Two years ago Katherine Sabbath was a full time teacher who made desserts in her spare time and shared photos of them with her friends on Instagram. Today she has over 124,000 followers, and has stepped down from teaching full time to focus on her online presence.
“The term Instagram Influencer to me usually evokes pictures in my head of models, chefs, celebrities, people rolling in money, people who have risen to the top in their field - and for me to be put in that category has been quite surreal,” she said.
“When I told my mum that I was thinking of stepping down from a full time salary-based job to moving into freelancing because of Instagram, that’s when she kind of went, 'Woah, woah. Can we back track. What is Instagram again?'”
Ms Sabbath is one of a new breed of digital influencers, who have managed to monetise their presence on the social media photo sharing app.
Users post an average of at least two photos a week, and the most popular shots are food and selfies. 60 per cent of active users are women.
Australia’s official account is, by far, the most popular country on Instagram, with 1.4 million followers, and Sydney is the most Instagrammed city in the country.
Ms Sabbath’s income comes from working with brands across the world.
“People may think I live this glamourous life. I’m always out to lunch and taking photos of my food and having chefs throw their croissants at me, but that’s definitely not happening,” she said.
"It’s incredibly stressful behind the scenes. Most of the time I’m in meetings or talking about potential collaborations or partnerships. And when I’m not, I’m baking and my cakes can take up to three days to make.”
Daniel Kjellson, co-founder of the talent agency Sydney Stockholm assists people like Ms Sabbath to make their passion for the platform a business.
“We saw how social media really gave birth to a new generation of influencers, that in their very niche fields were the experts and the go-to media sources for content and inspiration,” Mr Kjellson said.
“People obviously don’t see that I’ll have a tripod set it up on self-timer, and run in front of it. This could take 15 to 20 minutes before you actually get the photo."
Benji Condie is aspiring to be one of these influencers. He currently has just over 20,000 followers.
“I think my Instagram style [is] casual, it’s fresh. I’m always on the go but with touches of luxury,” said Mr Condie.
Mr Condie joined Instagram two years ago, at the age of 18, while still living in his home town of Byron Bay.
“I was kind of taking photos, coastal beach photos, food, health anything like that,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of a big fish in a small pond. I’ve always hungered to try and go more and make a bigger splash, and that was my driving point for moving to Sydney.
Mr Condie puts a lot of work into his online presence. “From the outside looking in, [followers] probably just think all you do is take pretty photos, standing by a wall posing,” he said.
“People obviously don’t see that I’ll have a tripod set it up on self-timer, and run in front of it. This could take 15 to 20 minutes before you actually get the photo. There’s a lot more to it than everyone thinks.”
“My friends don’t actually want to eat with me anymore at cafes because the time it takes for me to set up the photo I want to take, it’s probably a good 15-20 minutes.”
“Some people will order the same thing and I’ll be like, can you order something different because it’s going to clash in the photo. I want it to look all flow and creative, and they kind of roll their eyes at me like, 'ah okay sure Benji whatever.'"
"Some people will order the same thing and I’ll be like, can you order something different because it’s going to clash in the photo."
Mr Kjellsson said the pressure on influencers to work on their posts is constant. “You’re only as good as your last update,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve just dipped my toe in the pond,” said Mr Condie. “There are so many opportunities to try exploring, but it’s only going to come through consistency and hard work. But I’m up for the challenge.”
Dealing with being recognised comes with the territory of 'instafame'.
“It’s a bit of a surreal experience when people come up to you and they recognise you from online,” said Mr Condie. “They come up to you and they’re like ‘You’re Benji from Instagram!’ and they appreciate the content you’re putting up there.”
Ms Sabbath also gets recognised and approached. “When people do come and say hello to me, I think it’s fantastic because I actually get to talk to them and say, 'thank you so much for supporting me,'” she said.
“I try not to get too swept up over the label 'Instagram Famous' because I know also Instagram and things like that are very fickle,” said Ms Sabbath.
Mr Kjellson believes that this form of interaction comes from a desire for closeness and personal connection.
“What Instagram tells us about this generation is that we always want to come closer,” he said.
“I can be close to you wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever you are,” Mr Kjellson said. “It’s almost like getting a hidden camera in someone’s life. If we’re going to talk about the next generation, that’s where Snapchat comes in, photo versus video. You can get even closer, and it’s about getting access to people we really care about and want more from.”