I get asked a lot “How did I become an influencer on Instagram and a Travel Photographer“. “What things can people do to help their accounts“. So in this Blog I will tell you my story, how I started and what it is doing for me today.
4 years ago I downloaded an app called Instagram, basically down to boredom. I used to see my sister-in-law (Jana) use it. I remember at the time I found it quite amusing as she would stop randomly in the street to take pictures on her phone. I was very curious to see how the end result looked. I was pleasantly surprised that once she added a Instagram filter to her images they were transformed from a basic shot to look very classy and kinda pro looking this certainly enhanced her abstract style at the time.
I’ve always been artistically creative even back in the day when I was at primary school to becoming a graphic designer when I left the army in 2004. Unfortunately I was made redundant as a graphic designer in 2007, I was forced to become a truck driver (license I received from the army) to help pay my bills and support my family. As I am a creative person I quickly found truck driving to be VERY boring. I needed something to help keep my creativity flowing and it turned out to be this app called Instagram, this came at such a good time in my life.
Instagram was also reasonably new. It was created in October 2010 and I joined this community in October 2011. My first image was of course a #Selfie haha.
Because of my sister-in-laws abstract style, it was a similar style that I wanted to emulate at first. Here are some of my first uploads on Instagram with my iPhone 4, using abstract and a industrial style. Instagram was definitely addictive due to it’s ease of using an iPhone camera and the way their filters could enhance a simple pic into something a lot stylish.
Another great feature at the time was using Instagram’s Lens Blur to give the image a depth of field look. I never knew what “depth of field” was back then lol.
I remember receiving some likes which made me go “wow” people actually like my images. It may of only been 10-20 likes but to me, that was impressive. I also noticed that when I posted a landscape they received more likes than a selfie (I’m not surprised) or a abstract. This of course made me post a lot more landscape images as I wanted to see if I could improve the likes on the next pic I posted.
Most of these images were taken on the road when I was working (Shhhh). I remember at the time I thought these were amazing. It’s funny when I look back at these now. But little did I know that these will be the start of something special in my life and the foundation to who I am today as a photographer.
These images above were all edited using Instagram Filters as well as some apps that were being created to help edit images to post on Instagram. These give you a sense of how filters could turn a iPhone camera shot into something a little more interesting. I also got infatuated with clouds as I loved the way they added drama and depth to my iPhone 4 landscapes. The more and more likes I received the more I wanted to produce more content. It became an addiction and I was always trying to out do my previous shot. It was also somewhere where I could express my creativity.
I started getting followed by many Instagrammers as well as being followed by people that I admired and were better than me at taking images. I used these accounts to learn from and tried out different techniques such as HDR and Colour Splash, all using the iPhone and apps.
These images do hurt my eyes to look at, but they did get me out exploring my local area of Wellingborough and other areas of Northamptonshire previously areas that I thought to be boring and not very pretty. When you start getting into photography you start to see things differently in such a positive and creative way. I had to try these techniques out. I knew the more techniques I tried the more they would improve me as a amateur photographer. If anything I definitely enjoyed the editing style the most. I love to transform a bland image into something more spectacular and dramatic.
4 months later after starting Instagram I realised that if I wanted to sell any of my images I would need to start using a DSLR instead of my iPhone. This was because I wanted people who were interested in my work to have the option to enlarge my images to a decent size before any pixelation was caused. iPhone shots were great and all that but the images were limited to how big they could be enlarged. Now the first big decision in my photography hobby was to choose a camera. At the time it was between Canon or Nikon. Now they both really do the same job with pro’s & con’s with both. But my decision was to invest in a Canon 550D, a decision I wouldn’t regret.
Now it was time to go out and practice, practice, practice.
I was shooting with my Canon 550D, transferring them to my iPad or iPhone and editing them in an app called Snapseed which I still use today. Above are my results, still too much for me but already a progression. These experiences being out shooting in the low light hours were helping understand light and exposure. It was also imperative to know how to shoot using different techniques as this will help make you more diverse as a photographer. The various techniques that can be produced can help you out when you’re on a campaign for a client for instance, they will help give you a more varied range of images for them to choose from.
