Going to bed with a small following of 300 followers – mostly high school friends and family – Mark Lewandowski posted his final #photooftheday onto his Instagram account, tucked his iPhone 4s away by his bedside and fell asleep. The next morning, casually scrolling through his notifications, he was astonished to find he had gained more than 2,000 followers overnight.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this is weird.’ But I let it go and thought it was just some glitch.”
But as the days progressed, he consistently gained about 500 followers a day. It wasn’t until a friend brought it to his attention he realized Instagram selected him as a Suggested User, an early feature where users were highlighted for their creative and innovative photographs.
The exposure Lewandowski received escalated quickly.
“It was just growing, rapidly,” he said. “Everyday, I would get followers – just like that.”
Four years later, Lewandowski’s account boasts more than 70,000 followers.
His knack for photography all began one clear, sunny afternoon while spending time with family at a Lake Ontario harbor in Toronto.
“I was playing around with my iPhone 4s, my old camera,” he said. “I just started taking pictures of nature. When I took the time to look at them later, I thought, ‘Wow, these are really cool.’”
Encouraged by friends and family to post his photographs, Lewandowski created a Flickr account online and began uploading his digital art.
Then in 2010, Instagram entered the scene.
At the time, the app was exclusive to iOS products. With his iPhone and recent interest in photography, Lewandowski downloaded the app and created an account under “Marksterlew.” He led his Instagram career with a captionless, blurry photo of a road outside his mother’s parked car.
“I was sitting by myself in a car while my mom was shopping in the store,” Lewandowski said. “It was dark out at the time. I just pulled out my phone because I was bored. I stuck my arm out of the window, aimed the camera off into the distance, and, I don’t know. I really liked it, that blurred-out effect.”
That photo attracted only nine likes – a stark difference from the 300-like average his current posts receive.
“I was posting twice a day at the time, in the noon and evening,” he said. “Now I post once a day – maybe every second day – because I don’t have a car and I can’t really shoot [different] places. Or I don’t have time.”
Twenty-four weeks since his debut on Instagram, he was featured on the Suggested User list. The rest is history.
“I was never really good at things like math or science, but I always enjoyed using computers and playing around with Photoshop and Lightroom,” he said. “I also enjoyed playing around with aesthetics in websites and creating all sorts of graphics. Then, I realized all these skills complemented each other.”
Lewandowski went on to pick up a major in graphic design at the university where he is currently a freshman.
Since his dose of fame, Lewandowski has collaborated with popular Instagram users like Ron Timehin (@rontimehin) and Kat Irlin (@kat_in_nyc), both who he said helped build awareness and his reputation. Through constant practice and experimentation, his niche evolved to what he showcases today.
“My style is very minimalistic,” he said. “Very clean, yet vintage. My inspiration comes from nature and architecture and sunsets – I love sunsets.”
Lewandowski said he always takes multiple photos of the same thing. Through this method, he is able to sort between out-of-focus pictures and photos that emphasize the wrong object. After he picks his favorite, he moves on into post-production.
If the photo was taken off his phone, Lewandowski uses an app called VSCO Cam to edit using the film presets. If taken through his camera, he uses Adobe Lightroom on his computer to manipulate the effects, color tones and contrasts.
“I play around with [the photos] a bit – a good five minutes [each],” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but there have been times where I took a bunch of photos for people, like family friends and stuff, and editing those photos would take like six hours.”
Lewandowski in part credits his popularity to his approach of creating a barrier between photographer and photography.
“If you go through my profile there’s one photo of me, but over all four years I’ve never posted a selfie or a photo of myself,” he said, “which is weird. I like portraits. But I was never the type of guy to let them see who I am. I just let them think.”
With no intentions to abandon the platform, Lewandowski said he expects he will be posting regularly to Instagram for a while.
“I love to share my passion with others, and the Instagram platform seems to fit my likings very well,” Lewandowski said. “The Instagram community is continually growing, and that only makes it better.”