When Instagram first launched in October 2010, it mainly operated as a sort of visual personal diary where users documented their daily lives. Now, millions use it on a daily basis.
And as more users have signed up for Instagram, its functions have changed, too. These days, people use Instagram to promote their businesses, prolific Instagrammers can become well-known, and some people even make a living with their accounts.
Metro recently chatted with a few Hawaii-based Instagrammers who have attracted big followings about what it’s like to be Insta-famous.
FEED: daily life on the North Shore, swim and fashion photography; followers: 317k
DAY JOB: Dombroski’s company, Brooklyn Hawaii, offers photography, along with design and social media content creation.
BUILDING A FOLLOWING: Dombroski started using Instagram back in 2011, initially simply to share some photos of a trip to Bali. But over the next couple of years, she started to use it as a business tool to showcase her work. In 2014, Instagram included her as a featured account.
“That is when I did a really big leap, and then built momentum from there.”
ON BALANCING WORK AND PLAY: “I spend my days on the ocean — I live on the North Shore … and I love just capturing beautiful moments I might see.
“But because I know so many people look at my Instagram over my website portfolio, I try to have a mix of what I can actually do versus just what my everyday life looks like on my iPhone.
“It is such a fun outlet that I try not to make it work because then it loses excitement for me.
So I go mostly spontaneous with my posts, unless it is something for work.”
ON MAKING PROFESSIONAL CONNECTIONS: “I get a lot of people saying that they haven’t even looked at my web-site, they only have seen my Instagram. You can book a professional job through social media now, and that is awesome. But it also kind of discredits people who don’t have a following. I get mixed feelings about the whole thing.”
ON CREATING CONTENT: “It is interesting to see how people have evolved this type of marketing for their companies. Sometimes I will create content for a company and images for their sites, and sometimes I will post on my page for a sponsored post. There are just so many creative ways that people have come up with to utilize social media.”
Dombroski has landed a few big-name sponsorship clients for her Instagram, including Google and Urban Outfitters.
BEHIND THE SCENES:
Judging from her account, it might look like Dombroski leads an idyllic life where she plays in the water all day when she’s not jet setting off to exotic locales. But, as is the case with all social media, that’s not the full story.
“If I am not shooting on location, a lot of my time is just spent editing. Nobody wants to see me sitting in front of a screen all day.”
FEED: portraits and landscape photography with a touch of the surreal; followers: 38.9k
DAY JOB: Information systems, part-time photographer
RETURN TO FORM: Miyasato first got into photography shooting with a friend’s black-and-white film camera back in high school. But when he couldn’t afford a camera of his own, the hobby fell to the wayside. In 2012, he got back into photography and started his Instagram to share his work.
ON INSTAGRAM OPPORTUNITIES: Insta-gram has helped his career “tremendously,” Miyasato says.
“I now get sponsored here and there to do some posts. My latest sponsor has been Google — they had me endorse their Google Daydream.
“Essentially, they send you the (product), you play with it, and you do a couple posts on it,” he explains. “That is pretty much it — it’s pretty simple.”
CREATIVE OUTLET: But while the sponsorships are nice, he says, he has no intention of turning this into a full-time gig.
“I prefer to keep it as more of a hobby, something I can use to tap into my creativity,” he says.
FEED: ocean photography; followers: 16.9k
DAY JOB: Only 19, Omura is a freshman in college studying civil engineering.
A NEW START: Omura initially had started an Instagram account documenting his personal life, but when he bought his first DSLR two years ago, he started a separate account focused on water photography.
“I would always go to the beach with my family and friends, and from there, it just turned into a passion for the ocean and I wanted to capture its beauty,” Omura says.
ON GETTING GIGS: “I met (surf photographer) Zak Noyle at Sandys, and he told me just to work on my photography, and from there, followers and companies will come. So I just focused on my photography, and it went from there pretty much.”
Omura has since done a few product collaborations via his account, as well as landed other gigs shooting events.
ON THE FUTURE: “I don’t really think of this as work. I just have fun with my friends and explore … I am going to study as much as I can while taking photos in my free time. Honestly, I am just seeing where both of them take me.”
FEED: outdoor adventures, landscape photography; followers: 20.3k
DAY JOB: general manager at McDonald’s
ON INSTA-INSPIRATION: “I was inspired by a lot of other photographers (on Insta-gram), and it made me want to get a little bit more into photography.”
