How This Physics Student Turned His Passion for Beautiful Landscapes Into Instagram Fame
Daniel Kordan was on his way to becoming a physicist, until he realized his knack for photography.
In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
While he’s always had a passion for photography and a love of nature, it wasn’t until after he’d received a degree in quantum physics that Daniel Kordan decided to dedicate his life to landscape photography.
And what’s been one of the keys to growing his popularity as a photographer? Instagram. Instagram and other social networks have helped Kordan share his photos to people around the world, today garnering a following of more than 750,000 on Instagram.
However, it wasn’t an easy decision for Kordan to dedicate his life to photography. Growing up in Moscow and attending the Institute of Physics and Technology, Kordan’s original path was to become a physicist. After joining the University’s mountain club as a participant and trainee, Kordan began traveling and taking photos -- soon realizing that it was something he wanted to do full time.
Now, Kordan travels nearly 10 months out of the year, taking pictures and guiding tours. He uses Instagram and other social networks to share his photos, engage with fans and promote his work organically. “When [people] look through my feed, they feel like it’s Photoshop, but if they see the story they realize it’s real and how much effort I put in,” Kordan says.
And to Kordan, it’s not about the money. “First, you need to make a good picture, and then you need to think about money,” he says.
We spoke with Kordan to discuss his work as a photographer and learn how he uses the power of Instagram to share his art with people across the world.
1. How did you get your start with Instagram?
Before I started Instagram, I really thought [it] was just for people taking pictures of food, and ordinary people sharing ordinary pictures. I started because my friends started but then I realized that it was a very good instrument to share your pictures and portfolio as a photographer.
I started three to four years ago and it was a very slow start. I posted some pictures, used filters, and later on realized that people were really happy to see my pictures on Instagram and it started to grow.
2. What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
I use Facebook, 500px.com and 1x.com -- nice photography websites.
I will return from some trip and process my pictures -- usually around 10 to 20 from each trip. Then I write comments under each photo -- a short story with some links -- and post it everywhere, Instagram, Facebook, 500px. Always the same pictures, so I spend almost the same amount of time on each social network.
3. What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
Instagram shows pictures to everyone who signs up for your feed. But for Facebook and other social networks, they limit what they show; they force people to pay to show pictures to their followers. And they almost always try to make you pay for ads. In my practice, I never pay for advertisement -- it’s not in the budget. That’s why I focus on Instagram.
4. How much of your time do you devote to it?
When I’m on an expedition for one or two weeks, I will be offline. But when I’m back, I’m posting one or two pictures per day.
5. How do you promote your account? What's your number-one way to gain followers?
Content. The content should be awesome and as perfect as possible. It can be a limitation [for me] because if I start to post pictures that are less than my level of quality then I will have people unsubscribe from my feed. So I don’t post everything -- I only post pictures that I consider the best.
A post shared by Daniel Kordan (@danielkordan) on May 8, 2017 at 6:33am PDT
6. How do you engage with others on the platform?
I post pictures and create nice stories to go with them. I don’t just post a picture and say the location, I try to add a story under each picture, and get people involved -- ask them some questions and give them additional information.
People ask questions like “What camera do you use?” or “Where is this picture taken?” through direct message. I do not have lots of time to answer everything -- I receive up to 100 message per day, which is quite crazy.
7. How often do you post?
One or two pictures per day on Instagram. It takes maybe five to seven minutes per post, and maybe another 20 minutes to half an hour, I spend with my followers -- answering questions and making conversations.
8. What's your content strategy?
I travel almost 10 months per year, so I’m always on the road. When I finish a trip, I process pictures -- maybe 10 to 20 -- and I try to post them in clusters and make a story about the location.
My last trip was in the U.S., and I traveled the Oregon and Washington coast. So I post several pictures from Oregon and Washington, and I see that there are lots of people who live there who try to communicate with me. They subscribe to my feed and comment on pictures. After a dozen pictures of this place, I’ll travel to Greenland and it will be the same thing. I will have pictures, process them, and there will be 10 to 20 on my Instagram feed that will be a cluster from Greenland.
It’s one topic and helps the feed look nice. As a landscape photographer, it’s a big problem when your feed doesn’t look nice and if you are posting pictures from different locations, different times of the year. But if you select one location, it will be the same. So let’s say from Greenland, the feed will be full of ice, icebergs, the sea -- the prime color will be blue. They are aligned, in the same color scheme, the same composition and the same mood.
A post shared by Daniel Kordan (@danielkordan) on Jun 14, 2017 at 12:56am PDT
9. How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
I really like when they introduce something new because I like to play with it and see how people react.
If I have a connection, I will always make stories from any trip I’m on. It helps keep followers. And my strategy is the same: I do not post ordinary things like when I’m just eating or laying in a hotel -- I’m posting incredible stuff like how I’m making a picture.
10. What's your best storytelling trick?
To show how I make a picture, so [my audience] will realize that it is real. When they look through my feed, they feel like it’s Photoshop but if they see the story they realize it’s real and how much effort I put in. Sometimes I need to hike dozens of kilometers [for a picture].
11. How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
I try to have my own style -- in terms of color, composition and planning. I like wild and spectacular places like Patagonia and Greenland. I always plan my trips precisely. The planning of the content itself makes a difference.
A post shared by Daniel Kordan (@danielkordan) on Jun 26, 2017 at 9:49am PDT
12. How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
I do not have direct money ties from Instagram; the main thing for me is to find people who will sign up for my workshops, buy prints from my website and license photos. This is an instrument to promote my work.
I [do not] invest anything in marketing or promoting my Instagram. When people ask me to advertise something, I do not. I even refuse people who try to promote expensive things like jewelry and alcohol. They want to pay lots of money, but I still refuse because I don’t want to break my feed or my rules.
13. What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands on the platform?
Post high quality content. Do not contaminate your feed with “everyday stuff.” Always try to make your pictures like a story. It’s better to post pictures less often but make the level of the quality very high.
14. What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
This is a common question for me -- how to make money from Instagram and landscape [photography]. But this itself is quite a misconception because people start their photography career by asking how to make money -- not by asking how to make a good picture. First you need to make a good picture, and then you need to think about money.