Instagram tips: an Interview with Larry Closs

Portrait of the Artist at Work by @artboy11211

I’ve been very much enjoying Instagram since it was released onto Android in 2012, and have discovered a great many fine artists on the platform. So I was delighted when the opportunity to interview one of my favourite Instagrammers arose. And with nearly 40,000 Instagram followers, I’m not alone when it comes to enjoying his work.

Larry Closs is a published author, with his debut novel Beatitude getting very positive coverage. He also runs the adventure and travel focused website Trekworld. I could go on for a while, but as this is an interview, I’ll let the man speak for himself. I hope you enjoy his words and photos as much as I did and do, and learn something to help you with Instagram along the way!

Hello Larry! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I usually describe myself as a New Yorker who often wanders far from home. I love to travel and there are few experiences I find more exhilarating than waking up in a place that is completely foreign in every respect—culture, customs, food, transportation, architecture, language, landscape, electrical outlets.

When and why did you start using Instagram?

My best friend joined Instagram in early 2011 and was having a lot of fun with it, producing really amazing photos and enjoying the give and take of the community. My debut novel, Beatitude, was scheduled for publication in October and he kept saying that Instagram might be a “novel” way to promote it.

Beatitude by @artboy11211

I was intrigued but hesitated. Although I’d been a photographer for many years and made the transition from film to DSLR, I wasn’t sure how my skills would translate to an iPhone. At my friend’s urging, however, I finally jumped in. I posted my first picture—three pictures, actually—on August 12, 2011.

What can an Instagram follower expect to see in your feed?

Views that inspire me—and, hopefully, others—from my day-to-day life in New York and my travels, with an occasional bit of humor.

Do you ever pre-plan shoots specifically for Instagram, or is it spur of the moment stuff?

I don’t pre-plan but I will sometimes make an effort to be in the right place at the right time. Two Central Park shots come to mind. I got up at sunrise on a snowy Saturday morning in February and headed to the Park to shoot while the snow was still falling and the Park was deserted. I went to the Bow Bridge, one of my all-time favorite locations in New York, and snapped an awesome image of the empty, snow-covered Bridge, with the frozen Boat Pond below and the twin towers of the San Remo rising in the distance.

Bow with Snow: The Bow Bridge in Central Park

A friend who saw the photo later that day commented, “How did you get that shot? I’m there now and the snow is nearly all gone and there are people everywhere.”

I wrote back, “I was there at dawn.”

In the midst of another snowstorm in March, I went to the Park again. It was a Friday afternoon, I’d finished work early, and I had the place pretty much to myself. Almost. I was trudging along Bethesda Terrace when I spotted someone walking down the center of the tree-lined Mall in the distance with a big red and black umbrella. It was a perfect shot—so perfect it looked staged—but I was too far away. I literally ran for several hundred yards, praying the entire time that the umbrella-holder wouldn’t change course. She didn’t. And I got the shot.

Spring Ahead with an Umbrella

There are occasions when I will also wait for the picture I want, which can produce unexpected results. I was on the High Line, a very popular park built on an abandoned elevated railway, and came upon a cello player surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. In the empty circle around him, there was a woman in a chair seated a few feet away, listening intently.

I knew the shot I wanted instantly—just the cellist and the woman—and I waited and waited for the crowd to move along. But just as the view cleared and I was lining up the shot, a guy with a backpack stopped and stood there, enjoying the music. Frustrated by another wave of onlookers approaching, I reluctantly snapped the shot, only to conclude later that the serendipitous shot was better than the shot I'd planned.

Plus One

Tell us about your Instagram hardware - what do you use to take the shots in your feed?

I shoot with an iPhone 4 and will be upgrading to the next iPhone when my contract expires (soon). Once in a very great while, I’ll post a photo taken with my Nikon DSLR, but I like to keep the feed iPhone-focused because, to me, that’s part of the challenge.

Tell us a bit about your workflow for editing your images. Any particular apps you love to use?

Snapseed and Camera+ are my mainstays. I also use Photoshop Express, PhotoStudio, Photo fx and ColorSplash. I think I’ve only used an actual Instagram filter twice. I can spend hours on a photo, experimenting with many different edits before I finally get the one I want, which is why I only post every other day or so and sometimes only once a week.

Red estelada, Girona, Spain

You're a published author (congratulations!), and you used Instagram to help publicise your book. Tell us about how that worked?

