There are those Instagram accounts that it seems everyone you know follows. The ones that belong to great photographers, not celebrities—normal people who have managed to break through the colorful chatter of Instagram and stand out on their own. New York-based Sam Horine has one of them.
Boasting a heady 423,000 avid followers, Sam has managed to transform his love for his home of New York City into a full-fledged photo business as brands pay him to travel the world and post about it. But through all the exotic locations and glitz, it’s his images of NYC that really shine—the way he manages to capture the city in ways that even people who have lived their all their lives haven’t noticed. We managed to catch up with him—in New York, of course—to discuss being a social media celebrity, photography, and how the average person can hope to get a boost in their audience.
So how did you get so involved in Instagram? What drew you into it?
I first heard of Instagram back in late 2010. The first few times I actually thought it was just a platform to host images on Twitter (laughs). Little did I know! I started getting into the app around Thanksgiving of that year after a friend encouraged me to see how far I could take it. In the first few months, I think I had, maybe, 10 or so friends from the tech and photography world who were all in NYC or SF, but it was a quick addiction as I soon found a great community of photographers and creatives. At the time, it was super refreshing because it was so simple. You needed to shoot in the app and the options were very limited. It was also a great break from being a working photographer, as there was no pressure to do anything—it was strictly my day-to-day life around NYC for the first few months. As I started to build an audience and the app evolved, the audience grew bigger and bigger and it became my go-to app whenever I had a few minutes of downtime, and eventually became something that I spent a lot of time on.
You have half a million followers! How does one amass so many?
It certainly helps to get in early and to have been a suggested user by the community team, but the real magic is the connection to the community. If you’re somehow just getting into Instagram now, my advice is to put your best work there, share a new perspective on your world, challenge yourself to shooting something new every day, and be a good community member by interacting with both your real life friends and people who are doing things that interest you. I’ve met so many amazing people through the platform who I now call close friends that I probably never would have met otherwise. With the size of the community growing bigger every day it’s certainly harder to stand out but not impossible—whenever people leave interesting, engaging comments I go and check out their account. It’s such an intimate platform, even if you’re not sharing super personal content I can usually tell pretty quickly if I’d like the person in real life.
You’ve been named the “Best Instagram of NYC” more than once. What is it about the city that inspires you?
New York City is very much a living, mutating character. After living here for more than a decade, I’m still finding new things that I’ve somehow never seen before. One of the greatest things about NYC is the subway and its ability to transform your environment in minutes. You can hop on in the East Village and emerge in Bushwick, which has a totally different vibe, 20 minutes later. Aside from its ever-changing environments and 24-hour lifestyle, the people of NYC are always inspiring. Perhaps because it’s such a hard place to live, but people here are always doing something interesting, whether it’s the characters of Times Square or someone you’ve never met climbing a bridge.
What are some of the craziest opportunities you’ve had because of Instagram?
There’s been a lot of crazy stuff where I’m constantly having to pinch myself and go, “Is this real?” A couple years back I was invited to India with a friend of mine from Tokyo to come and taste this crazy cognac that retailed for like 30 grand a bottle. They flew us over there in business class, put us up in six-star resorts, and we rode elephants around while drinking fancy champagne before coming back to the hotel for tuxedos and a boat taxi to a private island, where we ate this crazy meal prepared by chefs flown in from Paris. At the end of the meal, as they were finally getting towards the big event where we’re going to try this cognac, the waiter brings out a big tray of it and carefully gives everyone at my table a glass. As he finally gets to me, I’m the last one to get it, he shifts his weight or loses his footing momentarily and this glass of insanely expensive cognac tips over and pours all over me, to the horror of both the waiter and cellar master, who’s sitting next to me. For what seems like an eternity we’re all silent before this French journalists goes, “Um, do you mind if I lick that up off the table?” We all start laughing and joking about how my tux is worth twice what it was just a minute ago.
Any drawbacks to being one of the leading ’grammers?
I would definitively say that the pros outweigh any cons. Like anything that carries some weight, you have to pay it a bit more mind and think twice before sharing. There’s very few of the late-night impromptu posts that would have happened in the early days. But really more than anything it’s a huge blessing to have an audience for my work. Before Instagram I was shooting mostly editorial content, so there was very little feedback, whereas with this platform it’s been a real joy to share my work with a wider audience.
You were a pro photographer pre-Instagram. How has Instagram changed the way you interact with photos, or your photo process?
It’s interesting, as I feel like it’s come full circle in a way in that when I signed up for Instagram I had just recently gotten an iPhone and was super obsessed with it and seeing how far I could push it. I was splitting my work between a Canon 5d Mark III, which I would publish on tumblr, and whatever version of the iPhone was current for a few years. In the past year I’ve moved away from being iPhone exclusive, as clients want higher-end images. I was also tired of having to make a decision in-the-moment of which camera I was going to shoot with. I ended up missing some shots. It also just didn’t make much sense to be shooting the same content with multiple cameras. Though lately I have been considering challenging myself to shoot more with the phone, as there are some magic moments that can be captured with a phone that might be blown were I to shoot them with the big camera.
As a master of the Instagram universe, who are your favorite accounts? Who do you look at for inspiration?
The beauty of Instagram is that you can travel the world and walk in the shoes of nearly anyone with a few flicks of your thumb. For me my followings are a mix of friends and accounts that continually inspire me to do better and work harder. Some of my recent favorites are: @buxtonc, a young guy sharing his life in Wales who I met last month while shooting in the UK. @faces.of.the.earth, an account run by the Turkish photographer Mustafa Seven which features his black-and-white portraiture work. @kevinruss is a guy I traveled with to South Africa in the fall on a shoot with National Geographic, he shoots a mix of epic nature and portraits of people he meets while traveling. Some recent favorites are from when he spent a few months hopping boxcars with vagrant kids. @wrongrob is a NYC-based photographer who’s been killing it lately with his shots of New York.