Length: 15 minute read
Instagram photographer, Demas Rusli stopped by the JSD office to chat with Joel about his journey to Instafame, some must-know social media do's and don'ts and a little insight into what it's like building a business as a social media influencer. Check out the full interview below, which will only take you about 15 minutes to read, and trust us... it's worth it if you wanna' learn from a pro like Demas!
Hi Demas, thanks for taking the time today to talk to JSD. I’m interviewing you for our blog to give our readers insight into creative professionals, their journeys and tips and tricks. You studied Architecture at UNSW and graduated with Distinction back in 2012, did studying architecture get you into photography?
I don’t think so. I got into photography because my cousin who's a wedding photographer from Indonesia had a client [who] wanted to get some shots done in Sydney and he was like ‘hey can you help me out and be my assistant?’ I had no clue about photography at the time, I was just going to spend time with my cousin basically, it wasn't because I was interested in photography, so I went to help him out holding the flash and helping him change lenses and I got to see him at work and became really inspired.
This was about two years into uni and we did this road trip to the Snowy Mountains. [It was] a really inspiring location and I was like oh this is really cool, this is something I wouldn’t mind doing, so literally a week after that I bought my first Single Reflex Lens (SLR) and shot everything.
Was architecture the first thing you thought you wanted to shoot or was it actually the landscape?
More landscape but I literally just had this SLR, had one lens, which was a 15ml F1.8. I was just using a beginner Canon SLR and just shooting everything. I would shoot street, architecture, portraits, just anything to get me inspired and then over 2 or 3 years I developed my style and [ now I] know what I really like to shoot, but back then I was just shooting everything. I guess that’s my tip for people, shoot everything until you know what you love to shoot. If you love shooting everything, then keep shooting everything.
Before we get into more of the photography stuff, you’re working at FJMT, what is your area of specialty?
I’m still a rookie. I just graduated from uni 2 years ago so I’ve been at FJMT for two years. I started working there as soon as I finished uni. I’ve just been helping out with anything pretty much. I’ve worked on large residential apartments to towers to master planning. The biggest one I’ve worked on is The Star, the giant tower. We won the [Ritz-Carlton hotel] competition and that’s probably the biggest achievement I’ve had at work.
Did you actually get to design part of the tower?
Yeah but everything has to go through the boss, so you kind of do a bit of this and then you show them and they either keep it or not. You help with everything.
Do you think they helped mentor you through that competition process?
Yeah, FJMT is a really good place to work, I really enjoy it. That’s why I haven’t thought twice about doing photography full time, I want to do architecture.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Darling Harbour and that whole area before because I actually wanted to know what your thoughts are on Sydney, the rate that it’s growing and the changes that are happening?
I think it’s good. I just came back from Hong Kong and that city is insane, right? I don’t want it to get to the level of Hong Kong, but I think there are more things to see, more things to do, more jobs, I think it’s a good thing. It’s still pretty sprawling, I think if you can get it heaps dense it’ll be pretty good.
Based on what’s going on at the moment, are there any things you like and don’t like about what’s happening in the city?
I like that there’s a lot of developments. I think if they’re good and they’re built right and they attract tourists or attract photographers to come shoot, it’s a good thing and it helps promote Sydney as a big city you know? Let’s say I go to Hong Kong or Singapore, there’s spots you want to go because it’s such a nice place photography wise, whereas in Sydney there’s the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and then little things here and there, but I think if there was more it’d be really cool.
Yeah, I actually don’t think that there are many other buildings of architectural merit. There aren't any towers or buildings that make you go ‘oh you have to go there for the interior or for the lobby.’
Yeah, there needs to be more of them.
I also noticed you’ve done some volunteer work in Cambodia and Nepal, did that have an impact on your work and photography?
Both of them were really life changing experiences. Seeing what people’s living conditions were... it’s pretty crazy. We’re so lucky to be in Sydney. I developed my street photography and shooting people on the street - Nepal and Cambodia are really great places for that. Just the experience of meeting people, like the community and building something for the community was awesome. I think photography wise I didn’t learn much because the scene is just so nice you can take any photo and it’ll be really nice. I enjoyed it, it was good.
Moving on to talk more about your Instagram. For those who are fans of your Instagram account, what sort of photography equipment do you use?
Right now I use a Sony A72, so it’s a full frame body but it’s mirrorless so in a way it keeps the body really small and compact. When I was choosing what camera to get I chose that one because it’s got the capabilities of a big SLR but it’s small. It’s lighter, and I’m always on the move so I’m always carrying my backpack with camera gear, so the lighter the camera is the better it is for me.
Are there any accessories you carry?
I have 5 batteries that I carry around everywhere and I have a few lenses. I have a 2470 lens, which is my main go to lens. Then for special occasions I use my 14mm, so super wide angle and good for architecture. Batteries are really important. I also recently just got a drone.
Yeah, I noticed that!
Yeah, playing around with that has been really good. It’s such a new and different way of seeing the world from photography. You know… when you’re taking a photo it feels really intimate whereas droning doesn’t feel intimate, but it’s still really cool.
