Inside Facebook Canada and Instagram Headquarters

For those that follow me on social media, you’ll know that I love to take sunrise photos. So when Facebook Canada invited me and a handful of other Instagram users for a #SunriseEmpty look into their new headquarters in downtown Toronto, I took to the chance immediately.

Inside Facebook Canada and Instagram's headquarters

Inside Facebook Canada and Instagram’s headquarters

The event, which expands on the #empty movement pioneered by American Instagrammer Dave Krugman, brings together photographers in the city to capture various locations after-hours, often yielding in a different mood to the location.

Having to get to the offices of Facebook Canada and Instagram before sunrise meant waking up shortly before 5am. Thankfully I’ve been used to getting up early for my Toronto Sunrise Series shoots—although I have to admit, this time was a little more difficult.

The sunrise light as seen from within the Facebook Canada office space.

The sunrise as seen from within the Facebook Canada office space.

Their office almost took over an entire floor, providing a sweeping 270 degree view of the city. With windows all around, there would have been plenty of light coming in—had it not been overcast during the sunrise hour.

The sunrise as seen from a window of Facebook Canada.

The sunrise as seen from a window at Facebook Canada.

Far into the distance though, the clouds opened up to let the sun shine though, bringing with it some strikingly red-pink glow throughout. It was short-lived, and you had to act quickly to capture this moment. I hear the reflection of this light off of the city buildings were quite nice; although I wouldn’t know as I only captured a sliver of this light off of this building.

The reflection of the morning sun on a building.

The reflection of the morning sun on a building.

Facebook Canada opted for the open-concept office space, making it a spacious and inviting place to work in with murals spray-painted by a local artist giving it a boost of colour. I was told the office furniture was selected to complement the colourful murals.

The open-concept office space of Facebook Canada and Instagram.

The open-concept office space of Facebook Canada and Instagram.

Each room has an association to something Canadian and is proudly displayed beside the door, adding to the playfulness of the office.

Each room has a unique Canadian reference to its name.

Each room has a unique Canadian reference to its name.

And for those that follow politics, here’s a room just for you too.

A nod to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The name of this room gives a nod to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Scattered throughout the space, I spotted various items of inspiration (?) like stuffed Sesame Street dolls dressed in Facebook tees that were randomly placed on sofas, hover boards (now I know where all the banned hover boards went), and vibrantly decorated booths.

Elmer wearing a Facebook tee.

Elmer wearing a Facebook tee.

A pillar and booth are colourfully decorated. If only I knew what these booth were used for!

A booth and pillar covered in artwork at Facebook Canada's headquarters.

A booth and pillar covered in artwork at Facebook Canada’s headquarters.

Along one side of the office were eight pillars all decorated by a local artist. Up in the fully stocked cafeteria, one pillar tells us to “look” with an arrow pointing outward, giving us a great view of the CN Tower when we look there.



And along the walls were various posters with words of inspiration to help you work through the day.

Words to live by.

Words to live by.

The morning wouldn’t be complete without a barista on hand to make you a hand-crafted cappuccino, mochacchino, espresso, café au lait, or even a chai tea latte. I was told he is not always there, and was present for this event only. The staff can enjoy the Starbucks machine on the counter, with three different Starbucks roasts to please their palette.

A barista was on hand to make hand-crafted espresso and cappuccinos.

Edward (@edwardrow) enjoys a hand-crafted espresso.

While the invitation mentioned a “light” breakfast, it was anything but, with freshly squeezed orange juice and blended smoothies, sandwiches, scrambled eggs (and egg whites!), mini-scones, potatoes, thick-cut bacon, pea meal bacon, and fruit. I don’t have pictures of this though—I must have been too busy eating it all up.

Besides enjoying the space, it was also a great chance to meet new Instagram faces and catch up with old ones. I knew a handful of people there, while many were new to me. It’s always nice to be able to meet the faces behind the accounts you follow, further enhancing that #CommunityFirst experience.

