How I got ±27K followers on Instagram…

…and some tips on how to take really stunning pictures!

Folks look at my Instagram account and always react with surprise: “how did you get that many followers??” A rounded 27K as of today. Secretly they hope I’d sent them a link to a page where you could buy followers, but that’s not how it went down.

I’ve been running my account for 3+ years now, only taking pictures with my iPhone, and I hope to share with you some specific tips, guidelines, rules that helped me build this massive audience. I’m grouping my recommendations into the following areas four areas:

  1. General Advice (various rules and principles I tried to obey and live by)
  2. My Philosophy (the thinking behind my photography and community)
  3. Photography Tips & Tricks (suggestions on how to take better pictures)
  4. Editing & Sharing (the most underestimated yet most important part)

Keep in mind that these are rules, principles, recommendations that worked for me. Things might work differently for you or other people. But take these ideas as a starting point to develop your own “secret sauce.”

General Advice

1) Who do YOU follow? Much of what I learned about photography, I learned through other great photographers. Not in person, but simply by following some really good photographers and then asking myself the same question every time I liked their pictures: “what is it that I like about this picture?” By asking myself this question, I was able to continuously crystalize elements within a picture that I liked and then build those same skills.

With @pketron and @chrisconnolly — two of my favorite photographers.

2) How to find good photographers? Once you found a photographer that you like, just see what people they follow. Often times, they are following a good bunch of other kick-ass instagrammers!

3) What is your style? Keep in mind that everyone has a different style of photography — understand what is yours. Some are more minimal (@juancamiloberlin), others are more focused on nature (@moners_), specialized on lifestyle (@aguynamedpatrick) or focused on a specific country — in this case North Korea(@drewkelly). Find your own niche and speciality!

4) Do you love it? Seriously, do you love the picture or do you just like it? That’s a question I always ask myself when I’m about to post something. I have never posted a pic that I didn’t absolutely like or feel proud about (at that time at least). And event if I did, I then deleted it afterwards.

5) Keep it “professional”! If you want to be a good photographer, post good photography. Don’t post personal pictures. Selfies, family pictures, the neighbor’s dog — these might all make nice snapshots, but avoid them.

My Philosophy

6) Envision the picture! Sometimes it’s hard to single out a single success factor. But if I had to, I would say it’s my ability to envision the final picture. Often times, even before I have taken the picture, I know what the picture will look like. I envision the picture and then go out there and create it (i.e. I don’t take pictures, I make them). One thing that helped me develop this skills was tip “1” — namely intentionally studying and understanding what I liked about other people’s pictures. This way, I was able to envision the pictures I wanted to create.

7) Consistency! One thing that really matters when it comes to building a style, brand or audience is consistency — be it in the frequency of how often you post, the type of pictures you take or the visual messages you share with the world. One of the different consistencies I had in my account was “travel photography” for example. Every few weeks I would be at a new location and thus attract followers who would enjoy my content that was consistent.

8) How can I capture this? When I get to a new awesome location — a museum with interesting architecture, a stadium with thousands of people or a foggy forest — I simply ask myself: “how could I possibly capture this beauty?” This is a question that lingers on my mind until I find a way to capture the beauty of the environment that I’m in. Next time you are somewhere new, interesting, beautiful, ask yourself how you could best capture that beauty.

I walked into the stunning AirBnB office yet struggled endlessly to find a good perspective … until I had this view from the third floor of their office!

9) Make the effort! Over time I learned the importance of “making the effort.” I would always choose the window seat on an airplane so I could capture the view. I would change my schedule so that I would be able to do my run during sunset. I would even push myself to go on a weekend retreat into the mountains, knowing that I could certainly take some nice pictures. Photography was always a great excuse to push myself to do more outdoor. Are you willing to make the effort?

