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14 Influencers Talk About Their Most Popular Image on Instagram

© Christopher Anderson

Christopher Anderson
“To be honest, this IG thing confuses me. Some images I am convinced will be crowd pleasers don’t generate interest, and then some that I almost don’t post because I think they are not good enough, will get loads of likes.

I picked this image because it is an image that I do like, and it did seem to resonate with people. I guess it is easy enough to read while still having a certain mystery. There seems to be a story that holds the viewer’s attention, but I guess there is enough pretty color to get attention in the first place. I am always encouraged when an image that I think is a strong image resonates. It gives me hope that it’s not just about loud color”.

© Alice Gao

Alice Gao 
“This is an image of a friend’s angora bunny. Her name is Cleo and she has quite the fan base herself. Our generation seems to love animals on social media, and videos often go viral when they feature animals doing funny/silly things. Cleo’s wearing a pair of human glasses in this, so it makes the image particularly humorous. This is by no means my best photo or even necessarily a good photo in terms of composition or lighting, but the subject was enough to engage the audience. I think many of the comments are just people tagging their friends as a way of sharing the image with them. It also helps that Cleo is rather unique looking and everyone wants to know what kind of bunny she is!”

© Ed Kashi

Ed Kashi
“With over 8800 likes, this image is my most popular on Instagram. I am frankly surprised that this would be my most popular image, at least based on likes. This image is not emblematic of what I’m known for, but it is exactly what Instagram followers seem to like most. What I call nature porn or landscapes, beautiful images that are easy to digest quickly, these tend to be the most popular ones on this platform. As a serious photojournalist and documentarian, I’ve been heartened to see over the past couple of years how people focused and tougher images are gaining popularity, they still don’t compete with images like this one, which was made from an airplane as I was taking off from San Salvador airport in El Salvador. I appreciate the magic of this image, especially the flare that occurred from either shooting through the window or because of some other effect from the lake water.”

© Pei Ketron

Pei Ketron
“When this photo was taken nearly 3 years ago, I was shooting exclusively iPhone for my Instagram feed and people knew it. What made the image stand out, especially at the time, was that taking your phone into the water just to take photos was still a pretty new concept. The image also played into a popular Instagram trend at the time, #fromwhereistand — even though I never actually used the hashtag to proliferate it — and took it to an entirely new level. The presence of the legs help to personalize the image a bit, and make it easier for viewers to imagine themselves underwater in an exotic location. Additionally, some nice legs and painted toenails in the shot also appealed to a certain segment of the population, although that was obviously never my intention. With this single shot, I appealed to the tech geeks, the trend-followers, the adventure-seekers, the vacation-enviers, and the foot fetishists.”

© Randy Olson

Randy Olson
“I think this image was popular on Instagram because it looks other-worldly and takes you back to a much earlier time when our country had braided streams and wildlife everywhere. The truth is the Crane Trust in Nebraska works like crazy to keep this small piece of the Platte river in perfect condition for the millions of Sandhill cranes that come through there every year. These cranes are running out of habitat everywhere else in a migration that goes from Siberia to South America… this is the one area they can all be together. So it was already an unusual situation with all these large birds… But then the storm moved in and made it magical. I slept in a blind night after night and this photograph happened on the last night of the last trip on a water story about the Ogallala aquifer for National Geographic magazine”.

© Jessica Zollman

Jay Zombie (Jessica Zollman)
“It’s not often that one of my personal favorite photographs is also one that’s loved by my Instagram community, but this photograph was my most liked of 2016 and I’m very happy that an image I believe best represents my style was received so well. I think the reason this image became so popular is because it so accurately captures the essence of the city of Los Angeles in one image; a broken down classic car parked underneath a blooming bougainvillea bush with that bright LA sun beating down on the entire scene. In addition, it’s almost as if this photograph wasn’t captured in 2016 but that I somehow traveled back to the 1970’s to document LA car culture. It’s possible that that nostalgic style also lended a hand to higher engagement.”

rainbro connection © Tyson Wheatley

Tyson Wheatley
“I think people who follow me on Instagram know I like to photograph cool architecture. This is a location in Tokyo I had been scouting for some time. I had a very specific frame in mind, at night with a solitary figure walking to add scale. The simplest things often get the most likes on Instagram. Anyone could have taken this photo – it’s not hard to reproduce, and perhaps that’s part of it’s appeal. Sort of like an aspirational thing. If you read the comments you’ll notice a lot of people are asking exactly where this building is. So really I think the location is the star. I mean, c’mon – rainbow-colored doors – that’s just cool”.

© Malin Fezehai

Malin Fezehai
“This image looks a bit surreal, and there are many things going on at the same time. The girl swinging in mid-air while the boys trying to climb the swing set. I really like the boy in the middle who looking at something and zoning out from everything happening around him. Then you also have a storm coming in the background so the clouds are very dramatic, and I think it’s just a nice playground moment that people reacted to”.

Mayela Benavides bathes her daughter Grace (Graciela Elizalde Benavides) in their home in Monterrey, Mexico, on August 12, 2015, © Adriana Zehbrauskas

Adriana Zehbrauskas
“The photo of Grace, an 8 year old girl being bathed by her mother is my most liked photo on Instagram, with 1983 likes – it is also one of the handful few on my feed which was not shot on my iPhone. I posted it to draw attention to the publication of her story on the Washington Post that day. Graciela suffers from Lennox Gastaut Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. After trying everything they could, the family is now battling in justice to be able to give her Cannabadiol (or CBD), a marijuana based medicine.

