Greg Rola, Toronto Photographer, Videographer and Content Creator, first came to Toronto to study performance. When he finished school, he asked the same question that so many artists find themselves asking: What’s next?
We talked with Greg about how he first got into photography and how he used social media as a tool to grow his business and get to where he is now.
Model: Kaitlyn Hoiles
How did you first get into photography?
When I finished school, I realized that I wanted to do my own work and had to decide what that would be. As a performer, the only way to do that is pick up a camera and do your own stuff. So, I did that. I started doing photography, met some people, one thing led to another and here I am. I still do performance but not as much as I do content.
It sounds like you’re “living the dream”?
You know, a lot of people have said to me, “Oh you’re so lucky, you’re living the dream job”. But honestly, I believe anyone can live their dream job, whatever it is. For me, I just always hated the idea of working for other people. There’s that saying – if you’re not working towards your own goals then you’re working towards someone else’s or helping someone else achieve theirs. And I’d way rather work to achieve mine.
What was it like when you started out? I’m sure it wasn’t easy?
Definitely not. It was extremely difficult. I did so much free work at the start. The first paid gig I got was a photoshoot and I was so nervous at the time, I had no idea what I was doing. But I said, let’s do it. It was only 20 bucks, but it made me realize I was actually able to do this and people would actually want to pay me for what I was doing. I realized I could make a career out of this. I started saying yes to everything, which is a motto I live by. Paid. Unpaid. I always said yes.
How did social media play into your success?
Before I was really invested in Instagram, I was just doing photography and videography and posting things as a kind of escape. I’d find beautiful things I liked to take pictures of, I’d edit, post it online, and that was that.
But as time went on, I started consciously taking photos for my IG. I got into roof-topping and all these crazy things through social media and started working with models and different brands. I was shooting with 2-3 models a day and posting twice a day everyday, and this was all mostly for IG. I was using it as a full-time job. I went out, made connections, took photos, and then would be on IG for 8-10 hours every day, engaging with people, DM’ing, trying to get contacts, connecting and working with brands. And that allowed me to really grow my following. I was only sleeping for a few hours, but it’s what I had to do to make what I wanted happen.
Now that you do have a following, how do you engage with them differently?
I upload stories a lot more now to engage with my followers. I felt super awkward doing it at first but the more you do it the more comfortable you get, and it shows people a more human side to you. If I’m awkward people will usually laugh and think it’s funny.
Model: Kaitlyn Hoiles
They’ll be able to relate to you. You always need to have that element of real.
How do you differentiate yourself on social media from other photographers?
The IG community of photographers is tough because everyone is trying to stand out, which is of course great, but it means everyone is striving for the same thing. Personally, I don’t go to social media to “check out the competition”. For me, it’s a creative spark. I see what others are doing and it makes me want to go out and try something like it. But you have to pursue your own style and just be yourself.
So, don’t compare yourself to others?
Absolutely. If you sat around all day comparing and trying to mimic, you wouldn’t be out there developing your own style – and that’s what people are interested in. If you focus on what you like and what you want to create, you’re going to stand out in your own way.
Would you say Toronto is one of the best cities for artists, especially photographers?
In terms of Canada, it’s definitely one of the top cities to be in if you want to be a creator. Everyone who comes here comes to create and they all have a dream. But in Toronto the “photographer market” is very, very saturated, there’s just so many people. And everyone wants to be the next big thing.
That’s why you can’t just look to people at the top and try to follow directly in their footsteps – if you want to make it big there’s no path made out for you. You have to create the path for yourself.
Greg is heading out to Edmonton and B.C this summer for an upcoming project and, most recently, was the lead in a film about the role of social media in modern relationships. Next stops after that? Wherever saying "yes" takes him. Check him out on Instagram.