With more than 615,000 followers on Instagram, it’s clear at first glance that Max Muench isn’t your typical photographer. Or influencer. Or traveler. Or anything, really. Which is not only what makes following him such a joy, but it’s also why he’s been tapped by some of the top brands in the world to shoot and exclusively use their products.
In recent years, however, it’s been Muench’s passion for Mongolia that has caught my attention. A passion that he’s turned into a full-scale travel brand called Follow the Tracks. With a vision to make Mongolia more accessible, and with his camera in hand, Muench’s dreamy photos and keen business sense make Follow the Tracks one of the easiest ways for anyone to explore Mongolia right now. Especially photographers.
Sitting down with Muench in Ulaanbaatar before his most recent Mentorship program in May, I asked him to tell me more about his background, what the future of Follow the Tracks holds, and how anyone can join his next Mentorship in Mongolia this fall.
Breanna Wilson: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get started as a photographer?
Max Muench: I’m actually a pianist. I used to tour Europe with an orchestra, but I was always taking photos on the side. It was always music and photography. But then I put so much focus on music I forgot photography. And then there was this moment when I needed more photography in my life. So, I quit all my jobs and I went all in on Instagram. I started pitching brands early in 2014, when Instagram was not a thing. I basically tried to get my vision out there and to convince brands they needed social media exposure with good quality images. I only had a phone back then. It was very different than it is now. But still it, it worked. Clients came in. Now I work with some of the biggest brands in the world and I’m really, really grateful to have traveled so much through my work.
Wilson: Speaking of travel, I’m a huge fan of what you’re doing with Follow the Tracks – from the self-driving tours you’ve designed to the photography Mentorship you host here in Mongolia. Can you tell me more about Follow the Tracks and what brought you to Mongolia in the first place?
Muench: I love Mongolia. I spend a lot of time here, so I know a lot of places. I look for the photography side of things – I look for new perspectives. Plus, I love teaching people photography. For two weeks I host trips across the country to my favorite places and to meet my friends and nomads I’ve met along the way. Not only do I teach them photography, but also how to edit, and even more importantly, how to bring their photography aspirations into a business. Basically, how to turn their passion into a career. Many photographers have good cameras, they love taking photos and they want to pursue a career, but they don’t know how to start. This helps them.
Wilson: What does a typical day during the Mentorship look like?
Muench: Well, it’s Mongolia. So, everything is very flexible. Which is a really important skill to learn. You have your schedule, you plan everything out, and then something else happens and you need to work with it. This is something which is really important to learn. Which I also learned while shooting the Masterclass videos that are accessible during the self-driving tour. I was shooting at sunset, for example, and all of a sudden there was a snowstorm coming in. I was dealing with it because there was a schedule for that day, but this is something that happens all the time. When you shoot for a client and they expect a sunset or beautiful light and it’s raining, what do you do? This is stuff that I’m approaching in a creative way and there’s no better place than Mongolia to do that.
I also give out small tasks at the start of the day. So, you learn something and come out of this workshop with skills you didn’t have before.
Wilson: In addition to the Mentorship, someone can book a Follow the Tracks tour as a self-guided tour. They get a Samsung tablet pre-loaded with the route, photography destinations with background information, where to camp and stay, as well as photography tips and Masterclass videos recorded by you. Why was it important for you to develop a self-driving route as well?
Muench: When I came to Mongolia, it was really hard for me to navigate and find someone to help me drive through the country and get to certain places. There was no network that I had access to. So, at some point I thought I will just do it myself. And so now the vision is that you can come to Mongolia without any knowledge about how to get around, you’re picked up at the airport, brought to a hotel, and someone will help you grocery shop and get anything else you need before your adventure begins. There’s also a one hour introduction to all the gear. And then off you go because everything else will be on the tablet.
So, we show them our perspective, but I want people to experience their own Mongolia. So they go out and discover all the places by themselves. We are just enabling them to get to the places and as comfortable as possible and as safe as possible, but still, they’re on their own. On the tablet there’s a route as well as information about every place, and also the entire Masterclass. So, if they want to learn all about photography, editing, and how to create a business while on the go, they can.
Wilson: Who do you think this type of tour most appeals to?
Muench: The below 40 crowd who wants to have the adventure of the lifetime. Anyone who wants to experience a freedom like never before. And they want to go to a place that they haven’t been before.
I know it’s intimidating to go to a place really far from home and you have no idea what to expect and you don’t know where to go. And that’s why we want to make it as comfortable and as approachable as possible. So there there’s no risk, there’s no fear they need to overcome. They come here and everything is settled for them.
Wilson: What’s a common misconception people have about Mongolia that you hope your tour will help open their eyes to and see differently?
Muench: It’s mostly related to food. People think they won’t survive out in the wild when there’s no electricity, no internet, no supermarket. This is their biggest fear. And what if they get lost? You know, where do they go? We’re here to help them overcome this and to see, hey, this is all in your head. It’s one of the safest countries in the world. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
Wilson: Do you see Follow the Tracks going to any other country or other remote, less-traveled destinations?
Muench: Yes. In the future. I have a few places already in mind. Our goal is to be on five continents in five years.
Wilson: How do people learn more about Follow the Tracks and the self-driving as well as Mentorship tour you’re offering?
Muench: On the Follow the Tracks website you can see a virtual experience of what you can expect. And also, our Instagram offers daily inspiration, as well as our TikTok.