I think it might have been a combination of composition (full frame, head upside down, the caring hand), the girl’s beauty and fragility and of course, her story (I have a feeling people will only read a large caption if they are first drawn to the image). It is basically a raw, straight out of the camera image, with no filters, no borders, no frills.

It is always a mystery to me what makes one particular image “popular” and makes people engage. In this case, I was certainly hoping for it and was, of course, very pleased. Grace’s story draw an incredible amount of attention, effectively changing her life: her family was able to import the medicine, which improved her health drastically”.

42nd Street © Chris Ozer

Chris Ozer
“This images hits on a lot of facets that make for a popular Instagram photo: symmetry, dramatic lighting, a well-liked location, and a grand sense of scale (tiny people in large spaces). Couple these elements with what was a highly topical post when the image was published (during the Women’s March, while people were highly engaged in social media) and you get an Instagram photo that has some legs in terms of reaching a wider audience than the norm (for me, at least)”.

Shot on assignment for National Geographic Magazine and published in my book minus 2/3: The Invisible Flash. For centuries, the Crimean peninsula was a popular destination for relaxation and play, now increasingly for the younger generation. The famous foam parties at Sudak’s water park attracted thousands of excited tourists each year. Will tourism ever be able to make a comeback following the Russian annexation? © Gerd Ludwig Shot

Gerd Ludwig
“I suppose I could be considered an Instagram newbie since I only started using this platform two years ago and have never been one to follow the latest trends like keeping an eye on the changing algorithms on IG.

My audience seems to like my images from recent National Geographic assignments as well as my earlier work from pre-IG days. It’s been my experience that socially relevant photographs are not easily accepted by the IG audience. The same applies for visually complex images, as they are better suited as prints on the wall than being viewed on small phone screens.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that the photograph taken at an outdoor foam party received the most likes, even the most comments – edging out landscapes, extreme weather images and my coverage from Chernobyl”.

© Sarah Palmer

Sarah Palmer
“This is one of my favorite of my own Instagrams 🙂 At the time, Instagram’s Weekend Hashtag Project (a weekly call for images of a specific theme) was calling for still life images. I really love using things I’ve collected as props in my photos, and thought it would be fun to make a still life version of the Instagram logo at the time. I used two old LIFE nature library books, a plate filled with black ink, sticks of colored chalk pastels, thrifted letterboard pieces, and an actual camera lens to construct the logo, but I also panned out a little bit to show the scraps of the creation of the finished product to give viewers a little peak into how it was made.

I can only guess, but I think my audience is probably attracted to images that show alternate use of materials and a hint of the process used to craft an image. As an added bonus, I shot the whole scene on this extremely old, paint chipped table I had in my house, which I used as a backdrop so often and had gotten so popular that it actually had it’s own hashtag – #backyardcottagetable. People really loved that table! In addition to using the magic table, the image ended up being featured as a weekly pick for the Weekend Hashtag Project, and as such was broadcast on the official @instagram account as well as their blogs and other social media, so it got a huge boost in audience thanks to that, and other subsequent times it was shared by others following that exposure”.

© David Guttenfelder

David Guttenfelder
“On assignment for National Geographic in Yellowstone National Park, I left my Montana motel while it was still dark outside. I was driving towards a riverside pasture outside of town with a plan to standing in a field of grazing bison while the sun rose. But when the morning light came, ominous and richly red, I was trapped at a red traffic light behind rows of work commuters in Bozeman. That morning, for Nat Geo, I’d failed.

But the smartphone photo I shot, and posted to my Instagram account while still sitting at the intersection in my truck, remains my most “liked” photo (with more than 30,000). You could say that the picture is typical of my most immediately popular photos on social media. Landscapes. Autumn leaves and snowy mountain-scapes. Dramatic skies. A dose of mood or “what the?” mystery. That’s what people “like”.

I like this photo too, but probably not for the same reasons. In the caption, I titled this picture “Work Commute”, one of a series I started while on assignment in the national parks. I did this because I wanted to share my own daily life and show how fortunate I felt each day to drive through the breathtaking protected landscapes of Yellowstone or the Everglades. In this way, I thought I could take followers into the field with me, photograph the back story or “making of” a Nat Geo story, and it would help convince people to care about the stories and issues I was covering.

On Instagram, a heart-shaped like is only one way to measure the impact of the photos we share. Another, and more important measure for me, are the comments. This is the unique, dynamic engagement that Instagram allows. Photographers can communicate directly with people, respond to questions, and host or moderate lively honest debate. The photographs which spark those kinds of conversations are not usually the most “liked”, nor the prettiest of pictures. But they are usually the ones I’m most proud of because of their impact. The three photographs to received the most comments on my account are ones which depict real, controversial, and even troubling scenes: A dead invasive Burmese python in Florida. Pyongyang students inside the otherwise isolated country of North Korea. Hundreds of Filipino victims of the devastating typhoon Haiyan”.

“Always creeping around corners…” © Leila Peterson

Leila Peterson
“I’m not exactly sure what drew such a huge reaction to this photo, but it definitely received a lot of attention in a short period of time. At the time this was taken, I was trying to photograph a bit of light that was making its way through the doorway. My dog casually walked in and seen me standing there with my camera. She looked a bit startled, which is when I clicked the shutter. I think what most intrigues me about this scene is the starkness of the black against white, the light against her face, and a sense of confusion and curiosity she shows. What is she thinking? Is the image black and white? It feels like a real moment. The dog looks vulnerable and that feeling is something I think we can all relate to. Perhaps that’s why it did so well”.

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