Millennials Paving The Way: An Interview With Instagram's Top Visual Storytellers

This is the eleventh post in my series, Millennials Paving The Way, highlighting today’s brightest Millennials who are empowering future generations to become change makers.

The following interviews were conducted by phone and by email.

Social media has provided new ground for storytellers, and the king of visual storytelling is Instagram. With 500 million monthly active users, 300 million daily active users, and 95 million daily uploads, Instagrammers have proven their love for rich, nuanced ways that words and pictures work together.

I spoke with Simone Bramante, Laura Izumikawa, Leyla Kazim of the Cutlery Chronicles, Andrew Knapp, Rich McCor of Paperboyo and Nataly & Murad Osmann of Follow Me To about the creative ways they use Instagram as a powerful storytelling tool to take their followers on a captivating visual journey worth taking.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Leyla Kazim: What inspires me to post is what inspires me in life — broadening my horizons with travel, appreciating the beauty of this planet and its people, experiencing things I haven’t done before, and exploring cuisines from around the world. I’m on one big journey myself, saying yes to as many opportunities as I can, and seeing where they take me. A big part of travel for me is quashing pre-conceptions, and fully immersing myself in new cultures. It’s sharing these experiences, and hoping they might ignite a sense of adventure in others, that inspires me to post on Instagram.

Andrew Knapp: I've always gotten a thrill out of making connections. I enjoy having something in common with a stranger and striking up a conversation because of it. It's a constant game of show and tell where everyone's the audience and everyone can also show or tell. And sharing things is how we learn and these things are often the catalysts that inspire change in our lives. Instagram is a super streamlined version of all that packaged up nearly. 

Rich McCor: When I first encountered Instagram what struck me was the general quality of the content — many photographers and artists were using Instagram as their gallery. So I approached the platform with the ambition to post strong content, and through doing so I gradually began to find my style and evolve my photography until I came up with the transforming landscapes concept. Unlike the other social platforms I was using at the time, I wanted to make content on Instagram that wouldn’t just be seen by my friends so I was always pushing myself to improve my photography and my ideas. Something I’ve noticed in general about Instagram is that a lot of people approach it with good vibes — whilst people rant on Twitter and Facebook about the traffic, their nightmare neighbour. People post their beautiful sunset photos on Instagram, so somehow Instagram has garnered a positivity that’s definitely been beneficial to the platform. 

Nataly & Murad Osmann: #FollowMeTo was always about love, travel and inspiration. We just want to share the beauty around us with everyone and prove that this world does not have any borders. Our latest video from our trip to Kamchatka reflects the main concept of #FollowMeTo in the most complete way.

People connect with people, not brands. What are some best practices you use to share your personal side in order to connect with your audience without over-sharing?

Simone Bramante: The perfect recipe to not over-sharing is to mix the stories with aesthetic, defining a style and following an editorial plan.

Laura Izumikawa: When Instagram introduced Stories, that sort of changed everything. I love using the Stories feature to share more about who I am, what Joey and I are up to and what inspires me on the daily whether it’s humor, people or things that I notice around me. I try to share thoughts that will not only be authentic to who I am as a person but also strive to write in a way that inspires, encourages and compels people to be the good. I find it also when I write genuinely what’s on my heart, people connect more with me which then enables them to share their own personal stories as well and I absolutely love that.

Leyla Kazim: The introduction of Instagram Stories has been pivotal in revealing the behind-the-scenes of a curated Instagram feed. Life isn’t always as glossy as it may seem when scrolling through someone’s images, and the stories feature is a great way to reveal the real underbelly of what goes on in between those shots. And also, the work that goes into them. A lot of it is mundane, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s real life.

Andrew Knapp: I've really been reading a lot about vulnerability, about being open and honest. Not only does it show other people how much we have in common, it's also incredibly therapeutic. There's an amazing TED Talk by Brené Brown about vulnerability that's worth checking out. People really engage with that, and it's engagement that shows me that what I'm doing has any impact at all. Sometimes it feels overly positive, but I think that's okay. 

Nataly & Murad Osmann: We are focused more on quality, not the quantity of posts. Every photo or video has a clear message, and we always read all the comments to get feedback from our followers. It's important to stay honest with people, share your true emotions, without boasting.

