PHLEARN MagazineHow Jefferson Kent York Became a Must-Follow Instagram Photographer

How Jefferson Kent York Became a Must-Follow Instagram Photographer

You may know him as jeffonline or simply Jefferson, but either way, you’ve probably seen his work. Paris-based photographer Jefferson Kent York has an extensive portfolio, ranging from landscape, travel, lifestyle, portrait, automotive and even corporate and advertising photography. And, for the past few years, he has consistently been named as one of the top Instagram photographers to follow by HuffPost, The Guardian, and Stylist, just to name a few.

I met up with Jefferson over video chat to talk about how he gained such a large Instagram following in such a short time and how the recognition changed his life. The marketer-turned-full-time-photographer tells us how he keeps his work fresh and what keeps him motivated and inspired.

You’ve been named one of the best photographers to follow on Instagram. How did you get started on Instagram? Was the original goal to become highly recognized there?


Well, my journey started with my phone three years ago. I was making photos with my phone, just to have fun with some friends. And then I thought that I need to do something more substantive. I started to take more photos in Paris, like someone walking and having some scenes in the background. Then, I started getting some comments on Instagram, people saying, “Oh, you should keep on doing this and keep going. You’re doing a good job. Maybe you can try to take it further.”

So, I got a camera – a Canon 550D – and I started shooting with this Canon for two or three years. Luckily, some magazines started talking about me. I was just like, “Oh.” [laughs] I was working a normal job in marketing, besides doing photography. It wasn’t my main job at the beginning, but now I’m doing photography as a full-time job.

Now I’m using a 5D Mark IV. Sometimes I shoot with my phone. I have two different phones – one Android and one iPhone.

You recently did the DxO ONE Project. Are you still working on that?


Sometimes when I’m traveling. I like to shoot street photography. I think it’s way easier using a small camera; no one can see I’m taking photos. When I have a huge camera like the 5D Mark IV, people can’t just move out of the way easily. The DxO is so small you can just hide it.

I like street photographs but sometimes, in Paris, it’s way difficult. When I travel – the last time I went to Amsterdam, it was so different. People are so friendly, open-minded. You can shoot in the street. In Paris, it’s way different because people are kind of scared sometimes. They don’t like it.

What type of photography are you mainly doing now?


Mostly landscapes. I think my favorite is when it’s just you and nature.

You mentioned you were in marketing before. How did you get started in photography?


It was a hobby for many years. I was just shooting friends and people in the street and architecture sometimes, just for fun because I liked it. And at the end of the day, I wasn’t thinking about turning it into a full-time job. And then, some brands started coming to me asking me to share some content. So, I decided to quit my job and start making photos for them.

Did they recognize you from your Instagram account?


Yeah. The first step was that I had been suggested by Instagram for I think two weeks. At that time, my account wasn’t that huge, I think it was about 12k maybe. Then, I was suggested once again for a week or two. A few months after that, I was published and selected by the Huffington Post and then I started getting a lot of followers. I went up 7k on the first day and then I kept getting more followers day after day.

What was your reaction to that?


I was so surprised. I was like, “Oh, why me?” [laughs], because I know a lot of photographers more talented than me. I was so surprised and happy.

You shoot a lot of different things – landscapes, automotive, lifestyle, portraits. You have a vast portfolio. If you could focus more on one, which one would it be?


It’s difficult to make that decision! I have a lot of friends who ask that. I can’t choose. I like landscapes. I like automotive. I like all kinds of photos. But if I have to choose one, I think maybe lifestyle.

I think with lifestyle I can have people modeling and I can shoot products and I can shoot landscapes. I can make all kinds of photos in lifestyle.

Who are some other photographers or artists you most admire?


When I was younger, I was a huge follower of Henri Cartier-Bresson. And, I don’t know if you know this photographer, Willy Ronis. He was a huge French photographer. I like this guy. He’s not that famous but I like the style, the mood.