Kael (@punkodelish), made it to the event despite her busy travel itinerary.

I wonder if Kaele realizes her iPhone case matches the colour of the benches.

I wonder if Kael realizes her iPhone case matches the colour of the benches.

She even brought another fellow Instagrammer along for the ride. Here she is with Christoffer Collin (@wisslaren).

Kaele and Phillipe looking at a picture.

Kael and Christoffer…’gramming?

The clouds moved away, bringing in more sunlight to the floor. This allowed for some more “fun-in-the-sun,” although it seems like I just relegated to taking silhouettes of people.

Here’s Taha (@tahaphoto) in the sun.

Taha in the sunlight.

Taha in the sunlight.

And Taha (@tahaphoto) contemplating life on the bench.

Taha contemplating on life.

Taha contemplating life.

I also caught a quick snap of Victor (@veeceecheng) doing what he does best.

Victor taking a photo at sunrise.

Victor taking a photo at sunrise.

A couple of reps. from Facebook Canada joined us and gave a few words on their new headquarters.

Joelle tells the group a little about Facebook Canada's new headquarters.

Joelle tells the group a little about Facebook Canada’s new headquarters.

It was an enjoyable morning filled with some great city views, great company, good food, and good times at Facebook Canada and Instagram headquarters. Thanks for the tour!

Oliver the dog, courtesy of Holly Sisson (@hollysisson), Monica Sisson (@monicasisson), and Pitterpatterfurryfeet (@pitterpatterfurryfeet).

The making of Serenity Sunrise

Reposted over 10 times on Instagram alone, and with more than 25,000 likes combined, this Serenity Sunrise photo is my most reposted image on Instagram. Today, I thought I’d share with you the post-processing that went into making this image. While most of my images will go through a number of processes in Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop, you may be disappointed to know that only minor adjustments were made to this photo to make it look the way I posted it on Instagram. This post will describe to you how and why I went through processing this image.

How I Edited Serenity Sunrise

The Origin of the Name Serenity Sunrise

Before I get to the post-processing, let me tell you how the name Serenity Sunrise came about. I’m not really the one to actually name each of my images, so why did I name this Serenity Sunrise? The name actually spawned from a repost and comment made from @Umbra_ltd. They reposted my photo mentioning that the photo was captured in Rose Quartz, one of the Pantone colours of the year. This thought never even occurred to me when I took this, and for someone in the print industry as well, I should have known better!

PANTONE Colours of the Year 2016

PANTONE Colours of the Year 2016

For those who do not know, every year PANTONE chooses what it deems will be the next colour of the year. This colour is thought to trend in different industries like fashion and interior design for the upcoming year. For this year (2016), Pantone chose not one, but two colours of the year: Rose Quartz, and Serenity.

While Rose Quartz is evident at first glance, if you look close enough, you’ll see pockets of Serenity mixed in the shadow areas, particularly within the skyline. This inconspicuous addition of Serenity I thought really enhances the feel of the overall image. So in essence, this photo is a great representation of both PANTONE colours of the year: Rose Quartz and Serenity.

Rather than naming it Rose Quartz Sunrise, I thought the subtle representation of Serenity, and the name, lent itself perfectly for a sunrise photo. Hence the name, Serenity Sunrise. It also just rolls off the tongue smoothly, don’t you think?

The Before and After

If you look at the slider above, you can see the before and after image of Serenity Sunrise.

If you slide the middle slider bar all the way to the right, you’ll be able to see the original unedited image that came out of my camera. If you slide the bar all the way to the left, you can see the After image, after it was post-processed to my liking in Adobe Lightroom. There’s actually very little difference between the two apart from lightening up certain areas of the image.

The actual image I posted on Instagram was a portrait version of this, for which I’ll explain why I did that, a little later.