The windmill image above was really where things started to move quickly for me on Instagram. It received a vast amount of likes at the time over 100 and this was a big boost from my average of 30-40 likes per image. I can remember saying to my wife “LOOK, I HAVE OVER 100 LIKES!” I was so excited and I remember feeling very popular. The image was also featured by many hubs. Hubs are accounts that are created by fellow Instagrammers and they feature their favourite images that are added to various hashtags. This is still the best way to get your images seen by many. So choose your hashtags wisely.
The next step for me was to start producing long exposure (LE) images. I was fascinated by this technique after seeing one of my favourite Instagrammers at the time Noval Nugraha knocking out stunning LE work day after day. It completely mesmerised me. I had to try it out. Noval gave me some advice as did Larry Marshall & Lauren Bath. Larry who was a Pro Landscape Photographer and Lauren who was also experienced in LE work. Their advice was much needed and helped me produce my first Long Exposure. Without their guidance it would’ve taken me a lot longer to figure this out.
Because this was going to be my first LE shoot I had to pick a right location, I chose Southwold in Suffolk, UK, which to this day still hold’s a special place in my heart. I make an effort to visit here at least once a year. So my location was set, instructions on how to create LE was memorised, now I had to purchase some equipment such as a Tripod, Filters and Remote to help create the LE effect. Now I’m all set, lets do this!
It was a big success. Now I had to keep practising LE, HDR, shooting into the sun capturing sunrise’s and sunset’s as well as exploring new locations.
Over the next 2 years I was nonstop shooting. After I had finished work I would go home, shower, change, kiss the wife and kids and then go out shooting sunset’s and I wouldn’t return until it was night, sometimes as late as 10pm. I would then be up for work at 3am (VERY tiring). Even on my days off I would be up at the crack of dawn to shoot sunrises. Sometimes I would return home and would’ve missed the kids who have already gone to school. You could say I was obsessed in improving and becoming a better photographer but you have to put the hours in if you want to improve in life. I was spending £1000’s on equipment, travelling, magazines pretty much anything that would help me progress. Even going to the shop would take a while as I would be stopping every 2mins to take another picture. Family holidays selfishly would involve landscape/seascape photography. I’m surprised that I’m still married haha.
The more I shot the more images I had to post to my Instagram account. My improvement was becoming very noticeable. This in turn created more exposure, more likes as well as increasing my followers. It wasn’t long before I was then being approached by some brands and agencies asking to help promote them through my images and my Instagram account. Now not all brands/agencies contact you, you have to reach out to them and let them know you’re here. I have had and still have many rejections or non-replies to my emails. You have to keep being persistent. Now I was getting this interest I decided to progress to another level of camera. My trusty Canon 5D MK III and what I still use today. I also started editing using Adobe Lighthroom on my new 27inch iMac. These have all contributed to my improvement.
When brands look at you as an influencer, clearly numbers matter, wrongly or rightly, they matter. If the numbers look positive (by numbers I mean how many followers you have and how many likes you receive per image) and active, they then look at your photography. If these meet the brand needs, then they’ll reach out to you. As they’re is a lot of agencies out there that reach out, you never know which ones to choose and which ones will be perfect for you and your feed. Ask about to see if anyone has used them before, or try them and see what happens. If you don’t like them, their will be another one that will accept you on their books.
You will also find that when you work for a brand it will gain attention from other brands, who might then reach out for the same thing, and then so it begins. I have to think about what I want in my feed. Is promoting certain things going to have a negative or positive reaction on my account. I’ve worked so hard to be where I am, it would be a shame to loose the trust from my followers.
I remember my first paid sponsored post. I was so thrilled that someone wanted to give me money in return for a couple of images posted on my Instagram account. Annoyingly I jumped at this opportunity. It was a dating app. Now looking at my account it doesn’t scream out dating. This indeed had a negative effect, so I had to seriously re-think what I was going to agree too in the future.
I try to post sponsored images that are linked in someway the same style or genre of my account. However, I do have a soft spot for watches and sun glasses. I get a lot of grief when I post these but I honestly don’t care as these accessories are yet another obsession in my life.
Bare in mind though the more watches you post the more watch brands will contact you. I have had to turn down so many watch brands as I don’t want my account to be taken over by watches. This is also true when it comes to travelling. The more travel campaigns I do the more I’ll be approached by similar brands from the Tourism/Hotel industry.
