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Inside The Bizarre, Often Hilarious World Of Instagram Husbands

Photo: Courtesy Jeff and Michelle Houghton.
Scrolling through Instagram, our favourite influencers always seem to post the most perfect, effortless-looking photos. When we try it ourselves, the results are just...not the same. But influencers have a secret weapon. All those yoga poses in front of graffitied brick walls and perfect fall fashion shoots? They're possible because of an overlooked person: the Instagram Husband.

An Instagram Husband is not defined by gender — men and women can both bear the title — but rather by that person's performance behind the camera in photo-taking scenarios. The term has been thrown around for almost a year now, ever since comedian Jeff Houghton and his wife, Michelle, coined it for their small sketch video turned viral sensation, Instagram Husband. This month, they earned a regional Emmy for the short film.

The video portrays the extreme: Wives who have turned their husbands into personal photographers — or, as one of the characters bemoans, "human selfie sticks" — solely for the purpose of capturing the perfect Instagram photo. And although the scenarios are exaggerated, they're hilarious, because they're sometimes scarily true.

But while you'd think being an Instagram husband is a thankless, gruelling job, for those that we talked to, it's (surprisingly) not that bad.

Who Are The Instagram Husbands?

Jeff and Michelle Houghton came up with the idea for their award-winning video last summer, inspired by their own photo-taking experiences and from watching those of blogger friends.

"I wanted to ask Jeff to take a lot of these pictures for me, but I also knew the boundaries of ruining his experience of whatever we were doing," Michelle Houghton says. "There were times when I would ask him to take a picture, but I knew whatever angle he was standing in wasn't going to be the right one would turn into this ridiculous prose of me trying to get him to go to the right place."

Putting a label on the situation is something that Houghton believed would help. "Now, if you say, 'Can you be my Instagram Husband?' someone will immediately understand what you're asking them to do," she says. "Will you stand over there and take 50 photos so I can go through and decide what to post?"

The learning curve, however, can be steep, says Josu Sen, who has been with his wife, Gema Espinosa, for 10 years. He only began taking photos of her for her blog and Instagram account (98.5K followers) about two years ago.
"Being an Instagram husband has been like moving to a different country and learning a new language," Sen says. "At the beginning, I understood nothing. 'The light blah, blah, blah, and the empty space blah, blah, in this direction.' I just smiled and tried to do my best. But after a lot of practice, I feel like I can speak her language now. I internalise her instructions and apply them to my own photographs."
For Espinosa and Sen, getting the photo can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. The photo above, taken in a park near the couple's home one Sunday morning, took about an hour. It was chosen from about 150 total photos.

While Sen says he finds the whole process funny, photoshoots with food are more challenging: "Same as many other Instagrammers, Gema loves taking pictures of tasty cakes and appetising dishes. But most of the time, these cakes are prepared for the pictures, not for me, so I need to resist the temptation of taking a piece for awhile until all the pictures have been taken. Tough life."

If Sen's role as an Instagram Husband represents one extreme in terms of time and number of photos taken, Johnny Shelton's is another. Shelton, whose wife Katie has a DIY blog and Instagram account with 78.1K followers, often takes photos of her with their daughters. But their approach is a far more relaxed one.

"If we go out to breakfast and want to get a picture, I hit the button, like, 10 times and one of the 10 definitely looks like what real life looks like," Shelton says. "We leave it at that."

After setting some limits, Jeff and Michelle Houghton also have a more relaxed approach now. Michelle will only have her husband take five to eight photos that she can choose from.

"[Michelle] knows what I'm willing to give and can compromise," Jeff Houghton says of his role behind the camera. His only current complaint is that his wife tends to looks off into the distance and adopt a dramatic pose rather than smiling in photos.

Turning A Profit

Now, Instagram Husbanding has moved beyond family and friends, becoming an official job title with a salary attached.

During this year's New York Fashion Week, TaskRabbit, which lets you book Taskers to help you move, hang photos, and finish other chores, introduced a brand-new option. Street style conscious bloggers and influencers could hire an Instagram Husband (or Wife) to fulfill "behind-the-scenes tasks, like snapping your photo and lightly editing before you post, to carrying your gift bags and handling your sample returns."

Michael Ostuni, a professional photographer, was one of the Taskers who worked as an Instagram Husband during Fashion Week. It was no minimum wage gig: Photographers made $45 (£37) per hour. His first job involved walking with his client around Soho, shooting a bit, and trying to capture photos that "didn't look too staged." His second day was spent at an event near Penn Station, where he took pictures of a client at the event and in street style scenarios nearby.

The service was so popular that TaskRabbit extended it to London Fashion Week, as well. It isn't yet offered year-round, but the company says it will likely bring it back in the future. According to Rob Willey, TaskRabbit's VP of marketing, the company's Instagram Husband campaign resulted in five times the number of tasks booked across the service's categories during that period.
While it makes sense that a blogger or influencer, whose livelihood depends on what they post, would hire someone to help, monetising the job calls into question what we ask of our friends and significant others on a daily basis. If people are getting paid to take 15 photos of you in different poses, can you constantly ask the same of your best friend?

The Instagram Husband Effect

Both Michelle and Jeff Houghton acknowledge that the video they created is meant to be a hilarious caricature, but they also note that in the year since creating it, they've thought twice when taking pictures.

"[I ask myself] 'Why am I doing this?'" Michelle Houghton says. "'What's the context here? What am I trying to get out of this moment? Do I really care if other people see it?' And then, if the answer is, 'Yes, this fun and I care,' then that's fine. But if I'm just trying to project some image, then maybe not."
With the exception of TaskRabbit, most Instagram Husbands are, by definition, people that you have a relationship with. So what you ask of that person in terms of photo taking and editing partially depends on your specific situation and what both of you are comfortable with doing.

"I'm maybe more fortunate as an Instagram Husband, because Katie [my wife], asks me to shoot something that's actually happening," Johnny Shelton says. "It's not a log of staged photoshoots. The photos feel very much like what real life looks like for us. I would have a hard time swallowing it, I think, if it were something that didn't feel like it looked in real life."

It's unclear whether the rest of the world's unpaid Instagram Husbands carry out their tasks begrudgingly or enjoy helping when they can, like the ones we talked to. But there's surely a lot of them: When you think about the tens of thousands of full-time Influencers (and Influencer wannabes) that exist today, the number of Instagram Husbands in the world must be close to that figure, too. It's only a matter of time before more official (read: paid) Instagram Husband job listings pop up.

For those that end up in the social media-era version of Andy Sachs' do-everything type of assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, at least there's already a list of ways to seek help.