Instagram is the hottest and most fascinating phone app in the game right now. Some would call it addicting, and some would call it full of opportunity. Regardless, it is a community for millions of people, and it has become a news source as well as a creative outlet for many millenials. I had the opportunity to interview a couple of New York’s most influential Instagrammers, @kevin.ornelas and @sweatengine, who have both become great friends of mine through the social media app. Discovering this niche, creative community is one of the best things to ever happen to me and I encourage you to reach out and connect with fellow Instagrammers who inspire you. You never know what kind of friendships may form from a simple email or even just a comment. Read on as Kevin Lu and Kevin Ornelas talk about their inspirations, how they make a living off Instagram and how their careers have taken a turn into the fashion scene.
Amy: When did you first join Instagram and what were some of your first photos of? What inspired you?
Kevin Lu (@sweatengine): I shared my first photo on May 22, 2012. Most of my photos are of places I’ve come across. My biggest photography inspiration is from the American landscape and wilderness – Ansel Adams is my all-time favorite. I often find myself photographing cities and my surroundings the same way I photograph mountains.
Kevin Ornelas (@kevin.ornelas): I joined Instagram about a year after it initially came out. I needed to be convinced at the time. My roommate, who’s a graphic designer, kept telling about how amazing and fun it was. That it’s a perfect platform for art, especially for photographers, to share their work. He was right, as soon as I signed up I was hooked and addicted like a fat kid that loves cake. I immersed myself in it and was inspired by so many things. I instantly started to document my own daily life activities. Wherever I was in the city I took a picture and I continued to try to find new perspectives that were different.
Instagram is quite the community and brings many people together from all over the world, making the world a smaller place. Tell us a story about someone cool you met through Instagram.
KL: I’ve met countless people through Instagram. A remarkable friend I’ve gotten to known since the very beginning is Tamara Peterson (@_tamarapeterson). From time to time, I organize meets for people on Instagram to socialize, hang out, and make photos together – these are “instameets.” I met Tamara on the first instameet I put together back in 2012. She was one of the 10 people who showed up. And since then, we’ve traveled and explored many cities together, all because of Instagram.
KO: The community is massive, and I’m lucky to have met so many amazing people along the way, including some weird ones. @JacobSantiago was the first person I actually went out of my way to meet. We had been following each other and he invited me out to my first instameet he was hosting. I’d never been to one and had no idea what to expect. But the experience couldn’t have been better, I was blown away by how many people shared the same passion for photography as I did. That’s what really opened up my eyes to the potential of Instagram.
Major fashion companies are starting to hire top Instagrammers like yourself for collaborations. Is this where you saw your career going when you started? What are some of your favorite parts about fashion? The details? The wardrobe? The various aesthetics, styles and trends?
KL: When I bought my first camera 3 years ago, I had no idea that I would quit my engineering job and travel around the world making photos on my iPhone. And I was completely clueless about fashion. However as I spent more time in photography, various brands began to reach out to me for collaboration – including major fashion labels. In all honesty, I’m the last person you want to chat with about fashion. What draws me toward these collaborations is the fact that I love photographing all things beautiful. My eyes are especially attracted unique looking people, extravagant textures, luxuriant colors, and larger-than-life settings that are common, yet easily overlooked.
KO: I definitely didn’t see my career involving Instagram when I signed up. It evolved for me, as I grew a following it opened up new doors working with bigger brands. This led me into fashion, which I love because of its close relationship to art. It’s all about self-expression, taking different pieces and putting them together that best represents you as an individual. I don’t like to sweat, so I wish fall was all year round. I like layers, sweaters and jackets. I try to avoid trends because I’m stubborn and I like to go against the grain from what everyone else is doing.
What is one of your greatest achievements or most defining moment so far? Also what has been one of your favorite projects?
KL: In addition to my road trip around the country in 2013, I’ve gotten a bit of attention with my time-lapse videos on Instagram. One of my recent favorite projects is my Father’s Day collaboration with @Coach. It was challenging yet fun for me to create something that fits both my style and the brand’s campaign.
KO: I honestly don’t think I’ve achieved anything yet. I’m still in the process of hitting goals I set high for myself – that keeps me motivated. I recently had a chance to work with Coach, which has been one of the best projects I got to work on recently. Their team was amazing and super responsive to creative ideas. An absolute pleasure to work with and I hope to keep a long-lasting relationship with them.
What do you love most about Instagram and how have you benefited from it?
KL: I used to think Instagram was about photography and everything around it. I’m not smart – so it took me a while to figure out what Instagram is really about. Instagram is a communication platform that’s shaped by a large creative community. Currently there’s no other social network that does more than what Instagram is doing. And from all this, I’ve met tons of interesting people from all over the world. For me, without a doubt the networking opportunity is what makes this platform most valuable.
KO: The community. I’ve met some of the most talented and passionate people around the world through this app. They all inspire me and their work has pushed my creative thinking. I absolutely love that energy.
What are some of your favorite apps? (Since we know you do not only use solely XX Pro and Valencia to look tan.)
KL: Most of my photos are made with the native iPhone camera app. Sometimes I use Cortex Camera in low light conditions. After an image is captured, I generally do some retouching with Snapseed before I put an Instagram filter on it.
KO: When I shoot, my goal is to always to try and capture images as close to what my eye sees. I try to keep my edits to a minimum and as simple as possible. So I stick with SnapSeed, Photogene2 and AntiCrop.
Who are some of your favorite Instagrammers you follow?
KO: This is tough, I can easily name 100 people, I know I’m going to forget someone. I have so many individuals that I admire. Jared Chambers, @Sir_Neave, @Thuglifeforevs, @Ceos_Downbeat, Scott Borrero, Dave Krugman, Jacob Santiago, Ilitch Peters, @Permagrinfilms, @Jnsilva, @Marzenka_, @Misshattan, @Samalive, Jose Tutiven, the list goes on and now I feel like a bad friend. Thanks.
Your thoughts on #selfies?
KL: It’s an art in itself.
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