Unlocking the Creative Mind of Trey Ratcliff

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Editor’s note: Dallas and Denver workshops announced in July!

You can learn how to take photos many different ways. Whether you decide to attend a photography school, watch a YouTube video to learn the best technique or perhaps you may just prefer to go at your own pace and teach yourself. Whatever the style of learning may be all methods typically involve exploring one thing that forms a fundamental base for your photography, and that one thing is learning how to be creative.

Creativity is one of those things that can’t really be taught from a textbook, instead, it’s something that should be experienced and explored. Finding your ‘creative voice’ though can be a challenge. What I’m finding more and more is people who lack or haven’t experienced creativity before are starting to look at the successful artists before them – like the impressionists – and those who creatively follow closely in their footsteps.

These people, whether past or present, can be an inspiration, you just have to look at how they carry themselves through their creative pieces. Their art typically speaks louder than them and it’s this artistic expression that we all need to learn from.

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Trey Ratcliff

So, when the opportunity arose to sit down with the world’s most followed online artist, Trey Ratcliff (who happens to be a photographer with refreshingly no ego) it made sense, to find out more about why teaching art and more importantly unlocking the inner creative was so important. I kicked off the interview by asking…

LD:  “So Trey, I’m interested, what do you call yourself? Would you call yourself an artistic entrepreneur?”

TR: “I think I would just call myself a searcher, but I’m not sure what I am searching for. I love making art, I love been creative. I know when I am being creative I am very present, very conscious and I know that’s really what living is all about and so the more I can find myself in an artistic zone generally the happier my mind, body, and soul are.”

LD:  “So, do you actively search and put yourself in interesting areas to spark your creativity or do you just let it come to you to create the things you want to create?”

TR: “Yeah I just let it come to me I’m very open hearted. I just let the universe kind of flow around me and flow through me. I always say ‘yes’ to opportunities and I always say ‘yes‘ to people. I’m just positive and open to the universe, amazing things happen.”

“I noticed if you don’t be open – if you close up, you become full of fear. Sometimes the universe doesn’t work out that well for you but amazing things keep happening if you change and I have to think it’s because every year I’m learning to become more present and more open to the universe.”

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A participant at Trey Ratcliff’s Sydney Photo Walk

LD: “Okay. In the last five years could you give me a stand out example where you said yes to something that just went beyond your expectations?”

TR: “Yeah, it’s kind of a long story but it’s good….”

“So, I was at home in Queenstown, New Zealand. I was out in my artist studio which is like a little two-minute walk from my house. My wife was in the main house, she was doing dishes or something. The area that I live in, all the houses are very far apart from each other so neighbors don’t visit each other – it just doesn’t happen. We might drive over, but they certainly don’t walk over. Anyway, up our driveway – how my wife describes it – this gorgeous man walks up the driveway, he’s in this all black outfit, it’s like a bond villain. He’s got blonde hair that’s straight and blue eyes. He’s tall, real tall with a perfect body. He strolls up to our huge plate glass window / door and he slides it open and says,”

“I understand Trey Ratcliff lives here and I want to be his best friend”.

“My wife was like whoa… he does live here, um let me go and get him. So, she ran out to my studio to come get me. I came back and he said”


and I said “yeah”,

and he goes “my name is Chris, I think we are going to be best friends.”

“I love it!” I replied, “What’s going on? Bring it to me”.

LD: “Could he have been Gandalf in another life?”

TR:  “Hahaha, So, he and I set up the kitchen table and he goes”

“Trey let me tell you a story”,

“Alright, bring it on.”

He said, “About four years ago I was running the world’s biggest hedge fund, we had 1.5 billion under management, but I found myself kind of feeling out of shape, I was stressed.”

“He was the typically Wolf of Wall street kind-of-guy, basically, you could tell he was like a ‘Type A’ American – Leonardo DeCapro – very much like that.”

“It started to become trendy to go to these yoga altrons in LA. he said, “I didn’t want to do it, but I did it anyway and I hated it and I got out of there in three days! I couldn’t do the detox. I just had pizza, beer and had to get out of there. Six months later I found myself back and I went to more and more of these yoga retreats about mindness.”

Then he goes “I started to realize that there was something else out there, something else besides money. So, I sold everything, I got whatever… over a billion dollars” and he said, 

“I want to go find the ultimate place on earth to build the ultimate yoga meditation wellness retreat.”

