Murad Osmann and his wife Nataly are responsible for originating one of the most iconic photo compositions on Instagram — one that would go on to inspire hundreds of photographers and travelers all over the world. Now familiar to anyone with a penchant for travel photography, Osmann’s #FollowMeTo series has drawn over 4.5 million fans to his account and given way to a book filled with the most popular photos from the series and the stories behind them.
Since the first #FollowMeTo photo in 2011, Murad and Nataly have been to dozens of countries, taken hundreds of photos, and shared their travels with millions. We caught up with Osmann to get the inside scoop on the beginnings of #FollowMeTo, his inspiration, and his advice for aspiring creators.
How did you first get into photography, and how did you turn your interest into a career through Instagram?
We made our first #FollowMeTo shot during our trip to Barcelona in 2011. Back then, we were young, careless and in love. I was taking photos of everything, including Nataly. As a true tourist, she wanted to see everything and at some point dragged my arm to draw my attention. In that moment I just decided to take a picture.
Later we came up with the hashtag and posted the photo on social media. The project remained our hobby for about 1.5 years and was followed just by our friends and family.
After a time, however, news about our project appeared in western media (Reddit, BuzzFeed, Daily Mail), and our audience began to grow swiftly. People wrote that our example inspired them.
Speaking from our experience, we learned that Instagram is the fastest and easiest platform to convey your ideas and share your stories and values with millions of people. It is literally the best way to influence and infect (in a good way) the world!
How did you meet (and fall in love with) the subject of many your photos, Nataly?
We met on a shoot, then became friends on social media and had breakfasts together, as we lived near each other. It took me a long time to get Nataly’s phone number. I even suggested a run together in the morning. I remember waking up at dawn, taking a selfie from the track and returning to my bed, just to make sure she knew how serious I was about it. Oh, the things we do for love!
Soon we’ll celebrate the two year anniversary of our marriage. I can’t help but admire her optimism, vivacity, and sincerity. My wife is my muse!
How many countries have you traveled to so far? Which has been the most memorable and why?
We cannot count all of them after 5 years of traveling. The more you travel, the more you start to feel the immensity of the world. We really want to travel to Australia, Norway, Finland, and are planning our trips to these destinations.
I would say out of all countries, India influenced us the most. This is the land of karma, bright contrasts and a special spiritual culture. We’ve been there 4 times and every time we discovered this country from a new side.
Here’s our video about the trip in India.
Congrats on turning your #followmeto series into a successful book! What was the inspiration behind going from Instagram to print and your favorite experience with this?
We’ve had the idea of creating a book that would cover everything that happened behind the scenes of #FollowMeTo for a long time. As the project grew, we understood that there are a lot of interesting things which are left behind the camera: backstage photos, stories about people and finding places for unique shots.
Our followers often asked us about the details and wanted to see more photos. That’s why we created our FollowMeTo account, and after that wrote a book. We spent about a year working on it: rewriting stories, the introduction, and the conclusion, choosing photos and countries. It was a wonderful experience for us and, at the same time, hard and tedious work. As a result, we have two books in Russian and English into which we put our very hearts and souls.
It was a wonderful experience for us and, at the same time, hard and tedious work. As a result, we have two books in Russian and English into which we put our very hearts and souls.
What’s your process for choosing which brands to partner with? Any favorite campaigns you’re especially proud or fond of?
The key to successful collaboration is in the content, how organic and native it is, and such a campaign is only possible in cases where the vision of two collaborating brands are the same. #FollowMeTo cases are about making the world around us warmer and better, not about selling things.
We are especially proud of our partnerships with Cartier, Macy’s, and Google, and our recent video from Cuba was made in collaboration with Samsung.
What does the creative process for costuming and apparel look like for you and Nataly?
As you may guess, the right costume is 50% of success! Nataly prepares for every trip by herself, all of #FollowMeTo looks were chosen by her. She has her own artistic vision and interest for national costumes.
Wherever we travel, we always go to the showrooms of local designers, sometimes we rent dresses from locals or even in theatres. Makeup and hairstyles depend hugely on the location we are filming in and overall conditions.
For instance, during our trip to Kamchatka there was no time to search for stylists or makeup artists, but during our traditional Indian wedding styled photoshoot, we’ve worked with a whole team of artists and stylists.
As one of the most famous travel photographers on Instagram, what are your top 3 travel and creative tips for aspiring artists and social media influencers?
1. See the World Through Love-Coloured Glasses
When we came back from India with gorgeous shots our friends were looking at them in disbelieve and asked us: “How did you do that? There’s only dirt and trash in India!” The main thing about traveling is the way you see the world, how you perceive it. You should try to find beauty in everything!
2. Be open for everything new
If you go on a trip it means that you want to discover the world from a different side. You should learn to accept a different culture and mentality, whatever it takes. Do some research about the country you’re about to visit: learn more about its culture, art, traditions, history – it will help you to avoid culture shock. Also, I always follow updates of other travelers online, search for beautiful locations on Pinterest or look for 360° panoramas.
3. Stay patient
As odd as it sounds, patience and stress-resistance are the most important characteristics for a traveler. Without having them you’ll hardly feel comfortable with all the flights, permanent jet lag and other unpredictable circumstances.
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve ever done to get a shot for Instagram?
One of our brightest shots is the one on a helicopter, above the Hollywood Hills in LA. Our goal was to take a magnificent shot. But how? Of course, from the cabin.
I spoke with the pilot at the airfield and we decided that the door should be off in order to take the picture we wanted. Nataly changed into a gorgeous dress and we took off. I took off the safety belt, as we approached the Hollywood sign.
We had a few minutes, Nataly took my hand and stepped out of cabin. It was terrifying! I was watching everything through the camera’s lenses, but Nataly was a true hero that day, showing exceptional bravery. But that’s not the end of the story — we could not get the right shot from the first take and went on the second round. I don’t advise anyone to repeat that!
How do you hope your Instagram passion project will grow in the future? What’s the next big project you’ve got on the horizon you’d like share with your fans?
Now we are trying out a new format. We’ve already had our own TV show on Russian television and right now our goal is to work on the international level with the help of our YouTube channel.
Overall our project is multifaceted: we have our own website www.followmeto.travel, and are developing our jewelry brand Follow Your Love. The idea is that we create engagement rings and bracelets from lab-grown diamonds. Pretty much the only difference of such diamonds is that they are grown in laboratories and not mined and extracted from the Earth by hard human labour. You know what they say, you have to start somewhere.
We’re also thinking about launching #FollowMeTo brand shop, and now we’re working hard on developing our very own traveling accessories line.