In November of 2018, I got on a plane and traveled 25+ hours completely around the world to a small island in Indonesia that I had only heard about twice in my life: Bali. But my journey started a few months back when one of my favorite travel Instagrammers posted about teaching a course in Bali – you would get the opportunity to learn how to make a living photographing and traveling the world like she did – pretty much my dream job (or quite possibly everyone’s dream job).
The course was run through a place called the Institute of Code, somewhere I had never heard of before, and honestly I wasn’t quite sure if it was legit. They were running a giveaway to receive a one-day online course, so I applied to get a sense of what the full program might be like. I was quickly accepted into the online course, and not a day later the co-founder herself emailed me and offered me a partial scholarship to attend the full 10-day course in Bali. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. This came at a time in my life where I was considering taking my photography full time, but taking that step was daunting (understatement of the year) and I wasn’t sure I could make it work financially.
I waffled for a few months – the timing wasn’t right, it would still be quite a big expense, would it really be worth it? But about a half a year later, Tina emailed again and talking with her inspired me to take the plunge and just go for it. I bought flight tickets before I could second guess myself, accepted my scholarship, and began to mentally prepare for the journey.
What the Course Covered
- Branding and finding your niche
- Planning and creating content
- Creating a social media strategy
- Storytelling and becoming a thought leader
- Building an audience and growing engagement on social media
- Creating engaging blog posts
- Driving blog traffic with Pinterest
- Photography & photo editing in Lightroom
- Search Engine Optimization
- Learning how to pose in photos
- Styling a scene for commercial shoots
- Marketing, contracts, and working with brands
- How find clients for freelance work and make money (!)
Our Home Base
The Institute of Code is set up in a luxury pool villa, where you share a room with 2-3 other students, and the entire class sized is capped at 16 students so there is always a 1:4 ratio of instructors (influencers!) to students. Transport to and from the villa is all taken care of, so even though I am a confident traveler, it was nice to know that everything would be taken care of the moment you landed in Bali.
Our home base was was absolutely STUNNING. I couldn’t believe this was my home for the next 10 days. There was a pool, complete with a flamingo pool floatie, a communal dining area, rooms for students and instructors, and a large classroom. An in-house chef prepared every meal, and I am salivating just remembering some of the amazing fare. The meals were veggie-heavy, healthy, and catered to your dietary requirements. I still dream about the morning acai bowls! There was also beer, juice, and kombucha always available for a small extra fee.
All of this is set up – not to just be a luxury Balinese vacation (although it certainly feels like one) – but it is actually purposefully designed so that the only thing you have to worry about is learning. Someone asked me why I had to travel all the way to Bali to learn how to become an influencer – this is why. The Institute of Code asserts that when everything is taken care of – transport, meals, accommodation, exercise and mental health (yoga and meditation) – your brain is freed of everyday stress and is open and capable of learning more in 10 days than you would have ever imagined possible.
A Day in the Life
About half of the days were full class days from around 8am to 5pm, some days ending later than others, with the other days as a mixture of classes and photo excursions. We got up for sunrise at 3am on one day and 2am on another day, and after our photo trips we went right back into the classroom and continued learning. I quickly became fast friends with my other classmates – though we came from multiple countries and had different backgrounds, we all had a common ground of wanting to learn and grow our respective businesses. The community fostered by the intensity of classes and the positive, inspirational atmosphere the mentors and IOC team members cultivated made for one of the most supportive environments I have ever experienced.
During class days we began our day with yoga and breakfast, then classes began. Mid-morning there would be a quick and delicious snack break, and mid-day we took an hour off for lunch to eat and rest up, even sunbathe or take a swim if you wanted, then it was straight back into learning. Each day a few different topics were taught, and class structure alternated between lectures, mentor panels, discussions, and time to work independently or in small groups. Every day the mentors were available for questions, even if they were not presenting, and I loved how open each mentor was to sharing their knowledge and experience.
In the evenings, we were free to stay for dinner at the villa or head into town to experience Canggu dining or go shopping at the markets and various stores. Many days a group of us would do a spontaneous photo shoot around the villa or in town, playing off each other’s creativity and ideas. As someone who often shoots alone, I so enjoyed being around other creatives and spending time with people who are just as passionate about photography as me. I finished each day mentally and sometimes physically exhausted and always impressed just how much we packed into each day.
