Ophelia Ding

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How Instagram Got Me Published in The New York Times

It’s been quite the wild ride from uploading square-shaped glimpses into my life to getting published in The New York Times. I’m still a little speechless over how all of this happened. 

First, the Instagram Suggested User Feature

I was showing Chris around the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC in April when I received an email and direct message from Instagram. “Congratulations!” it read. "You are currently featured on Instagram's list of Suggested Users.” I panicked and screamed (poor tourists at the Tidal Basin must have thought I was crazy), since I knew vaguely what this entailed.

Over the course of the following two weeks, the number of people who followed my attempts at making breakfast multiplied from just over one thousand to over 30,000 (this number has since dropped gradually). I had to turn off the notifications from my phone because the engagement was instantaneous! Instagram also sent me the most darling goodies and a book on the history of Instagram. I unabashedly love Instagram so this was a real treat - I got to see the first instance of various now-standard hashtags, read about the founding of Instagram and more. So exciting! Anyway. Before the flood of notifications, I noticed Instagram had started following me (um, what!). So now (secret alert!), in lieu of going to the Popular page, I tend to look at who Instagram is following to find new Suggested Users. 

It is still incredible to me that Instagram (with over 300 million users that produce over 70 million pieces of content each day) keeps an eye on the content that is created. The sheer amount of media that is posted to their application is mind-boggling and the fact that they take the time to feature and engage individual users is impressive. Kudos to you, Instagram! You’ve got a lifelong user in me!! Also, I am SO honored and grateful and overwhelmed and shocked and surprised that this happened. Photography has been a creative outlet for me and I never imagined that creating an Instagram account could result in this. It’s been so incredible to interact with other Instagram users and be inspired on the daily by the beauty of the world we live in.

Next, @LaColombeCoffee and @MyNYTimes Features

There’s something about the environment, the vaguely decipherable soft background noise, the Afternoon Acoustic playlist on Spotify, incredible coffee and delicious pastries in local coffee shops that facilities productivity in my brain. When I was in DC, my go to coffee shops were Dolcezza and La Colombe Coffee. I happened to be at La Colombe on a Sunday afternoon, when a guy who just left the shop left a copy of The New York Times’ Sunday Styles on his seat. I quickly snagged the table and took a picture of my beautiful bounty. I posted it on Instagram and tagged La Colombe Coffee.

@LaColombeCoffee reposted my picture and tagged @MyNYTimes (an account that I’d never previously heard of, aka the Times’ marketing team). @MyNYTimes found La Colombe’s picture, regrammed it, and I didn’t think much of it beyond being incredibly flattered. 

And finally, The New York Times

Out of the blue, about two months ago, I received a comment on the coffee photo I had posted in April:

Um - is this real life!? I couldn’t have written an email faster in my life, and jumped up and down at work when I realized that this was even a possibility. I told myself that I couldn’t get my hopes up and kept reminding myself that they were only interested. After exchanging a couple emails with the wonderful marketing folks at The New York Times, it seemed more and more like it could actually happen. After all, they had gone through the effort of obtaining my written permission, asking for the high quality photo, and gave me potential dates that it could be published. They told me that my photograph would appear as part of a half page, in-house advertisement for MyNYTimes, The New York Times’ marketing team. 

After religiously checking my local Starbucks and whipping through copies of the newspaper on various dates, my photograph was published in the national edition of The New York Times newspaper on July 10 on Page A17!! AHHH!! Cue the driving to all the Starbucks in my area to buy the one or two copies of the newspaper (and then realizing that larger quantities were sold at CVS and Safeway oops).

I couldn’t be more aware of the fact that I am so, so blessed. I am incredibly grateful for all that I’ve been humbled with and for these outlets that I’ve been able to share my work in. From the Suggested User feature, to getting the picture regrammed (twice), to seeing it published in a world-renowned publication I admire so immensely… it’s been an absolute dream that I know could only have been orchestrated by Him. I’m convinced that this is just the start. :)  

Follow me on Instagram at @ophelia_ding for updates on my breakfast, my travels and more.