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Sam Horine: How a Photographer Used Instagram to Build a Brand

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Sam Horine

Sam Horine is a photographer most widely known for the pictures of New York City he shoots and posts on Instagram. He's amassed over 343,000 followers on Instagram and he’s worked with top brands including Delta Airlines, NBC/Universal, Sony Electronics and Nike just to name a few.

Here is his story:

Q: When did you join Instagram and why?

A: I downloaded and began using Instagram in November 2010 - I had always liked twitter and the social interactions that it provided but wasn't happy w/ it's image sharing capabilities. When I first started seeing links for instagram pop up on twitter, I assumed it was similar to twitpic but upon digging a little deeper I figured out that it was much more than that - I've always been a visual person and this simple iPhone app filled a gap left behind by the collapse of flickr. I started posting photos of things I saw in my day to day travels throughout New York - this low pressure sharing was a great relief from working as a commercial and editorial photographer.

Q: You currently have over 343,000 followers on Instagram. What do you attribute this following to?

A: Being an early adopter was certainly helpful - in the first six months or so Instagram was a fairly small world - the community first mantra was strong and it was a really great place to bond w/ other photographers. Unlike many other social networks - you can take a quick stroll through someone's gallery and I can usually fairly quickly ascertain if we share similar interests. I built up a decent organic following of around 10k and late in the summer of 2011 I was put on the suggested user list that Instagram curates - my following quickly doubled and tripled as Instagram hit the mainstream. Since then I've made sure to share original content while remaining as engaged as I can be with the community.

Q: On a number of occasions I’ve heard you reference your work with brands you shoot for as “story telling.” How has story telling through photography impacted your success as a photographer as a whole, as well as on Instagram?

A: I came up shooting editorial in NYC - I think that trained me to find the story of the story as well as honed my skills to visually tell that story through a photo. I can't say how this has impacted my success - I mean, I think the ability to tell a story is fairly crucial to any success in photography.

Q: If Instagram or a similar platform like it didn’t exist, how would this impact your business?

A: Without social media I think that many of us would be in different situations - I was working w/ a lot of PR companies so I was comfortable working w/ brands and large clients and I think this shift towards influencer campaigns is a smart reaction to the changing marketplace. Advertisers can no longer make a tv commercial and put an ad in rolling stone and expect that their message will be conveyed because no one in their target demographics are using those services in this age of mobile - you're fighting a million different distractions nowadays.

Q: Were your services as a photographer as in-demand prior to your success on Instagram?

A: I'd say yes, I was actually working a lot more then I am now - granted it was editorial but I'd be shooting 4-5 days a week - now I'm spending more time meeting w/ larger clients and planning bigger campaigns - it's still a lot of work - it's just a different process and scope.

Q: As a professional photographer, what advice could you provide for aspiring photographers or entrepreneurs who would like to use Instagram or photography in general to promote themselves and/or their business?

A: Be yourself - keep evolving, find your own voice and style. I see so many young photographers trying to be everything to everybody - one shot is a bad HDR, the next a selfie, the next an inspirational quote and so one and so forth. Work on building your community - a supportive group of creative peers will always push you beyond your comfort zone which is a good place to be.

Q: Were you always a full-time photographer? If not, how did you transition from your previous job/career into a full-time photographer and did your success on Instagram help propel this transition?

A: I've been working as a photographer for the past 6 years or so - I had always shot a lot of photos and when I moved to NYC I started shooting a lot of bands - was a great way to get into shows for free as blogging was really taking off - I met a bunch of people who worked in the media and we all really came up together - moving around to different publications allowed me to shoot a huge variety - I started in music, transitioned into food, fashion and interiors. All the while I was working on numerous personal projects. Getting on Instagram was just a natural transition as social media evolved.

Q: Many people are afraid to take the plunge and pursue their passion. What advice would you provide to those who fear failure or the risk associated with pursuing your passion?

A: This is a tricky question as I'd hate to advise someone to throw away everything and just follow their dreams but sometimes that's what you have to do and if you're worried that you're not going to be able to make it - and it's certainly a cutthroat world - make sure you have a surplus of cash as a backup plan to hold you through until you hit a sustainable stride of work.

Q: In addition to Instagram there are other popular photography communities and social networks. What do you think makes Instagram more successful for photographers and end-users?

A: I'm really not sure - Instagram was certainly very early out of the gate - I think the community first mantra has helped establish it as a leader. A clean simple design that easily integrates into other social media doesn't hurt either.

Q: What's the best advice you would give to photographers and other artists using the Internet and social platforms to boost their business?

A: Be true to yourself and you'll get back whatever you put in.

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