What You Should Know About Instagram as a Wildlife Photographer

As a wildlife photographer on Instagram, your feed is likely constantly filled with amazing animal images. On the good days, this can be absolutely inspiring and you may learn a thing or two. The times when you aren’t having much luck in the field, however, an Instagram feed can be a harsh place that makes you doubt your own progress and your work.

In this new video from my YouTube channel, my goal was to give wildlife photographers a break from the self-doubt and remind them of common practices about the platform, photography in general, and how to better place the negative thoughts.

This starts with the fact that wildlife photographers will share many different photos from just one animal encounter but spread out over time, or reshare already-posted photos altogether in order to consistently update their feed with quality work. Next, I talk about post-processing and offer the reminder of how much of an impact great editing skills can have on photos that may have started out average. Finally, there’s the takeaway that the Instagram community from all I’ve seen is actually a very helpful place for wildlife photographers and I encourage people to send more messages and ask more questions.

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Kurt Hummel's picture

I find Instagram horrible for wildlife, it’s just to small of a image. I have shots from my Canon 5dsr that look great on a 27” iMac in full screen but when I tried putting them on Instagram they lose so much with their format. I would love to be able to see some of the images people get in full resolution and not cropped so much.

Joaquim Gonsalves's picture

Valid points about resolution but perhaps there's more to this genre on Instagram than first meets the eye.:)

Tom Reichner's picture

As a wildlife specialist, I have found Instagram to be invaluable. The real purpose of Instagram isn't so much for photo sharing and viewing, but rather as a place to meet other wildlife photographers and initiate long-lasting connections.

I have only been on Instagram for one year, but have already gotten to know a few dozen other wildlife photographers there. We message back and forth frequently in order to share information about when, where, and how to photograph wildlife. I've shared a lot of useful information with other wildlife photographers, and they have shared a lot of information with me that I have been able to put to use.

About a dozen of the wildlife photographers that I've gotten to know on Instagram within the past year, I have met in the field when I travel to far away places for wildlife photography. It's so cool to "meet" someone from Canada or Florida or Texas for the first time on Instagram, and then a few months later, meet them in person - in the field in Colorado or Montana or New Jersey or wherever. Then I have someone to shoot with, hang with, eat dinner or even share lodging and expenses with, while on a photo trip.

Instagram also serves as an excellent tool for researching for opportunities specific to wildlife species or locations. For instance, if I want to photograph a particular species, let's say the American Black Duck, then I can search for and follow the hashtag #americanblackduck. Any time someone posts an image of a Black Duck with this hashtag, I will see it in my feed. I can then send a direct message to the photographer, asking if they are willing to share info about where they found cooperative Black Ducks.

Most people are very willing and eager to share this kind of info, and usually invite me to their part of the country and tell me that they would be glad to show me their Black Duck spot. The same is true for a myriad of species - Moose, Mountain Goats, Collared Lizards, Pheasants, Wild Turkeys, Falcons, Warblers, Foxes, etc, etc, etc. If you are interested in photographing a certain kind of wildlife, just search for it on Instagram, connect with the people who are photographing it, and away you go - you'll have more information than you ever imagined!

So ...... if you are frustrated by the small image sizes on Instagram, and the poor image quality, then you are missing the point of Insta. It's not about high-caliber image viewing. Nor is it about amassing "likes" and "followers". And it's certainly not meant to be a place to showcase your work.

Rather, Instagram is about connecting with others who are doing what you want to do, and finding the things that you want to find. It's to let people know what you've been up to, and to see what they've been up to. That's what Instagram is awesome at, and if you are not using it as a wildlife research tool, you are really missing out.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Wow, I am quite surprised that you are finding so many people who are willing to share the location of their image. In my experience, photographers jealously keep for themselves this kind of information, so that competition cannot find it and shoot it as well. On the other hand, when it comes to birds, ringers are more than willing to share with you, as long as they see you're not a ringer too.

Tom Reichner's picture


I'm surprised that you're surprised! LOL

Finding location info for wildlife photos in Instagram is soooooooo easy. In fact, many people actually give the location right there at the top of the post. For example, a photo I saw yesterday of a nontypical Tule Elk said "Point Reyes National Seashore" right there at the top of the post, and it was actually a hot link so that you can go directly to all other photos that are tagged with this location.

And many others use hashtags with the location. For instance, one photo of a big Whitetail buck that I found recently had the hashtags, #cadescove #tennessee #greatsmokymountains #smokymountains This is typical, as many thousands upon thousands of great wildlife photos have the location info right there in the hashtags.

In the event that the photographer doesn't list the location or provide clues in the hashtags, you can just message them and they almost always respond quickly with very detailed location information. For instance, I just commented on someone's photo of a Boreal Chickadee that they are high on my bucket list, but that I have never been fortunate enough to find them. She responded within an hour with, "Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota is a pretty reliable place to see them. If you ever plan to go there, let me know and I can give you tips on finding them."

I have found this to be typical of the way people respond to location questions on Instagram. You often don't even have to ask - just let someone know you're interested in a particular species and they take the initiative to tell you where you can find it.

By the way, I do not know what you mean by "ringer". I have never seen that term used before.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Yes of course, when they put the location on top of the image, it's easy to find. But for example here in Europe, if someone sees a snowy owl, they'll never share the location besides a very broad municipality name. So you'd have a really hard time finding the animal because the area to cover is way too big anyway. Same with any kind of rarer bird. Of course, a balance has to be found, and it would be wrong to share a specific location with anyone, with all the risks to disturb already endangered species. And I have never received any message back like "I'll give you tips" from anyone except really close friends.

With ringer I meant those people who put rings on the bids legs... If it's not "ringer" then I have no idea what's the proper English word haha!

Tom Reichner's picture

"Ringer" makes sense now that you explained it. Here in North America, we refer to that practice as "banding", because the researcher or technician puts a band on the bird's leg (or sometimes neck).

Tom Reichner's picture

"Ringer" makes sense now that you explained it! Here in North America, we refer to that practice as "banding", because the researcher or technician puts a band on the bird's leg (or sometimes neck).

Bodkin's Best Photography's picture

My province is about as specific as I'm willing to get. Too much time, effort and travel expenses have been used to find these locations.

Joaquim Gonsalves's picture

If you come across jealous creatives they need our help as they've probably forgotten their why.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

What a great optimistic view of IG. Things can be so negative, I enjoyed seeing a positive spin!