Your use of consecutive updates to tell a story, from beginning to end is genius — the play-by-play creates anticipation which really makes your stories captivating. Briefly walk us through the components of a great post.

Simone Bramante: Our lives are timelines and thanks to them it’s easier to tell a story with elements such as authenticity, a strong message and emotion.

Laura Izumikawa: First of all, find your story. What is it that you want to share with this one image or video clip? After you find your story, take out everything that doesn’t need to be included. Coco Chanel said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” I think that’s such a great direction in how to style anything creative. A great photo will have enough emotions and storytelling that it won’t need an elaborate caption. I’m reminded of the story about the $10 bet Ernest Hemingway made with some writers over lunch, betting that he could write a novel in just six words. He found a napkin and wrote, “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” I feel it’s the same way with photographs. My favorite photos and motion film are simply stories that were captured in a moment in time without needing interpretation or elaboration. I love that Instagram was designed to make you post just one photo at a time, forcing you to be more creative with storytelling, and with minimal output. Once you have decided on a story to tell, tell it authentically but make it easy to digest. What helps me to accomplish this is finding the light. I like to view light as being a physical tangible item. Something to literally “capture” in my photos and something that can tell your story in dramatic ways. Composition and styling are very important as well but it ultimately needs to be authentic and not copied or forced. There’s really no recipe to a great post. As long as there’s a consistent genuine story to tell.

Andrew Knapp: I think the stories I choose to share become very tailored. I think the vulnerability comes into play again, but to a point. We choose which stories we want to share, and I'm most interested in sharing the ones that will have a positive impact. There's a lot of negativity out there and I feel that a lot of social media is a bit of a balance for that. 

According to Instagram, users share an average of 95 million images and videos daily, and its usage is particularly strong among Millennials. What are some of your favorite Instagram accounts?

Laura Izumikawa: I absolutely love going through posts by Cj Hendry and Ashley Oubré. They are both hand-drawn artists whose work focuses on hyperrealism. It’s so amazing what they can do with just pencil, pen and paper. I also love following Lizzy Gadd and her stunning self-portraits in Canada. They’re ridiculously breathtaking.

Andrew Knapp: I'm definitely always looking forward to a few. Right now I'm pretty into Noah Kalina. He's a photographer behind Cabin Porn and some other great projects and series. His posts are always as mysterious as they are provoking. Also I watched an interview where Larry King and Eric Andre exchanged personalities, and Larry revealed that Eric Andre's show was engaging because it's unpredictable, which makes a lot of sense if you’re into his show. As much as you can engage someone by showing them what they're expecting to see, there's a magical overlap of predictable (maybe in style or format) and unpredictable (maybe a surprising or clever element) that I think pulls someone in and grabs their undivided attention.

What exciting new projects are you working on?

Laura Izumikawa: I’m so excited to be working on a book release of my photos of Joey as well as a clothing line for babies and kids.

Rich McCor: I left my job at the BBC two months ago to make Instagram a full-time career. I’ve been traveling ever since so things are busy. I’m keen to find time to write a blog to share some travel tips but also use it as a platform to share some of the hundreds of ‘normal’ photos I take alongside the cutout photos. I can’t ignore how popular video content is too, so perhaps finding a way to share my travels via video would be something to consider.

Nataly & Murad Osmann: We launched the #FollowMeTo YouTube channel and website to share more details and stories with our followers. We’re keeping busy with video travel guides — the first series covers our trip to Kamchatka, Russia and the next two will cover Moscow and St. Petersburg. We are also developing our jewelry line of rings with no-conflict diamonds called Follow Your Love. Nataly has recently launched her own YouTube channel where she talks about fashion and beauty.

Describe your Instagram page in 5 words.

Simone Bramante: Colors, stories, emotions, places, and people

Laura Izumikawa: Sleeping baby for the win. Just kidding. Probably: Whimsical, playful, punny, heartfelt, and grateful

Leyla Kazim: I hope, the same things that attract me to other feeds: honest, inspiring, friendly, spirited. And perhaps tasty, when it comes to those food snaps.

Andrew Knapp: Dog, adventure, trial, error, and positivity

Rich McCor: Travel photography with a twist.

Nataly & Murad Osmann: Inspiration, love, travel, kindness, and international

Author’s Note: This series will cover the online habits of Millennials, their spending power, impact on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, role in achieving gender parity and much more.

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