The Lightroom Basic Panel Adjustment

Lightroom Basic Adjustment Panel

Lightroom Basic Adjustment Panel

This is pretty much all that went into making this image shine. The adjustment that made the largest impact would be the White Balance. This will dictate the overall mood of your image. With a +10 toward Magenta in the hues, and a temperature that ‘s overall pretty cool (towards the blue), you can see how the Rose Quartz and Serenity would play into the image.

An Exposure boost of +0.3 brightens the image overall, which you can tell. The Shadows were also opened up with a +31. But I lowered the Blacks to -43 so as not to make the image too flat. Boosting the Clarity to +43 accentuated the shadow areas more by darkening the shadows and lightening the highlights. Believe it or not, boosting the Vibrance to +25 didn’t do a whole lot in terms of making this image more Rose Quartz. It merely heightened the subtle colour of Serenity within the skyline.

If you look at the Tone Curve, it’s pretty much linear with the exception at the Shadow areas. I lifted the Darks up a bit because I didn’t want the blacks to be truly black. It would have attracted too much attention otherwise.

There you have it!

As Posted on Instagram

The photo cropped to portrait orientation, and uploaded to Instagram.

The photo cropped to portrait orientation, and uploaded to Instagram.

Here’s the actual photo that was posted to Instagram. While the image itself is landscape, I post images to Instagram in portrait orientation because I feel it the image is more impactful. The portrait mode fills the screen more, allowing the photo itself to shine. However, when you post landscape images on Instagram, the width of the image is always shown in full, thereby only taking up a fraction of the screen on your mobile device, allowing for the comments below to overtake the screen. This detracts away from the beauty of the image, and I feel is one of Instagram’s weaker elements.

If you enjoyed this blog post, let me know in the comments below and I will continue on with this series on how I edit my images.


10 Landscape Instagram Accounts That Inspire Me

Have you ever seen these x Instagram followers you need to follow now blog posts? They’re littered all over the Internet so they’re not too hard to find. These lists are great for finding new talent and especially for finding inspiration. While I’ve come across a number of these, I realized that I’ve never actually shared my share of inspiration on my blog. So on this blog post, I thought I’d give some input on which accounts inspire me the most, and which ones I think should deserve a follow.

10 Landscape Instagram Accounts That Inspire Me

Since I’m very partial to landscape and nature photographers, this first list that I’ll be doing will concentrate on this particular genre. Not to worry though, I will come up with a list for other categories in the near future.

10 Landscape Photographers on Instagram That Inspire Me

These accounts on Instagram do a great job of inspiring me to get out and seek adventure. The first list includes accounts that may not be as well known, but still do a great job in making me wish I had built a career out of landscape photography. The second list consists of those that are well known around the social media networks as professional photographers. Here’s my list in no particular order.

Chloe Hibbert: @Clo.Photo

At a relatively young age, it’s great to see people exploring their own backyard. It’s no wonder why Chloe, who lives in Alberta, has a passion for exploring her surroundings. Check her stream for endless adventures in the Canadian Rockies.



Shane Black @shanemichaelblack

If Shane’s photos don’t entice you, perhaps his time-lapsing videos will. They’ll take your breath away as you scroll and look through each and every one of these videos, wishing you were there with him.

Shane Michael Black


Renee Hahnel @reneehahnel and Matthew Hahnel @matthewhahnel

Here’s a duo from Colorado that likes to hike together and take each other’s photographs in places you wish you could be in right now.





Jovey @vytravels

A Bay-area account that is filled with exploring its surroundings in some of the most beautiful ways.



Masa Onikata @moonlit_japan

If you ever wanted to see Japanese landscapes like you’ve never seen before, this Japanese photographer’s stream is a goldmine. Forgetting the all-too-common Tokyo cityscapes or photos from the streets of Osaka, this stream full of beautiful Japanese landscapes is unique, fresh, and certainly a little moody.



