Valerie Lopez hates selfie sticks. Not only are they obnoxious, but they also turn out crappy, low-quality pictures. Yet the Miami photographer sees them every day, swarming in front of the walls of Wynwood and at other tourist-heavy spots around the city.
She thinks she has a better way. Instead of relying on selfie sticks and benevolent strangers to capture your vacation memories, why not hire a professional who can take the kind of glossy, perfectly composed pictures you'd be proud to plaster all over social media?
Through Lopez's company, Shoot My Travel, some vacationers spend hundreds of dollars doing just that. They book a professional photographer local to their destination, spend a few hours being photographed, and then receive edited photographs 48 hours later, theirs to post on Instagram and Facebook.
“Social media put a lot of pressure on us sharing," says the 27-year-old Lopez. "If you don’t put up a picture of where you went, it’s like you didn’t go."
Already, social media is full of soft-lit professional engagement shots, professional wedding photos, and professional baby images. Soon they may be joined by scores of professional vacation pictures. Shoot My Travel had 200 bookings last year and expects to continue growing.
Is this the ultimate in millennial narcissism? Lopez doesn't think so.
"It's not about being self-obsessed," she insists. "A lot of people do it just for their memories, for them to remember, 'Hey, I was here in Tokyo; my pictures are badass,' or 'Maybe I'll want to show my kids when they're born that for our honeymoon, we went to Miami.'"
The idea came to her in 2013, when she and her boyfriend took their first trip to Europe. Because Lopez is a photographer and her boyfriend is a designer, they each took "these supercool and awesome pictures of each other," she recalls.
But when it came to taking pictures together, it wasn't so simple.
"At the end of the day, we were both like, 'We don't have any pictures of us together. We only have shitty selfies of us,'" Lopez says. "We would ask people, 'Can you take a picture of us?' and it was badly composed, bad lighting. You're always afraid someone is going to take your camera away, steal it."
When they returned home, Shoot My Travel was born. It was a personal project the first couple of years; now it's Lopez's full-time job, though she declines to say how profitable the company is. She shoots Miami visitors, many of whom want their pictures taken in front of Wynwood's famous walls.
Shoot My Travel has a network of photographers in 200 cities around the world. They act as informal tour guides, giving suggestions on locations for photo shoots and lesser-known places to check out around town.
Packages range from $185 for an hourlong solo session with a photographer to $365 for a three-hour photo tour. Surprise marriage proposal sessions — $235 for about 45 minutes — are the most popular, followed by "You and the City," the solo session.
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Isabella Velez, a shoe designer in Miami, booked a photographer for a trip she and her 8- and 4-year-old children took to New York City last year. She was thrilled with the pictures — candid shots of her and the kids playing in a park with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
A little camera-shy, she took a while to get used to being photographed. Her kids? Not so much.
"My kids loved it," Velez says. "They felt like they were being followed around by paparazzi."