Pic­ture this

In­sta­gram hobby leads to jobs, fol­low­ers, free stuff.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CHEREE FRANCO

Bren­ton Lit­tle, 32, of Rogers, or @ bren­ton_ clarke ( as more than 251,000 peo­ple know him), was an early adopter of In­sta­gram, cre­at­ing an ac­count in Oc­to­ber 2010, the month the mobile app was re­leased. Five years later, he has trav­eled all over the United States, shoot­ing In­sta­gram­fu­eled pho­tog­ra­phy for var­i­ous brands. Rep­re­sented by Tin­ker Street, an agency- cum- col­lec­tive that ne­go­ti­ates cor­po­rate partnerships for its mem­bers, he was hired by the Ben­tonville mar­ket­ing firm Ivie & As­so­ci­ates Inc. to han­dle Wal- Mart, among other ac­counts, partly be­cause of his im­pres­sive In­sta­gram pres­ence.

Tim Lan­dis (@ cu­ri­ous2119), a Siloam Springs- based user with more than 655,000 fol­low­ers, has worked with Nike, the U. S. Army, Mercedes, Sam­sung and Ford, while other Arkansas In­sta­gramers ( or “igers,” in tech lingo) have been sent com­pli­men­tary prod­ucts to fea­ture on their feed — every­thing from socks to chil­dren’s books.

What is now the world’s most pop­u­lar photo- shar­ing app was ini­tially avail­able only to iPhone users, who had to shoot and edit within the app. In April 2012, In­sta­gram de­buted an An­droid ver­sion, and that same month, Face­book bought the app for $ 1 bil­lion.

All of the 100 most pop­u­lar In­sta­gram ac­counts have more than 6.8 mil­lion fol­low­ers, with the most pop­u­lar, In­sta­gram it­self, chart­ing 107 mil­lion fol­low­ers. Th­ese days many igers use non­mo­bile ( of­ten pro­fes­sional- grade) cam­eras and out­side edit­ing apps. In­sta­gram has 400 mil­lion users — more than Twit­ter or Tum­blr — even af­ter ac­count­ing for 8 mil­lion bot users, met­rics sug­gest.

COM­MER­CIAL­IZ­ING COM­MU­NITY

In­sta­gram de­buted “spon­sored posts” in Novem­ber 2013. But cor­po­ra­tions had been pay­ing pop­u­lar pri­vate users, such as Lit­tle and Lan­dis, for prod­uct place­ment for years. Be­cause of In­sta­gram, Lit­tle shot for Land Rover in The Smoky Moun­tains, for Ford in Los An­ge­les and the Ozarks, for Mercedes in the Mo­jave Desert and for Sam­sung in the Wi­chita Moun­tains of Ok­la­homa.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Jeff Rose, 29, from Cave City, cre­ated an In­sta­gram ac­count about three years ago to at­tract clients (@ the­j­ef­frose; more than 82,200 fol­low-

ers). He has In­sta­grammed watches dis­played against a water­fall for the Swiss com­pany Daniel Welling­ton and mer­chan­dise for Fayet­techill Cloth­ing Co. and Rock Mon­key Out­fit­ters, and posted pics of his friends around a camp­fire in Ur­ban Out­fit­ter ap­parel or us­ing tents pro­vided by REI and Kelty. Largely be­cause of In­sta­gram, Rose is able to free­lance full time.

In in­ter­views, In­sta­gram co- founders Kevin Sys­trom and Mike Krieger have said that they en­vi­sioned the app as a quick, vis­ual way for peo­ple to share their lives. The app in­cludes ef­fects — fil­ters and frames — that could in­stantly weather, sun- flare or hy­per- sat­u­rate an or­di­nary snap­shot.

“When I started, I was the worst,” says Hannah Car­pen­ter, 33, an il­lus­tra­tor from a small town in cen­tral Arkansas. “I was post­ing seven times a day.”

