When 27-year-old Johan Lolos set out from Belgium in 2013 with his camera and no return ticket, he didn't anticipate becoming one of New Zealand's most popular Instagrammers. It was only a year ago, in February 2014, that Lolos started taking his Instagram account, @lebackpacker, seriously while traveling through Australia. He started getting noticed, even reposted by larger accounts like @australia and @natgeotravel, and began trading his Instagram skills for accommodations or tickets for his next trip. Lolos's current gig is as New Zealand's Lake Wanaka tourism photographer, where he's staying free for three months, sharing daily adventures with his 75,000 followers.
@lebackpacker on his favorite post ever: With almost 2,500 posts, it's hard to chose just one, but I'd have to say this shot of a tree on Wanaka Lake is my favorite. Like every sunrise shot, I almost missed it. It's always a pain to get out of the bed at 5 a.m., and that morning I almost decided not to wake up. It had just snowed the night before—in the middle of summer—and the early light on the mountains was beautiful. It quickly became the most-liked image on my account.
Pro Tip: It's All About Style
You don't need to post great pictures to be an Instagram pro. Just create your own style. Then interact with your followers and be active in the Instagram community. I'd also recommend to post at least three times a day. I personally try to post five times a day, but that's just me: lots of Instagram pros just post once a day. From there, it's all about creating your own opportunities and luck.
Respect the Square
Instagram changed my life. Sixteen months ago, I was in Australia traveling like a traditional backpacker, doing backpacker jobs, and choosing my activities based on budget.
Since I became active on Instagram 12 months ago, I'm pretty much traveling for free thanks to all sorts of partnerships I'm making with tour operators and tourism boards. This way of life is slowly becoming my main professional activity. Tourism boards now contact me because they want me to explore their region and then promote it on my Instagram account. I've traveled all around Australia and New Zealand for more than a year. I did most of the outdoor activities you can do in these countries and I didn't spend a single dollar.
Also, Instagram is now the main tool I'm using to plan my next destination. I'm browsing other great photographers' feeds who inspire me, so I know all the good spots I want to visit and photograph myself.
Tool of Choice?
Until recently I had an iPhone 5, but the camera broke, so I never used it. All my photos have been shot with a Nikon D610 and a range of four different lenses, but I'm about to start shooting with a mirror-less camera, the Sony A7R. I can't wait.
Go Beyond Insta Filters
I don't use any of the native Instagram filters, but I do use the app VSCOcam before posting on Instagram. I really like the film-photography style the filters produce. I wish Instagram could come up with some quality film-like filters, but with so many apps to choose from, you can create almost any look.
The Story Behind the Biggest Hit
Every week I seem to have a new most-liked photo. At the moment, my most-liked photo shows Lake Gunn and New Zealand's second tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls. Just this month, I had an epic flight from Wanaka to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, in New Zealand's Fiorldand region. I was in a tiny plane on my way to the very remote Doubtful Sound, and suddenly this giant waterfall appeared in front of me, dropping from this alpine glacial lake. I was so excited to see it that I almost missed that shot. In fact, I wasn't prepared at all, so I have to admit that I don't really like the photos I brought back from that place, which is why I absolutely have to go back there and land on the top of the waterfalls by helicopter. I know it's possible!
iPhone vs. DSLR
I just don't like the quality of images taken on my phone. Not sharp enough, no control of the settings. That's why you will always see me carrying my big full-frame DSLR wherever I go.
How to Make Insta a Career
When I became active on Instagram in February 2014, I had less than 1,000 followers. Seven months later, I left Australia with 25,000 followers, and have since gained 45,000 more. I'm honestly the most surprised about how quickly things went for me the last 12 months. Now my photos have been published by international media such as Buzzfeed, Mashable, and DailyMail, and tourism boards contact me to photograph their regions, too.