If there is one common thread among the people we’ve spoken to it’s that you can’t exist in a bubble on Instagram and gain followers; you must make some friends. Also, if you want followers, don’t look for followers.

We spoke to Instagrammers @Zarnizar (23k followers), @Lesliepng (39.2k), and @Ronnycakes (35.3k), who have over 100,000 followers between them to tell us how they got their followers, and found out what Instagram meant to them.


Name/Age: Sharon/26
Educational Background: Accounting
Equipment Used: iPhone 4, 5, 6, 7, and Canon 6D (sometimes)
When Did You Start: 2010
Followers: 35,300

Why did you join Instagram at the beginning?
I joined Instagram when it first came out in 2010 because the micro-blogging concept was quite interesting to me.

What was your goal?
At the beginning, there was no particular goal – mostly just testing out a new app and barely any of my friends were using Instagram.

How did you end up with your current style of pictures?
My flat lays were mostly inspired by other Instagrammers and also, I felt like the top view style of photos better showcased my artwork and also the tools used to create the artwork. I’ve always loved clean and bright styles so most of my photos have a clean and minimal background and are shot with ample natural light.

What stages did you go through on Instagram?
Right at the beginning when I first started using IG, I didn’t put much thought to the photos that I uploaded and just used it as sort of a diary, posting photos that I thought were interesting. I took a hiatus from Instagram because not many of my friends were using it, but returned shortly after and started posting lots of food pictures (this coincided with the short period that I was a food blogger). After that, inspired by the lifestyle Instagrammers that were booming during the 2013 – 2014 period, I started posting photos of coffee and food flat lays, as well as interesting and naturally lit interiors. During that period, I also started up my wedding photography business and sometimes I would post a few photos of wedding clients and wedding detail shots.I only started calligraphy in 2015 and I did try to maintain a healthy mix of art, interior, lifestyle, etc. but after a while I just started leaning towards arts and from then onwards most of what I posted was art related, up to today!

How did you increase your followers?
When I started calligraphy, my follower count was below 3,000. Fast forward 1.5 years to today, my follower count has grown 10 times and I can hardly wrap my head around it! I suppose the boost in followers was from experimenting with calligraphy, then journaling and painting. Most of the growth was organic – I did use some of the more common hashtags that relate to the photo that I was posting, but other than that I didn’t invest anything to promote or get my name out there. I guess having quality content is really important in gaining followers and also engagement with followers are very important too. I see many big Instagrammers with people asking questions or leaving them messages in their comments section, but the Instagrammer never replies. I think it’s really important to connect with your followers so I try to make it a point to reply to every single comment on my photos. Who knows how many friends you can make just by using IG?

Check out her photo:

I went on a little Cumber-binge (hahahaha) after watching Doctor Strange and watched many of Benedict Cumberbatch's movies in a row ? The Imitation Game remains a firm favourite and this is my favourite quote from the movie in my modern hand ❤️

A photo posted by Sharon • 美莲 (@ronnycakes) on


Name/Age: Zarnizar/36
Educational Background: Mechanical Engineering and Administration
Equipment Used: iPhone and Panasonic Lumix GF 5
When Did You Start: 2012
Followers: 23,000

Why did you join Instagram at the beginning?
The thing about me, I suka berkawan, and the thing about Instagram is that it’s not like other social media platforms. You’re going to meet friends who have the same hobbies with you and you get to meet people from all over the world. Once you know them, you can hangout with them and they will invite you to explore unique locations in their hometown.

What was your goal?
Well firstly, I liked having lots of friends around the world and the other thing is that I wanted to know places yang cantik, yang lain daripada tourist attraction. I liked finding places that were remote and not easy to find. Instagram has the power to make unknown places popular. Because of Instagram, a lot of places in Malaysia and Indonesia has been discovered and popularised, and in the end, commercialised. So I trust in Instagram to get information. I'm not thinking about followers at all. People will ask me "Where is this? What place is this? How do I go there?" They will ask me, just like I've asked people on Instagram who have helped me. And I like helping people find adventure.

How did you end up with your current style of pictures?
I've always enjoyed backpacking, even before Instagram. I took photos for Facebook only and back then we used to post at one go, 50 pictures. Obviously you don't do that for Instagram. Right now I like the moody feel for photos. I follow trends when editing photos, so right now, the trend for outdoor pictures is moody and gloomy so I tried to post something like that. Before this I used to post blue skies, and bright greens. Eventually you get bored right? So you'll want to change your style.