Lit­tle’s first posts were snapshots of his in­fant son, his wife and him­self at an ugly sweater Christ­mas party, minu­tiae of daily life — a bot­tle of gin­ger beer, chil­dren’s toys, sketches on notepads, a Star­bucks cup — spiffed up with non­uni­form ef­fects. Now his feed dis­plays care­ful takes on mist, moun­tains, desert and sun­sets, with his wife and chil­dren mak­ing only oc­ca­sional, ex­cel­lently ren­dered ap­pear­ances.

“It wasn’t un­til one of my In­sta­gram bud­dies men­tioned the con­cept of a gallery that I ever re­ally thought about that,” says Car­pen­ter (@Han­na­haCar­pen­ter; more than 46,100 fol­low­ers). “I started be­ing more in­ten­tional. … I like some­thing that looks clean and kind of nor­mal, kind of fil­ter­less.”

But while many high- pro­file igers have switched to pro­fes­sional cam­eras, Lit­tle and Car­pen­ter still shoot pri­mar­ily with iPhones.

And de­spite the pho­tog­ra­phy jobs that have come to Lit­tle via In­sta­gram ( about three or four big gigs a year, he says), he doesn’t con­sider him­self a pho­tog­ra­pher: “I never took pho­tog­ra­phy classes. … I think I’m a de­signer. I don’t see things as a photo. I see things as com­po­si­tion.”

Rose’s feed was never “in­stant.” From the be­gin­ning, he posted pho­tos shot on his Nikon D7000. But he cred­its In­sta­gram with help­ing him de­velop the “life­style mo­tif” that has led to many of his pho­tog­ra­phy con­tracts.

“Be­fore, it was all na­ture and wildlife type stuff. … The peo­ple as­pect of my pho­tog­ra­phy re­ally started once I got on In­sta­gram, be­cause it be­came about life in the pic­ture,” he says. He was in­spired by other igers who cap­tured their friends and fam­ily.

Rose quickly bonded with Arkansas- based igers and be­gan tak­ing ad­ven­ture/ pho­tog­ra­phy trips with them. He even met his girl­friend through In­sta­gram.

Ni­co­lette Gawthrop, 33, of Fayet­teville joined In­sta­gram al­most four and a half years ago be­cause some blog­gers she liked used it, and be­cause she wanted to con­nect with other moms: “Even­tu­ally it grew into a hobby and a cre­ative out­let, and I got a lit­tle more ‘ pho­tog­ra­pher’ go­ing on.”

Her feed, @ ozark­ma­madeer, shot mostly with an iPhone, is clean, quiet and do­mes­tic. It fea­tures cozy cloud beds and snip­pets of sea­sonal fo­liage, a pug puppy, pic­nics, lit­tle boys in plaid wan­der­ing through a corn maze.

Car­pen­ter was also a fan of blogs, which gave her “a glimpse of how other peo­ple are liv­ing.” But now she spends her free time on In­sta­gram in­stead: “It’s so much quicker for me. It’s less words, and I’m more into pic­tures.”

Joshua Carl­son, 26, of Batesville (@ joshuas­carl­son; more than 10,300 fol­low­ers), is a main­te­nance worker by day. He joined In­sta­gram af­ter a re­la­tion­ship ended. The com­mu­nity he found there coaxed him from a de­pres­sive slump.

Through the app, he re­con­nected with old ac­quain­tances, now friends, such as Rose, and found a safe so­cial space, since some­times faceto­face in­ter­ac­tions send him spin­ning into panic.

FIND­ING A FOL­LOW­ING

THE DARK SIDE

Spam ac­counts still lurk, ac­cord­ing to Gawthrop, who saw her fol­low­ing grow from 2,000 to 32,000 last year, dur­ing her two weeks as a sug­gested user.

“It was re­ally weird, be­cause all of th­ese peo­ple were send­ing me mes­sages, and they were not ex­actly good mes­sages, and a lot of weird com­ment­ing hap­pened. It’s an honor for In­sta­gram to pick you to do this thing, but it did kind of change how my ac­count felt,” she says.

She used a free app called IGEx­or­cist to cull her fol­low­ers and now has 7,422.