Instagram-Worthy Photo Trips
On the days we incorporated in photo shoots, we took advantage of the gorgeous sunrise light or headed out in the evenings for golden hour before sunset. There was always someone around to take your photograph or for you to take photographs of, and the mentors led small groups for more individualized help and advice. Despite having just barely over a week to teach and take photographs, we still got to experience such a variety of shooting locations around Bali, and I fell in love with how absolutely gorgeous the island was.
Bali may be small, but between beaches, rice terraces, cloudy volcanoes, and towering waterfalls, it is definitely an impressive place to take photographs. But landscapes are not the only thing to love – the cafes in Canggu are just as Instagram-worthy, and there was so much more to explore: the markets of Ubud, spas offering traditional Balinese massage, surfing, diving, gardens, temples … the list goes on.
I ended up spending an extra 3 days traveling around Bali, which I am so incredibly happy I did. At the end of the course, I was emotionally exhausted from pushing myself to truly know myself and my business, and I was physically exhausted from the long hours and early mornings. But despite that, I pushed myself to hit a few more sunrises and sunsets and see as much of Bali as I could. It was definitely an exhausting way to finish the trip, but I would have been absolutely crushed if I had traveled so far and not spent a little extra time to get more content and see more of this amazing country. The added bonus of finishing on a photo trip was that I could take all the lessons I learned and apply them before heading home – who knew when my next big photo trip would be.
My Review and Life Post-Course
Reflecting back on the course, I can’t believe how much I learned, and it has markedly changed my life and how I currently run my business. I am now only 3 months out from the course, and I would really like to look back at 6 months and 1 year for a true sense of what I have learned and accomplished, but I can already say at 3 months that my day-to-day life and career trajectory are COMPLETELY changed from what I had been doing and where I was going with my business before.
During the course, there were quite a lot of topics I had never learned about before – since my background is in photography and editing, I never had the opportunity to learn the business and marketing side of being an influencer, so those lessons were invaluable for me. But on the photography side of things, we spent quite a bit of time learning to edit photographs, which was good for most students who never had that experience before, but for me it was mostly review, so I wished there had been more class time spent on the other subjects that we did not have time to go as much in depth in. When we were out shooting, I was also very surprised to find how much I enjoyed being in front of the camera (especially with the posing instruction and support from my classmates), since I usually am only ever behind the camera.
Before the course, I had started to piece together small aspects of how to make a career as an influencer, but this course spelled everything out, added so much more detail than I ever realized was involved, and definitely will end up drastically cutting down the amount of time I need to build my business up. That being said, we learned so incredibly much, that many of us felt completely overwhelmed when we got home and unsure where to start despite making a twelve-month plan. But in the months since the course, I have begun to figure out how to structure my time and what aspects of the course to focus on first so that I can achieve all of my goals. It also greatly helps that the course offers support after the course is done, and my classmates and I have made an effort to keep up our little community so we can keep pushing each other to grow and make our dreams a reality.
How to Start Your Own Journey with the Institute of Code
Is this course right for you? If you have ever dreamed of becoming an influencer, working as a social media manager, or simply want to take your own business to the next level in the digital world we live in, this course is for you. Even if you only have 500 followers or you already have 10k followers, or if your following is anywhere in between, this course could be for you, and it’s not just limited to the photography and travel business – in my course, there was an aspiring social media manager, a successful graphic designer, a lash esthetician business owner, a beauty YouTuber, a sports trainer, a budding beach towel business owner, and more. I couldn’t believe the diversity of business backgrounds each of my classmates had.
So if this course sounds like it’s the right fit for you and your business, you can find out more information here and you can apply for the social media or a coding bootcamp here –make sure you mention Rebecca @rebeccahelenphoto when you apply. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or shoot me a DM on Instagram.
Comment below if this guide inspired YOU to chase down your wildest dreams! Definitely comment if this inspired you to apply to this program too or ask me any questions you still have. And as usual – let me know what destination you would like to discover next.
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