Hashtags on Instagram: Use them properly

Jun 22, 2016

Allen Harper

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Hashtags on Instagram: Use them properly

Jun 22, 2016

Allen Harper

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I’ve seen a lot of threads and questions in /r/photography regarding how to increase an Instagram following and get more traffic. There are plenty of great articles online explaining various techniques (i.e. posting times, consistency, engagement, etc.) but I haven’t seen a lesson on hashtags.

What little I have seen on the topic clearly indicates that there’s a widespread misunderstanding of the use of hashtags and how to use them to your benefit.

Think of hashtags as a pipeline to the rest of the world. Every tag you use acts a connection with other users. If you use 5, there are 5 outlets that others can use to view your image. If you use 30, now you have 30 outlets. Without these, the only chance of visibility you have is via your current followers and the low odds of being thrown on the explore page. The latter is pretty difficult to predict as every user has different photos on their explore page and instagram won’t disclose how it actually works.

Hashtags are essentially a way to tag your photo and throw it in a chronological pool of other photos/videos that have used the same tag (which can be viewed by clicking on the hashtag itself). This allows other users to find photos of similar interest or in the same niche. For example, if you’re a portrait photographer and want to find other portrait photographers or photos then #portrait should have photos of portraits that other users tagged their image with. You can also use the hashtag of a hub (which I’ll discuss later) for a chance to be featured.

Some hashtags are vastly more popular than others, however, popularity doesn’t always translate to effectiveness. For example, you’ll notice that #photooftheday, #like4like, #instagood, #iphoneonly, etc. are extremely popular. Unfortunately, since so many users throw these similar tags on their images, it means that their photos are buried in the pool within seconds and become virtually undiscoverable. They are also tags that are nonspecific to any field or niche. In other words, what few people may be browsing these pools could likely overlook your photo because it’s not necessarily what interests them. In addition, the popular tags usually have a lot of bots/spammers that use this tag on images, you’ll land yourself with a lot of spam comments on the photo you used with said tags. Basically, avoid these tags whenever possible. They are useless and you will not benefit from them. To gauge if a hashtag is worth using, check the pool and see how many photos there already are and how quickly photos are added to it. If 30 photos get added every 2 minutes (which isn’t unusual) then it’s likely that it will bring you no benefit.

So now that you’ve stopped throwing useless hashtags on your photos where do you go from there? First, I’d recommend finding large hubs to display your work.

What are hubs? Hubs are pages that will feature your work for using their corresponding hashtags. There are thousands of hubs that feature work of different aesthetics. Whether you’re into nature, landscape, wildlife, portraiture, cityscape, travel, or astrophotography, you’ll find them a feature page that suits your style. Neglecting the possibility of some pages purchasing followers, utilizing these pages can greatly increase your visibility since your image can be seen by upwards of 50k to 100k users. I’ve had friends get anywhere from 25-200 followers from a single feature. Obviously it depends on the size of the hubs audience.


  1. You can only use a maximum of 30 hashtags per photo (sort of, check the tips).
  2. Hashtags are put in the pool based on the time the image was posted. Prior to a recent update, users were able to add/change hashtags to put the photo at the top of the hashtag pool.
  3. This isn’t the case, however, for tagging the page in the photo itself.
  4. Double check if a hashtag is still active to search through. Certain hashtags (#livefolk) have had terms of use violations which has lead to only being able to view ‘top’ photos.
  5. If you don’t like the idea of having dozens of hashtags in your caption you can also put them in a comment.


  1. There is a small loophole that will allow you to have up to 60 hashtags per photo. To do this, first, put up to 30 hashtags in a comment then edit your caption with an additional 30. I’m not a huge fan of this because it clutters and is a little irritating to view.
  2. Keep your hashtags in a notepad on your phone ( I use google docs) instead of having to type them in every time you can simply copy and paste.
  3. By /u/cyanight7: “Also if you don’t want your hashtags to clutter your caption you can put them below 5 of the bullet point dots on separate lines(the dot can be found on the far right column middle row on the alternate symbols page of the keyboard on iPhone.) I think this also works if you put 5 separate emojis(or maybe any characters) on lines but the dots look the best to me. This is too many lines for a comment so Instagram automatically collapses the comment, the hashtags won’t be seen unless people actually go to the comment page.”

I wrote this specifically because I’ve seen so many amazing photographers on this subreddit struggling to get any sort of visibility on instagram and giving up in the process since it isn’t as intuitive as they originally thought. Shoot me a DM on my instagram page for any questions or just to stop by and say hi! I’m pretty active in the community and I enjoy helping out others.

Below is list I’ve compiled of various feature pages. You can visit each page to check out the hashtag they require you to tag to be featured. . I’ll do my best to update the list as much as possible in the next few days.

Non Assorted




About the Author

Allen Harper is a landscape and portrait photographer based in Orange County, California.  You can find out more about him and see his work on his website, or follow him on Instagram.  Also posted here, and used with permission.

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11 responses to “Hashtags on Instagram: Use them properly”

  1. lewisfrancis Avatar

    If you’re using 30 hash tags on your Instagram psts, you are doing it, ah, nevermind. ;)

  2. You Can DIY Avatar
    You Can DIY

    Superb Post!

  3. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Question: What tangible benefits are there to having a large Instagram following? Other than warm fuzzies.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar

      The same benefit as having a Facebook page, Twitter feed, ad in a magazine, more clients.

    2. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      I would argue that for the vast majority of photographers (and pretty much all business), social media has an extremely low return on investment https://www.diyphotography.net/social-media-fallacy-social-media-generate-business-income/

  4. Andreas Raun Arneberg Avatar
    Andreas Raun Arneberg

    like to ad a great tip to the last par about using google doc to post hastags. There is a more easy way then that ? Just go into text replace on you iphone and paste the tags you need then make a shortcut to the test like “IG1tags” And the it post all the tags you need ? ig: @andreas.raun

    1. Territory Hobby Pics Avatar
      Territory Hobby Pics


  5. Territory Hobby Pics Avatar
    Territory Hobby Pics

    Valuable Post

  6. Khrisha Shah Avatar
    Khrisha Shah

    Hello. I am conducting research on a project whose target audience are iphoneographers, amateur photographers, photography enthusiasts, and professional photographers.

    I’m looking to understand demand for an on-demand, location based platform that connects people who want to purchase and sell travel and photography services.

    If you could complete this survey, I’d much appreciate it. Thank you. There’s a $100 cash prize !


  7. osc707 Avatar

    Good read except my only concern is: who is your target audience? I ask because let’s say my target audience is the new mom who’d love to have family photos taken. Will she find me using #nikontop or #cutekid?

    I battle with this dilemma in all social media. Over the last month I have doubled my instagram following organically by posting almost every day and hashtagging but the followers that I have gained are other photographers/photo enthusiasts. What good does that really do me if what I am seeking to gain are new paying clients, not admirers.

  8. Maria Ramirez-Adams Avatar
    Maria Ramirez-Adams

    Thanks! Just learning about tagging. This is a great resource for online groups. Will remember for future posts.