All images courtesy of Murad Osmann.
He was camera happy. She was impatient. So began the Instagram account that would come to take over the world.
“During our first trip, Murad was keen on taking photos and nothing else grasped his attention,” says Nataly Osmann, remembering her frustration with then boyfriend, now husband, Murad on their jaunt to Barcelona in October 2011. Since those early days, Follow Me To has become such a phenomenon, it’s even spawned a parody account.
“At one time, I wanted to show him the old town part, grabbed his arm and dragged him forward and, as you can understand, it didn’t stop him from taking a picture even then.” The resulting snap sealed their signature style – Nataly leading the way, Murad at arm’s length – and the Moscow-based pair has since taken themselves and their #FollowMeTo hashtag to every corner of the globe – from the helipad at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai to London’s Platform Nine-and-Three-quarters.
“The idea is still the same,” Murad tells us. “But now we pay more attention to the backgrounds, we plan everything really diligently – from the time of being at the spot and making a shot using natural sunlight to people and things that happen to be in the shot. [The] same thing is happening with retouching the pics – it always was a part of the process of creating the series, but now we [have] worked out the way we want it to be done in.” The professional photographer and executive video producer graduated as a civil engineer from Imperial College London, but decided to pursue his passions behind the lens, helming his own film production company, Hype Production. Nataly, too, is more than just a pretty… back.
A journalist by trade, she’s currently chief editor of lifestyle blogging portal, Begoody.ru (which she runs with her friend, Katya Yak) and produces her own travel video projects.
Two years into their #FollowMeTo adventure (with the lion’s share of Europe inked across their passports) they’d amassed half a million followers. Mid-last year the million mark was met – somewhere between Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert and the Dead Sea – and 30 weeks ago the pair excitedly announced from Los Angeles that they’d hit the 2 million milestone – a figure that’s rapidly climbed to 2.8 million. Dripping in wanderlust, their beautiful photographs have led to a book deal (with Follow Me To: A Journey Around the World Through the Eyes of Two Ordinary Travelers published in January) and numerous magazine spreads. With such explosive growth this all comes as no surprise, but, much like their rarely revealed faces, the mastery behind these images remains something of a mystery.
“We use regular high-quality cameras like Canon Mark III or Sony Alpha a7R or Nikon D800 with wide-angle lenses,” says Murad, attempting to unshroud his methods. “Retouching always depends on the picture. Sometimes we need to highlight the sky or the dress, sometimes add a more paint-like effect or something else. So basically there’s no special tips or tricks.”
Whatever it is, it’s working for them. Last year Hong Kong’s tourism board invited the pair on a five-day junket through the city, capturing pictures of the sprawling metropolis (including the mesmerising shot from Victoria Peak that graces our cover) where, in addition to lapping up the board’s jam-packed itinerary, they snuck off to Choi Hung Estate, one of the city’s oldest public housing settlements. It was quite the cunning campaign to entice more Russians to venture from their homeland (as if the freezing winters weren’t enough), with the tourism board finding Russians spend more than any other tourists – HK$9258 per person, on average – including those from Mainland China (who average HK$8937).
“We actually don’t position ourselves as some kind of influencers open for direct commercial offers,” says Murad. “We’re artists and want to collaborate with brands in creative and long-term relations. For example, our current collaboration with jewellery brand Bochic (#LeTourDeBochic) is a series of pictures in a special colonial atmosphere… with Nataly wearing a line of jewellery created especially for this series.”
The founder of Bochic found Murad and Nataly via #FollowMeTo two years ago, launching the year-long collaboration in March this year. And their original photo escapades are in no way letting up. Recent months have seen Murad and Nataly take a daring aerial shot over Hollywood’s famous hills before they ventured to India, passing through the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi (“There is a very loud market surrounding it and yet with every step as you walk inside you become more and more peaceful and relaxed”), the Taj Mahal (“It truly is one of the world’s best wonders”) and on to Amer Fort in Jaipur, where they were promised a photography session with the elephants standing still for 10-15 minutes.
“It didn’t happen – as apparently they are not allowed to stand in the middle of that road,” said Murad on Instagram at the time. “Therefore we had to be running in front of them and try to get, at least, any shot possible. At the end we were stopped by the local police.”
This particular trip saw Nataly donning traditional Indian bridal wear, and just weeks later, she slipped into a Vera Wang wedding dress of her own.
“#FollowMeTo the wedding with my love…” posted Murad of the special day. “I promise to hold your hand and tell you I love you every day for the rest of our lives.”
The world had been waiting, breath bated, since an image appeared a year ago with Murad’s hand outstretched, offering a diamond ring (“She said YES!!!”), around the time they hit up Rio de Janeiro for the FIFA World Cup. The big day finally took place at Lid’s Event House – a venue fit to rival any Disney castle – in their hometown last month.
“We definitely love sharing – and the wedding day wasn’t an exception,” says Murad, but while their lives might look like a fairytale, Murad assures this is not the case. “Both Nataly and I have full-time jobs… So [the] success of #FollowMeTo means that we have to work seven days a week to make [it] happen in a proper way. But we love it,” he says, having previously admitted to CNN, “We plan ahead – we speak to the local photographers and communities for recommendations, then we have to take weekends out…” Not to mention traipse around with equipment and up to 20 dresses for Nataly as well as keep the crowds at bay to get that wistful we’re-the-only-ones-here feel.
“It’s not an easy project – it’s not a holiday.”
With their Instagram feed having quietened as of late, one can only hope that they’ve taken a post-nuptial pause. But wherever they venture to next, one thing’s for sure. We’ll be following.
This article originally ran in Issue 23 of Collective Hub