In addition to writing, editing, photography and videography, my background also includes marketing and communications. I had outlined an overall marketing plan for my book that included an author website and a book trailer, as well as accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I wondered how I might add Instagram to the mix and hit on an idea.

Godzilla

Beatitude is a fictional story that unfolds in a very real New York City, 1995. I went around and took photos of a dozen locations where scenes in the book are set—some famous, some only a New Yorker would know. In keeping with the aesthetic I’d created for the website and book trailer, I edited the photos as black and whites.

Then I did something that, as far as I could tell, no one else was doing on Instagram: I added captions of several hundred words that included a relevant quote from the book as well as background stories about each location.

Beatitude at the High Line Rail Yards

At the time, most photos on Instagram were only accompanied by a short title of several words and I wondered if anyone would even read my captions. But people did, and I think the unusual length was the very reason they did. The captions inspired as many comments as the photos and both generated interest in Beatitude. I included a link to my author site in my profile, and I always referred to that when someone asked where to find additional information about the book.

Interestingly, another bit of promotion happened quite spontaneously. The cover of Beatitude, by the brilliant artist Anthony Freda, features an illustration of a cat’s face—half a cat’s face, actually—with a vintage New York City subway token for an eye. Readers spontaneously started posting photos of themselves holding the book up and completing the missing half of the cat’s face with half of their own.

I still promote Beatitude on occasion. I did a shoot with the book on the undeveloped Rail Yards section of the High Line, for example, and I’ve posted photos from that, overlaid with quotes from the book.

You've got a fair number of followers! Can you share with us some tips for growing a following on Instagram?

Go back in time. I joined Instagram before the follow limit of 7,500. The rule that applies to most social media also applies to Instagram: if you follow someone, they’ll likely follow you back. I followed lots of people and most followed me back. You can’t do that now, not in the numbers that I did, anyway.

Still Standing

Of course, if you want to keep followers, you have to post great photos. I’ve kept nearly all of my followers and gain new ones every day, so I assume I’m posting photos that people like. Having said that, I will add that I constantly study the number of likes and comments on every photo in my feed and I’ve determined the intersection of the kind of photos I like and the kind of photos my followers like.

Saturated, iconic scenes of New York City are very popular. Black and whites, not so much. So, I tend to post the former instead of the latter, even though I really like black and white photography.

Across the Pond

But photos are just the beginning. Likes and comments are equally, if not more, important—you can never do enough. Smart hashtags help, as does the inclusion of your Instagram username in all your online profiles.

And some tips for taking great Instagram photos?

Remember where you are. What are you seeing that no one else is seeing? Instagram is a truly global community. Walking around New York, I have to constantly remind myself that the things I see on a daily basis, things that are a part of my everyday life, are incredibly exotic to someone on the other side of the world.

The subway, yellow taxis, the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central, the New York Public Library. I catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building nearly every day. Central Park is literally my backyard. So many movies, TV shows and books are set in New York that everyone on the planet has been here, even if they’ve never been here, and everyone connects with photos of New York.

But every place on Earth is equally exotic in its own way. Just be aware of that. Show me your world through your eyes and I’ll follow along.

Is there any photo or series of photos you are particularly proud of, and why?

One of my favorites is of a single rose floating in a bowl of water that I took in a rented artist’s flat in Paris. It was my first trip there. I was with my closest friends and Paris was everything I’d ever hoped it would be and more—romantic, poetic, intoxicating.

La Vie en Rose, Paris

I love the simplicity of the shot, the organic nature of the rose and the ceramic bowl juxtaposed with the stainless steel counter. That shot always evokes memories of that trip and reminds me I need to go back.

Finally, would you share with us three of your personal favourite Instagrammers to brighten up our feeds?

@artboy11211: He does what I only wish I could do, posting incredible iconic and intimate shots of New York City life every day. How I wish I could be that prolific—and talented!

@kirstenalana: If you ever need to be reminded of all the beauty in the world, follow Kirsten. Her photos are as lovely as she is.

@djorkaeff: When I need a laugh, there’s no better place to find one than in this wonderfully macabre collection of twisted pictures. Think Tim Burton meets Edward Gorey. Be sure to read the captions.

Finding the Good in Goodbye

Huge thanks to Larry for taking the time to answer all my questions as well as provide me with some truly fantastic photos to share with you guys. If you’ve got any questions for Larry, you are welcome to ask them in the comments below. You can also find Larry in the following places:

Twitter, as @larrycloss
Google+, as +Larry Closs
Instagram, as @larrycloss




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