ON FOLLOWERS AND FRIENDS: “I reached out to other photographers on the island, and at first I was kind of intimidated because some of them were really popular on Instagram, but eventually … I ended up taking pictures with some of them.”
Being tagged in the photos of popular Instagrammers helped build his following, but more than that, Lim says that he’s made a lot of friends through his Instagram network. “A lot of my closest friends now are through Instagram. It’s cool because you go out with each other and you explore different places and take photos.”
TREASURE HUNT: When photographers post a photo on Instagram, they don’t always let viewers know where it is. So if you want to find a certain spot, Lim explains, oftentimes you have to do the legwork.
“Part of Instagram and going to all of these places is finding them on your own and doing the research on your own … Hopefully there is a landmark in the photo that you can identify. Other times, I look through other people’s Instagram feeds and hopefully there’s something in the comments that identifies the location. It’s just part of the hunt.”
ON WHY HE DOES IT: As Lim’s following has grown, he’s had offers for various gigs. But that’s not necessarily his goal.
“I just do it purely as a hobby. I really just post for myself.
“Just to get out and enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, or hiking with friends is so rewarding to me — and enjoying company and sharing a good moment with somebody … Otherwise, I would probably be at home watching Netflix or something.”
FEED: Elefante’s boho-meets-beach style; followers: 390k
DAY JOB: fashion blogger
HOW IT BEGAN: Elefante’s sister had often encouraged her to document her outfits on Instagram, and when she moved from New York to Hawaii, she thought she’d give it a try.
“I had just recently moved up to the North Shore and was still commuting to Hawaii Kai to bartend. I was broke, exhausted and had no friends on the North Shore yet. I pretty much had nothing to lose and figured I would give it a shot. I am glad I did because my hobby turned into a career, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
ON BUILDING A FOLLOWING: “I tagged the brands I was wearing in hopes of a repost to gain more followers, but that’s about it. I think I came in at the right time before it became pretty saturated, and people seemed to be enjoying my content, so I just kept up with it.”
ON BRANDED CONTENT: “My rule is, if I wouldn’t let my best friend buy it, then I’m not promoting it. Otherwise you end up selling out, become one big sponsored page, and lose the trust of your loyal following. I prefer to make a little less than to lose that.”
ON CREATING A POST: “In the beginning, I would do an entire shoot and travel to a specific location, but I mainly prefer (and I think my audience does, too) the more authentic, spur-of-the-moment shots and keeping it more organic.”
ON WHY SHE DOES IT: “The greatest thing I hear from my followers is that I inspire them. Yes, it’s about the clothes, but more importantly, it’s about confidence, not blending in, and being yourself. If I can help one girl even a little bit with that, then I’m a happy camper.”
FEED: fashion photography, snippets of daily life; followers: 29.7k
DAY JOB: Tjoeng has been working as a photographer since 2009, starting initially in photojournalism for the likes of The Wall Street Journal before segueing into fashion photography.
ON MODEST BEGINNINGS: “I didn’t start (my Instagram account) with the intention of getting work. I started it because my friends were on there, and it was more like a running commentary of my day-to-day life.”
BUILDING A FOLLOWING: “When I started posting work on there, it really took off. It wasn’t conscious at first. I shoot a lot with models who have a lot of followers, and brands that have a lot of followers, and we all share each other’s work.”
One big boost happened when TIME magazine featured Tjoeng as the Hawaii account in its “Instagram Photographers to Follow in All 50 States.”
ON HOW IT’S IMPACTED HER CAREER: “It has really propelled my career, actually. I feel like I have Instagram to thank.
“A lot of my clients have found me through Instagram. It’s really amazing how powerful of a tool it can be.”
ON PROS AND CONS: “I’ve noticed that now in the industry, if you have more followers, you are likely to get more work. Sometimes I think models or photographers who have more followers will get a job over those who have less, which I don’t think always exemplifies the work.”
FEED: Healthy eats and family life; followers: 477k
DAY JOB: Hannemann has turned @earthyandy into a full-fledged company helping others live healthy.
HOW IT BEGAN: Throughout much of her life, Hannemann had struggled with a laundry list of health issues: chronic stomach pain, digestive issues, hypothyroidism and more.