The scenes that you capture are pretty cool.
It’s sort of like… the body isn’t experiencing it, it’s just the eye. It’s a different photography style. You’re seeing it on your screen and it’s like ‘wow, that’s really cool.’
OK, so you have over 64.5k Instagram followers (as at May 17), when did you start your profile and how long has it taken you to achieve such a following?
I started my Instagram maybe 4 or 5 years ago. It was at the same time I got the SLR, I had these photos I thought were good so I just posted them to put them somewhere so people could see them. I literally just posted every day, like 3 times a day consistently and often to stay active.
It kind of grew a little bit, I got to two or three thousand followers. It took me about two years, took me a while, then one day I had just landed in Tasmania on holiday and I got an email from Instagram and they said that I’d been put on the suggested user list, which means they followed me for two weeks and everyone who’d just signed up to Instagram got to see this list of people, so I grew from 3,000 to 15,000 in two weeks but I found out that my engagement didn’t grow. I was getting a really low number of likes even though my followers were growing, which was because the people who were following me were new to Instagram and didn’t know what to do with it - they didn’t know they should like the photos.
Then I started going to Insta meets, collaborating and meeting new people through photography. I went to my first Instameet maybe a year and half to two years ago and in that time I’ve grown from 15,000 to 63,000. It’s growing faster now. My aim is to get to 100,000 but I don’t know when that’s going to happen.
That’s a good goal to have. That’s awesome! So what trends have you been able to identify through posting?
Posting time is important, you gotta’ know when your followers are most active. You can see that on your insights if you have a business account. What type of photos you post is also a trend, like if I post a portrait it won’t do as well as my architecture photos or my travel photos. Sometimes my nature photos won’t do as well as my urban photos. But I just post whatever I like, so it doesn’t matter. Sometimes you get large amounts of engagement, sometimes you get low, but it averages out in the end.
I really love your Insta stories that you do! I think that’s fantastic, all the stories and emojis are so cool, I think it’s classic. Has that helped you grow your followers?
I think so. We always used to send people to Snapchat and we’d do the stories on Snapchat. Showing [people] where we are and all that kind of stuff used to be done on Snapchat, then Instagram brought stories out and Snapchat is like, dead. Everything’s done in the one app so I guess they can see who I am, how I edit a photo and link it back. It’s pretty simple and I think it’s helped.
It has, yeah and it’s really good to see the before and afters to totally understand and appreciate how much work goes into it. Which one of your shots has received the most likes/comments and why?
Sometimes there’s a bit of a glitch on Instagram and there was a time where there was a geotag glitch when if you geotagged Singapore it would somehow give you more likes, like more people saw it for some reason? So there was a period of like a month where Singapore geotag was crazy and people were tagging photos in Singapore that weren’t from Singapore just to get likes, but my photo was actually in Singapore. I didn’t know about the glitch and [the likes] just grew! It’s this stair photo with three people lying down on the ground. So yeah, that was because of the glitch but I count it as my #1. It’s got 6.6k likes.
So with using hashtags and feed interaction, how much time do you spend actually interacting with hashtags?
Sometimes I just go through and like a bunch of photos of hashtags and geotags that I use. But hashtags are a really big part of Instagram because another way to grow your account, apart from collaborating with people is to get featured. There are so many feature accounts that are big and have different themes, like urban and nature, and if you can get featured there you will grow 200 or 300 followers that day.
Okay, that’s a really good tip! Do you have any advice for businesses who want to use ‘like bots’?
Don’t. But I guess it’s sort of hard to grow an account organically now because there are so many people trying to do it, so how else are you going to do it if you’re not going to use a like bot? A classic example is, this guy doesn’t use like bots, but my friend Pat grew his account from 10k to 20k in like a month just because of good content, getting featured, being really active and meeting new people. It’s foundations of what a social app needs to be, not using like bots. You can tell who uses like bots and who doesn’t, and who uses bots to follow and then unfollow people. There are things you can use to check, like if you’re about to work with an influencer you can check if they cheat or not. It’s annoying that people work their butt off to get this many followers or this many likes, and other people just use bots.
What is your role as social media influencer?
I just think of myself as doing this as a hobby. It’s a good source of second income as well. Ever since a year ago I started working with brands but I’ve never contacted a brand before in my life, they’ve always contacted me. So they find me through Instagram and they go ‘hey I like your photos do you wanna shoot this pair of shoes or this watch’ or whatever. I first started off shooting it and posting it just for the product but then it started to get too many so I started charging and I got the product and payment as well. My rates have grown now to the point where I’m comfortable saying ‘this is my rate, I won’t do it for this [lower] price anymore’, and it’s been good. I’ve managed to learn a lot about business and learn a lot about how to market myself as well. Just because of one app I’m learning so much about life.
Yeah. Like, how do I pitch something to a client? I’ve never done this before.
And that’ll help you in architecture as well because if you’ve got a concept or a design, even if it’s internally or externally, now you’ve got that better pitch ability.
My confidence has definitely grown in terms of just meeting people and chatting then talking business and what I can offer someone, or can’t offer someone.
