The nature of most social networks is such that brands and big name celebrities attract the most fans and followers. This is not the case on Instagram, where photographers, designers and artists dominate the charts.
The hot — but still indie — social network for iPhoneographers has never publicly revealed its top 20 users. That changes today, as Instagram has exclusively shared its most-followed users list with Mashable.
Instagram’s top users, as seen below in a photo gallery that highlights their art, are a unique bunch who collectively love to edit their iPhone photos and share them with other photo aficionados. Some have a predilection for the Earlybird filter, most appreciate a smattering of camera effects applications and a few are Instagram-only mobile photographers.
Our gallery excludes MTV (ranked fourth with 52,133 followers), Burberry (ranked eleventh with 45,366 followers), @jack (Jack Dorsey, CEO and founder of Square, ranked twelfth with 44,845 followers) and NPR (ranked thirteenth with 44,242 followers). We decided instead to focus on the everyday Instagram users who have managed to amass impressive followings by the merit of their art alone.
Instagram was not the first iPhone app with camera effects or mobile photo-sharing, nor will it be the last, but it’s certainly representative of a larger iPhoneography movement that is captivating and inspiring mobile users around the world.
Keep reading to learn how Instagram’s most-followed users are using the iPhone application to supplement their work and capture the world in unique ways. We asked each Instagram user to share a favorite shot, and we augment those photos with our own editorial selections.
Follower counts will likely have changed between the time the post was compiled and published.
View As Slideshow »
@mikekus: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Mike Kus. A graphic designer, web designer and illustrator living in Bath.
Favorite Filter: Earlybird
How he’s using Instagram: “I try to use Instagram to document my daily life and to photograph what surrounds me. I live in Bath, U.K.; so most of my pictures [are] places and people around Bath.”
Inspired by: “I carry my iPhone everywhere and when I see something that interests me I take a shot. There’s nothing I particularly set out to do. I like photographing architecture and people, mainly.”
@mikekus: Editor’s Pick
In addition to Instagram, Kus uses TiltShiftGen to add contrast to his photos and desaturate colors. But that’s it for Kus when it comes to camera effects apps for iPhone.
“I only use TiltshiftGen and Instagram. I have experimented with other apps but haven’t found anything I like as much as these two,” he says.
@fashion: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Malachy Sherlock. Hobby street-style Instagram iPhoneographer. Strategist for multichannel retailers and brands by day.
Favorite Filters: Earlybird, Walden and Brannan
How he’s using Instagram: “I view Instagram as a new form of entertainment that has empowered and mobilized a global network of visual storytellers.
I use Instagram to connect with both individual and brand storytellers – storytellers that create powerful images that entertain, inform, educate and inspire me on a daily basis.
The content created by brands and individuals that I regularly follow takes me about one hour per day to consume and interact with. There may be as many as 20 to 30 live images per hour during peak publishing times. I have set times during the day that I consume the content that is created by the image makers that I follow around the world and It obviously has displaced other forms of entertainment that I’m using like Tivo, Netflix, Gaming and web browsing.
I post a single image every day and I include a geotagged location and a caption.”
Inspired by: “I’m really inspired by the moment and then the individual style of each character I try and capture. I tend to frame the image with the fabric of the city as a backdrop and fashionably blend in the element of weather, light and time of day to tell a simple story.
I try and anticipate what will happen and capture it on the fly. Most of the times I fail, but everyday I’ll somehow find an image that works for me.
I’m mostly influenced by the techniques and style of street photography and photo journalism, but I also love and learn from simple snapshots and mixed-media images that I see on Instagram.”
@fashion: Editor’s Pick
Sherlock’s camera effects app arsenal includes Camera+, TiltShiftGen and Swankolab.
Sherlock also uses Flipboard and Webstagram as third-party Instagram applications.
@looking_glass: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Chi Vo
Favorite Filter: None. Vo processes her photos outside of Instagram.
How she’s using Instagram: “Instagram is my photo journal where I post photos and thoughts that mean something to me.
A lot of what I post is a reflection on the current events happening in my life that I would like to share and hopefully inspire and connect with others. I lead a pretty crazy and hectic life and Instagram helps me take time off to reflect on the things happening in and around me and to put it down in photos and words.
It also provides me an opportunity to network socially with like-minded and creative individuals. They challenge, inspire and motivate me in both my life and photographic interests. I have met many interesting individuals through Instagram and keep in touch with them on a regular basis.”