10) Rather sorry than safe! Yeah, sometimes I knew I was not allowed to take pictures. But I did it anyway. And if I got a warning, I apologized and moved on. BUT … at least I got that picture that I wanted. Nothing more rewarding than creating your vision (see tip “6”).

11) Patience … it will be worth it! Oh man … can’t even think of how often I had to wait and wait until I was able to take the picture. Sometimes there were people in my sight. Other times I was waiting for the right composition of cars driving in the background. When you see a picture, you only see the result, you don’t necessarily see the effort that went into it. And when you see a big empty street for example, believe me that it wasn’t like that all the time. That said, it will be worth it to wait for the right moment to come!

12) Variety! Despite my encouragement to find your style, make sure there is variety in your photography. If you shared a portray picture, make sure you post some other pictures before you share another portray. I always try to avoid posting pictures consecutively which have the same look and feel.

Photography Tips & Tricks

13) Humans enrich picture! One thing I learned over time is that often times a picture is much more valuable with someone in it than not. Sometimes I wanted to take a picture of a landscape, but it felt empty. Including a person in the person can enrich the picture.

That construction by itself was already cool. But the human walking through it enriches the picture with motion.

14) Symmetry is gold (aka “the German in me”)! For the record: I. Love. Symmetry. And I try to find symmetry in almost all the locations that I go! It gives the picture order, which in return creates a sense of beauty and calmness. Look for symmetry in your surroundings!


15) Asymmetry is also cool! Just because I love symmetry, it doesn’t mean I don’t like asymmetry. One can create a lot of beautiful pictures with asymmetry in mind.

A picture on which I intentionally tried to capture asymmetry!

16) Capture that vantage point! One visual element I love to capture is the vantage point perspective. It’s the idea that all lines in a picture flow into one central point.

You can see how all “lines” in this picture flow into one central point.

17) Be creative! Nothing is more rewarding that realizing a creative idea, finding a new perspective on a situation, seeing things slightly differently. You can achieve that by — literally — changing your perspective (first picture that follows), by using prompts (second picture that follows), or by becoming experimental (third picture that follows).

18) Keep an eye out for patterns! Often times a pattern in the background can make a picture significantly more beautiful. Patterns in general are a powerful and enriching element to capture.

I love this picture not only because it features my beautiful friend Tolu, but also because of the wooden pattern in the background.

19) Use prompts! You can enrich your pictures with objects. Remember the picture I posted earlier with my rainy glasses? That was an object that I included in the picture to add visual depth. There are many ways you could do that as shown on the picture below.

20) Shadows and silhouettes! There is so much to work with when you have shadows or extreme light — situations that are normally very difficult to capture. But think how you can use such environment to your benefit!

Editing & Sharing

21) VSCO all the way! VSCO is the app that I use to edit my pictures on my phone. It’s the only app I use and it allows me to do everything I want to do. It has a lot of filters (most of which are available for purchase — they are quite cheap) and other photo editing features. I don’t do any editing on my computer but all on the phone. My favorite filters are the C and F-series.

22) What to look for when editing! The things I care most about (apart from finding a filter that I like and applying it moderately) is to make subtle changes to some of the pictures aspects. Warmth (lower if I want the picture to be more blue/cool or higher if I prefer yellow/warm). Contrast (if I want the picture to feel more intense). Sharpness (an element that I always add — makes the picture look more crisp). Saturation (to cautiously boost colors if needed). Exposure (increased exposure if the pictures turned out too dark).

23) Be a (visual) storyteller! When you share, make sure you enrich your pictures with stories. You have the power to tell stories not only visually, but also with an additional layer in form of written text. Make use of that!

24) Engage your community! Your job is not done with the mere act of posting a picture. Make sure you answer questions that your audience throws at you. Also, no harm in engaging your community by asking them questions. Some simplified examples: “love this place — has anyone ever been here?” or “first time in Vancouver — anyone any tips?”.

Thanks guys for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it were able to take something away. Would love to stay in touch via my Instagram Page :)!