The Habits Of Highly Creative Instagrammers

Snap, filter, post, repeat. In today's social-media-saturated landscape, sharing photos online is as ubiquitous as brushing one's teeth or eating lunch. With cameras in our pockets and Instagrammable moments at every turn, it's easy to liken ourselves to bona fide photographers. But for those who've actually made the switch from amateur creative to straight-up professional, "the perfect post" takes on a whole new meaning. To demystify this transition, we spoke to three successful women who've cashed in on their ability to capture and create beautiful images. Together with AG, we tapped into their routines as well as their varying approaches. From a self-taught camera handler who boasts almost a million Instagram followers to a model turned photog who dabbles in collage art on the side, these creators have transcended the overpopulated photo space. Whether they're fighting through creative fatigue or persevering through the constant demand for new material, their aesthetic and talent set them miles apart from the crowd. Get to know the tricks of their trade below, and dust off your camera — we have a feeling it might come in handy.
Alice Gao | @alice_gao

If you're not one of her 990,000 Instagram followers, maybe you've come across Alice Gao's signature photo style in publications like The New York Times' T Magazine or Kinfolk. With a sharp focus on dynamic travel shots, well-lit food snaps, and unique still-life photos, we can see how she's accrued so many fans.

Your photographs are highly recognizable because they're bright, refined, and really play with light and contrast. What's the first step in zeroing in on a single, defined aesthetic?
"I think a lot of it is knowing what you like and ignoring what other people are doing. You have to expose yourself to different things and experiences to figure out what you're drawn to."

How did some of your first paid photography projects come about?
"When I started out, I didn't have a social media following, so I had to go about monetizing in traditional ways. I shot a ton of personal work and worked for free, because I just wanted to be shooting all the time. I'm not suggesting you should be giving away free photos all the time, but it's that inherent passion to shoot regardless of a paycheck that should be at the root of your pursuits."

One of your favorite photo subjects is travel. What are some tips for making those types of shots less touristy and more intentional?
"It's a lot of patience: waiting for the right moment, the right light, or the right subject to walk through the frame to help tell a better story."
Photographed by Nikki Krecicki.
With a continuous flow of new clients, you're under constant pressure to create new content. How do you keep yourself from tapping out creatively?
"I really love going to museums, like the Leeum Museum in Seoul. The space is really beautiful. Working on projects for myself is also key; I try to take photos every day. Being a photographer isn't something I can turn off. Even if I'm trying not to take photos, and there's a light that I like, I can't help it. My eyes will take the picture."
How about your space at home. What about it brings out your creative side?
"I like to surround myself with objects that put me in a nice place, like ceramics, books, and other items I picked up while traveling. I also have an art-book addiction and flip through those all the time. Right now it's the Blinky Palermo retrospective; I'm really drawn to the minimal forms in his work. Plus, my space has really good light, which I'm very fortunate to have in New York. Even on cloudy days, I get nice super-moody, gray light." Does your style interact with your art at all?
"I keep my clothes very neutral and uniform-like: jeans and a tee tucked in. It's not something I overtly think about, but I imagine one influences the other." Do you have any advice for people with long work hours and repetitive routines? How can they flex their photography muscles and take photos more often?
"A great example is Kathy Ryan, the photo editor at The New York Times Magazine. She published a book called Office Romance. It was just photos she took around the office. I think it's really about challenging yourself to see things differently. Set photo challenges for yourself or follow prompts that'll help you take photos every day." What's been your most useful piece of professional advice?
"If a job scares you, then it's probably worth doing. That's the only way to grow." And lastly, what’s your most surprising Instagram habit?
"In my explore page, I always find cat videos or something cat related and go down a rabbit hole."
Carly Foulkes | @carlyfoulkes Long before Carly Foulkes became the motorcycle-riding T-Mobile girl, she was tinkering with her first camera in middle school, taking photos of self-proclaimed "silly things" like detail shots of her home or the family dog. Now, Foulkes — who first developed a career as a model and actress — is making a name for herself on the other side of the lens through her cheeky portraiture style and high-fashion and editorial bookings. Oh, and she's also an impressive collage artist.

What's the most important thing someone should know if they're just getting started with photography?
"It's not about the camera, it's about what you shoot. You don't have to spend a bunch of money on a great camera to take a great photo. Shoot what you want to shoot, what your heart and your mind are telling you to shoot. And don't worry about what other people think."