Inspired by: “My photos are spur of the moment. Raw. Whether I am walking down the street or driving my car, I actually stop in the middle of the road sometimes to pause and capture that moment. Moments in life pass us so quickly that sometimes we don’t actually see the beauty in the things that surround us.
I have over 5,000 photos on my iPhone. When I get a break from my hectic schedule, I reflect on the recent events in my life, and browse for that photo / moment that best portrays my feelings and thoughts which I wish to share. It is a way for me to better understand myself and life, to convey a mood and distill what I have captured.”
@looking_glass: Editor’s Pick
Vo is an avid user of Camera+ and loves the application’s filters, cropping, lighting and framing options. She also uses Leme Camera for more serious editing, and appreciates PicFx, TiltshiftGen, Noir Photo and Pro HDR.
Vo’s Instagram tip for Mashable readers is: “Share something that you have a connection with. You may find like-minded individuals to explore that connection with. Make it social.”
@inkedfingers: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Carli Kiene, coowner of InkedFingers Fotography & Design, a wedding and lifestyle photography business.
Favorite Filter: Brannan
How she’s using Instagram: “Instagram reminded me that photography is an art. I’m a photographer by trade but because I had a seven pound camera in my hand all the time and didn’t own a point and shoot that took good enough photographs, I never took photos of my own life, or if I did, they ended up on hard drives.
I first found Instagram during a camping trip in November of last year. We turned in early one night and I sat all zipped up in my tent looking for new apps (thankfully we had WiFi out in Bastrop, TX) and from the moment I took the first photos I was in awe of how easy it was to take a beautiful photograph.
With our photography company, Inkedfingers, we spend HOURS editing our images, going through each image, color correcting, changing curves, adding presets, and in less than a minute I created an image that from a layman’s point of view, is almost indistinguishable on that tiny screen from what our $3,000 camera took. It’s almost unbelievable. Instagram took the science out of taking a beautiful image.
At first, as part of the IG community, I tried to be anonymous. There was a freedom in knowing I could take whatever caught my eye without the pressure of a pay check, trying to please someone. I was making a memory of my own life. Then, inspired by other users in the community, I began to post photos of what I did for a living — the latest postcard or rubber stamp we’d create or how I had my office set up — and I got such positive feedback I posted more work-related photos.
Lately I’ve posted more behind the scenes shots, during an engagement shoot or what the church looks like during the rehearsal. I think others enjoy seeing something they might not see everyday and we’ve gotten from business from a few IG-ers!”
Inspired by: “Other IG users. It truly is a community. There are some users that I’ve become best friends with and connected with outside of the IG world and we find we have much in common aside from a love of photography!
What else inspires me? Whatever is around me at that moment: the sun’s reflection on the water after a run, the way the books sit on my shelf or the light falling across the buildings downtown as I’m stopped at a red light. That’s the beauty in Instagram. The app wasn’t intended for photographers. It’s intended to make every man a photographer, every man an artist. That is a beautiful thing.
There was an art installment recently in Austin, called ‘Play Me I’m Yours.’ A curator set out pianos outside all across the city and told anyone they could play the pianos whenever. It reminded me of IG. It put a piece of art in whatever man’s hand would reach out far enough to seize the opportunity. Unlike the community of Twitter, no common language is required. Only two eyes to open and see … to find common ground with people all over the world. I love that. The world is a better place because of it.”
@inkedfingers: Editor’s Pick
As for Instagram tips, Kiene advises Mashable readers to simply “post whatever catches your eye” and take advantage of the app’s tilt-shift feature.
“If you’re thinking of buying a point-and-shoot camera, my initial thought would be: don’t. Just buy an iPhone,” she adds.
@poeticaesthetic: Photographer’s Choice
Favorite Filter: Earlybird
How she’s using Instagram: “Upon discovering Instagram when it was still in its Beta stages, I thought it would be a great way to keep a photo journal of sorts for myself. Little did I know that it would become a networking tool, a portal to view phenomenal images from around the world, and ultimately a full fledged addiction. I use Instagram as an extension of my photographic obsession. I’m not always able to tote around my full DSLR set up, but I am never without my iPhone. Instagram has enabled me to capture and share images that might not be shared otherwise, at least not with such a broad audience.”
Inspired by: “I am inspired by romance, music, literature, and fellow photographers. I tend to see and think geometrically, so lines and angles play a huge role in how I photograph, but emotion plays an even larger role. If I can look at a subject and feel some connection to it, I know it’s worthy of a photograph.”
