When Cole Rise and his girlfriend made a recent trip to Nicaragua, they weren't planning on staying at their hotel free. But the hotel owner ended up waving the bill in exchange for a photo on Instagram.
Rise isn't your everyday Instagrammer - he has 915,000 followers and counting.
That kind of exchange - real money for sharing a photo on social media that promotes a product, brand, or location - is becoming increasingly common, especially on growing networks like Instagram and Vine. And it's allowed people like Rise to make healthy livings by traveling the world and sharing pictures.
As a professional photographer with a huge following, Rise, who is 30, is paid to travel and shoot exotic locations. He'll post carefully edited images of his adventures on Instagram with captions that he hopes give his followers a window into his travel experiences.
in the hills of southern turkey, exploring ancient lycian tombs dating back to the 4th century BCE. the lycians were an ancient people local to the region, not unlike their neighbors the Greeks, but spoke their own language and had a unique style of art. it was tombs of this style that later inspired the nebataeans when carving petra, in jordan, which you may have seen earlier in the feed :) @turkey_home @matadornetwork #litely
He's backpacked through the Norwegian wilderness for the country's tourism board and photographed ancient ruins in Turkey. In December, NASA invited him to the Kennedy Space Center to shoot the liftoff of the Orion spacecraft alongside media outlets like CNN and the BBC.
Rise, who is also a designer - he created the Instagram icon and some of the app's filters (yes, that one called "Rise") remembers the first time someone asked to pay him for a post on Instagram. "A certain jewelry company reached out and asked me to write a cheesy poem and post a picture of their jewelry 'that shows love,'" he tells Tech Insider. "And I was like, 'Have you looked at my Instagram?'"
@buraktuzer has the best job. strapped in to his glider, we dive-bombed off the side of a 6000ft mountain through an opening in the clouds, before flying in formation to the beach below. and he does this.... every. day. such a great dude, hanging in his office in the sky. @turkey_home #escapeeveryday #litely
He turned down the $300 offer, and says he continues to turn down offers on a weekly basis that don't fit in with his feed's personal "brand."
Rise was already pro photographer before he started using Instagram, and he continues to support himself both through commercial photography as well as through his work on the social network.
Unlike Rise, Cory Staudacher had no experience as a pro photographer before Instagram. His life changed when he got an iPhone.
"I started going out to take photos with friends and found a love for photography," he tells Tech Insider. "It was a good way for me to get out from behind my desk at my design job."
Since joining Instagram three years ago, Staudacher, whose account @withhearts has 563,000 followers, has done photography for companies like Apple, Ford, Gap, Nordstrom, Acura, Dos Equis, Warby Parker, and Marriott Hotels. Staudacher, who is in his 20s, lives in Seattle but often travels for what he calls "social-influencer campaigns" with big brands.
For Dos Equis's "most interesting man in the world" campaign, for example, he took a helicopter ride around New York City and hung out on a luxury yacht. Acura paid him to drive one of its new cars around the Sundance film festival and photograph it against the beautiful landscapes of Park City, Utah.