“So, he went on a worldwide search and ended up in New Zealand, he lived around the North Island and ended up in the South Island, found the perfect spot to build this place which he called Aro Hāwhich is the Maori word for love.”

“He’s telling me all this stuff and he goes,”

“I just happened to buy the house next door to yours, I heard you were here, but I don’t know if you are into consciousness but I want you to come spend a week with me at my retreat.”

“I was like ‘okay I’ll do it’. I didn’t even question it, I was like ‘okay we’ll do it’. 

“So, then I went there and I started reading some good books by Eckhart Tolle and Michael Singer – of course, I had a great week. I was already kind of getting into the stuff anyway but it was nice to like actively get into it.”

LD: “On another level?”

TR: “Right. I’m always been curious about how this interacts with my photography and how it all balances together. Anyway so, this guy Chris, he ended up becoming one of our biggest Art Collectors.”

We do three prints for a selection of my photos. They are kind of expensive I guess, the first two are $75,000 each and number three of three is $95,000″.

“He (Chris) ended up becoming a great collector, he bought about 10 of my works. He has them in his homes around the world and then what has happened since then is other people have visited his homes and seen the prints, they’ve bought some. So, it is growing in this wonderful way and if I hadn’t said yes to him, or even to begin with – if I I hadn’t been at home in my cottage working on art then none of this would have happened. Of course, there is a lot of luck involved but when so many lucky things keep happening over and over and over again I think it might have something to do with opening your heart to the universe and just being sweet to everybody.”

LD: “I suppose it would never have happened if you had moved to New Zealand?”

TR: “That’s true, yeah. That’s true, I don’t know why I went to New Zealand, but so many things inspire me there. There’s this great book called the Alchemist, it goes on to say – once you let your intentions known to the universe the entire universe will conspire to make you successful.”

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Trey Ratcliff demonstrating a HDR setup in Sydney

LD: “The last seven years you said you had gone to Burning Man over in The States, do you go there to get the creative spark or is it a renewal of the spirit or is it something else like a journey of the mind? Following that question if you could bring three things to Burning Man what would they be?”

TR: “Alright, okay. I go for a myriad of reasons. I guess the overarching reason would be the Joseph Campbellesce hero myth of man going into the desert to find himself. All these stories and cultures around the world refer to the Sharman –  which I don’t think of myself… I should have this asterisk on top of everything I say by the way Leigh, I do not take myself seriously, I have no ego at all, like zero and not just saying that is absolutely true.”

LD: “That’s going to have to be a disclaimer at the top of this interview”.

TR: “So… there is this idea that so many cultures around the world have, where a Sharman goes off into the woods to find themselves, they go off into the desert, they go on a journey and they might not find what they expect to find but they find something. They find what they are meant to find.”

LD: “Sort of like the Buddhist Monk’s finding enlightenment?”

TR: “Right! So, this is what happens to me there, it’s a safe place to go off and be with myself and my thoughts.”

“The other reason is I love taking photos. I love it and I like taking people photos and Burning Man is probably the best place to take people photos in the world! Also, I like to experiment, I like to do hallucinogens – like mushrooms and that kind of stuff and I love to listen to music. It’s nice to be in a place with 60,000 other artists, where everyone is in costume being silly all week. You can walk up to anyone anytime and give them a hug and smile. It feels very real – it’s wonderful.”

“To answer your other question, the three things that I would take would be an RV because I would like to take whole foods and fill up my fridge with good stuff – hot meals are very important. My camera, of course, and the third thing I would take – or must take – is an electric bike!”

LD: “Really?”

TR: “Electric bikes are awesome, they’re really great, there is so much to see out there Leigh, it’s ridiculous and you get tired riding a normal bike. I mean I’m not the young man I used to be! I’m in an okay shape but it’s so tiring to get around that desert. I mean if I had an electric bike I could go anywhere anytime!”

LD: “Sweet! Well, I also wanted to know, what’s the most joyous thing you get that comes from teaching people who attend a workshop like today?”

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Trey Ratcliff answering a question about Aurora HDR Pro

TR: “I guess what I like… I can see it in people’s eyes when they get it. When they realize they can do anything, right?”

“So much of our photography isn’t necessarily even about the photos it’s about just unlocking your creative energies and having fun with it – like a child. You know I generally… lonely is the wrong word… but I spend a long time alone and I say crazy stuff on the internet and I make art that sometimes is interesting – usually not, but you wonder if what I do is even resonating with anyone?”