@poeticaesthetic: Editor’s Pick
Kristen prefers to keep her iPhone photo editing to a minimum, but she also likes the app Filterstorm.
“This app allows me to desaturate images, while tweaking the contrast and sharpening for a nice, contrasty and slightly noisy black and white finish,” she says.
@babysmurf: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Kristine Herryanto
Favorite Filter: Earlybird
How she’s using Instagram: “I love seeing good pictures. Instagram is such a fun way to do that on mobile phone.”
Inspired by: “I love traveling, and have been lucky enough to have a chance to travel quite often. The landscape, historic buildings, stylish streets and the people I encounter in other parts of the world are the main source of my inspiration. I can’t get enough shots of European cities such as Paris & Vienna.”
@babysmuf: Editor’s Pick
“When I started using Instagram, the social aspect was the thing that kept me going back,” Herryanto says. “The idea of the Popular Page was brilliant. That’s how I discover users who have created awesome work.”
Herryanto also uses Camera+ and Filterstorm to style and edit her iPhone photos. She also uses Cross Process, ShakeItPhoto and Hipstamatic.
@colerise: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Cole Rise, a photographer and pilot.
Favorite Filters: Earlybird and Sutro
How he’s using Instagram: “As a landscape photographer, it’s often I’m on the road exploring, trying to find the next photo. So naturally, Instagram is invaluable when it comes sharing where I am and what I’m shooting. Exploring is fun! So, being able to share that experience in a meaningful way is absolutely fantastic. Plus, between developing rolls of film and post-production, it’s usually weeks before i can share the results of a shoot. Now anyone can take a real-time peak through my viewfinder.
With the square format, it’s also great compositional practice for medium format (6×6). Frame it up first on your phone, and if you like what you see, expose a frame or two of your 120 film. It’s like my phone’s become a sort of director’s finder — those little eyepieces you’d see a director using on set to help him visualize a shot before filming. Instagram’s great because it makes that process social, which, in many ways for me, makes it a more valuable tool than Twitter.
Then, of course, there’s it’s everyday applicability. When I don’t have the heavy equipment on hand, I have my phone. It’s a fast & lightweight way to share those random life situations where you suddenly find yourself thinking ‘other people have to see this!'”
Inspired by: “An envy of birds, a love of space, an affection for cows in vast fields and a good storm hovering over a mountain range. That, and little bits of arbitrary humor.”
@colerise: Editor’s Pick
Rise has several tips for Mashable readers and wanna-be iPhoneographers.
“Shooting through a knit sweater stretched over your phone makes for some awesome light-play, giving your photos a look similar to that of a pinhole camera,” he says.
“You can also put a droplet of water between the lens and the LED flash on the IPhone 4 for some really great in-camera light leaks,” he adds.
In addition to Instagram, Rise also enjoys CrossProcess for editing and Camera+ for effects.
@danrubin: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Dan Rubin. Rubin is the cofounder of Instagoodies, the director of user experience for Sidebar Creative and a photographer.
Favorite Filter: Brannan. Rubin likes the thin border and faded tones.
How he’s using Instagram: “Instagram has made photography part of my daily routine. Looking at the world through a lens changes the way you see things, and having that lens with you at all times means you are always looking, and never have to miss a shot. I don’t always carry my dSLR, Polaroids, or my other myriad film cameras with me, but my iPhone — and Instagram — is always at the ready.
I’m always traveling, and Instagram has made it so easy to share my photos with Twitter and Facebook that I actually do it, allowing friends and family to track my exploits and live vicariously through my travel schedule.
I have many cameras. I am a photographer. But I shoot every day because of Instagram.
Inspired by: “My instinct is to say ‘anything and everything’ but I know for a fact that isn’t true. I love architecture, landscapes, and especially shooting normally crowded locations without anyone in sight (an excuse for practicing extreme patience in most cases).
I also attempt to show normal, everyday scenes and objects in a different light, though I’ll admit there are times when I post something just because I like it.”
@danrubin: Editor’s Pick
Here are some tips from Rubin on how to make the most of our iPhone photos:
- “Shoot with the iPhone’s default camera app, rather than Instagram’s built-in camera. This way you get a high-resolution, un-cropped original that you can post-process in other apps before sending through Instagram. It’s also much faster if you need to shoot something in a rush.
- If you have an iPhone 4, use the built-in camera app’s HDR mode (be sure to go into the iPhone’s Settings under Photos and enable Keep Normal Photo so you can choose the best exposure later), which often produces images that appear slightly sharper, with more shadow and highlight detail but without the over-used (and fake-looking) HDR produced by third party apps.
