How to be an Instagram Boyfriend - meet the Irish men behind the lens of those perfect pictures
Influencers put a lot of work into looking picture-perfect, but what about the people behind the lens? Tanya Sweeney meets the unsung heroes of social media - the boyfriends and husbands who are always ready for their beloved's close-up
Who was it that said that behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes?
Yet in 2019, it's probably better to say that behind every great influencer is a partner working away to get a great shot. The HABs (husbands and boyfriends) of Instagram are the unsung heroes of the entire content creation scene. And behind those seemingly candid shots and carefree Instagram stories, there's a lot of spadework going on - both in front of and behind the camera.
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Who was it that said that behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes? Yet in 2019, it's probably better to say that behind every great influencer is a partner working away to get a great shot. The HABs (husbands and boyfriends) of Instagram are the unsung heroes of the entire content creation scene. And behind those seemingly candid shots and carefree Instagram stories, there's a lot of spadework going on - both in front of and behind the camera.
Oscar winner Leonardo Di Caprio recently joined the ranks of the HABs of Instagram. In May, he was spotted with his 21-year-old girlfriend Camila Morrone in Cannes, where he very dutifully assumed the role of her fashion photographer as she posed dramatically in a white maxidress. Jay-Z is no stranger to posing for photos himself, but has proved the perfect Instagram husband for Beyoncé. Jennifer Lopez's fiancé Alex Rodriguez is behind many of her Instagram snaps, while model Emily Ratajkowski occasionally utilises the services of husband Sebastian Bear-McClard. "He's a good photographer," she said recently, "but not [a good] Instagram photographer."
Little wonder, so, that interest in the HABs of Instagram is growing. An Instagram account, Boyfriends of Instagram (@boyfriends_of_Insta), boasts 223k followers and features behind-the-scenes snaps of content creators' loyal plus-ones. And seeing these people master the money shot, it becomes patently clear that there's much more work (and a little bit of artifice) behind an Instagram shot than first meets the eye.
Even major advertisers have cannily picked up on the trend. A recent ad for Skoda Ireland articulated the plight of the HABs of Instagram pretty perfectly. In a do-not-adjust-your-set moment, a beautiful girl appears to be frozen in a spontaneous smile. Without breaking pose, she surreptitiously licks her lips, and we realise she is posing for the perfect snap. Her very obliging boyfriend, perched on top of the car, is struggling to get the right 'caught off guard' shot through the sunroof.
The tone of the ad, and the Boyfriends of Instagram account, is gently mocking, but given the amount of money involved - some top Irish content creators can make around €3,000 per post - it can be a pretty serious business, too. In fact, Italian tour operator Roma Experience now offers an Insta boyfriend as part of its packages.
"Not everyone has an other half who's as great a photographer as Mario Testino, or snaps pictures of you as enthusiastically as Kanye snaps Kim," reads its website. "Which is why this Insta boyfriend service exists; so you can get perfect photos, taken by a professional photographer in Rome, positively glowing, in that perfect Mediterranean light.
"Unfortunately for the photo-hungry among us, real boyfriends are human. They do not want to take pictures all day. Sometimes, they experience emotions, such as... boredom. This will stop them taking thousands of pictures of you, at all angles, for as long as you require them too. In contrast, an Insta boyfriend will take pictures of you, near-constantly, for the whole three hours!"
With almost 101k followers on Instagram, former Love Island star Shannen Reilly-McGrath has enlisted boyfriends to help her with her social media output, with varying degrees of success.
"Lots of my past boyfriends wouldn't have been on social media and wouldn't want to get into pictures. One of my long-term boyfriends was having absolutely none of it," she admits. "He was always saying, 'I'm not going out with you tonight if you're going to be taking pictures of yourself'. But I'd be wearing a dress and going out for dinner and I'd need to get a picture taken, so I'd be asking the girls in the bathroom to take a photo of me.
"In other relationships, though, the guys have been really supportive, and we'd have done some nice shots together."
Shannen appears to have met her match in new beau, former Geordie Shore star Ricci Guarnaccio. He has 282k Instagram followers, so knows the social media game better than most. The pair are mutually enthusiastic and supportive of each other's Instagram activity.
"He is so into social media and it's not just a one way thing - he was doing it long before me," enthuses Shannen. The couple that 'grams together evidently flourishes together. Relationship psychotherapist David Kavanagh recently met Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews through a media project, and admires the couple's harmonious collaborations.
"They're both in the limelight and understand the implications of the photos they take," Kavanagh observes. "They're a good match in terms of compatible value systems. He has his own share of followers and they can balance that out really well, compared to someone who doesn't have that. If a guy doesn't have his own career and he's just taking his girlfriend's photos, that can be really hard to manage."
Vogue's mother Sandra has taken a leaf out of her famous daughter's book and is cutting a rather stylish swathe on Instagram herself.
"When I get myself all ready and get my picture taken, I think to myself, 'I was never photogenic before'. But now I seem to have got myself into a way where pictures are coming out better than I expect," she has said.
Behind the lens of each fashionable image is Sandra's businessman husband, Neil. "If he doesn't behave, he'll be fired," she has joked. "No, he's good. It's like Spencer. Spencer didn't like doing them, but now he doesn't mind doing them for Vogue."
According to relationship therapist Trish Murphy, the Instagram boyfriend is merely a 21st century version of something that couples have done for centuries.
"Women have asked men for centuries, 'how do I look in this?'" she notes. "It's always been there. My thoughts on the Instagram phenomenon is that it comes from primitive society, where men had the choice of the best-looking or most fertile women, and if the woman you were with looked amazing, your status was very high. If a woman is on Instagram looking amazing, the guy's status goes up automatically, too." Elsewhere, Roz Purcell has decided to keep her relationship with boyfriend Zach Desmond largely off her Instagram account, which has 279k followers.
"Every now and then I'll make a joke online and say 'Zach is such a brilliant Instagram boyfriend' because he'll appear maybe once every six months," Roz told Irish Country Magazine earlier this year. "But to be honest, he's a very private person and we have such a secure relationship, I just don't feel the need to over-share."
Cork-born, Surrey-based mother of three Eimear Varian Barry takes her content creation seriously. A former photographer and stylist herself, she employs three professional photographers to help her create the perfect Insta image. "It's imperative if you want to make it on Instagram or social media that you build a team that understands you and gets your aesthetic," she explains.
Yet one day, when a member of her team cancelled at the last minute, Eimear enlisted the help of her partner Daniel. "One day I needed his help. He didn't exactly jump to it, and I wouldn't usually ask, but I said, 'I just need you to do this'." Eimear staged the picture in her back garden, Daniel got up on the ladder to get the right angle… boom. The resulting snap got the most likes on a photo that Eimear had ever gotten.
According to relationship psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan, a boyfriend's involvement in his partner's social media activity can be a healthy thing.
"What strikes me is that this involvement in her interest is nice," she observes. "It can really strengthen a relationship if he is supportive... On the other hand, if a boyfriend happens to have a strong narcissistic streak, it might not be the healthiest of situations for him to be in. Or, if there's a situation where being in the 'perfect' couple is hanging over a relationship all the time - that can be very difficult to sustain."
Similarly, Kavanagh offers advice for the would-be boyfriends of Instagram: "If he enjoys the pseudo-celebrity status, wonderful, but if he hates the limelight and is a bit of a shrinking violet, it will put a strain on the relationship. Above all, it's important to be with a guy who is au fait with it all, and comfortable with how many 'likes' you get."