Two years ago, to address her health problems, Hannemann decided to try a vegan diet, and launched @earthyandy as a way to journal what she was doing.
“I started to feel good, and all my tests came back, and they were like, ‘whatever you are doing, don’t stop.’ It was the answer I was looking for forever.”
ORGANIC GROWTH: Hannemann was open about her health issues on her account, and soon she started to hear from others with similar experiences. Some of them began modeling their own diets after what Hannemann outlined and shared their results.
“Then all of a sudden, it just kind of blew up,” she says.
She did work to build a following by doing things like tagging various other food-related Instagram accounts. But at this point, the page grows, fittingly, in an organic way.
“People are constantly reposting recipes and reposting pictures from my page, so it just happens on its own,” she says.
BECOMING A BUSINESS: As the page grew, various companies approached Hannemann to create sponsored posts displaying their products on her page, or to have her create recipes for them. It has led her to a number of opportunities, including becoming a health ambassador for acai company Sambazon.
But she says she has a strict stipulation for what promotions and sponsorships she will agree to: “I will never post anything unless it is something that I personally support and use on a daily basis.”
These days, @earthyandy also has evolved into a website that features recipes and shares information on a plant-based diet. Currently, Hannemann has partnered with Sun Bum to create a new product line for keiki, and is working on a book to guide people in plant-based eating.
ON PUTTING TOGETHER A POST: “It probably looks like a lot more work than it is,” she says. “It’s not, because it’s our lifestyle. I mean, my kids are eating a smoothie bowl and I will snap a picture.
“But I usually have about 10 seconds to take a picture before it either melts or the kids devour it.”
ON HER LARGER GOALS: “For me, the purpose of building my page is for more people to see that health is an option.
“I just hope that it is a source of inspiration for anybody that needs it — that it can help someone eat a little bit more naturally and feel better as a result.”
Nainoa, Kapono and Makana Ciotti
FEED: A joint account of three brothers detailing their travels and day-to-day outdoor adventures; followers: 47.3k.
DAY JOBS: Nainoa is a firefighter, Kapono is an educator, and Makana is a pilot.
WHY THEY GOT STARTED: The Ciotti brothers started their account toward the end of 2014 just for fun.
“We travelled together in the beginning, and it was just a way to show people what we were seeing and doing,” Nainoa recalls. “When we started it, we didn’t even know how Instagram worked. I don’t think any of us thought it would go anywhere.”
ON BUILDING UP A FOLLOWING: “It just happened,” Nainoa says. “I wasn’t thinking that it is my goal to have people follow us — we really just took photos of stuff that we enjoy.”
MYSTERY MEN: Although @threeifbysea has thousands of followers, many of them don’t even know what the Ciotti brothers look like. They’re more focused on landscapes and don’t often appear in their own photos.
“There are a lot of pictures that have (people) in it, but it is more just for scale. I try not to show anyone’s face,” Nainoa explains. “I kind of want to make you feel like you could be in the photo.”
ON CREATING A POST: “I just want to take pictures for myself,” Nainoa says. “I am not taking them for likes or whatever.
“I go and meet up with friends who like to hike, but I am not out there seeking a photo,” he adds. “If I didn’t have a camera, I would still do the same thing.”
FEED: McCaul’s daily life of surfing, going to the beach and traveling; followers: 13.9k
DAY JOB: McCaul is a third-year nursing student.
BOTH SIDES OF THE CAMERA: McCaul first started her Instagram in 2011. She’s always loved being behind the camera, and later, she began modeling with Wilhelmina Hawaii. Her account depicts both her modeling shoots, as well as photos that she’s taken.
ON PUTTING TOGETHER A POST: Most of what you see on McCaul’s page is just her going about her daily life. “I usually am just at the beach with my boyfriend @wyatt_elder and like the look of the surroundings, or on a hike, and make him take a snap of me.”
ON GAINING A FOLLOWING: “I honestly don’t even know how I started to gain followers,” McCaul says. “It just kind of happened. I started to post a lot of modeling photos and beach photos, and accounts would repost my stuff, or send me things to promote for them.”
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that McCaul counts a number of high-profile Instagrammers among her friends, including the likes of model Jay Alvarrez.
“I guess even just being mentioned by them or my photo being liked by them would get me more followers,” she says.