Northeastern University journalism student Joseph Thomas, 20, probably has more Instagram followers (@_joe_thomas_) than you and all your friends combined. The sophomore is originally from picturesque Park City, Utah, which might explain his knack for capturing sweeping cityscapes and diamonds in the rough for his more than 24,000 followers.
Q. Do you have any formal training in photography?
A. I don’t have much background, besides Instagram. I really got started seriously last fall, primarily using pictures from when I was traveling this past summer. I’ve never taken photography classes outside of that.
I learned mostly just by looking at other people’s work in the area. I’ve been really inspired by Brian McWilliams (@brianmcw) and Ashley McKinney (@ashleymcky). In the beginning, I spent a lot of time mirroring what they were taking, but I started making it more of my own style over the past few months. I try to improve by looking at how people are receiving each picture, like if one photo gets more likes, I’ll try to think what made it better and move toward perfecting future ones. I want photos that engage followers.
Q. You’ve managed to gain quite the following. How do you stand out?
A. With Instagram being such a fast-paced platform, if your photo doesn’t immediately draw someone in, it’ll be lost. There are so many types of popular accounts that vary in styles of photography, but in Boston, most of them have a similar editing style and composition. You’ll see lots of street photos and architecture photos that are edited to look sort of washed out, like they were shot on film.
Q. What’s your own process like?
A. When I take photos on my iPhone, I mainly just use three apps, Snapseed, VSCO, and Filterstorm. I try to do the least amount of editing I can, just some sharpening and color contrast. If I’m using my DSLR, I’ll edit on Lightroom. Right now it’s about 50-50 DSLR and iPhone.
Q. How did you end up with such a massive following?
A. I was a suggested user by Instagram about three weeks ago, and went from 3,000 followers to more than 24,000. Before that, to gain the first 3,000, it was mostly just connecting with people in Boston and liking other photographers in the area. Then communities like @IGersBoston and @IGBoston also help you connect with people who are looking for pictures of the area.
Midway through the day yesterday we decided it would be cool to be at Horseshoe Bend during sunset. To make it there in time we raced across a couple hundred miles of barren Utah and Arizona desert. Unfortunately we missed most of it but we sprinted the last mile and were able to catch the last five minutes of light for the day.
Q. Are you more mindful about what you share now?
A. I’m a lot more picky with what I upload because I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But while the overall amount of engagement increased since this summer, the likes have only gone up by a couple hundred.
Q. That’s a lot. When I get 20 likes, I’m excited.
A. True, but a lot of the followers are new accounts or spam accounts. They’re not always engaged.
Q. Where are some of your favorite places to shoot in the city?
A. Back Bay and Beacon Hill feel so authentic to Boston. I’ve been revisiting the same streets, and trying to figure out what makes it appealing to me. I feel one of the most important things is to photograph what you’re passionate about, so I’ve been figuring out how to express why I love these areas.