Argen Elezi @argenel

He lives in the same city as I do, but we both take very different looking pictures. His style is unique and dreamy, and makes you wish you were right there with him when he took the shot.



Scott Rankin @othellonine

Scott gives a different feel to Vancouver, Canada. The muted tones coming from his account provides a soothing collection of Canada’s beautiful west coast.



Karan B. @sendingstache

If Karan’s eye for great composition doesn’t draw you in, his snarky caption he provides for each of his photos will no doubt do the trick.



Jordan Herschel @jordanherschel

Jordon is a Taho-based travel photographer with beautiful landscapes with subtle colour added throughout his stream.



Katie Goldie @goldiehawn_

Katie’s outdoor adventures will sure whet your appetite for more mountain adventures. As her profile says, she “climbs mountains and stuff.”

Goldie Hawn


Sam Ciurdar @samciurdar and Amanda Ciurdar @amandaseeyoudarrr

Both Sam and Amanda’s take on their travel photography brings in some more muted tones, but mix in some portraits of one another and you’ll love the refreshing feed filled with happiness.



Amanda Ciurdar


Additional Accounts for Inspiration

Here’s a list with some more well-known photographers that offer endless adventures and wanderlust on their Instagram feed. I’ve separated them from the list above because these people are likely to already appear on other must follow lists.

Here’s my list of well-known photographers that inspire me, in no particular order.

  1. Colby Brown: @colbybrownphotography
  2. Chris Burkard: @chrisburkard
  3. Paul Zizka: @paulzizkaphoto
  4. Elia Locardi: @elialocardi
  5. Dave Brosha: @davebrosha

Hopefully these accounts will be of some inspiration to you all, and they motivate you to get out and seek the outdoor adventures that your heart yearns for. I know there are a lot more that inspire me, but I have left this initial list at 10 to prevent it from getting too long. If you have suggestions for other landscape accounts on Instagram, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Being on Instagram’s Suggested Users List…Twice

Before I delve into the details, let me clarify by writing that this post isn’t about promoting my Instagram account, nor about boasting about what happened to my account. I’m writing this post to be an informative one for those wondering what exactly happens when a user gets on Instagram’s Suggested Users list. The Suggested Users list is a list of users on Instagram that are recommended to be followed, and is presented to every new account upon creation. For those of you who are wondering how one gets on the Suggested Users list on Instagram, don’t hold your breath—nobody really knows how one gets on the Suggested Users list, so I will merely give my thoughts below, on how this can be done. Now, let’s get to the details.

Thoughts on being on Instagram's Suggested Users list.

Thoughts on being on Instagram’s Suggested Users list.

Being on Instagram’s Suggested Users List the First Time

This section will explain what happened to my account when I was put on Instagram’s Suggested Users list the first time. I don’t have any screen captures of this event, so this will be a recollection of what I remember. On May 29, 2014, at 12:29pm, I received a Direct Mail from Instagram congratulating me for being put on their Suggested Users List. That DM looks a little like this:

Direct Message from Instagram

Direct Message from Instagram

To see if they actually respond to their DMs, I decided to write back to them and thank them for putting me on. This dialog went a little like this:

Response from Instagram.

Response from Instagram.

With two emojis, this conversation ended before it actually began.

My Instagram account at this time was strictly photos taken with my iPhone, or my iPhoneography. Before being put on the list, my follower count was approximately 1100. I didn’t know what would happen so I decided to just enjoy the ride to see where this took me. Within minutes I started getting followers. My activity list was just a list of messages stating xxx started following you. At one point, I was receiving more than 1000 new followers per 12 hours. This barrage of new followers continued steadily for the next 14 days.

By the end of the 14 days on the Suggested Users list, my total followers count was somewhere in the upper 20,000s. What’s one to do with all these followers? Not to worry because as weeks went by that number started to diminish little by little. There’s a number of reasons why you may start to lose followers:

  1. People who initially followed you no longer had an interest in your account.
  2. Spam accounts who automatically follow people on the Suggested Users list may unfollow you just as quickly.

