Are You Harnessing The Full Power Of Instagram?

Are You Harnessing The Full Power Of Instagram?

Whether you love or loathe Instagram, today's post looks at just how powerful a tool it can be. Last week, a friend took a simple shot from his bedroom window. Within an hour, it was picked up by the AP, and began appearing in major publications nationally. Depending on how you treat it, Instagram can be a firecracker or a stick of dynamite for your business and social presence. The punch it packs is up to you.

Why Use It?

I started to use Instagram a little over a year ago. I admit, I hated it long before I used it, which is why I only started using it pretty recently. I've realized though, that it has huge potential to connect us with clients or people we may wish to collaborate with. My views have totally changed, let me outline why.

If I told you that you could pull out your phone right now, shoot something, upload it to Instagram, include a hashtag and get that photograph picked up by the Associated Press (AP) and published internationally, would you believe me? I wouldn’t have believed me until I spoke to my friend last week, who had it happen to him.

Girish Tewani recently moved to New York City with his wife, Kirti. They happen to live up on the 48th floor of a building on the west side of Manhattan. Although he specializes in fashion and beauty photography, like many of us, Girish enjoys the simple pleasure of photographing anything that catches his eye.

So when he woke up one day last just over a week back, and pulled back the curtains to be greeted by a beautiful foggy scene covering Manhattan, he simply did what came naturally - reached for his camera. Not his DSLR, just his phone.

Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Taking shot1 Recreation of the moment Girish decided to shoot the image that was picked up by the AP


Copyright Girish Tewani ...and what he actually captured. Copyright Girish Tewani

He showed the shot to his wife Kirti and, thinking nothing of it, set off to work. Kirti decided to share the shot on her Instagram account, tagging it with a number of hashtags, including one that was simply "#fog".

Copyright Kirti Tewani Copyright Kirti Tewani


For those of you unfamiliar, like Twitter, hashtags in Instagram allow users to search for content related to the tagged words.

Within less than two minutes, she'd received a call from a photo editor at the Associated Press (AP) asking if they could see the original image. Apparently, the editor had googled her name and gotten her cell phone number. Kirti put the editor in touch with Girish, and the AP ended up purchasing the image. Within a day, it had been pushed out nationally to publications including, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, the New York Post, and publications in the Netherlands and El Pais in Spain. All from a quick shot with a phone and a simple hashtag on Instagram.

Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Fog_LA Daily News




Fstoppers_DavidGeffin_Instagram_Fog_TIME.COM NEWSFEED





This random chain of events demonstrates the power Instagram can deliver. Plenty of people I know have booked jobs through it, and – like all social media – if used appropriately, can support our brand and marketing activity.

Whether we like it or not, we are all having to be so much more aware of how we come across through social media channels because prospective clients and collaborators now go straight to these channels and assess our work, output and suitability for a job. I decided fairly recently to be much more discerning over what I post to my Instagram account. I try to treat it as a lesson in editing my work as much as anything else.


It’s Not Why, But How, That’s Important

I’m not going to try and convince you why it’s important to use Instagram. The previous example shows how powerful it can be. For me, the key rather is to think about how to use it.

Personally speaking, it’s important to just remember that whatever you put up there - whether fun shots of your cat or carefully edited images - reflects you. If you were looking to book you for a job, would you do it from what you see on your feed?

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Geffinmedia_Instagram When accessing Instagram via a desktop, you're shown rotating tiles of what you've recently uploaded. Does this reflect what you'd like potential clients to see?

To Tag Or Not To Tag, That Is The Question

Tagging allows strangers to locate our images. This is great if you want to begin to build up follow ship or interest. I personally tag images, but I try and keep tags at a reasonable level, maybe 4 – 6 tags on a shot. Sometimes I prefer not to tag at all, as it can be distracting. Some people tag like crazy. I would advise tagging appropriately, something that links directly to the image itself and what you think people (and clients) might search for.


The True Success Stories

At the extreme end of the spectrum are companies like Tinker Street – a small photo/ad agency that grew out of nothing a short time ago to now work with some of the biggest names in advertising. The handful of mobile photographers on the Tinker Street mobile photography roster have over 11 million combined followers, and work with brands including Converse, Delta, Nike, Toyota and Ogilvy.

