San Francisco art director Michael O’Neal (@Moneal) is fond of saying that a photo-sharing app called Instagram changed his life.
O’Neal discovered the app after relocating from New York to San Francisco. He perused the city, took photographs with his iPhone, and shared the best stuff on Instagram. Instagram’s community manager Jessica Zollman (@JayZombie) was impressed by his talent and placed him on the list of “suggested users to follow.”
Read more about the photographers who are now making a living through Instagram here.
A few years later, O’Neal is followed by over 500,000 people on Instagram and is regularly approached by ad agencies. Top Instagrammers like O’Neal are increasingly open to mobile photography “advertorials,” meaning they will work on creative campaigns with brands and nonprofits.
In the past, brands haven’t taken Instagram all that seriously, paying photographers as little as a hundred dollars for a day’s work.
So O’Neal worked with 20 of the top Instagrammers in the world, who formed a mobile “photography collective.” It’s a talent agency of sorts, dubbed “Tinker Mobile,” which negotiates on behalf of Instagrammers to ensure they are paid a decent wage.
For one of the first campaigns, Mercedes is paying five Instagrammers to drive across the country for five days, taking photos and sharing them Instagram. Whoever gets the most “likes” can keep the car, a brand new Mercedes-Benz CLA.
Without further ado, who are these top Instagrammers?
- Most of the Tinker Mobile team have amassed over 100,000 followers on Instagram; a few have hit the half a million mark.
- Most are American, but one artist lives in the Netherlands.
- Some were featured on the app’s “suggested user” list; others have experienced organic growth.
- They have almost all worked with brands in the past, including Nike and Warby Parker. Many have also worked for free with nonprofits.
- It’s a fairly even mix of male and female photographers, who hail from diverse backgrounds.
- Most are photographers by trade, followed by graphic designers and teachers. One of the most popular Instagrammers delivers medical supplies for a living.
- They all take at least one iPhone photo a day.
- Filters are a major “no no.” The artists are purists, who typically only use 1 or 2 basic photo apps. Snapseed is a popular choice.
- The majority of the artists are based in New York City, a city that inspired their work.
O’Neal asked the Tinker Mobile collective to share one of their favorite photos — all taken with an iPhone. These are some of the most stunning, “liked” photographs in Instagram history. Enjoy!
The San Franciscan
San Francisco-based Benjamin Heath specializes in nature trails and city views.
He views social photography tools like Instagram as a means to connect with a community. He'll meet fellow Instagrammers in person.
He is followed by over 370,000 people. Check out his mobile photography @BenjaminHeath.
Source: Benjamin Heath
The family man
Drummer and designer Brenton Clarke Little is followed by just under 130,000 people on Instagram.
We particularly adore his snaps of his young son, which will spark your imagination!
More of his gorgeous snaps @brenton_clarke.
Source: Brenton Clarke Little
The arts educator
Brooklyn-based Chris Ozer is among the most well known mobile photographers. He dabbled in it for a few years, before getting serious with the craft.
Ozer taught arts education at NYU until three months ago. He's now a full-time photographer.
He's amassed an impressive 530,000 followers -- and growing. Follow him @chrisozer.
Source: Chris Ozer
Alice Gao is a self-taught photographer. She views her iPhone as her "casual camera."
She's now a professional photographer, who is inspired by the energy and movement of New York City. She makes photos of her breakfast seem delectable -- and we dig her style!
Gao is followed by over 500,000 people.
Source: Alice Gao
Eelco Roos (@croyable) will inspire you to book the next available flight to his native Netherlands.
After discovering Instagram last year, his follower-base ballooned. He was subsequently featured in Saatchi Gallery Magazine, and offered free trips around the world by brands.
He is followed by over 270,000 people.
Source: Eelco Roos
Cubby Graham is best-known for his gritty, gorgeous, and highly architectural photographs of New York.
For his day job, he works as a school partnerships manager at Charity Water. He once shaved his beard to raise money for charity.
He has over 425,000 followers. Follow him @cubbygraham.
Source: Cubby Graham
The delivery man
Tim Landis, otherwise known as @curious2119, is a medical supply delivery man with a passion for creating simple and beautiful photographs of rural areas. He's an aspiring professional photographer, who always carries his iPhone with him.