I really appreciated Ansel Adams when I was younger. His landscapes in black and white, they’re so impressive. And another is Sebastião Salgado, the Brazilian photographer. He’s my favorite photographer.

What about today’s most popular photographers, people who are active on social media? Who are your biggest influencers? How has their work impacted your own?


I try to not focus on people on Instagram because I think if you start focusing on someone you can try to copy what they’re doing. There are so many talented people who I really appreciate, but I can’t say that I want to be like them. One of them is nk7 from China. Another one from Toronto is Alen Palander. He’s very talented and very famous right now. I met him three years ago and he’s so kind, so friendly and talented.

Do you have any particular habits that are part of your creative process?


Before I start shooting, I kind of have a process. I have to find my playlist. I need to listen to some music. It depends on my mood and what I would like to create. Sometimes it’s classical music, sometimes it’s folk music, sometimes I can just listen to French music. It depends on my mood, but it has to be old-fashioned music, not so modern.

When you have a creative block or hit a wall, what do you do?


I have some movies I can try to watch to find inspiration. And then, I try to make a link with what I’m seeing in the street or the countryside. It depends on what I have to shoot, but I try to create a kind of mood and make something consistent with this.

What movies do you find are most inspiring?


The last one I found so impressive is The Darkest Hour. I think it’s one of my favorite movies. The director of photography is a French guy and he’s not that famous, but everything is so well done. Like the light, the angle, everything is so impressive. I would like to be like him one day. [laughs]

What about books? Do you have a favorite book that inspires you or that you would recommend to other creative people?


It’s a French book; I don’t know what the title is in English but in French, it’s Germinal by Émile Zola. Another one is Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables.

Do you have a favorite quote or something that you say to yourself to get motivated?


I have a mantra, it’s “keep moving forward.” That’s why my style is always changing. I don’t want to keep doing the same kind of process; I need to change all the time. I need to bring something new all the time. And so, I think this is the best mantra for me – keep moving forward all the time.

Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken?


Yeah, I think I have one. I made this photo five years ago. I was shooting with my iPhone in Paris. It was snowing and I was behind a dad and his little boy and I took a photo with the Eiffel tower in front of them. I don’t know why, but I like the composition and for years it was my favorite photo.

You said you’ve been following PHLEARN for years. How has PHLEARN impacted your work, or has it helped you out in any specific way?


Yeah. I’m really impressed with Aaron; he’s very, very funny, and very, very talented, and I think someone I would like to talk to one day. I’ve thought about that many times! But I was just like, “Why would PHLEARN want to talk to me? I’m not that good!” [laughs] I’m so honored to be interviewed by you.

But, you are! Your work is incredible; it’s our pleasure! You’ve made quite the name for yourself online, it’s impressive. Let’s talk about your name, actually. You go by jeffonline on Instagram and simply Jefferson professionally.


Yeah. Because when I was starting on Instagram and on social media, I was kind of introverted. I was like. “I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be known.” I just wanted to do my job. That’s why you don’t see my face on Instagram or things like that because I want to show my work, but I don’t want to show who I am. I want people to focus on my work, not on me. I don’t care about being famous.

But, I think now I would like to use Jefferson Kent York more and more because I lost my dad two years ago and that was his name first! So, I would like to start using Jefferson Kent York, for my dad, and as the name I use on my social media. I will stop using just Jefferson. Today, I will change it!

Jefferson continues to be one of the leading Instagram photographers today, with a style that changes constantly, keeping his images fresh and intriguing. You can see his progression from his first phone images and black and white street photography to his latest high-end lifestyle and automotive work on Instagram and his website.

Jennifer Berube

Jen is the Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, where she helps shape inspiring stories and handy tips for aspiring and seasoned photographers. She has worked as a photography writer for many years, contributing to numerous industry-leading publications. Proudly Canadian, sometimes globetrotter, self-taught photographer, Jen is temporarily settled in Spain.

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