- When using the iPhone 4’s HDR mode, be sure to set the exposure of the image by tapping on either a light or dark area of the scene (or somewhere in between). This effectively ‘hints’ the HDR setting to give you either more shadow or more highlight detail than the default exposure (and practice makes perfect).
- Don’t shoot from eye-level. Eye level shows us what everyone always sees, even though it’s seen through your eye. Squat down, find a different angle, move further from or closer to your subject than you normally would — whatever takes it one step beyond normal. This will help make even the most everyday subject look anything but.”
Rubin has made it a hobby of his to check out iPhone camera apps. His favorites right now are Filterstorm, CrossProcess, Lo-Mob, iDarkroom, Touch Retouch and Camera+.
@laurenlemon: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Lauren Randolph, a creative portrait photographer living in Los Angeles.
Favorite Filters: Brannan and Hefe
How she’s using Instagram: “As a photographer, I’ve always shot photos of everything I do and the places I go. With the quality of mobile photography being higher than ever, it’s just so handy to use my iPhone as my on-the-go camera, capturing the little moments in life that I want to be able to look back on.
It’s fun being able to share, while following photos of what others are doing as well. It has become my favorite way of keeping up with friends and people I know all over the world — being able to see the things you’d normally miss out on.”
Inspired by: “I’m inspired by location, color, and light — those are usually what initially catch my eye. I love shooting pictures of my friends and family, and the different characters I know. I’m almost obsessed with documentation, and use photography as my own way of capturing my personal history.”
@laurenlemon Editor’s Pick
Randolph keeps her iPhone photo editing via camera effects applications to a minimum.
“Since Instagram, I’ve pretty much narrowed my photo apps down to just a select few,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll make some adjustments using the Camera+ app; and I love PhotoForge because of the real specific editing I can do with my mobile photos — more along the lines of the editing I’ll do with my regular digital photography. Still, I really try and do as little editing with my mobile photos as possible.”
@chrysti: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Christy Hydeck. Hydeck is an artist, photographer and soon-to-be published author; she calls her work “artography.”
Favorite Filters: Earlybird, Inkwell and Toaster
How she’s using Instagram: “I’m a big believer that there is extraordinary beauty in everyday things. Instagram is an amazing outlet for me to share the things that inspire me in the hopes that it inspires someone else too. Additionally, I love the accessibility. Anyone and everyone has the ability to create stunning imagery — I love showing the creative potential the iPhone has.”
Inspired by: “I don’t think there is much that doesn’t inspire me. Color, light, nature, emotion — all play a consistent role in what I see and try to capture.”
@chrysti: Editor’s Pick
Not one to limit her photo editing to a single application, Hydeck says she has pages and pages of folders on her iPhone that are full of camera effects applications. Standouts right now include PicFx, Swankolab, PictureShow, iQuikDoF, qbro, PostalPix, LensFlare and Iris Photo Suite.
“Tomorrow that list will change,” she says. “I go through spurts with which apps I use most often.”
And if you’re in search of some Instagram-related advice, look for the #instadvice hashtag. Hydeck often uses the hashtag to leave tips and tricks on photo-editing and sharing.
@joshjohnson: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Josh Johnson. Johnson, a one-time manager, is now a full-time photographer.
Favorite Filter: X Pro II
How he’s using Instagram: “I’ve seen my feed change from a place to showcase my pictures into a little community within a community.
The basic question is ‘How do you meet new people on Instagram? How do you get your photos noticed?’ It’s a real problem, especially if you’re brand new. This is why I created the nightly forums, the weekly challenge and the #jj community gallery. They’ve all been big hits. The #jj community gallery has over 100,000 submissions and is the 6th most popular hashtag on Instagram.”
Inspired by: “I started out in management and was miserable. The best decision I’ve ever made was to follow my passion and jump into photography as a lifestyle. I believe there are beautiful images scattered through our everyday lives. The secret to finding them is to slow down. Slow down enough so you can really see. It’s exciting that more and more people are being surprised by their creativity. It’s exciting that so many are now walking around with the tools to create and publish art. That’s what our cellphones have become. Amazing.”
@joshjohnson: Editor’s Pick
Budding Instagramers can add more pop their photos by capturing pictures a little underexposed and applying the Lomofi filter, Johnson says.
