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Gateway Arch

“You’ve gotta be at a different angle than somebody else would be,” says photographer Adam Wayne. His Instagram photos, such as this one taken from East St. Louis, highlight the Gateway Arch from different perspectives. 

Photo by Adam Wayne (@adamwayne_arts)

After a tragedy, Adam Wayne (Adam Wayne Alumbaugh) turned to photography. The former butcher, 36, sliced off part of his right middle finger at work. He used the compensatory money to buy himself a camera.

Now, Wayne is a full-time fish cutter with a side gig. He uses his creativity to make the powerful Gateway Arch images that populate his Instagram account (@adamwayne_arts) — a portfolio of his work.

Jeanaé Vera Phillips, 29, juggles four kids and four Instagram accounts, sharing motivational messages and promoting her “Voice of Vera” blog (@verajeanae).

The cosmetologist and photographer also uses Instagram to promote products from various brands she partners with.

Mark Hermes, the digital marketing and social media manager for Explore St. Louis, considers whether each photo submission he receives will inspire travel to St. Louis. It’s his job to make the city look inviting.

Hermes hopes to connect with a younger audience through the pictures he posts to Instagram nearly every day. The Explore St. Louis feed (@explorestlouis) is filled with creative shots by St. Louis photographers like Wayne.

Forest Park

Jeanaé Vera Phillips poses for an Instagram photo in Forest Park.

Courtesy of Jeanaé Vera Phillips (@verajeanae)

In an age when photo booths are commonplace at social events, and venues dedicated to selfie opportunities have cropped up around the world (including the Selfie Room in downtown St. Louis), Instagram has soared in popularity. And St. Louis Instagrammers such as Hermes, Wayne and Phillips work hard to post the coolest shots to gain influence with Instagram’s 1 billion active monthly users.

Wayne thinks the photo-sharing app has changed the nature of photography, adding a level of competition. Photographers often try to “out-’Gram” one another, he says, risking it all — even dangling from sky-high buildings — for pictures and likes.

While Hermes builds Explore St. Louis’ following by letting partners like the Muny and Grand Center do occasional Instagram takeovers, Phillips and Wayne increase their own following by engaging with other users.

Tit-for-tat follows helped Wayne pick up 7,000 followers, and that number grows every time his work is featured on other Instagram accounts such as Explore St. Louis and St. Louis Official Instagram (@stlouisgram).

Phillips incorporates Instagram engagement into her daily routine. For an hour each morning and each afternoon, she likes and comments on others’ posts and engages with users who include hashtags.

But to Phillips, quality is more important than having a huge following.

“Focus on improving your quality of your content first and just being genuine and engaging with people that you actually like and can relate to,” she says.

Phillips doesn’t post photos where she’s just smiling at the camera . She instead tries to capture emotion and movement, often with the help of her husband, Christopher Buck.

Hermes looks for memorable shots of people living their lives to the fullest — leaping under the Gateway Arch, climbing through City Museum or admiring a polar bear at the St. Louis Zoo.

Meanwhile, Wayne takes iconic, almost cliche spots — such as the Arch, his main muse — and adds his own creative flair.

“You’ve gotta be at a different angle than somebody else would be,” he says. Wayne will incorporate a puddle of water or a street sign or a passerby into his photos, giving a classic location a fresh take.

While he’s an advanced photographer, Wayne doesn’t use fancy equipment. He uses a $300 Canon camera and sometimes adds a cheap lens ball to give his shots extra flair. But it’s his mind that makes the pictures.

After snagging sweet shots, Wayne and Phillips use Adobe Lightroom to edit their images. Wayne adjust the contrast, shadows, highlights, saturation and other settings, but he cautions against overediting, which can make images look fake and grainy.

Hermes, too, wants the pictures he posts to look natural. “Being as authentic as possible goes a long way,” he says.

Wayne takes time writing captions, hoping to tell a story with just a couple of words. “I try to give them a feeling rather than tell them how I feel,” he says.

Phillips loves to shoot in nature. Some of her go-to spots are the Jewel Box in Forest Park and the Central West End neighborhood.

Wayne, who brands himself “The Architect” as a pun on his muse, isn’t alone in his love for photos of the Arch. Hermes loves to post pictures of iconic local spots like the Gateway Arch, Forest Park and the Anheuser-Busch brewery, though he sometimes shares photos of lesser-known places like the Campbell House Museum and Grant’s Farm.


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Kayla Steinberg is a features intern for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.