Behind every successful woman is a supportive man. And behind every woman and her alluring Instagram feed is... an Insta-boyfriend.
Think of him as the 2016 equivalent of the man who patiently holds your handbag while you shop. Only now, he’s wielding a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, snapping photos of you while you pose for the perfect #ootd.
In an age where everyone has an Instagram account, he’s the silent co-author behind your glossy social media feed.
He’s that guy in a cafe, taking a close-up of his girlfriend sipping a lavender latte.
He’s the one crouching in front of a brick wall, waiting patiently as his other half decides which pose makes her thighs look lean.
He’s the one who risks his life at traffic intersections so his gal can achieve that perfect crossing-the-street- with-wind-in-her-hair look.
Problem is, while most men have cottoned on to the fact that they have to snap, oh, about 50 photos before they get the “right” one, it takes real devotion (and skill) to deliver pictures worthy of 10,000 likes. And don’t we all want that?
That’s why we turn to fashion, travel and lifestyle blogger Melissa C. Koh (www.melissackoh.com), who goes by the Instagram and Twitter handle @melissackoh, and her self-professed Insta-boyfriend James (@jamesbabschen).
Melissa boasts 182k Instagram followers, and most of her impeccable photos are taken by James. Even more impressive is how she personally groomed James – who started off knowing nothing about a DSLR camera – into the perfect photographer, who even picked up a cheerleading move on the fly so Mel could get the perfect fl at lay photo. We kid you not.
We meet up with the two aces for a chat...
So James, how did you become an Insta-boyfriend?
James: It all started last year when Mel asked me for help with her OOTD shots during a trip to Hong Kong.
Mel: He didn’t even know how to use a DSLR then. During the trip, I uploaded one of his photos to my IG account and someone commented: “What bad composition!” (laughs)
Well, his pictures look amazing now... how did that happen?
James: Mel gives me pointers when I’m behind the lens. For instance, I’ve learned that waist-level camera angles are the most flattering for full-body shots. They portray your body proportions the most accurately, so your head won’t look too big and your legs won’t look too stubby.
Mel: We browse Pinterest and Instagram feeds daily. I’ll highlight the pictures I like, and indicate that they’re the kind of shots I want or the style I’m going for.
What’s the most memorable photo you took of Mel, James?
James: There’s a gorgeous picture of her sitting in the trunk of a van in Bali, which was the result of a lot of hard work. First, we got our very accommodating driver, Rajux, to clear the boot. Next, we brought the comforter out of our hotel bedroom and placed it in the van, after which we carried out the props – which included a plate of croissants! We got a lot of bewildered stares from the villa’s service staff.
That sounds like a lot of work...
James: It wasn’t just that. Only after arranging the props and getting Mel to sit in the boot did we realise that the lighting was wrong. We had to ask Rajux to make a seven-point turn in the really tight space, which took about fi ve minutes. I also had to climb onto a large pile of dirt to take the photo because there was limited space and we were using a 50mm zoom lens!
Does Mel insist you delete “unglam” shots?
James: Nope. This one’s a hoarder. She keeps everything I take, even the blurry shots. I’ve deleted all my music on my phone to make space for all her pictures – there’s about 9.84GB worth of them.
I’ve heard some bloggers have to take a few hundred photos before they get a good shot. What’s your hit rate?
James: On good days, I’m a one-click wonder. On not-so-good days, where she feels her face is “not right”, I can take as many as 50 pictures and not a single one will be good enough for posting.
Mel: He’ll try to convince me that the pictures are okay, but it’s not that easy to change my mind.
James, you used to be a finance analyst. Was it tough to go from a corporate job to full-time Insta-boyfriend?
James: I used to think, “why everything also must shoot?” But over the last few months, I’ve grown attached to Mel’s DSLR. It’s become an extension of my hand. I’ve been a full-time Insta-boyfriend for the past three months – Mel pays me for the work I do, by the way – but I’ve just started work at a new company doing branding and marketing.
Mel: If you ask me, he started having fun and experimenting with the DSLR after he mastered it. Plus, there wasn’t a lot of pressure on him because there are professional photographers on most of my work trips. I usually just say: “Snap whatever you want and I’ll do my best to edit it.”
Describe your most gruelling shoot.
James: We were shooting at a secluded area in Tuas and I really needed to go to the loo. I tried to hold on until the shoot finished – it was supposed to take about 40 minutes, which felt like eternity! – but I couldn’t focus and eventually had to find a bush to relieve myself. The quality of the photos improved tremendously
Photography aside, what skills have you picked up from being an Insta-boyfriend?
... I’m sorry?
James: We were fooling around one day when Mel taught me how to lift her onto my shoulders the way cheerleaders do. It’s more glam compared to grabbing her around the waist and lifting her up – I did that for five minutes in Japan when she wanted to get a top-down shot of a field of flowers without trampling on the blooms. Now, we use this cheerleading move for Mel to get the perfect flat lay photo.
Who works harder during a shoot?
Mel: James. There are shoots where he’s perspiring profusely, but he doesn’t complain.
James: Mel does the more adventurous stuff. When we were in Bali, she posed for a shot on the edge of a three-storey building. The building’s security guards came running over, saying: “Miss, come down. It’s dangerous!” and she did. Thankfully, she knows her limits.
Mel, how do the rest of us turn our boyfriends into Insta-boyfriends?
Mel: Don’t force them to take your pictures if they don’t want to. Pique their interest in photography first by allowing them to capture stuff that they like, such as wildlife or sports. After they’ve mastered the camera, they’ll be able to shoot any subject well. Also, give your man clear instructions on where to stand and what you want to see in the frame.
Finally, tell us why all men should jump on the Insta-boyfriend bandwagon.
James: Because boyfriends take the nicest pictures of their girlfriends.
Mel: (Nodding) They know which angles work best... and they have a personal interest in the subject! (laughs)