The Minnesota local was among the first to be approached by brands for advertorial work. He is best known for his work for Nike.
Landis is followed by 574,000 people.
Source: Tim Landis
The sunny Californian
Southern California resident Dirk Dallas told CNN on the wake of the Instagram acquisition that Facebook is "buying us... the community."
He's a graphic designer by trade, and a budding "iPhoneographer."
The Instagram devotee is followed by over 166,000 people.
Source: Dirk Dallas
The gritty New Yorker
Gabriel Flores may be slightly lesser known than his Tinker Mobile compatriots (he has just 50,000 followers), but shows huge potential.
His snaps capture New York's darker side, and its pulsating energy.
Follow him on Instagram @_gabrielflores.
Source: Gabriel Flores
Sarah Palmer (@heysp) is a professional photographer based in Oakland, CA.
Aside from taking photographs on Instagram, she's passionate about arts & crafts and the maker movement.
Instagram clearly makes her happy -- she is followed by over 500,000 people.
Source: Sarah Palmer
The community manager
Jessica Zollman (@jayzombie) was recruited by Instagram's founders to be its first community manager, making her the lucky fifth employee.
She showed early dedication to the app by chasing down an invite during the beta stage.
We hear that Zollman left Instagram to focus on her photography full-time.
Source: Jessica Zollman
New York-based photographer / stylist Joshua Allen Harris has an eye for architecture, and capturing city streets.
He boasts just over 32,000 followers. Follow him on Instagram @joshua_allen_harris.
Source: Joshua Allen Harris
Dallas-based illustrator Kyle Steed is followed by a massive 500,000 people.
He's a purist at heart, but explains on his personal blog that technology "overpowered" him. Steed often stresses he doesn't use any apps to alter his photographs, beyond the default camera app.
We most admire his thoughtful, carefully-composed photographs of his pregnant wife. Follow him @kylesteed
Source: Kyle Steed
The graphic designer
Yep, this shot by Lucio Bracamontes basically sums up New York.
The graphic designer / photographer is followed by 41,000 people. He currently works at the National Science Teachers Association, after a stint at National Geographic.
Source: Lucio Bracamontes
Michael O'Neal, the creative director behind Tinker Mobile, is a self-described "ambassador" for Instagram.
@MoNeal is followed by 529,000 people.
He specializes in portraits and San Francisco views.
Source: Michael O'Neal
The man on the hill
Paul Octavious was one of the fortunate five chosen to participate in the Mercedes campaign.
The Chicago-based photographer is inspired by the mundane, which he transforms into highly-creative art projects. For four years, he photographed the same hill in Chicago for a series entitled "Same Hill, Different Day."
He boasts 466,000 followers on Instagram.
Source: Paul Octavious
San Francisco-based Pei Ketron is a photographer and teacher. She offers photography instruction online on Skillshare.
Five months ago, she started a social media consulting firm, according to LinkedIn.
Ketron has over 485,000 Instagram followers.
Source: Pei Ketron
The urban explorer
When Sam Horine (@samhorine) moved to New York, he loaded up a dented Suzuki with energy drinks, drove around the city, and took iPhone photographs.
He later told ABC that his aim was to "share beguiling and unexpected moments."
He now teaches at NYU, and is followed by 264,000 people on Instagram.
Source: Sam Horine
The wild man
Mobile photographer Theron Humphrey was recently selected by National Geographic as a 'traveler of the year.'
He spent a year on the road, taking 90,000 snaps for an impressive oral history project. The results were documented on thiswildidea.com.
Despite all his travels, Humphrey never ceases to be inspired by his pup.
He is followed by over 290,000 people on Instagram.
Source: Theron Humphrey
The accidental photographer
Cory Staudacher (@withhearts) is a Seattle native who takes a photo with his iPhone each day.
He didn't initially understand what being a photographer meant. But he told a friend -- a blogger -- that he would come to "view the world through this iPhone lens."
He is now followed by over 229,000 people.
Source: Cory Staudacher
- Previous Slides
- Next Slides
What’s your favorite Instagram photograph in the collection? Let us know in the comment section below.