Thanks to the phenomenon of Instagram, photographers now transform our everyday lives into something more. By bringing magic to the mundane, Instagrammers have come to the forefront as influencers, leading lives that we lust for as we pore over their images in endless scrolling and liking. It is a new age for photojournalism. Here, meet five Bay Area photographers who made it thanks to Instagram.
Sothear Noun | @shotbysalt
Sothear Noun, 28, begins his days much like the rest of us: with a cup of coffee, emails, and an Instagram post—his include a quote of the day. He commutes from Oakland to San Francisco to manage sales and customer support for the photo technology company Lumoid. Come close of business, though, Noun heads off with his camera and his girlfriend, @cometwest, in search of the best light. He shoots with a raw edge, capturing urban pockets and cityscapes, outdoor scenes, and, more recently, product collaborations.
Thrilled at the idea of being able to share his perspective and connecting with people all over the world through his photos, Instagram took his photography from a “hobby to a passion." Things started taking off when he became one of the first members of The Creator Class, giving him credibility amongst big Instagrammers. Since then, he's worked with clients such as SanDisk, Suntory Whiskey, PayPal, Everlane, Honda, Design Rehab, Moment Lens and The Outbound Collective, just to name a few. "Being a professional photographer isn't about glamour, it's about the work and dedication. It really shows in the images you decide to share and produce."
“Photography has the ability to change the world, but don't let it change who you are as person," says Noun. "Enjoy the moment, capture the moment, and live the moment."
Melissa de Mata | @melissademata
Melissa de Mata, a 28-year-old from Daly City, has an air of precision in her work. Her portfolio is diverse, ranging from fashion-y portraits to landscapes, products to food to architecture. Craving the creativity and freedom of shooting for herself, she cut back her work hours in editorial and social media and began to shoot—first herself, then her friends, then local bloggers and family. Finally, through referrals, she began to get paid.
She was lucky to have found immediate freelance work with "amazing clients"—currently she is working with Mission de Flores, The Violet Fog, and The Style Line. "they have made me realize the strength of my talents and the fact that I can turn this into a business," she says.
Her advice for wannabes? “Slowly, but surely, you need to learn what your time is worth. There will always be people who don't really know how much work goes into the process and that they're paying not only for your time, but for your experience, vision, and professionalism. Don't undervalue yourself. If a potential client doesn't see your worth, move on to the next one."
Marvin King | @mightykills
Oaklander Marvin King, 27, consistently finds an feeling of ethereal mysticism in his lens. Some shots are gritty, but all look as if you were flipping through the pages of some kind of street style storybook. It's this swagger that bolsters his brand, Mighty Killers—it began as a clothing brand, but has morphed into a creative agency of sorts. King curates designers and photographers for projects and campaigns with other brands that share the journey of being creative.
Back in 2011, King posted the obvious—images of food, his girlfriend (now wife), and his son. It wasn't until he started sharing some of his serious work that his engagement levels shot up and his profile became his portfolio. Currently, he is working with Tastemade, Range Rover, Jaguar, Moment, and SanDisk.
Though his IG feed is chockfull of stunning landscapes, he says his day-to-day is actually more domestic—more school runs than endless hikes. "However, I do find time every week or every other week to go out or travel to explore and shoot."
“People need to understand that they can't force it," he says. "The reality of it all is that you just have to stay true to your art and passion and continue to push through whatever life has to offer. People dream that they can just drop everything they're doing, hop onto IG, and make a living from photography, but it's hard f*cking work."
June Kim | @junebugkim
There is one word that comes to mind when looking at June Kim's photos: pretty. But this doesn't really do her work justice. Kim's ability to capture simplicity within intricately composed depth deserves a more consequential descriptor. Her muted palettes, often with lurid pops of color or texture, are sophisticated. She finds angles, balance, weight, and luminosity.
The 25-year-old Oakland-based photographer transitioned into freelance just this fall, leaving behind an early career in marketing and advertising to instead shoot for clients that include Everlane, Teva, Joshu+Vela, Moment, Offscreen Magazine, Photojojo, and Lambert Floral Studio.
While Kim admits she has no idea what to expect from working for herself, she's sticking to her regimen (morning exercise, acai bowls, photo editing, and pitching new clients) as the future unfolds.
“The most real thing to me right now is that photography is everywhere," she says. "With Instagram's popularity and visual literacy growing among all ages, everyone can take great photos if they want."
Dan Tom | @dantom
Known for his lavish images that make our wanderlusting mouths water, Dan Tom, 36, trains his lens on endlessly winding roads, redwoods reaching toward the clouds, hushed seascapes, rolling hills, and unbroken skies filled with sunsets and stars. Though the San Franciscan is still not a full-time photographer, he recently quit his job as a web designer to push toward that ultimate goal. His current clients include including Mr. Porter, Destination British Columbia, and The Famous Grouse. “I'm trying to find my niche, see what kind of work I can get, and go from there," he says.
“With photography, its what you already see, how you compose it, and what you want to portray," says Tom. "What's important is just how beautiful the world is. We are so small in comparison and having that perspective, I feel, is important."
This post originally appeared in October 2015