Car­pen­ter had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. She was tagged in X- rated posts, and In­ter­net trolls — of­ten, pre­teens, per their ac­count pages — posted mean com­ments.

The first time she was sug­gested, Car­pen­ter made her ac­count pri­vate and asked In­sta­gram to re­move her from the list.

Other as­pects can be prob­lem­atic, too.

“I feel like I’ve been in ev­ery scenic spot or in­ter­est­ing thing you could do in Arkansas … so now it’s like, this week­end I’ll go way out to western Ok­la­homa, al­most to Colorado, to a spot I’ve never seen be­fore,” Lit­tle says. “A lot more goes into it than used to.”

He de­scribes his ex­pe­ri­ence as “bit­ter­sweet.” Through In­sta­gram, he has had op­por­tu­ni­ties he never ex­pected, but some­times he wor­ries that the app steals fam­ily time.

“There have been times when I’ll re­spond to every­thing [ ev­ery com­ment], then I feel silly do­ing that, be­cause it seems like I’m try­ing to be friends with ev­ery­one,” he says. “I go through sea­sons where I’m like, ‘ All right, I’m go­ing to take a break and step back for a cou­ple of days or a week.’” Once he went three weeks with­out us­ing so­cial me­dia at all.

Lit­tle knows what style of his pho­tos re­ceive the most likes — “land­scapes, [ HDR] sun­sets” — and the types of pic­tures he some­times wants to post, but that won’t get likes: por­traits, kitschy or min­i­mal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture, drug­store mer­chan­dise on a shelf.

“If you’ve ever re­ceived any kind of [ no­to­ri­ety] for what you do, you feel pres­sure not to go against what you’ve al­ready es­tab­lished,” Lit­tle says.

Sev­eral igers de­scribe a kind of self- con­scious­ness — a de­sire to avoid an­noy­ing other users with their posts.

“A lot of peo­ple have a lot to say about what you post,” Gawthrop says. “There’s all th­ese rules. Don’t post too many pic­tures of your­self. Don’t post too many pic­tures ev­ery day.”

Re­cently, Lit­tle started a sec­ond ac­count, @ ru­mi­nantre­serve cur­rently with 57 fol­low­ers, to “share mo­ments that I thought were re­ally cool … or if the de­sign or com­po­si­tion is more ap­peal­ing than the photo it­self.”

ALL IN THE FAM­ILY

Igers who fea­ture their chil­dren have spe­cific con­cerns.

Gawthrop’s feed is the ( lit­eral) pic­ture of do­mes­tic bliss, but “Every­thing is not per­fect all the time. I’m not a neat freak. I do love aes­thet­ics, but it doesn’t al­ways hap­pen. When it hap­pens I doc­u­ment it,” she says. “I try to use a lot of nat­u­ral light, or just not take a pic­ture if the light’s not good.”

When her kids aren’t into pic­ture- tak­ing, she doesn’t push it. “I see all the ef­fort that goes into stag­ing beau­ti­ful scenes, and … my kids, they don’t en­joy it when I’m dis­tracted, try­ing to put some­thing to­gether to post. So I just ditched some of that.”

Car­pen­ter wor­ries that, by post­ing pri­mar­ily happy mo­ments, she’s giv­ing a false im­pres­sion: “I can­not stom­ach the ‘ every­thing is per­fect’ stuff, so I try to pro­vide some glimpses of re­al­ity. But I also don’t want to be a downer.”

Her kids, ages 12, 9, 6 and 3, go through phases. “There was a mo­ment when they hated it. When I saw that hap­pen­ing, I’d back off,” she says. “But it was in­ter­est­ing see­ing them em­brace it and ac­tu­ally want to be part of it.”

The vis­i­bil­ity of her ac­count has earned her “street cred” among her 12- year- old’s friends, and she thinks what she has learned via In­sta­gram is equip­ping her to guide her chil­dren through so­cial me­dia. “There’s the un­fol­low­ing, which is fine, but I think about my kids with that. I’m an adult, but if I were a teenager … it’s go­ing to af­fect them when they start hav­ing so­cial me­dia one day. I kind of hate that.”

