#GramGen is a series profiling the most radical characters in youth culture, who continue to shape trend behavior and spark controversy through their avant fashion sense and candid social media personalities.
As it has grown into the world’s biggest photo-sharing application, used by hundreds of millions of people, Instagram has amplified the work of many photographers, and many have leveraged this following to open up major career opportunities. In turn, the app has become an indispensable tool for these shooters, some of whom have gone on to become supremely influential in fashion, streetwear, and the social media ecosystem.
But when Instagram fundamentally changes the way we view content on the app, some of these photographers are affected in a big way, and must completely re-think how the app can supplement their photography.
Below we get to know German sneaker collective @allupinitt as they explain how to find the right balance on social media.
First, introduce yourselves, what is your background?
Kane: My name is Kane, I was born and raised in Hamburg and graduated as an Art Director, afterwards I concentrated on photography.
Through Facebook Groups and social networks I got to know Johannes. Some time later I moved to Cologne where we were working as photographers for sneaker boutique Solebox. Now I am back in Hamburg concentrating on freelancing.
Johannes: I’m Johannes, working as a freelance photographer in Cologne. I’ve been shooting sneakers and streetwear for the last six years. Apart from that I am rooted in outdoor photography and have a strong passion for adventure and travel imagery.
What is your go-to camera setup?
K: Sony A7RII with Sigma Art Lenses from super wide angle to telephoto. Often I use telephoto lenses for sneaker-related content and wide-angle ones for architecture and portraits, but I also like switching that up every now and then. I also picked up a Ricoh GR1s recently, which is an analog point-and-shoot camera to capture more everyday moments.
J: I’m about to step my game up and grab the Sony A9 soon. I use several types of lenses, but mostly primes. My most used one is the 24mm f/1.4 by Sigma.
When and how did you start to gain a big following on Instagram?
K: Straight after graduating from Miami Ad School Europe I started with Instagram, which was back in January 2015. I was collecting sneakers for a few years already and took “what’s on my feet” pictures every now and then, which helped me to create content for Instagram and then later get my first job offers.
Through pages like @highsnobiety, @estheticlabel and @streetdreamsmag Instagram introduced me to cityscape photography, which is one of my favorite things to shoot nowadays since it is a big contrast to my product-driven photography.
A few times people told me that they passed by a certain location during their daily commute and never realized the beauty in it until they saw my photo, clearly these moments make me super happy.
J: Being one of the first people to properly shoot sneakers in Europe (back in 2013/2014, before the big hype), I was able to build up my own style and that made it easy to grow on IG. As soon as I started to shoot outdoor stuff and mix it with my personal style of street and sneaker photography, that made me stand out from a lot of other photographers.
What is the purpose of your @allupinitt collective, and who is involved?
J: We are a collective of six photographers spread over Germany, Switzerland and Australia. Our members are: @filipgorski, @maxleitner, @needlehorse, @liamparsons4, @kane & @pangea – six experts in terms of sneaker and street visuals known for their respective unique styles.
K: Our idea behind @allupinitt was to create a consortium of photographers who can produce a strong visual language, even though we are all from different ages, places and backgrounds. A really important aspect for me is to be reliable, to be able to deliver, even in a situation that is new to you. A photographer who is capable of doing this has my trust, and I am certain that each member of @allupinitt is capable of delivering when he has to.
As a freelance photographer, where does most of your work come from?
K: Lots of my work is sneaker related, I am really happy to call brands like ASICS, adidas, Converse & PUMA my clients. But also a bunch of magazines, blogs and shops (including Highsnobiety) are the reason why I can make a living from photography nowadays.
At the moment I am trying to get rid of the title “sneaker photographer,” because besides shooting sneakers I’m working a lot in fashion, urban, and portrait photography as well.
J: As I am rooted in the sneaker industry and street culture for quite some years now, people know and appreciate my output. I do a lot of work for several brands, stores and magazines, just like Kane does. Nowadays a lot of my photography is related to the outdoor world though, which is a great addition to the whole materialistic fashion and sneaker cosmos. With a network of great people around me, it’s turning more and more into an agency type of work with a lot more than simply shooting photos.
The portfolio basically ranges from content production to putting together social campaigns for brands, tourism boards and travel destinations. The current situation is quite crazy, and there are more possibilities than we have time to fulfill all the requests. But who knows what it will look like in some months or years. That is a reason why I try to put the most effort into real, long term collaborations rather than a short sponsored post for brands I cannot relate to. Quality over quantity!
