Toronto native Tom Ryaboi—better known by his Instagram handle @roof_topper—has “been on more roofs than Santa Claus,” shooting gorgeous, vertigo-inducing skyline images. He and other rooftoppers worldwide have gained notoriety and sizable followings for Instagramming from buildings, bridges, and other urban sites that are sometimes off limits.
They’re part of a bigger trend of Instagrammers who seek out extreme vantage points, whether sharing a selfie taken on the head of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue or shooting from the ocean itself as lava enters the water and a wave crests. The artists hail from all ends of the creative spectrum: hipsters who dare to sneak into subway tunnels or abandoned theaters as well as established pros who got their start at magazines. (It’s even been reported that a few pilots have Instagrammed from the cockpit.)
“Instagram is the new portfolio,” says National Geographic photographer Chad Copeland, who captures action shots of climbers, skiers, surfers, and divers, as well as hard-to-reach natural landscapes. “When people find you now, it’s through Instagram, and they want to see what you’re doing every day.”
Former BMX pro Mike Escamilla was already jumping out of airplanes and breaking world records when he decided to start taking pictures of his feats and posting them on Instagram. And as a storm chaser for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, Reed Timmer gets paid to track foul weather, using his Instagram feed as a way to showcase daring photography as much as a public alert system.
While some of these photographers still prefer to use high-quality DSLR cameras, it’s the new generation of smartphones and GoPro action cams that has really empowered Instagrammers. GoPro makes it easy to record yourself from any angle in mid-stunt, and the camera functions on smartphones—along with the speed of the networks for uploading images to social media networks—just keep getting better. Ashley McKinney, for one, shoots exclusively with an iPhone 6.
Equipment and editing tools are only part of the equation. Some of the most attention-grabbing Instagrams require significant reconnaissance and creative thinking. Ryaboi’s current favorite image features a man slacklining between two buildings, with the CN Tower visible in the distance. “This was something we planned and worked on for several months,” he admits.
There are hundreds of such Instagrammers pushing the boundaries of the medium every day. We don’t suggest joining them, but do find it fascinating to explore their images. Start here.