When brands and influencers talk about building a community on Instagram, they usually mean through online engagement by regularly posting content, sharing stories, and commenting on and responding to posts. When I first joined Instagram three years ago, my objective was and continues to be a little different. Throughout the past three years, I’ve taken the online offline and started building a community by meeting strangers around the world who share with me the same ideas and sense of exploration.
“When someone likes your work and you like theirs, you have already established an unspoken connection.”
What’s nice about Instagram is you can easily find people who share the same interest, often evidenced by what they post on their feeds. When someone likes your work and you like theirs, you have already established an unspoken connection. I’ve learned that people who have like-minded interests can really bond despite coming from diverse backgrounds. For instance, I’ve always loved Japan, and so I’ve become friends with many photographers and models on Instagram who live there. Having this online network was particularly helpful when the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective recently traveled to Japan. During our trip, we actually met with these local models and photographers to shoot while we were visiting different parts of Tokyo.
One of the places where I found this community to be a life saver was at an interactive digital art exhibit called Team Labs Planet. It was a great place for photographing a model, but the night before we were supposed to go we still didn’t have one secured. I met with my friend and model from Instagram Georgia to ask her if she could model for us. Unfortunately she wasn’t available, but she suggested a friend who would be good and with only a few hours notice her friend agreed to come. With 10 Sony shooters photographing her, we had a successful shoot and got great content.
Later into our Japan adventure we met up with other models and local photographers to shoot the cherry blossoms along Shinjuku Gyoen, the streets of Shinjuku, the old Tokyo vibes at Asakusa, the bustling shops at Harajuku, the amazing mirror escalator at Omotesando and outside Tokyo Station. My local photographer friends and models were able to show us the hidden gems that your typical tourists wouldn’t find. And while there were some language barriers between us and the models, some knew English and provided complimentary translation support.
After the trip with Sony I decided to stay a week longer and explore other parts of Japan, including visiting Kyoto again. When I went back I met up with my friend Mitsuru who was able to provide us with tips on when to shoot at popular places before the people flood in, like going to Arashiyama before sunrise since the crowd grows at 7am (in part due to its overwhelming popularity on social media in recent years). He also took us to shoot geishas at night in locations outside of the popular, but touristy, Hanamachi Street.
The best part: All the photographers we met were Sony shooters too. Building a community is another point on Sony’s impressive resume. We find excitement in the fact that we're Sony shooters – that's what #BeAlpha means. I've also been able to meet online friends from all parts of the country in person because of the #BeAlpha events.
The photography network, powered by social media, is a very powerful ecosystem. It has allowed me to meet like-minded and talented individuals who have shared their photography journey with me. I also believe that it has accelerated the growth of a new generation of photographers. People can now easily pick up a camera and meet up with the people whose work they admire. Thinking of these meet-ups as your own mini workshops will give you the opportunity to learn from others or share what you know. At the same time you're making friends across the globe, so when you travel you have a network of friends all bonded by this common love.
I would like to thank my friends (old and new) for coming out to shoot with me: