Quite often other photographers tell me “I don’t have time for another social network and I don’t need Instagram”. Yet they spend hours posting on Facebook, 500px and Flickr where almost zero potential clients will see their work. They’re basically getting followers, likes and comments coming from other photographers.
Instagram can be useful in ways you might not have thought of before, and it shouldn’t take you too much time to build a presence on it.
In this article I’ll try to share a bit of my experience on this social network as a photographer (@zellersamuel 12k followers) and how it benefit my work.
1. It’s not your portfolio
Thinking of it as a way of showing your latest work, using it as a daily journal can be very helpful. I cannot count how many times I had to show someone a picture from a recent shoot that I hadn’t yet on my portfolio.
Not only can you post images you wouldn’t usually put on your portfolio but you’re also free in term of content, no need to show series of work anymore.
It can even act as your business card, I sometimes had to give my Instagram username because I run out of cards. The other person could quickly check out my feed and follow me.
It is also a way to show images in a less formal, more playful way. People are often interested in behind the scenes shots, or simply little things that they would not find on your website. Take advantage of that.
2. Keep your bio neat and tidy
Your username and bio are the first thing that visitors will see when they land on your profile, they’re important and should be crafted carefully.
Two things are often forgotten, email and location. By indicating your email you show other people that you can get contacted (for work or collaborations) and the location help them see where you are based.
There’re only two things that are referenced by Instagram on your profile, your account username and your account name. When you do a search it will only look for the content in those two fields (as well as for hashtags).
3. Hashtag the right way
Hashtags can have both a good and a bad effect on your reach and engagement, by using them incorrectly you’ll just end up receiving more spam comments and likes from bots rather than from real humans.
As you can read in my previous article “Why I don’t use the most popular hashtags” there’re quite a few things you should consider while picking up tags for your next posts.
First thing, don’t bother using common words like #photographer, #photography or #sunset because they are overloaded with millions of images (new ones every second) and your pictures will not “live” long enough on the hashtag page for other users to see it.
A good hashtag is searched for often but not overused.
A good example is #justelimage which is a tag specific for minimalistic photography. Or #fujifeed a tag for Fujifilm camera users run by Fujifeed.
I wouldn’t recommend using a hashtag that have more than 250’000 medias on it except if it’s a very specific one filled with good images.
Common words such as #happiness and #love are prone to spamming, there’re often bots configured to auto like and comment on those tags set up by companies to advertise themselves.
One last thing, don’t write your post description with hashtags on every two words like “this is a #sunset that I #photographed in #Switzerland” because firstly it will make you look like a teenager and secondly it’s not very legible.
Put your hashtags at the end of your post and try to limit yourself to 15 of them. 30 is the limit, but it’s a big mess.
To manage your list of custom hashtags I suggest you to try the mobile apps Tagsdock (iOS) or Favtags (Android), it will save you tons of time by letting you create custom lists of tags you can then re-use easily in your posts.
4. Stay consistent
Keep in mind when you build an audience that the majority of it will expect you to keep posting the same kind of images. For example I post mostly architecture and editorial photography and my followers like that style.
When I post a portrait it always get less engagement not because it’s bad but because my body of followers are mostly into architecture photography.
You shouldn’t restrict yourself in posting only one genre but try to be consistent in your posts, this will ensure that your images always reach the optimum number of people.
Someone that lands on your profile will most likely follow you because of the images he see. If those 9 last posts are a mess, a mix between a lot of genre, then maybe they will not hit the follow button.
Think of your Instagram account as a physical store, there’s the front window which present a selection of articles and then inside you’ll find the more excentric items.
The storefront is what make people decide between entering or continuing walking on the street. This also applies to your portfolio and your blog.
5. Square or not square
There’s a huge difference between posting square images or horizontal/vertical versus using a white border. Both have pros and cons.
They are the most true to the application idea, therefore people are more used to it. But regarding of psychology they don’t appear as classical photographs. We’re too accustomed to see rectangle images in magazines and galleries to acknowledge that a square can also be a photographer work.
Pros: your image is the same between the thumbnail and the bigger view. Cons: it doesn’t make people think “ok this is the work of a photographer”
They look really good and take the most space on the user’s screen, but for some photographers it’s a bit more difficult to compose with them. Also they have a slightly different aspect ratio than the files that come out of your camera (which mean it’s gonna be slightly cropped).
Pros: It’s gorgeous and big and full of details (resolution is the highest).
Cons: you cannot control how Instagram crop the thumbnail version.
