Instafamous: Murad Osmann and his #followmeto series

By Jill Roberts

Content Marketing Specialist, iStock

For some, mobile photography is a democratizing force, while others call it a threat to the craft. For Moscow’s Murad Osmann, it’s simply a great outlet for creative expression.

Osmann was on holiday in Barcelona with his girlfriend Nataly Zakharova in October 2011, when he snapped the first of his now-famous #followmeto photo series using Instagram. In the photo, an exasperated Zakharova grasps shutterbug Osman’s hand as he takes the picture – effectively turning the photographer into a subject and pulling him into the scene. Liking the happy accident that resulted, the couple began a series, with each image featuring a stylish Zakharova leading Osmann towards an exotic destination.

Two years and half a million followers later, Osmann’s Instagram feed features dozens of stunning, artfully crafted images captured from Hong Kong to Times Square.

The appeal of mobile photography

Like many other creatives who choose photography as an artistic outlet in their spare time – a whopping 51% of them, according to our recent study – Osmann enjoys the fun and immediacy of mobile photography.

“It makes every person with a phone a photographer,” says Osmann. “It’s like a button, a button everyone dreamed about called a masterpiece button, you press it and you have a masterpiece.”

What goes in to a #followmeto photo?

Murad Osmann and Nataly Zakharova

But it’s not really that simple. Despite the informal, spontaneous nature of mobile photography, intrepid Instagrammers like Osmann aren’t pointing-and-shooting random masterpieces. Considerable planning, technical expertise and artistic vision goes into the creation of each image, just like any other photo shoot.

After taking and editing the first dozen or so #followmeto photos on his iPhone, Osmann started shooting with his Canon 5D to create larger prints and have more options creatively.

“The iPhone doesn’t really have super-wide sensors inside, and sometimes I need a really wide angle so that’s why I began using a professional camera and light panel as well.” Now, Osmann takes several DSLR cameras with him on each shoot.

Osmann and Zakharova carefully select locations, scouting them in advance. Zakharova plans the wardrobe and props almost exclusively, which occasionally results in some heavy lifting by Osmann.

“It’s me who is carrying all the stuff!” he says with a laugh. “Sometimes the clothes she’s planning are so huge and heavy, and I take three or four cameras sometimes with me… if we’re going on vacation suddenly it’s not a vacation anymore.”

After setting up, shooting 10 or so different angles of the scene, and chatting with increasing numbers of passersby who recognize them, it’s time to edit.

“It’s not a two-minute process,” says Osmann, who uses Photoshop to edit his photos. “It takes quite a lot of time to retouch our photos. Sometimes it takes three or four hours, sometimes more, and sometimes I still don’t like the result and start all over again.”

Working with Michael Kors on #watchhungerstop

While Osmann and Zakharaova may be getting used to recognition on the street, fame reached them in a different way when Michael Kors invited Osmann to collaborate on the designer’s #watchhungerstop initiative. The campaign is a partnership between Michael Kors and the United Nations Food Programme to help fight global hunger.

“They contacted us about our trip to New York and asked if we could meet and discuss some cooperation together. When we met they offered us the watch, explained what the program was, and we decided it was quite cool. If we had the opportunity to help, why not?”

Osmann and Zakharova helped publicize the program by featuring one of Kors’ Series 100 watches prominently in a series of #followmeto photos taken in Barcelona, London, Madrid, Istanbul and New York City.


The effects of social media stardom (or not)

“It makes every person with a phone a photographer,” says Osmann. “It’s like a button, a button everyone dreamed about called a masterpiece button, you press it and you have a masterpiece.”

Despite having trained as a photographer and having obvious talent, Osmann doesn’t consider himself a photographer. He also doesn’t feel his success on Instagram has much bearing on his professional life.

“I’m not working as a commercial photographer,” says Osmann. In fact, he is an executive producer at Hype Production in Moscow – a video production company he founded with a friend after studying civil engineering in London.

“If I was, it would benefit me – the publicity. Sometimes it breaks the barriers down between people, they know about the [#followmeto] series, and it’s easier to talk to them. But it doesn’t help winning the video bids,” he laughs.

The value of professional photography

On the subject of whether the proliferation of mobile photographers is a threat to the pros, Osmann thinks not, even if some clients are happy with the casual style.

“Some of them just want Instagram look-a-like photos and that’s it, they’re happy. But I think the high-level photographers are still safe, so nothing’s changed. You have to be a really good artist to be a successful photographer.”

About Jill Roberts

Jill Roberts is a freelance writer and award-winning video producer with a minor Instagram obsession. After spending several years working in film and television and roughly a decade more as an in-house creative, she founded her own communications venture at jillroberts.ca, supporting advertising agencies, communications departments and small businesses.


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