She’s un­easy about pro­mot­ing prod­ucts ( mostly chil­dren’s clothes) that she can’t af­ford to buy, and draws the line at post­ing about prod­ucts that she doesn’t like.

And Car­pen­ter never men­tions the name of her town or posts pic­tures of the out­side of her house.

“Hon­estly, I’m less both­ered by peo­ple I don’t know fol­low­ing me than when I re­al­ize peo­ple in town fol­low me. They know my ad­dress. That bugs me,” she says.

But be­cause of In­sta­gram, her kids have had op­por­tu­ni­ties to travel — some­thing the fam­ily bud­get couldn’t ab­sorb, oth­er­wise. In Au­gust, Toy­ota lent the Car­pen­ters a car for a road trip to New Or­leans, as part of the com­pany’s Fam­ily Trails pro­gram.

“We don’t have a nice car, we don’t go on va­ca­tions, so it was awe­some for us to get to do that. … I think then, too, my kids started re­al­iz­ing there might be some merit to what Mom’s do­ing,” Car­pen­ter says.

By 2011 — just over a year in — Lit­tle had a few thou­sand fol­low­ers. Then In­sta­gram fea­tured him as a sug­gested user.

“You’d get an email, ‘ Hey, we love your work, we think you’re a pil­lar in the com­mu­nity and we want to fea­ture you as a sug­gested user for x amount of time,’” he says. He gained about 4,000 fol­low­ers overnight. Af­ter a few months, he had 88,000 fol­low­ers.

It works like this: When some­one fol­lows an In­sta­gram ac­count, the app sug­gests other “sim­i­lar” ac­counts — an­other food ac­count, a pop- star’s feed, a travel pho­tog­ra­pher, etc. Some users re­main on the list for weeks, oth­ers for months. Some are fea­tured mul­ti­ple times.

Gawthrop, Rose and Car­pen­ter all have been sug­gested users.

“I’ve known peo­ple who tried re­ally, re­ally hard to get sug­gested, and it just doesn’t hap­pen,” says 24- year- old Siloam Springs- based iger Bethany Po­teet (@ bethno13; 1,142 fol­low­ers). Ac­cord­ing to In­sta­gram, there’s no way to “nom­i­nate” an ac­count to be on the list.

As early igers, Lit­tle and Lan­dis also ben­e­fited from sev­eral non- In­sta­gram- af­fil­i­ated “must fol­low” lists, at places like NPR’s arts blog and the Huff­in­g­ton Post. Lit­tle lost 17,000 fol­low­ers in a highly pub­li­cized In­sta­gram “spam” purge in De­cem­ber, but even so, he gains about 1,000 new fol­low­ers a week and av­er­ages be­tween 4,000 and 5,000 “likes” per post.

Arkansas Demo­crat- Gazette/ KIRK MONT­GOMERY

Images cour­tesy of In­sta­gram users @ greg­stein­siek, @ bren­ton_ clarke, @ han­na­hacar­pen­ter, @ stealmyrecipe, @ joshuas­carl­son and @ kee­shadee

Cour­tesy of Ni­col­lette Gawthrop

“I like to look back and re­mem­ber lit­tle mo­ments that I cap­tured,” says Ni­co­lette Gawthrop.

Cour­tesy of Sean Moor­man

Lit­tle Rock- based por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher Sean Moor­man joined In­sta­gram to at­tract clients. Thus far he doesn’t credit a sin­gle client to In­sta­gram, but he posts daily be­cause he ap­pre­ci­ates the com­mu­nity he has found and the op­por­tu­nity to men­tor less...

Cour­tesy of Jeff Rose

“For night shots, you only have about 10 or 20 sec­onds [ of ex­po­sure] be­fore you start cap­tur­ing the ro­ta­tion of the earth,” which makes the pic­ture blurry, says Batesville- based In­sta­gram­mer Jeff Rose.

Cour­tesy of Kerry Guice

Kerry Guice, from Lit­tle Rock, di­rects peo­ple to her food blog via her In­sta­gram feed.

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