Johnson also likes qbro and Filterstorm for occasional use, but prefers to keep his photo editing primarily to Instagram filters.
@nirl: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Nir Leshem
Favorite Filter: Gotham. “It brings out the dark side of me,” he says.
How he’s using Instagram: “Everything I see along my day immediately transfers to a squared picture with a title. My main subjects are usually colored sunsets and sunrises which always fascinated me. Clouds, the beach and some angles in the street I find interesting. Usually I try to catch obvious subjects that we pass everyday and not notice.”
Inspired by: I love scenery, the sea, sunsets, sunrises, nature in general and colors at 5 a.m. when everyone is asleep.”
@nirl: Editor’s Pick
Leshem really enjoys Instagram for its social and sharing features. He especially loves “the interactiveness with people I’ve never met from practically everywhere.”
His other favorite iPhone camera apps are Pro HDR, Camera+, Filterstorm and Iris Photo Suite.
@jenniferjeffrey: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Jennifer Jeffrey, a for-hire copywriter adept at brand messaging and content strategy.
Favorite Filtesr: Earlybird and Brannan
How she’s using Instagram: “I use Instagram to share a glimpse of my life in San Francisco with others — and to peer into the lives of people around the globe.
I only share iPhone photos on IG, and it’s important to me to stay within the mobile boundary to challenge myself and grow. The IG community is quite eclectic and diverse, and I adore seeing how many different ways people use the app. From @cryingjune who makes incredibly minimalistic photos to @tonydetroit who creates ultra-processed gritty shots of urban Detroit, I am continually inspired by what I find there.”
Inspired by: “A sense of wanting to be in the moment, to capture what I’m seeing around me — from graffiti to street signs — and share it.
@jenniferjeffrey: Editor’s Pick
Jeffrey isn’t a big user of third-party Instagram applications. “I did spend several hours with a friend last weekend printing IG photos to film, then transferring the photos on to different mediums — wood blocks, metal plates. It was really wonderful to see them in a non-digital context,” she says.
She’s also keen on instagram-only photo editing. “I’ve tried so many [camera apps] — you should see how many I have on my phone — but I don’t like fussing with my photos too much, so I’ve stopped using most of them. The only one I use regularly is Camera+ to brighten or add clarity,” Jeffrey says.
@skwii: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Jussi Ulkuniemi, iPhoneographer and photographer/artist based in Finland.
Favorite Filter: Apollo
How he’s using Instagram: “I started using Instagram mainly as a photofeed for iPhoneography and editing, but not long after I really got hooked. I also started using it as a social network, chatting with … worldwide friends. I’ve already met some of them in real life and still can’t believe what friendships have formed out of it!”
Inspired by: “My photos vary a lot, so it’s kinda hard to say what inspires them. A lot comes from the people I follow in Instagram. Some come from crazy artists like Takashi Murakami and many other modern artists. I love gaming and Japanese manga, so those clearly have had an effect on my art.”
@skwii: Editor’s Pick
Ulkuniemi has several tips for getting the most out of Instagram. First, he says, choose specific filters for intended effects.
“For Earlybird, for example,” he says, “add some contrast and shoot the saturation skyhigh. Your picture may look a bit horrible before adding the filter, but just wait and see, you’ll love the strong pastel tones of the finished product.”
“Also, for photographing with an iPhone, having almost no control of things like aperture, shutter speed or anything has its good and bad sides,” Ulkuniemi adds. “The really good thing is that you can concentrate absolutely on the composition and angle. iPhones are also fit for the most extreme kinds of angles: try sticking your camera lens below grass or into a crack in the wall.”
Lastly, he says, shoot with an idea before you snap. “You can spend a whole day taking crappy, shaky shots, or you could think, visualize and make art that you and others love.”
@bbyrd: Photographer’s Choice
Who: Brandy Byrd. Graphic designer at CMT and MTV networks.
Favorite Filter: Earlybird (it’s the only filter she uses)
How she’s using Instagram: “I think of Instagram as a daily journal, but with photos. I shoot in real time, so looking back, my photos remind me of things I did that day, or things that caught my eye. I also see it as a creative outlet. I’m a graphic designer, so it gets me away from my computer and makes me see things differently.”
Inspired by: “All kinds of things. Music, color, space …”
@bbyrd: Editor’s Pick
Byrd is in the Instagram-and-only-Instagram camp.
“I only use Instagram,” she says. “All of my photos are shot with my iPhone 4, with Instagram’s Earlybird filter. No other editing.”