In fact, I remember even months after being put on the Suggested Users list, I was still losing a small number of followers. It wasn’t until months down the road where my total followers finally settled down to the low 20,000. Fast forward a few months later when Instagram decided to purge inactive accounts or those that they found to be spam, and I found myself with even fewer followers afterwards. My total follower count after this purge settled to be around 18,600. From then on, my follower count fluctuated somewhat but was always around the 18,500-18,600 mark.

Here’s a summary of the roller coaster ride my follower count went through the first time on Instagram’s Suggested Users list on May 29, 2014.

Number of followers while being on Instagram's Suggested Users list.

Number of followers while being on Instagram’s Suggested Users list.

Who Are These Followers?

Now that’s a good question. The Suggested Users list is shown to all new users who create an account for the first time. You can also get to the list through your settings pages. And more recently, when you follow an account, a list of three other similar accounts will be suggested for you at that time as well. Whether the people on this list come from the Suggested Users list though, I do not know for certain.

I would gather that many of these followers are people who created an account out of interest and curiosity. These people may not necessarily continue to use the app and therefore will likely never engage with you on your account. So although you may have a large number of followers, those who actually engage with you may only be a fraction of those followers.

Instagram Followers

Instagram Followers

It’s important to note that just because they don’t engage with you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t see your photos. I’ll talk a little more on this below.

So How Did You Get Put On The Suggested Users List?

There are a number of sites out there that will tell you how to get on the Suggested Users list. While these techniques may be valid, there really is nothing proving that they work. The first time I was put on though, I was consciously following those very tips:

  1. Post regularly good quality photos.
  2. Engage with your followers by replying back to their comments on your photos.
  3. Visit your followers stream and engage with them on their photos.
  4. Visit other non-follower’s photos and like and comment on them.

So, is that what I should be doing with my account?

The whole point of social media platforms is to connect with other like-minded individuals. If your goal is to meet new people and connect with them, then yes, doing the above will likely get you further than if you were to simply ignore those steps. Don’t forget, joining contests and doing collaborations will also get you noticed by other members, increasing your chances of gaining new loyal followers.

Being On The Suggested Users List The Second Time

The second time I was put on Instagram’s Suggested Users list, it happened a little differently so this intrigued me quite a bit. On October 19, 2015 at 2:31pm, this time I received an email from Instagram congratulating me for being on the Suggested Users list. That email looked a little like this:

Mail from Instagram.

Mail from Instagram.

This took me by surprise though, since this came at a time where I was only sporadically posting at best. There were times where I wasn’t even posting, commenting, or liking, for five- or six-day stretches. I was certainly not following any of the four points mentioned above. My followers count was roughly 18,500 on that day. And this time, Instagram put me on their Suggested Users List for three weeks.

I decided to do things a little differently with my account this time. For the longest time I prided myself in uploading only my iPhone photos on my Instagram account. This time, however, I decided to now include my Nikon photos to my account. The difference in quality is still very much noticeable and so I decided to up my account to the next level along with my follower count.

So how was I put on the Suggested Users list the second time?

If you look at the email above, they gave you a link to click to suggest other users. If someone else was put on the Suggested Users list and got this same email, perhaps they remembered my account and decided to suggest me at that point, regardless of how often I was posting, commenting, or liking.

This would show that Instagram does listen to what other users are saying by taking their suggestions. It’s just a wonder why I was never presented with this option the first time around.

So what does this mean?

This means, you’re still better off cultivating a loyal base of followers by connecting with them through comments and likes. The more top-of-mind you are to other people, the more you’ll likely be suggested by another user to be on the Suggested Users list.

Here’s a graph of my follower’s numbers from the time I was put on, on October 19, 2015, to the time I was put off the list, exactly three weeks later.

Number of followers while being on Instagram's Suggested Users list.