What themes have you been focusing on in your work lately?
"I've been shooting a lot of street photography in a photojournalist style. Unfortunately there have been a lot of things happening in the world; it's hit me recently as I've been going to protests and marches. I've met a lot of amazing people and I enjoy shooting real moments, capturing real people with real emotions. That's what's most important to me right now."
Photographed by Nikki Krecicki.
What distracts you most from your work?
"My dog and my two cats distract me all the time because they're so adorable. I force them to let me take photos of them. Like, Alright, if we're gonna waste 30 minutes of me just staring at you, might as well take a photo." What are some of your unexpected hobbies outside of photography?
"I love comedy and used to do improv, as well as shooting, directing, and editing video. I also love to paint and draw. I play the ukulele by myself — I can’t really do it in front of a lot of people — and I like to sing in my spare time when nobody’s around. I’ve always loved the arts."

Yeah, I'll say. What about collage art? You have a whole section of your portfolio dedicated to that. What does collage art offer you that photography doesn't?
"Since I was a kid, I've always been obsessed with the magical and fantastical — things that put you in awe when you read or watch them. Collage art allows me to create my own world, which is something you can't really do with photography. Photography is [about] real moments, and real moments are insane and amazing and beautiful in their own right, but if I'm having a bad day I can collage something that makes me happy."

Have you ever taken a photo detox?
"Those happen organically every six months or so. I love what I do so much that sometimes I get really obsessed, so I have to take a step back and realize there's so much more going on. I put the camera down, go to yoga, or go for a swim or hike."

Who's someone you follow on Instagram that we'd least expect?
"NASA. I love me some space!"
Adrienne Raquel | @adrienneraquel

When Adrienne Raquel isn't working as a photo producer (her full-time gig), she's squeezing as many freelance photo projects into her nights and weekends as possible, with brands such as Revlon, CB2, Urban Outfitters, and New York Magazine. This avid color hunter takes us to a lush tropical world through palm-tree-heavy travel photos, bold still lifes, and super-saturated minimal photography. One scroll through Raquel's pleasing Insta feed or portfolio will make you an instant follower.

Tell us about what inspired your bright aesthetic.
"Color has so much influence on how we feel, our moods, our emotions, how we perceive things, how we don’t perceive things. I think people tend to forget about the importance of color, but I try to really incorporate that into my photography. I want it to be warm and inviting. Lately I’ve been focusing on pink because it’s a great color and it makes me feel good when I see it. I want my work to make people feel good vibes."

What's the best career advice you've received?
"Always be kind, and stay true to yourself. Once when I was working with a brand, I tried to conform to what they do. I had to remember, Hey, they want me to do this because they like me and what I do. I need to stick to what I’m doing and my own vision."

Do you prefer shooting with a digital camera or your phone?
"I like the flexibility of shooting digital. I can edit instantly on the computer or my phone. While I try to keep it true to the original, I manipulate photos to make them more vibrant. I usually shoot with a Canon, but I also try to take a lot of images on my phone. I have 25,000 photos on my iPhone."

Wow, I hope that's backed up somewhere! So how do you juggle your full-time job and your freelance photo gigs?
"During the day, I'm a photo producer at a production studio, helping produce advertising imagery. I also have a partnership with CB2 as its resident color expert for the duration of this year and next. And at the moment, I'm doing about three to four freelance shoots a week after work. I'm excited and lucky but also tired!"
Photographed by Nikki Krecicki.
That's really impressive, it must feel great to come home at the end of the day!
"Yes, I love my space at home. My apartment is very small, but I've tried to make it cozy and colorful like my photography." Does your style play off your photography, as well?
"Well, my style is very minimal. Since I have a bald head I like to keep it simple and sleek with bodysuits and pieces that create a cool silhouette. I like things that are edgier to my form; I imagine I'm a piece of art [laughs]." How can others narrow their focus so their aesthetic isn't all over the place?
"It's important to decipher what you want your work to represent to yourself and others. It's also about experimenting and looking to artists whose work you admire." What artists are on your radar right now?
"Guy Bourdin — his color schemes are crazy. Nan Goldin is great — she did a lot of self-portraiture. And Julia Noni is amazing, too." In your experience, what's the No. 1 key to taking a good photo?
"Good lighting. No matter what your subject is, lighting determines not only the aesthetic of your photo but also the mood. And always keep your eyes open."
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