Very classical, they instantly say to the viewer “look, I’m a photographer”. They’re a bit smaller than squares and vertical ones but at least you keep that sweet landscape ratio.
Cons: you cannot control how Instagram crop the thumbnail version.
Images with a white border
They are perhaps the strongest indicator to people who land on your profile that you are a photographer (amateur or pro) and not just someone posting his snaps. As an artist you understand the importance of the ratio of an image, as well as the need for empty space around it.
By framing it with white you clearly show to people that your image is intended to be seen like this, you control that viewing process.
Pros: it will make you look more professional. You don’t have to make the viewer click on a thumbnail to see the uncropped version.
Cons: you have less chances of being “regram’ed” / published on other Instagram magazines accounts or groups just because of that white border (most of them post only squares or vertical/horizontal images)
In conclusion, there’s no better option than the others. I choose to post only horizontal and vertical images with white borders because I don’t want Instagram to crop my thumbnail as squares, I also don’t fancy the ratio of my image to be fixed and constrained by Instagram.
It’s a bit more work but the result speaks for itself.
I use Photoshop and a .psd file I made which contain both horizontal and vertical templates then export as .jpeg to my Drobpox then open the picture on my phone and post (this allow me to do last minute edits to my images).
Or I use an app like Squaready (available on both iOS & Android) to add the white border directly from my mobile, fast and effective.
6. Timing is a key
Publishing images should be done regularly in order to be the most effective: find a pattern and stick to it. I’ve tried uploading pictures every day and every three days and I still had the exact same level of engagement.
But as soon as you break that pattern your stats will just drop. Forgot to post for a few days? Your next image will have weaker impact.
People get used to seeing your content poping on their feed at the regular time. The positive thing I noticed when you post regularly but not too often (for example one image every 3 days) is that your images globally get more reach, because they stay on top of your profile for a bigger amount of time.
7. Be polite and reply
It is probably the most time consuming aspect but also the most important. Because when someone who follows (or not) your work leaves a comment it is good etiquette to answer, it will probably drive that user on your profile for a second time and they may follow you or simply appreciate the fact that you consider your followers and fans as humans and not only as numbers.
Because Instagram is open (unlike Facebook and LinkedIn where you need to be a friend or “connected” to each other) commenting is often a good way to get in touch with potential clients in a less formal manner. I got in touch with an agency in Berlin like that.
Nowadays I bet you’ll have more chances to get noticed leaving a comment on Instagram rather than sending a company an email to their info mailbox.
Don’t be afraid to use emojis, according to many studies it increases your chance of getting your comment noticed among others ? (notice how you stopped scrolling there because of that wink?)
8. Use this visibility
We live in a mobile world, you have a million time more chances than some photo editor stumble on your Instagram account rather than on your portfolio (even if it’s well referenced and cross-linked).
The simple reason is that we mostly browse the Internet from the devices we always have with us, our phones or tablets. Instagram is used by a ton of curators, companies, brands and agencies looking for talents.
Your past and future clients may already use Instagram.
The bigger you grow on this network, the more job offers you could receive, Recently I have been invited by the Olympic museum to attend their press day and do some images and it was mainly because of my reach on Instagram. I was hired to cover a Swisscom event for the same reason.
Below you’ll find some of the images I made for those two clients.
As an influencer you can get a chance to connect with bigger brands that you could not approach by any other way.
The best thing about those clients? They hired me because of my own style and gave me freedom to do images my way.
9. Keep things simple
People’s attention span is shorter than ever before especially on this social network and they won’t read a long description.
The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds.
But isn’t an excuse not to write anything under your images.
I get a bit upset when a photographer post a picture of a very good looking building without indicating the location (using the location tool) or without mentioning the name of the place or the architect. People are interested in the context as well.
Keep your description short and to the point.
10. Have fun
This won’t replace your portfolio or traditional networking. Keep cool and share when you want to share, publish the images you want to publish.
You can ignore most of those tips and you’ll still be fine. It shouldn’t take you too much time/effort and if you act too professional people will eventually get bored of your content.
Find a balance between the formal and the light-hearted.
Instagram is a beautiful community where I met a lot of real-life friends and had ton of very good memories. It’s a place were I can get real feedback and which makes me push myself to create new images every day.
It’s lively, it’s fun and I will continue to use it until the next big thing…
About the Author
Samuel Zeller is a freelance photographer & Fujifilm ambassador based in Geneva, Switzerland. You can see more of his work on his site and Facebook, and you can follow him on Instagram and twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission
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