“You know I just sit there and bloviate on the internet and say crazy stuff, but I believe it all. Then people come to a workshop and someone picks up on one word, some phrase or something I did a few years ago and then you remember and it really changes them. I didn’t mean to be a teacher, I didn’t even mean to be a photographer, I didn’t mean any of this – but I enjoy it!”

“I think it’s important to inspire people. We have our overall take on everything we do at Stuck in Customs to raise global consciousness and I think it’s hard to teach 7 billion people how to meditate but you can teach them photography. I think when you are taking a photo you are very present, you are very zen, and that’s great! I think the more people that practice photography, art and create – whether it’s just taking the photo, processing it – it doesn’t matter – its just better for the world, so that’s why I do it.”

LD: “Who would you say is your biggest supporter and who would you say is your biggest critique?”

TR: “I would say myself in both of these instances.”

LD: “Okay, do you like to challenge yourself and put yourself out there to push the boundaries?”

TR: “Yeah, I do. Definitely, no one is harder on myself than me and no one is more of a cheerleader for me than me.”

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Trey Ratcliff speaking to the audience at the Sydney Photo Walk

LD: That’s good! Do you find you drive yourself so you can teach yourself new things in order to teach others the things you have learned? So, therefore you are finding yourself in a way?”

TR: “Well, I don’t go into something like learning thinking that I need to learn this set of skills so that I can show other people. I mostly … I’m trying to discover myself and always find peace and more ‘zen-ness’. I try to stay in the zone as long as possible and then naturally creative things happen.”

“I know how meaningful it’s been for me, I know how it’s changed my life and also I know I’m not doing anything special I’m just a regular human dude with two legs, two hands, and a computer. I mean if I can do it anybody can do it.”

“I am really nothing special. I try and take lessons away, I’m like how can I make this happen or what’s going on, what are the underline fundamental premises that make this possible and why aren’t other people doing it? They should be and I want to help them so that’s why I tell people everything and one of my… I think one of my breakthroughs is that, yes I have some successful photography in business with photography and this sort of thing, but I think the number one reason why I have been successful has nothing to do with photography.”

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Trey Ratcliff conducting a Q&A session at the Sydney workshop

LD: “Okay. To sum up, why would you recommend someone attend one of your workshops if they have the opportunity as oppose to someone just staying at home and watching a workshop online? What’s the advantage?”

TR: “Well ‘A‘ it’s not available online. The other thing is that when you are in a room full of creators all of them are locking their creative energy together and it’s a very powerful and affirming place to be.”

“You know, at the workshop – it’s an all day workshop –  I spend ample time working on many different photos with many different tools and I show all of my tricks. It’s extremely organic and I think – actually, I know – that the most important things that I say happen in between the photos, little thoughts, little ideas, all these non-photography things that make everything so awesome.”

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“Whether it’s the books that I read or thoughts that I have or ways to … just different ways to think about your tools… a new approach and so much of it is letting go of your ego, because there are a lot of people that have stories they tell themselves and that causes extreme energy blockage. They might be in a rut, they might not be able to find their creative style and I suggest that it’s not that they don’t know the tools well enough or they don’t know how the slider works in Lightroom, that has nothing to do with them finding their own style. They have some other kind of creative blockage.”

“It’s very important, you know I have been inspired by so many people and it means a lot. I actually do know how to unlock people’s insides and now here’s the thing – it can be quite uncomfortable. There’s a lot of discomforts, challenging all these premises you had in your mind for years and years and years, but I also suggest this is exactly what you should be doing. You should be making yourself very uncomfortable in your mind and in every way. If you think about it, discomfort is not necessarily that thing like when you work out you make your body very uncomfortable, but in return, your body gets stronger.”

“That’s one of the things that makes sense when you say it out loud, but by making your body uncomfortable your body gets stronger – people don’t think about this when it comes to their brain. By making your mind uncomfortable it gets stronger and so that is exactly what we do, we make it uncomfortable and challenge the things you think you already know. It’s kind of like what we say at the beginning of a workshop – we kind of like to break you down and then at the end build you back up.”

LD: “Well, that’s very well explained Trey –  Thank you!”

TR: “Thank you, Leigh!”


Trey Ratcliff is a successful artist who is accomplished in various forms of business, including Fine Art Printing, Software, Product DesignOnline Learning and Workshops.

If you are interested in hearing and learning from Trey in person he runs workshops across the world. Head over to the workshop page to find out which adventure would best suit you. Also, if you aren’t already one of his 12+ million followers be sure to follow him on popular channels that include Google+, Facebook and Pintrest