Number of followers while being on Instagram’s Suggested Users list.

The increase in followers this time was incredible. At one point I was getting almost 700 new followers an hour. November 6 had an increase of about 7,000 new followers over the course of only 12 hours as well. I really don’t know where all these people are coming from!

At the end of being on the Suggested Users List, my follower count was roughly 153,600, an increase of 830 percent!

Engagements, Follower Count, and Likes Oh My!

With such an increase in number of followers, you hope you will get an increase in engagement as well. My likes and comments have increased a lot, but my posting dSLR photos have definitely made a difference in this as well. My engagement and like levels may not have increased by the same amount as my follower count had, but I have noticed more interaction from my users.

Seconds after posting a photo.

Seconds after posting a photo.

You can see here that seconds after I posted a photo to my account, people will immediately start to like it.

Seconds after posting a photo.

Seconds after posting a photo.

While being on Instagram’s Suggested Users List, I would still be getting followers while people would be liking my photo that I just uploaded seconds ago. Notice how there aren’t any comments though? Liking only requires a double-tap while commenting requires more effort and time.

With a large amount of followers, how come engagement isn’t as high?

There could be a number of reasons for this. I mentioned above that many of these followers may be new to Instagram and therefore may not use the app on a regular basis. These people may not engage with you as much as someone who loves photography and goes on the app several times a day. I believe this reason alone yields in an imbalance between follower count and engagement.

What about impressions?

Impressions are a metric for marketers to measure the success of a social media post. For example, YouTube views can be equivalent to its impression figure. The number of open e-blasts may also be used as an impression.

Instagram can be a little different though since you never really know who may or may not have seen your image. For example, if your follower count is 100,000, then your potential impressions may be 100,000 as well—although this is likely never the case. People who don’t necessarily like or comment on your photos may still see your photo, which will count as an impression because down the road, those people may still very well remember your photo.

The takeaway to this is your photos may still get a large impression because of your follower count, but your engagement may not be as large because of their decision to not like and/or comment on your photo.

Does Any Of This Matter?

This is a question you’ll have to ask yourself. To some people, these are just silly numbers. To others, they mean more potential for partnerships and collaborations with brands. Whether this matters, depends on what you want out of your Instagram account. I welcome new experiences and opportunities so I’ll see where this takes me—if anywhere. If I continue to post high quality photos and be inviting to my followers, I hope to cultivate a loyal following where people will want to come back to my stream for more of my photos.

Personally I am very thankful for being on Instagram’s Suggested Users list twice, as I enjoy engaging with new people around the world. If I am able to show my photography to more people, I will be more motivated to continue and learn the craft to better myself as a photographer, all the while making friendships around the world.

Have you been put on Instagram’s Suggested Users list? Do you even care about any of this? Let me know in the comments below as I would love to hear what you think about all of this.

Going up.

When we were hiking up this mountain, we looked up ahead only to see the winding path extend further and further for as far as the eye could see. Did we just stand still and think to ourselves how hard a hike this is? Well, we may have for a split second, but soon after we got back on track and forged through the path all the way to the summit. It was a rewarding hike that wasn’t meant to be so challenging with its relatively flat pathways, but it seems like many did find it challenging.

Nikon D800, 1/80 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 175mm

Nikon D800, 1/80 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 175mm

We knew eventually we would hit the summit, so there really was only one way to go for us: up. I was also moving forward with the great anticipation of seeing what lay ahead of me once I made it to the summit.

For the last few weeks I’ve been posting a photo or two a day from my trip to Alberta, Canada, and it’s taking me a while to go through each and every one of my photos. In the interim, I invite you to see my Instagram posts (@smaku) as well, where I upload on a daily basis shots that I have taken with my iPhone. Also, I post the full, uncropped photos of these photos on my Twitter feed (@theSmaku) for those interested in seeing the full version.

And as always, thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and viewing my photos wherever you see them. I very much appreciate your support!