A Florida native and outdoor adventure and travel lover, Nick Zantop is editor of the photography instruction website ItsJustLight.com, which provides tutorials, travel guides, and helpful tips for photography beginners and enthusiasts. As a travel and editorial photographer, his work has appeared in numerous publications including Travel + Leisure, Brigitte, Life Element, and FutureClaw.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
I first dipped my toes into the publishing world through my work as a photographer, and after a number of years and after gaining a reasonable amount of experience with web development and digital publishing I began ItsJustLight.com, where I’m able to share my love of photography, publishing content like travel photography guides, beginner tips, and detailed tutorials on more advanced topics like long exposure photography.
Photography is a beautiful thing because no matter how much you know, you never know everything – there will always be new techniques to discover, new subjects to explore, and new ways of seeing the world. In fact, photography itself helps to change the way you see the world and helps one live a bit more mindfully. It makes people stop for a little bit longer, slowing down to notice (and photograph) the small details, the textures, movement, and colors of the world around us.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
Every day is honestly a bit different, but usually, most days start with some time on social media, catching up on what I’ve missed, interacting with people, and planning posts throughout the day. Moving on to the heavier stuff, when it comes to digital publishing and running a website, what you plan to do and what you actually do are often radically different things. The benefits of wearing many hats as a publisher/editor/photographer/writer are obvious, but the responsibilities are diverse and sometimes mean that a day you’d rather spend writing or photographing and developing content is instead spent configuring settings on your web server or customizing CSS or trying to resolve some technical issue.
To help keep myself organized, I try to write out lists of topics I’d like to cover along with publishing timelines, content I’d like to develop, and marketing strategies. When writing about a subject you know well, I think it’s important to keep in mind that your average reader may not be as intimately familiar with it as you are, so it’s critical to put yourself in the shoes of who you’re writing for. When it comes to publishing content teaching people about photography, the basics of exposure may be second nature to professional photographers, but to beginners, they are completely foreign. From my list of content ideas, I’ll then create a rough draft with bullet-points highlighting the main topics to cover, keeping the audience in mind.
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE?
Right now I work from a MacBook Pro that finally replaced a very geriatric model from several years ago. Wherever I go, I’ve always got at least a few external hard drives handy for the inevitable torrent of photos I’ll take. I don’t always succeed, but I’m a big believer in the less is more philosophy and besides the basics, I try my best not to get too hung up on lusting after new gadgets, tools, and apps and focus my energy on optimizing what I’ve already got and figuring out what I really need. This is especially relevant when it comes to digital publishing about photography, a niche in which new cameras are released at a staggering pace. It’s part of my job to keep up with the new developments, but even I frequently find it difficult & do my part to impart a bit of my minimalist philosophy in my articles, encouraging people to spend less money on gear but still achieve great results. I think that the world of digital publishing is a great example of how big things can be done simply — with just a computer or smartphone, virtually anyone can share their thoughts and knowledge about any topic with the world, and potentially reach an audience of the same scale that the historically dominant print and television media reaches.
I’m always fighting against my bad habit of creating a new text document on my laptop every time I have an idea, so when it comes to writing, I try to really utilize Google Drive, specifically Google Docs – it’s great for keeping organized (always important!), sharing documents and updating drafts from wherever I am at the moment. As for the forward facing stuff, ItsJustLight runs on a self-hosted install of WordPress, which makes digital publishing so much easier. Since the content, I produce for ItsJustLight.com is so photo-heavy, Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom are almost always open on my laptop. Besides that, I’ve almost always got Instagram open too, but that’s as much of a guilty pleasure as an actual marketing and productivity tool for me.
WHAT DO YOU DO OR GO TO GET INSPIRED?
Since I write primarily about photography and travel, it’s probably not surprising that both of these things are huge sources of inspiration. I love to experience new places, and everywhere I go and everything I photograph is a potential topic to write about and share whatever I’ve seen and learned. Even though digital publishing relies on technology, I also relish the opportunities to completely disconnect from technology from time to time in places where cell phone service and WiFi simply don’t exist. Experiences like backcountry camping and the bliss of a campfire under a dark sky or freediving and floating weightlessly over a coral reef teeming with marine life are the kinds of things that really make me tick. Sometimes to get inspired to be digitally productive I really need to separate myself from technology.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
For those times when I can’t escape from the modern world, reading often serves as that escape. There are so many momentous quotes out there, but if I had to choose just one that really resonates with me, I’d probably go with “Keep close to Nature’s heart yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean…” — John Muir, quoted in Alaska Days with John Muir by Samuel Hall Young.
WHAT IS THE PASSIONATE PROBLEM YOU ARE TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
Right now I’m traveling in Southeast Asia with my fiancée, which is an amazing adventure – it’s such a mesmerizingly beautiful part of the world with so many photo opportunities around every corner. Even though I develop content for a website about photography, taking photos is only part of the process, and it can be difficult to manage smoothly balancing work and play. It’s very easy to find yourself with all of the visual content you could ever want, but keeping the productivity going when it comes to writing and marketing can be more of a challenge. Time management while traveling for short time periods is more straightforward, but longer travel plans make for a difficult challenge when it comes to productivity. Right now I’m tackling the issue of how to balance productivity and exploration. Wish me luck!
Is there a product, solution, or tool that you think is a good match for your digital publishing efforts?
It’s hard to imagine digital publishing without WordPress – I’d say that it’s the single most useful tool in my digital publishing efforts. Having learned about web design back in the basic HTML days where having a scrolling marquee and some “Under Construction” clipart on a website was just about the coolest thing around, it’s amazing that anyone with an internet connection can put together a professional looking layout for whatever they want to publish.
ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS JUST STARTING OUT?
To anyone just starting out, my advice would be to just get out there and do it. The beauty of digital publishing is that it is incredibly easy to share your passions and expertise with a wide audience. Be true to yourself and your interests – write and create what you love, and you won’t find yourself burned out and writing about things you don’t have a personal interest in.
Try not to get too lost in aesthetics at first – having a website that looks great is important, but remember that your average visitor, and especially the search engines which send lots of traffic tend to care less about how pretty a site is and more about how useful the content is. It’s really easy to get caught up in the tiny details when starting out, spending countless hours trying to figure out color palettes and layouts and fonts. Spend your time developing a wealth of content that will actually bring human eyes to your digital efforts, and when you’ve got some spare time, worry more about the little visual issues.
Don’t forget to market your efforts: writing great content is only half the job – getting people to read it is the other. Social media can be a lot of work, but it’s one of the best ways to bring new eyes to your published content. Connect with your readers and always ask what the people you’re publishing for want to see more of – an engaged audience will keep coming back for more!