Who are the best photographers on Instagram

Nois7: How the greatest German photographer gained a million followers on Instagram

A few years ago, Robert Jahns was still working as an art director in the agency industry and was unknown to the wider public. Today, as a photographer and artist, he has more followers on Instagram than photography icons like Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh or Steve McCurry. He told OMR how he succeeded - and how he is dealing with the fact that Instagram is changing.

An elephant floating on a huge cluster of balloons, a whale emerging from a canal in Venice, a roller coaster that leads through the urban canyons of New York, a flock of birds in the shape of a heart above the Eiffel Tower - Robert Jahns' pictures are always on a little too perfect, or too fantastic to be true. "I like it when pictures show the world in a way that nobody has seen it before," said the 30-year-old in an interview with OMR.

Arte Ex Machina

Much of the artwork he distributes through his Instagram account Nois7 is based on his own photographs. “I travel a lot, so a lot of picture material comes together.” It is not uncommon for Jahns to also use pictures from befriended photographers. “I've never been to Iceland, but if I need a landscape photo from there, I know photographers who I can write to.” And now and then he also uses stock photos.

Using smartphone apps and desktop software, he uses all the material to create elaborate assemblies over many hours. “On average I need one to two days for an artwork.” He spent a whole week working on his most elaborate picture to date. It shows the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain, covered by a mass of black umbrellas - including an umbrella in rainbow colors. "To do this, I first photographed each umbrella individually and then manually placed raindrops on each umbrella."

Networks as a driver of success

A few years ago, Jahns would probably not have had time for such meticulous work: After training as a media designer, he worked as an art director in an advertising agency in Hamburg. That didn't make him completely happy: “I couldn't do it myself.” Photography has been his hobby since he was 15. Five years ago, Jahns began to make a name for himself as a photographer and artist on Instagram parallel to his professional life. "I actually realized the potential of Instagram relatively late," he says. "Many photographers were already relatively large on the platform back then."

According to Jahns today, he first had to find his style and develop it over the years. But despite his comparatively late start, he manages to build an audience quite quickly. What is the most effective way of doing this? “The most important thing is to be active in the community itself and to deal with the app and the people who use it.” So he specifically searched for who were the best photographers on Instagram in the various areas, and followed them and got in touch with them. “I gave people feedback. I didn't just write 'Amazing!' Under the picture, I went into detail. People notice that. They answered me and also made contact. "

Cooperations ensure follower boosts

He also cooperates with many of the photographers he gets to know in this way. He edits the photos of other photographers, uses their motifs as a "backdrop" or both create joint artworks. “If both publish the artwork on their accounts and postpone the other, then of course it will both benefit both of them,” says Jahns. The most successful case: A collaboration with Murad Osman, the inventor of the “Followmeto” series, which is very well known on Instagram. Jahn's interpretation of the motif ranks 7th among his pictures with the most likes.

Jahns himself also posts unedited photos and organizes an "editing contest" in which he calls on others to edit. Every time another photographer posts his editing and Jahns postpones, this new follower wins in the right target group. But Jahns doesn't just limit his networking activities to the digital sphere. “I also went to Instawalks, that is, to Instagrammer meetings.” There, too, new contacts are made, which is another way of increasing his awareness.

"Don't just want to keep products in the picture"

With these methods he succeeds in slowly but steadily increasing his reach. The fact that he differs significantly from the average Instagram snapshots with his heavily edited, sometimes surreal motifs, probably contributes to this development. After Jahns has accumulated several 10,000 followers, the first blogs and classic media report and report on him.

Soon the first agencies and advertisers also contact him. But he doesn't just want to hold products in front of the camera - “I work differently from others”. He prefers to design more elaborate motifs for his customers. "When companies call me, they want my style too."

Traveling for Nike

According to his own estimates, he has now carried out ten to 15 campaigns for advertising customers. One of his favorites: a campaign for ASUS, during which he created a total of twelve artworks and gave press interviews, traveled to several countries and met the winner of a photo contest in Hong Kong. “That was really cool.” Such campaigns could well go on for half a year, says Jahns. The customers then pay an individually negotiated package price.

Jahns was able to set up his own business two and a half years ago. Today it is 90 percent financed through commissioned work. “The customers always book my social media reach as well.” The rest of his income comes from the sale of prints, which he offers on his own website, among other things.

Sightseeing at photogenic times

Today, traveling is an integral part of his job. “That is one of the most important things. I can combine work and travel. For example, I also make sure to drive to locations at certain times of the day, for example at sunrise or sunset. "

In the meantime he has already made two trips around the world. Through his second account, LifeofNois7, which he runs together with his wife, he offers a look behind the scenes. He's also come across hotel accommodations by creating Instagram or blog posts via these. "But I also put a lot of my own money into travel."

"This is going to be too much for me"

With 1.1 million followers, Robert Jahns now has a larger audience on Instagram than any other German photographer - and also more than many international star photographers. He is currently ranked 18th on a list of all “top photographers on the web”.

But even if Instagram made this ascent possible for him, Jahns is not really happy with the latest development of the platform. “The whole thing has developed into a business. It's getting too much for me and I think it's a shame. ”He also takes a critical view of influencer marketing:“ Influencers hold a product in the camera and talk about it, that's not my thing. ”

Victim of the algorithm

Apparently he can't do much with the entire industry around the topic either. “I notice a lot there. The whole topic has exploded, there are far too many agencies. ”Most of them also got it wrong:“ They have a database and then link influencers with brands. That's not for me; I don't want to be in a database with 3,000 others. "

Another downer for him: the algorithm with which Instagram filters out the users' feed - and which can cost the account operator visibility and interactions. “It started a year ago and hit me hard. Since then, the commitment has been significantly lower ”. Followers and engagement continue to grow overall, "but the curve has flattened out". Sometimes he'll delete a picture after 10 to 15 minutes because of this. "If the engagement is only half as good as usual, I take it down." His advice for other Instagram users: "You shouldn't pay too much attention to it, otherwise it will only frustrate you."

Young man / woman wanted to travel with

After all: Jahns welcomes the expansion of the platform to include Instagram Stories. “It's another way of interacting with the community, and I think that's great.” He's not yet using the feature himself. “I am not a person who reports on his life. But I can imagine taking people to a photo shoot. ”Jahns wants to do a live Q&A first.

His income as a freelance photographer has developed so well that he also wants to build a small team around himself in the near future. “I'm looking for an online marketing manager and an intern, but it's very difficult to find the right people. In addition, Jahns wants to exhibit his works more frequently in the future. "An exhibition tour through several countries would be cool."

If you want to experience Robert Jahns live, you should visit the influencer marketing conference Inreach in Berlin on November 10th. There he will talk about "The Power of Images". As an OMR reader you get a 25 percent discount with the code OMR25! Tickets are available here!