To get my foot in the door I had to take some campaigns that didn’t pay, they only covered your costs. I get that people still do it but it does have a negative effect on the whole influencer market. However brands and agencies have a big roll to play here, these agencies wouldn’t work for a brand for free so it does become very frustrating when they ask you to do exactly that. I’ve had to reject some great campaigns because they wouldn’t pay for my services. I’m a photographer and I have to make a living. So it all boils down to “what am I worth?” You may not like seeing sponsored post’s by influencers but it is a way at where we can make money. The brands have the money so why not link it to photography. Surely it’s a win win for everyone. I do know I loose followers from sponsored posts and I always get some negativity, but if they were given the same opportunity, would they do it?
Quotes from various people I’ve worked with….
“Sean is a great photographer and has a brilliant eye for natural beauty. He goes out of his way to ensure he gets exactly what you need and on time!”
Martina – Swiss Air
“I was very impressed with Sean’s friendliness and professionalism. I would go far as to say the benchmark has been set for his amazing photography and dedication. Any company would benefit using Byrne Photography.”
Marlene – Austrian National Tourist Office
“I was researching UK based content creators and social media influencers who would be a good fit for our brand. Sean Byrne stood out for his creative and high quality photography. We were able to host Sean on an digital influencer visit to Alberta Canada in the winter of 2015. Sean was a great person to partner with – he is a true professional, easy to work with and he produces outstanding content. I was very happy with our work together and would not hesitate in recommending others to work with Sean.”
Nancy Smith – Travel Alberta
“I have known Sean Byrne through Instagram for over four years now and have watched his work improve and flourish with great joy. Since I first began taking part in tourism and marketing opportunities using Instagram, Sean has been on my radar as the top UK Instagrammer for content and influence. I’m proud to say I’ve been able to hire him on two International campaigns, through Travel Alberta and Tourism Austria and would have him again in a heartbeat. Sean works incredibly hard, always over delivers and consistently out shoots every other photographer on a given job. My advice to a prospective client? Snap him up now before he’s too famous!”
Lauren Bath – Digital Influencer – Lauren bath Services
The more I was getting contacted by the tourism boards the more I’ve been thinking seriously about doing this full time. It’s a BIG step to go from full time employment to self employed, especially when you have a wife, kids and mortgage.
I also have to be aware that Instagram can end just like that and I could be back to square one. So I try to branch out in other social media sites such as FaceBook, Twitter & Snapchat as well as continuously looking for the next big social app. I also like to keep relationships continuing with everyone I work with as it’s these people that could employ you again for future campaigns.
Along this journey I’ve been privileged to work with so many amazing brands and I’ve picked up some sponsors along the way that helped a great deal in my line of work. These include Manfrotto, Cotswold Outdoor & Lucriot. I reached out to all of these. So don’t be shy to send emails to brands you’re passionate about. What’s the worse they will say?
4 years have now passed and I’ve been featured in magazines, blogs and exhibitions. I’ve done a photoshoot for Rita Ora & RizzleKicks. I’ve shot landscapes for so many Tourism Brands and Hotels. I’ve had my work in a national advertisement campaign for Thomson. I’ve also had a lot of my British Images as themes on all Windows devices. My adventure just seems to be increasing every year, whilst it still does I will enjoy every minute of my life to the max and share everything with you guys of my experiences.
I love being outside in the great outdoors, their is a feeling of being free, I’m so lucky to see these amazing places I do. I take nothing for granted and I try to be passionate in everything I do. I never once thought 4 years ago I would’ve achieved and experienced the things I have.
Stay active, comment and like on accounts that inspire you. Ask questions if you’re not sure how to achieve something, most Instagrammers will help you, we were all there at some point. Try NOT to be negative, this is not good for anyone to see. Try and move pass things that upset you and try not to get involved in disputes. Look out for local Instameets. This is where Instagrammers get together taking images in various locations, you get to meet some amazing people and learn so much along the way wether that’s photography or about Instagram. Treat people how you want to be treated and shoot what you want to shoot. If you are passionate about what you’re shooting then it will be shown in your final results.
Go out and explore, enjoy being out in the fresh air, these are the most important things along with having fun doing it.
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Lastly THANK YOU all so much for your amazing support. It’s always been you guys and girls that enjoy my work that have helped make all this possible. I will always be forever grateful.