Do you think you depend too much on Instagram to find work?
K: Back when I didn’t have a strong portfolio of clients, I saw Instagram as the best opportunity to find work. Nowadays my network inside the industry is the most common way to find work, especially because Instagram has changed a lot within the last year.
J: I think I realized quite early that Instagram is not something you want to completely build your business on! It’s a great addition and definitely helps to find clients, but as a photographer I think it is extremely important to build up your standing outside of social media.
If you are able to offer something unique, clients will most likely want you to work for them. If you are just a copy of others, people will quickly realize that, and not want to work with you long term. I see a ton of so-called “influencers” nowadays who are nothing but an advertising pillar. So replaceable. In my opinion these people focus too much on Instagram, it might give them some quick dollars, but in the long term, everybody will just be bored by all the advertising they do.
Recent changes in the Instagram algorithm have changed how the news feed works. What’s your reaction, and how has this affected your account?
K: I dislike it to be honest. Engagement went way down for me personally, but on the other hand there are also lots of accounts that have a really good engagement. At the moment I am way too stressed out by Instagram so I am considering how to use Instagram in a different way than I used to, maybe open it less often and spend less time on the platform.
J: The recent changes on Instagram are pretty bad in my opinion. The app is getting more and more weird and nobody understands why things happen the way they do. I really try to not pay too much attention to numbers, but seeing your engagement drop drastically is somewhat frustrating. Also, I am not a big fan of all the new ways to fake engagement. There are tons of techniques, like Instagram pods, engagement groups, or simply buying likes and followers. What a weak move by all these people! Nothing but disrespect for them. For me it is still about honest respect for artists. I only follow, like and comment on images I enjoy looking at. It’s as simple as that.
Would you consider paying to boost your Instagram posts, in the way that publishers do on Facebook?
K: I would probably not pay to boost my pictures, because I am pretty sure that Instagram would limit my reach even more drastically once I start paying for reaching my full audience.
J: It’s hard to say. I just want all my followers to see my output. If Instagram limits the reach unless I pay money for it, I don’t like that. I can understand that they want their share of businesses who use their platform commercially, but somehow it feels wrong to pay for reaching people whose following I built up with my own work organically. It gives the whole app a bitter taste and really makes it more and more unattractive and less enjoyable to use.
How do you see the future of influencer marketing? Has it peaked?
K: I think influencer marketing is clever, instead of spending hundreds of thousands on TV and print ads to reach a group that mostly isn’t even the brand’s target group they can also spend dime after dime, or even just free products, on influencers that then integrate their product into their feed using their own interpretation.
On the other hand I personally can’t stand most of these sponsored posts any more, especially when streetwear related pages suddenly post deodorant sprays, alcohol bottles or cooking books in each one of their posts. In my opinion some brands should reconsider using Instagram as an advertising platform, because some products are just not made to advertised the way they are right now on social platforms.
Inside the world of urban culture, which we all are interested in, I think it’s also getting boring to see products 10x a day before they even release just because some so-called influencers got their pair early.
Then on release day, you can’t even buy the product because they kept the stock so low that only the influencers, resellers and people with more money than brain were able to cop the product you wanted to buy so badly because it has been all over the internet.
J: It will definitely be exciting to see the next steps in influencer marketing. This whole field still is pretty new but also develops so quickly, it gives me the feeling that all of it could stop immediately. Apart from that, there are so many cheaters out there that the Instagram app is about to lose more and more of its credibility. You could buy anything and fake everything. The worst thing is that most brands just care about numbers. If you look into the subject just a bit closer, it’s so easy to spot the fakers and distinguish them from real people with honest following. I think this is one of the main things that brands need to be aware of, choosing the right people to work with, instead of simply looking at numbers. From a photographers perspective, I will never understand why brands work with huge accounts just to get a short advertising moment instead of working with honest creative minds whose content could provide so much more benefit.
Also, I have a feeling that the majority of people get bored and upset about too many accounts who only do advertising in literally every post, and lost all of their originality. If you see a “dumb” (no special skill identifiable) person getting tons of free products, sponsored first class trips and invitations to the world’s coolest events, you will at some point question the substance and the matter of it. Also, people who advertise all day every day are no longer reliable ambassadors, they are nothing but replaceable advertising media platforms and transport zero authenticity.
Now read our recent op-ed, which explores whether or not Instagram influencers are bad for fashion.