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Northeastern’s Instagram king

Joe Thomas waited, idling in the middle of the snow-lined street, biding his time, setting up the perfect shot. Someone, he thought—anyone—would soon enter his frame, striding right into his latest photograph of Beacon Hill.

After 10 minutes, his pedestrian appeared, materializing some 100 yards away. He—or she—was a mere speck in the distance, a miniaturized version of the barren trees flanking the brick buildings in this iconic Boston neighborhood.

Thomas captured the scene with his iPhone 5s and then edited the image using three apps—Snapseed, VSCO, and Filterstorm. He uploaded the photo to his Instagram account, wrote up a witty caption—“Rambling around Beacon Hill on a quiet cloudy day is my idea of therapy. Spot the #strideby”—and then proceeded to respond to the flurry of positive feedback, comments ranging from “Beautiful photo” to “Literally my favorite part of Boston.”

It was March 20, 2015, just another day in the life of Northeastern’s Instagram king, AMD’17.

Rambling around Beacon Hill on a quiet cloudy day is my idea of therapy. Spot the #strideby

A photo posted by Joe (@_joe_thomas_) on

 The Following

Thomas’ rise to prominence in the Instagram community took place last month, when he was placed on the photo-sharing site’s suggested user list. His number of Instagram followers grew precipitously—from 3,000 to some 23,000—and his prestige increased dramatically, resulting in his Q&A with The Boston Globe.

It is not uncommon for Thomas now to meet up with other local Instagram users, to talk shop and take photos. “It’s more of a social gathering when we go out to shoot,” he says, “but I’ll also get tips on editing and Instagram trends.”

His tips for the nascent Instagram user fall into two categories—the social and the technical. His technical advice is straightforward, focusing on using scale and symmetry, filters and leading lines. “Try to do something different or create your own style,” he adds. “Tons of people post similar stuff and if you can do something unique, then you’ll stand out.”

To expand your reach, he recommends labeling photos with the hashtags for IGBoston and IGersBoston—two local Instagram communities whose curators select photos to feature on their pages. “Using Boston-based hashtags will help you connect with people who want to see your photos,” he says, “and will help you reach your target audience.”

The Photos

Thomas joined Instagram in the fall of 2013, a hobby photographer who had been dabbling in the art of picture taking since his junior year of high school, when he took a point-and-shoot camera to China. Over the past 18 months, he has posted 340 photos from five countries—the U.S. as well as France, China, England, and Vietnam—focusing predominantly on landscapes and sweeping cityscapes.

The photo he posted on Jan. 2 looks more like a colorful painting than a photograph, eliciting comments like “magical,” and “This is sick, love the tones.” Thomas used his Nikon D3200 digital single-lens reflex camera to capture the image—a snowy scene in his home state of Utah—and then edited the photo with Filterstorm. His caption brings to mind the preternatural world of Dr. Seuss. “If Whoville was a real place,” it says, “it would probably be here.”  

If Whoville was a real place it would probably be here. A photo posted by Joe (@_joe_thomas_) on

Thomas’ off-kilter photo of Boston’s skyline—an image he captured with his iPhone from inside the International Village residence hall last fall—is but one example of his ability to transmogrify the everyday shot into a one-of-a-kind experience. His treatment of this photo was bolstered by his use of Union, the blending and masking app, and his quirky caption: “Just been looking out from my room and been doing some reflectin, if ya catch my drift.”

Just been looking out from my room and been doing some reflectin, if ya catch my drift #Boston

A photo posted by Joe (@_joe_thomas_) on

 His favorite place to take photos is Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood—“when it gets quiet,” he says, “you feel like you’re in a different time period”—yet his photographic goal is the same no matter the location. “I try and make things that connect with people right away,” he explains. “When I’m editing, I try to respect the environment and represent the area in the way that I saw it.”

The Future

Thomas’ newfound passion for photography has compelled him to expand his career outlook and explore the field from a professional standpoint. A second-year journalism major, he will participate in the summertime Dialogue of Civilizations program to Spain, where he’ll focus on photojournalism, and then begin co-op with Boston-based wedding photographer Nicole Chan.

Chan, he says, was impressed with his ability to capture candid moments, and will give him the opportunity to discover the ins and outs of the photography business. “I never saw myself becoming a photographer,” Thomas says, “but the opportunities I have been able to get through Instagram have motivated me to go out and explore.”

His desire to explore his interest in a possible photography career mirrors his zeal for photographic exploration, his talent for finding little-known places from which to take memorable photos. He captured the photo he posted on March 4, “Lost in the cracks,” from atop the observation deck of the Custom House Tower, a skyscraper in the Financial District. “Not many people know about it,” he says, “but when you’re passionate about something, you’re willing to take the extra step to perfect the shot.”  

Lost in the cracks

A photo posted by Joe (@_joe_thomas_) on

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