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The most surprising fact about Terry Mclaughlin, a travel and aerial
photographer who is famous for capturing incredible bird’s-eye views of
cities such as Los Angeles, Shanghai and Taiwan from thousands of feet
in the air, is that he is afraid of heights. “The older I get, the less I like being
on the edge,” he says. “Some of the kids I follow hang off cranes and the
sides of buildings by one hand. I couldn’t do that; I would die.”
Instead, most of Mclaughlin’s images are taken either from a
helicopter—he travels with an extensive gear kit that includes two Nikon
camera bodies and seven lenses—or with a drone. “Rather than taking
risks, I just chilled out and got a drone,” he says with a laugh.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Mclaughlin has taken photographs since high
school, but he didn’t begin a career in photography until five years ago. At
the time, he was working in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas. He got
inspired to capture aerial photographs of Los Angeles, to where he later
moved, by Instagram accounts he followed: @trashhand, @13thwitness
and @urbexpeople, to name a few.
Gaining followers on Instagram (he posts under @asteryx) took a
considerable amount of hustle. “I had to work hard on it,” he says.
Mclaughlin began reaching out to Instagram users who had massive
followings, and asked them to do collaborations. A few, including
@cole_younger_ and @tonydetroit, both of whom have hundreds of
thousands of followers, gave him big breaks by tagging him in posts.
Before long, he was hired by Elite Helicopter Tours in Los Angeles to take
aerial photographs for their social media accounts. The combination of
outreach within the Instagram community and commissions from brands
was the key to Mclaughlin’s success. Today, he has over 298,000 followers,
and regularly posts content in collaboration with brands including Audi,
Bose, Bulleit Bourbon, Express Men, Pandora and PUMA Football.
Officially, he’s known as an
“influencer,” but Mclaughlin’s passion
for making images is rooted in his desire
to travel. Before accruing his following
on Instagram, Mclaughlin didn’t have
much interest in seeing the world. “And then, all of a sudden, once
you become a photographer, you want to see everything,” he says.
Currently, he spends at least two weeks out of every month on the
road—all expenses paid by a liquor, tech or camera company who has
hired him to shoot unique branded content in whatever exotic location
He keeps costs low by traveling with his girlfriend, who serves as his
model—“I like to have humans in my pictures just for scale,” he explains—
and by staying in Airbnb rentals, where he can cook and do laundry.
Mclaughlin’s photography has grown into a multifaceted brand. Along
with shooting branded content and aerial photographs for his Instagram
account, Mclaughlin has also recently shot concert photographs at
Coachella, and for the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as an advertising
campaign for adidas. He was also recently named one of the #Nikon100,
a list of 100 emerging visual storytellers published on Nikon’s website
earlier this year. Mclaughlin pulls in extra revenue by holding contests
for his followers, and giving away gear from companies including
Adorama, Peak Design and DJI. The relationship is symbiotic—the more
collaborations and giveaways he does, the more followers he gains.
The ultimate goal, however, is to keep moving—dream locations on his
list include Cappadocia, Turkey, and the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. “I
would just like to stay traveling the world,” he says. “I get so jealous of
the guys who do that.“ EDU
by BRIENNE WALSH
Terry Mclaughlin’s five-year plan from casual aerial photographer to Instagram influencer.
THIS PAGE: Aerial photographs Mclaughlin captured
in Shanghai (right) and
Hong Kong (left).