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Sony’s Success Is Driven By Community

The Collective is a group of immensely talented photographers playing the Instagram game just like us older players did with blogging
Sony Kando Trip

Talking to Sony last week, I learned that sales of the a7 III are booming and the company is continuing to allocate more units to the States based on demand. Also, judging by several conversations I had with members of the Alpha Imaging Collective, it seems like these young influencers have a lot to do with their success in the market and pushing the mirrorless disruption further.

The combined reach of the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective is in the tens of millions and one of them, Zach Allia, told me he credits Sony with reigniting the Instagram community and their creative collaborations.

Being immersed in the collective for a few days, I came away with a better understanding of photography’s next generation and how Sony’s success is driven by that community.

Also, that the Millennials aren’t so bad after all.

Members of the collective and the artisans lectured during Sony Kando Trip. This panel was about social media.

Where Gen X (me) hustled the web, blogging and, to some extent, YouTube, these Instagrammers are hustling an algorithm and with great success. What you need to know is, they’re immensely talented photographers shooting with Sony kits. And, while their means to success is different than ours was, they’re doing great.

Sidebar to this story: I was worried as a parent of a millennial that they were just couchsurfing and not earning enough to pay a cell phone bill. I resisted offering any Dad advice and just listened to their take on a career.

Sony is certainly benefiting from an Instagram bounce off a vibrant, engaged demographic. If you get the opportunity, I’d encourage you to hang out with them at a future event. At the least, follow them on Instagram. To that end, here’s who I met and recommend you follow.


The Six Collectives, Two Artisans and One Cyclist You Should Meet (Because I Did)

During Kando Trip 2.0, on a low-rent set we cobbled together inside a former chapel situated on the massive Asilomar conference grounds, I asked each collective the four questions. I also took a selfie. The set moved around a bit and we never did find any ferns to place between us.

I asked the interviewees:

  1. How did you get into photography?
  2. What’s your favorite destination you’ve photographed?
  3. What’s something about you people don’t know?
  4. How has Sony wowed you?

Rachel Jones Ross

Rachel Jones Ross joins me on the first set.

Responding to my questions, @rachel_jones_ross told me she always had a camera in her hand and really got into photography when she saw a friend’s Milky Way photos and has been shooting ever since. Her favorite photography destination is the Rockies, where she’s based. The thing that people don’t know about her is she has a pilot’s license and a Ph.D. in psychology.


Creating a space with creatives in the collective is how Sony wowed her.

The amazement at what they’ve done with the collective is what every member of it told me. A cynic could certainly dismiss this sort of marketing, but not after seeing it first hand. This is the most energized group of creatives I’ve hung out with since the salad days of blogging and walking the halls of SXSW when Web 2.0 was a hot conference topic.

Jane Kim

Jane was so nice to meet and was my second interview.

I wasn’t sure how many of the interview subjects would show up, considering all the fun was elsewhere at the Monterey Bay resort, but @_janekim was right on time and she told me she got into photography through Instagram like she’s a product of it.


Her favorite photography destination is Seville. What people don’t know about her is she used to work at Twitter in tech and advertisers. Echoing what Rachel had to say, that Sony has inspired a huge community is what wowed her.

Kyle Huber

Decided to move the set inside with Huber.

@asenseofhuber grew up as an artist and started taking photos of everything with an iPhone. He then decided to go full time as a photographer and bought a Sony, the a7R. Traveling to and photographing Hong Kong is his favorite and people probably don’t know he’s super into music and would like to be a DJ.

What wowed him about Sony is the networking and his friend Jose Silva (also interviewed) told him to get the a7R II.

J.N. Silva

Inside with J.N. Silva wishing there were ferns.

Before our interview session, I met @jnsilva on the beach during a sunset shoot. I had the monster 500mm f/4 with me, offered to let him try it, and then asked to borrow an SD card from him when mine filled up. He obliged, had fun shooting with the 500, and I later handed the card back to him.

Me shooting with the 500mm f/4, just after this, Silva said hello.

