It’s easy to snap a photo of Hong Kong’s cityscape. But how many of us can boast a huge fan base that ‘hearts’ our every shot on Instagram? This is what Tracy Wong, Vivien Liu and Edward Barnieh each have: vast social media followings that have turned them into influencers. So what separates our snapshots of Victoria Harbour and IFC from those of these social media stars?
‘I think the most important thing is to have a personal style and to know how to interact with other users,’ says Tracy Wong (45K+ followers), a commercial photographer who has been posting city and travel photos on Instagram for three years. ‘When I first moved back to Hong Kong I joined some InstaMeet activities, where people get together to take pictures and share ideas. I was later chosen as an Instagram “suggested user”, so people started to take notice.’
More likely than not, popular Instagram photographers weren’t looking to get famous. Take Edward Barnieh (220K+ followers), an animator who organised the first InstaMeet activities in the city when he moved to Hong Kong five years ago. ‘After half a year or so in Hong Kong, local people started contacting me to take them around the city to take pictures,’ says Barnieh, whose Instagram account is filled with tightly packed cityscapes. ‘Thinking back, it’s hard to believe.’ He even coined the commonly used name Instagram Pier for an industrial jetty in Western District where people go to catch the sunset and, as its nickname suggests, practise their photography skills.
Photography groups are formed based around subjects of interest. But they serve another important function, as Wong points out: ‘We also take turns modelling for each other.’
‘Hong Kong is a safe and friendly city, so people who like to take pictures can get together without worrying about anything,’ says Vivien Liu (240K+ followers), an architect by profession who specialises in dreamy Hong Kong cityscapes. But there are moral dilemmas, too. ‘Once in a while people ask me where I shot a photo, but I might refuse to disclose it. It’s not because I’m possessive of those places; sometimes it’s private property or there are safety concerns.’
But Liu isn’t cagey about what makes a good photo: ‘The image has to tell a story and be meaningful to the photographer.’