Businesses underestimate content and the power of strong imagery on their websites - what insight do you have on the power of great content and how it can improve a brand?
I guess the images that they choose [have to be] good. The better the image the better your business will be, right? Like anything… if we design a good building then you get more jobs. If I take better photos, I get more jobs. If I take really awesome photos for Nike and then Adidas want to jump in and be like ‘hey, we want your photos, too.’ You gotta’ keep your image up.
Absolutely and you know especially as I think we’re on a bit of a wave where more people want to refresh and re-do their websites, we’re saying ‘okay well you’ve previously used stock images, now it’s time to invest in a good photographer and actually be more authentic.’ Actually have photos of your product or work to capture the brand and who they are a little more. What has been the impact of social media on your brand?
Huge! My whole brand is based on social media. I never thought I was going to be a photographer. I never thought I was going to shoot for brands until Instagram came along and yeah… it’s crazy, the power of social media. I still find it crazy that brands are willing to pay me a certain amount to post on my Instagram when it’s just a hobby of mine. It’s weird, but it’s cool.
I don’t think it’s weird, I think you’ve got this passion and this enthusiasm and you’ve obviously got an eye for good photography, and it’s working out. People want that for their personal brands or businesses or whatever.
But it’s all from mobile. As in, this transition from computer to mobile. Everyone’s on their mobile now and brands are trying to get everything on mobile so everyone can see it.
Well you jump on the train in the morning and everyone’s got their head down looking at their phone. Are there any online brands that you look up to?
My all-time favourite brand would probably be Nike. They obviously switched to an online brand, they didn’t start online, they started off as a normal company. Working with them has been really cool.
Yeah, I saw some of the videos you did, was it on the open day for Nike?
Yeah, Airmax day
That looked amazing. To see all your prints around the room as well was fantastic!
Yeah, that was cool! Apart from that, a brand that I would really like to work with at the moment is Sony because I shoot on a Sony. The opportunity hasn’t come up yet but I’m going to try to contact them if I can.
Okay so if you were a brand, who would you be and why? One of the brands that I think are doing really well at the moment is like Hyundai and Kia. How they’ve transformed their design aesthetic and raised the level of the brand over the last couple of years from how they were introduced to where they are now I think is amazing.
Oh, that’s a really tough question. In terms of design and street culture, I follow Nike the most. I actually watch a lot of Tinker Hatfield documentaries, he designed all the [Nike] Jordan’s and his philosophy and thinking… I really like that kind of stuff.
If I was starting a brand today, if you look at the Daniel Wellington sort of business model, their whole marketing strategy is Instagram so they just send influencers watches for a certain amount of photos and they’ve grown into one of the biggest companies in the world just through Instagram. It’s to the point where Daniel Wellington watches are sold next to Rolex watches in a store. Like in Myer they have lots of Daniel Wellington watches, which is really weird because I know that they’re really cheap to make but they’ve just done so well for themselves that they can put their watches next to these other brands.
That’s fantastic! That’s a really great story.
But that’s the power of social media. There was a swimsuit brand last week who were doing a swimsuit giveaway and they grew 700,000 followers in a day just because they said x amount of people who follow us or do certain things will win 5 swimsuits or something. It went viral.
That’s astonishing! Well you’ve worked with some pretty amazing brands, Nike who you’ve mentioned, Adidas, Samsung, and Oreo, tell us about how you scored the gig and what the outcome of the campaign or project was?
Most of the time it’s just an Instagram campaign, so here's a product, post three images with this theme or something and I just try to go out there and replicate that theme in my own head and try to come up with concepts and stuff. I’ve never had any issues working with brands, they’ve always been good and supportive of my work, which has been good.
What are your tips on what to do and what not to do for people or businesses that want to grow their followers?
Post consistently and actively. If you can, try to engage with your followers. If they comment on something always comment back. If they ask a question in a direct message always reply back. And post quality content. That’s probably the best tip. If you can collaborate with people that’s good.
What do you mean by ‘collaborate’?
Sometimes I collaborate with myself from FMJT, like if I go out and shoot an FMJT building I will go and tag it and tell my followers it’s an FMJT building, that kind of stuff. There’s a marketing girl in the office and we’re both trying to do a campaign where we invite a bunch of influencers to our building and they can shoot as much as they want and they just need to tag us. We just want to see how much our account grows, or doesn’t grow.
Is it just basically going out and trying as much as possible?
Yeah. And if the building is really inspiring, potentially the whole of Sydney will want to go out and shoot that building. In terms of the don’ts, don’t bot, don’t spam. Too much content is sometimes not good. You want to kind of play it cool a little bit.
What do you mean by too much content?
Like posting 10 times a day and your whole feed is just that brand. Unless it’s one day where it’s a special event, then you can do it.
Actually one of the other things you taught me as well was don’t repeat your images.
Yeah I try not to do that. If you use someone else's photo, credit them properly. It’s just basic stuff but if you do it well then you’re going to grow. Some people think I bot because I like so many posts but you have to do that to engage.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate your time. That was absolutely brilliant!