The next day, we met again and joked about the shoot and how 50 other photographers took about the same sunset shots, according to Instagram. Silva told me as an only child, moving from Venezuela to the United States, he wanted to document his family life. The first 10,000 photos he took were of his family, and he’s into moments. You can see that in his photography. He favorite destinations are Kenya and Nairobi. What wows him is every time he uses a Sony camera.

I kept the interviews and questions short on purpose, but it sure seemed like Silva and I were just getting started.

Philip Edsel

I believe Edsel liked the irony of set, considering how lavish the rest of the resort grounds are.

Like Jane Kim, @edsel got into photography via Instagram. He’s formerly a writer and traveled with a band where he captured life on the road and that led to a full-time gig. He’s also publishing a novel on Instagram. His favorite destination is Seville and people don’t know he’s a former writer, commercial musician and commercial photographer.


The wow for Edsel is the community and he’s proud of his work on Parallax, a short made entirely with the RXO.

Zach Allia

My favorite interview because he told it to me straight, how Instagrammers make money.

@zachallia started taking photographs 17 years ago when his dad gave him a Pentax K1000 SE and he switched to it full time 5 years ago, focusing on Instagram. Of all the travels and the places photography has taken him, Jordan is his favorite. He, like me, was once in tech. As I said in the opening to this article, he’s wowed by how Sony has done such a good job in reigniting the community.

Zach and I talked long after the four interview questions were over. I learned from him about the real gigs Instagrammers land and how the platform is a showcase for them with earnings in channels older photographers would better recognize.


Two Artisans

Perhaps the word got out that I was interviewing during Kando because I had a couple of wild cards show up that weren’t part of the collective but are in the more traditional role of Artisans of Imagery and Global Imaging ambassadors.

Andy Katz

I only realized later that I was cut off in this photo with Andy.

The first artisan I met was @andykatzphoto who read Portraits of Greatness when he was 8 and knew right then and there what he was going to do with his life. Having visited 90 countries, he refused to name one that was the best. When he’s not taking photos, Andy makes wine under the Aperture and DevilProof labels.

What wows him about Sony is that they created a camera that weighs nothing (still the main benefit of mirrorless) and takes amazing photos like its heavier competitors.

Thibault Roland

Thibault and I had a good talk but grew distance as the interview progressed. (I’m joking, we were just laughing at this set.)

When @thibaultrolandphoto showed up on my makeshift interview set, I thought maybe he was in the wrong room and was worried he was missing a lecture he was scheduled to give. Putting off a professorial vibe, I didn’t expect such meditative photos, but after we talked for a bit, I got it.


I was right about Thibault being a professor, he’s got a Ph.D. in psychics.

His favorite location is Newfoundland for being so unique. Sony’s tech wows him all the time and he started using their gear because he can attach pretty much anything to an a7R. Taking photos for as long as he can remember, he got serious after shooting therapeutically during his thesis.

I related to him on that point and why I’m interested in film for entirely personal reasons. Covering tech can get exhausting and an analog experience grounds me in the discipline.

Kamran Ali

Kamran and I could’ve spent the rest of the event riding bikes to and from Monterey and talking.

Sony insisted I meet @kamranonbike and I’m glad I did. They were right and I’ll cover his extensive photography backstory on my cycling lifestyle outlet Bike Hugger. Kamran isn’t a collective member or an artisan. Instead, he’s a fascinating character who got a camera to take photos of his native Pakistan to show it to his classmates while studying in Berlin.


Turns out, he fell in love with photography and has been shooting and touring by bicycle ever since. His first camera was purchased with a loan because he couldn’t afford it. It cost 900 Euros and was an EOS300D with the kit lens.

Kamran’s favorite places are Mexico and Peru for the indigenous communities and how they connect with nature. What he wanted me to know is he’s not an extraordinary person but someone who was in a pressure cooker for too long and had to get out.

So, he decided to go on a bike journey and take a Sony camera with him.


A Community of Resources

I want to close this article with a comment David Burnet made opening the proceedings at Sony Kando Trip. Reflecting on his career and seeing so much promise in front of him, he said, “There are so many resources available to you, take advantage of them.”

I agree and especially when the resources include the talent Sony has harnessed with the collective. It was a pleasure to meet them. The two artisans and a cyclist too.

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