions, so I went around my workplace asking people if they were happy. Almost every single person told me the same sort of story, “Well, I’m okay. You see… I had this dream to… (insert dream here) but then I started working here and 30 years went by and here I am, so I guess it turned out ok.” But as they told that story, the story of what their dreams used to be, I saw a spark in their eyes I hadn’t seen before. A true passion that they gave up just because staying there was easier than leaving. I swore that wouldn’t be me. I put in my two weeks notice and I’ve never looked back.
PS: I’m a lot happier.
A huge thank you to Matt for sharing her creative process and journey with us. You can keep up with him on his Instagram. Interested in learning more about how Pop Pays can speed up your custom content production? Learn how to get started, and check back here for more inspiration from our creator community.