When Elise Swopes first joined Instagram in 2011, she couldn’t have imagined that she’d one day be featured on billboards, in commercials, and on mood boards at agencies across the globe. She just knew that the phone in her hand held an incredible power, one that would allow her to inspire others while showcasing her unique vision.
Since then, the self-taught photographer and graphic designer has used her business savvy to spin influencer marketing on Instagram into a full-fledged career. Her work has allowed her to vacation with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, eat delicious vegetarian meals in exotic locales like Dubai and Tokyo, and meld art with a message that has an ability to reach millions.
Her artistic process begins with expansive cityscape taken while piloting drones, scaling skyscrapers, or hanging out of helicopters. She then transforms the original image, bringing photos to life with her fingers. Taking inspiration from Mother Nature, she uses water and light as a paintbrush; snow turns into speckles, street lamps become glowing orbs, and water droplets take on abstract forms as she edits on the go using an array of mobile apps.
Her most popular creations bring a fantastic magical realism to Chicago’s landscape as she manipulates the everyday into something from another world. For a partnership with Method, she envisions Lake Michigan as basin to wash your hands, the sun as a juicy slice of orange, and soap bubbles as a biosphere encapsulating a miniature city. Her signature giraffe brings whimsy — and a distorted sense of scale — to the most unexpected settings.
She isn’t scared to turn the camera on herself, either. Blending a streetwise style with an effortless cool, Swopes has starred in countless campaigns, showcasing her own authentic sporty-to-glam spin on sneaker drops and product launches.
While almost everyone has a phone, not everyone makes art with it. Swopes is determined to change that by making her methods accessible. She takes the mystery out of creating magic through her Swopes So Dope podcast, Swopes Note newsletter, and tutorial video channel. She’s worked extensively with technology companies like Adobe and Apple to motivate a new generation of photographers.
In her lessons, she preaches the sublime serendipity of allowing yourself to take risks rather than trying to fit into preconceived notions of what a photo should look like. She encourages young artists to look past the details and focus on the big picture, and to embrace ideas rather than an impossible ideal of perfection.
As she heads into the future, she continues to innovate in the increasingly multimedia landscape of digital communication, delving into video production that fits within the format of Instagram Stories to take followers on adventures with brands like Adidas. As she rounds out her twenties, it’s clear that #SwopesSoDope isn’t just a hashtag...it’s a lifestyle.