15 questions on success with Trey Ratcliff

The Rulebreakers Series: 15 questions with photographer, artist, writer & adventurer, Trey Ratcliff.

Here’s 15 questions on success with Trey Ratcliff – internationally recognised photographer, artist, writer & adventurer.

In our Rulebreakers Series, we talk to some of the travel industry’s most prolific creators about how they got to where they are today, regardless of the ‘rules.’ We find out the one rule they always break and discuss everything from how they deal with haters and what they’ve learnt from failure to what success (really) means to them.

15 Questions on Success



With Trey Ratcliffe

AKA @TreyRatcliff

What’s the one rule you always break?

“Photography has so many rules, and I think I break almost all of them. 


I think a lot of photographers have the idea, when they’re shooting, that they need to capture something that’s going to make a lot of people happy – but I never think like that. I shoot what makes me happy and what I am passionate about.”


What was the one defining moment in your career where you realised that you were on your way to success? 

“You know, I kind of feel like an imposter, like I still haven’t made it. But there are little things along the way, like, recently I sold a big piece to Leonardo Dicaprio. I guess that was one thing that made me stop and go: ‘okay, I guess you’ve made it if Leo’s buying your work’. 


You know, just different steps along the way. I could kind of measure the fact I had made it with my social media. I knew I made it when people were talking about me more than I was talking about me.”


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“Do one thing that makes you money, one thing to keep you in shape and one thing you’re passionate about, every day.”





What defines you as different from the other thousands of people out there trying to break into your field?

“I think what makes me different is I don’t really care what other people think about me. I don’t really take myself that seriously. 


I think a lot of people getting into this industry are obsessed with what other people think about them, like that somehow defines them – and that can definitely corrupt your creativity and your motivations. 


Because I spend absolutely NO time worrying about what other people think, I can channel all that time and energy into creating, loving and being awesome.”


What’s the biggest mistake you see people making in your field?

“I think the biggest mistake I see people making is going into the industry without knowing who they are. 


They see these archetypal figures, with lots of followers and a luxurious lifestyle and think ‘I want to be like that’, but I think it is really important to know yourself, be authentic and tell an authentic story.”



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What do you foresee as being the next big trend in your niche?

“Ohhh 360° photography and video content. At the moment all we have are these little rectangles, but it’s really an arbitrary shape to experience reality. 


Eventually people will be experiencing content with VR goggles and AR goggles because it’s just much more satisfying. 


There’s a whole new age of content coming and if you practise now, with storytelling and making content that people like, then you’re going to be well suited for what’s coming next.”


Can you tell us about your most painful failure and the lessons you learned from it?

“I have had a lot of failures, and as a photographer you are always reminded of it – you go out and take 100 photos and 98 are shit and 2 are decent. But these are small failures and you get over those, but it can be a bit like a beating, failing so often. 


I had a big failure with an art business. We launched an art series and I got hit by a really bad deal, someone really took advantage of me. I really beat myself up about it, but you just keep going, you know?


I might be in the middle of a huge failure right now, when you’re in the middle of making it it’s really hard to know. But it’s so important to stretch your creativity and take risks, you make new connections and you just keep getting better.”



As you would know, not everyone is willing to buy into your vision and back you, how do you deal with people in your life who don’t support your vision?

“I just ignore them. Ignoring people is one of my greatest skills. I don’t even give it any thought because I know myself. 


I know that the key to life is just three things: loving, being kind and helping other people. It is just that simple. People want to make it so ridiculously complex. So, the people that don’t get it, they’re on their own path and I just ignore them.”



“I think the biggest mistake I see people making is going into the industry without knowing who they are.”

Success requires sacrifice. What have you had to sacrifice to get to where you are?

“I had to sacrifice the predictability of income, I sacrificed my steady income and my health insurance for the unknown. I also travel a lot, so I had to sacrifice time with my kids, which has been really hard. 


But, a big bonus of the life I’ve chosen is being able to travel with my kids. We went on an around-the-world tour, we went to India and the Middle East, to Thailand and Rome. It was incredible. I think this has been an insight for me, that your family’s best memories are when you travel together.”


Has your success made you happy?

No, but I don’t use the word ‘happiness’ much. I think having a meaningful life is better than having a happy life. 


I think having meaningful moments is way more important; they can be happy, they can be sad, they can be interesting or revealing or surprising. So many meaningful memories have a broad range of emotions. 


But, yeah, I think that my life has been filled with meaningful moments and I think that kind of answers your question.”


What’s your ultimate goal?

“This sounds super hippyish but I just want to spread love and consciousness around the world. It’s just that simple and my way of doing it is through art. 


And then, maybe through that I can inspire people to be more creative, because when you’re being creative you’re being very present. It’s a very conscious, loving thing – to create, and I think anybody can do it.”



What do you long for?

I’m a minimalist, so I’m happy with a camera, computer, passport and some money to travel around. That’s all I really desire.”


“It’s a very conscious, loving thing – to create, and I think anybody can do it.”

What practices have you incorporated into your self-care routine to ensure you stay mentally and physically fit?

“I’m a work-in-progress, but I’m living by the mantra: Do one thing that makes you money, one thing to keep you in shape and one thing you’re passionate about, every day. 


Something that has really helped me keep mentally and physically fit is hiking, and getting into nature. I throw on my Bose headphones and put on a podcast or a book and then I just walk in nature and I feel incredible afterwards.”


How do you set up your day for success?


“I do have a morning routine. I think it is really important for creatives, especially if you’re as crazy as me, to have some sort of discipline otherwise it’s just too much chaos.

My friend taught me this exercise, and it is really helpful I do it every morning. You know in that time of the morning, where you are just waking up and your brain is running in circles reminding you of all the things you have to do today? Well, in that moment, all you need to do is concentrate your mind on five things you are grateful for. That’s it. 

It really cleans my brain and puts me in the right mindset.”



What’s the most life-changing purchase you’ve made in the last year?

“My Bose headphones, probably. They were expensive, like $400 and I don’t usually spend money on myself. But they are so good, they’ve been really transformative for me.”


What’s the one destination that you’ve visited that deeply changed you, and how?

Japan. It is my favourite place, other than New Zealand. It’s so calm. It’s not westernised. To me, it feels like a parallel universe. The people are so accommodating and happy, the food is incredible and it’s great for photos. 


I really respect Japanese culture. If everyone visited Japan I think the world would be a better place.”

What’s one piece of advice you would give to your five-year-old self?

“Figure out what you love, what you love to create and just create it all you can.”


Five Quick-Fire Questions:


Instagram or facebook?


Sunrise or sunset?


Five star hotel or five million stars from your tent?

“Both. Why do you have to choose? I don’t accept the premise that you have to choose.”

Good coffee or good wine?

“Good wine.”

You’re getting on the world’s longest flight and you can only take three things. What are they?

“My earphones and a kindle. I don’t need three things.”


All images in this post are courtesy of @TreyRatcliff