What stages did you go through on Instagram?
In 2015 I got really serious into making sure my photos look good on Instagram. I used an app called Mexture to edit it. Then I tried to take street photography but I wasn't very good at it so I didn't concentrate on that. Right now I use Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed, and VSCO on my phone. If you do nature or street photography, Lightroom is very helpful. For my feed I try to curate what comes out. For now I like the green look so I'll post pictures with lots of greenery and keep the beach photos. Later I'll release the brighter beach photos.

How did you increase your followers?
I was suggested by Instagram and I gained 17,000 followers, up from 1,000 users previously. That's one of the things that made me feel like "Oh no, I need to improve myself!" It was a lucky day for me. One thing that's really important on Instagram is the hashtags. I use the hashtags to search for hidden places. For example, I'll search for places in Bali and I will see a photo that I like. Then I'll message the person who took the photo and ask them for directions to the place. Through this I make friends and they'll invite me to lepak with their friends in Bali who have their own Instagram community and we follow each other. To be an adventure photographer like me, you need to make friends with the locals. It's much easier to travel once you have a local to guide you and you're prepared for the adventure. I want people to understand that Instagram is not about finding followers. Instagram is like a Google with photos and you search for experiences and friends.

Check out his photo:

. . Travel is one way to get the most out of life by looking upon it as an adventure ??? . . The mystical mist, the rumble of the water and the noise of chirping birds are the things that will pamper you when you spend your time in this Curug Citambur Waterfall; oh my my so in love with this awesome place ??? . #jtcxartexpb . @pakatanbejalan @jtcrafters @aerte_co . . ??????????????? . . P/s : can you spot my bro @owlcturnal over there ? ? .

A photo posted by zarnizar | ?Kuala Lumpur (@zarnizar) on


Name/Age: Leslie Png/24
Educational Background: Optometry
Equipment Used: iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 6s and Olympus OMD
When Did You Start: 2012
Followers: 39,200

Why did you join Instagram at the beginning?
The main reason is because I like photography – it’s my hobby. I wasn’t very active on Facebook because it’s not really about photos but it’s more about the words, and I’m not very good with words, so I express my feelings through photos.

What was your goal?
My goal was to post photos that I love and had a meaning, and that was informative for people. It’s a journal for me to remember experiences. Even before Instagram, I would develop my photos into hardcopies because I liked to look at them and create photo journals, sketchbooks, and stuff. To be inspired and to inspire people is very important to me.

How did you end up with your current style of pictures?
It was mainly because I like to eat and to explore. And I love coffee. I wasn’t a coffee person at all until I got into university because I needed to drink coffee to stay awake. Then the coffee culture grew up and that’s when I started posting photos of coffee and food. It started with a lot of trial and error – I used to use a lot of filters and almost every picture was a different filter and editing style. I realised it was a mess. Then I started to standardise everything to give it a better feeling. I tried to imagine myself as a stranger looking at my feed and I couldn’t take the mess.

What stages did you go through on Instagram?
I used to take a lot of food and beverage photos – even a glass of teh tarik. In the next phase, during university, I used up my scholarship to travel. I didn’t save at all! I was travelling almost every semester, not necessarily overseas, but within Malaysia as well so I started incorporating travel photography. Then when coffee and Instagram began to rise in popularity, my friend @squarepad started organising Instagram coffee meetups. I was very lucky to have met him and many other Instagrammers who shared my interest for coffee and photography. At that time I made new friends at least once a week. I started to standardise my feed after I started using VSCO cam and I was trying to tell a story through my photos and not to make it too commercial.

How did you increase your followers?
Last year in June, I had 5,000 followers. Then I got suggested by Instagram and my followers increased to 10,000. From then on it’s been increasing to what it is now. Honestly I didn’t really try to boost my followers. I just tried to post better photos each day. I think photo content is very important. It must be unique and interesting and I think it has to be informative. If I just posted my every day routine, I don’t think anyone would be interested. It should be something interesting for people to look at every day and you have to be active almost every day because that’s the reason why people follow you. And the reason people share your profile is because they find something meaningful and interesting to share – that’s the most important thing. The next thing is to keep track of what’s happening in the scene. I try my best to be updated with trends. At my peak I used to go out five days a week, looking for interesting places to take photos. When you find people with the same interest you get motivated to go out and explore. You can’t do this alone if you’re looking for this kind of frequency.

Check out his photo:

Who could resist hazelnut nutella chocolate cake? No one!?? #flatlay #bakesandinks

A photo posted by Leslie Png (@lesliepng) on

Bonus: Their first photos on Instagram

Image: @Ronnycakes
Image: @lesliepng
Image: @zarnizar
This is definitive proof that we all start with these kinds of photos: overly filtered, a random object, and borders. Ah, the good ol' days.