Some of the photographers have hundreds of thousands of people following them on Instagram. The amount of buying power they wield – and can harness for their clients – is off the charts.


It’s Not Just About Selling Product

It’s not all about selling. This week I spoke to Edward Keating, a NYC based Pulitzer prize winning photographer. As we chatted, he told me how much his iPhone and Instagram use over the last year has revitalized and re-energized him and his approach. He said he felt as if he’d been in a rut, shooting largely black and white, and with his Leica, and this had given him a totally different experience, a completely unhindered way of seeing. Many of his Instagram images are stunning and wouldn’t be out of place on a gallery wall somewhere. It's not just about building followers and attracting clients - it can sharpen your eye and push your creativity.


Still Not Convinced?

As someone who personally hated the idea of Instagram, it's became far more powerful than I ever imagined. Instagram is different things to different people, and that’s fine. I try to avoid being judgmental about what it could or should be for. All I know is I’ve just seen too many positive stories to think of it as a wholly negative and pointless app.

If you still aren’t bought in, that’s fine, but I would say open your mind and give it a try at least. Perhaps set yourself parameters about how you use it. Perhaps use it to challenge yourself to make one strong image a day and upload it. Find and follow a few people who inspire you and think about why you like their work. Treat it as a way to always be thinking about making images, even when you’re going about other daily tasks. I guarantee you it will start to pay off.

Do you love or loathe Instagram? What positives or negatives have you experienced? Would love to hear your views, please feel free to share in the comments below.

David Geffin's picture

David is a full time photographer, videographer and video editor based in New York City. Fashion, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He enjoys stills and motion work in equal measure, with a firm belief that a strong photographic eye will continue to help inform and drive the world of motion work.

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Great stuff!

Thanks Clay, glad you enjoyed!

Great article Dave. I actually just set up an Instagram account a few days ago after several of my clients and modelling agencies have been pressuring me to do so. I keep hearing about the possibilities but have not had the time to look into it. This is a great little crash course on the how and why. Thanks!

Thanks Peter, glad it was timely and helped provide a quick intro. You've also reminded me - it's really good to tag your creative team in shoots (using the "@" symbol followed by their IG account name). You'll credit them, and build follow ship that way too.

Great little tip, tagging has been a great little tool for me. I have more recently began to tag brands in my photos to maybe snag an email back to me form them in the case they want to use that photo somewhere later. I have been contacted since beginning to do this which is incredible! Thats another story for another day though.

I think I have seen a few articles on here about Instagram but this one just nailed what I have been trying to tell people for the last couple years. Really well said Dave! I have been on the site come 3 years in April. It wasn't until Jan of 2013 that I started to see some serious benefits to networking, inspiration and finding new clients and collaboration projects with some of my favorite artists. I have been lucky on the social network having grown a mainly local follower base of about 2,000 before hitting the "instafame" Suggested User list by Instagram in May of 2013 where my name and page is added to the top 200 accounts on the network. Flooded with new users seeing my work across the world I grew over 20,000 followers in just a few weeks. Thats when I really started to get excited, connecting with some of my idols and big inspirations this past year has been incredible including almost the entire team of Tinker. Now on the creative standpoint its a great tool, I try to post 1 photo a day or more. Its become an addiction! I began organizing what they call Instameets (meetups for Instagrammers) here in Indianapolis starting the @igersindy account. I have connected with some of the biggest companies and brands here in Indy from that account alone and now working with more on my own for freelance shooting and promoting via my page. Its been an incredible tool for me and I cant stress enough if you are a creative in any field you can really use it as a great kick start to finding clients and creatives alike. The hashtags is a nice touch and helped me search for and also be found by others by very specific tagging. I can go into this much deeper along with strategy for growing and creating campaigns around a fresh social network like this one not many really understand yet but Ill leave that up to Fstoppers sending me an email to be a guest writer : ) Nice work Dave and hit me up anytime over @the_gris

thanks Andrew, really insightful and was great connecting with you through this article. I'll be in touch regarding a follow up piece.

You bet duder! Look forward to it, always willing to help out!

my biggest 'complaint' about instagram is that all the pictures are square. I frame my work carefully, and most of the shots just don't look right square.

Yea, I have actually found the square format a nice challenge and new way of looking at things outside the now standard vetical or horizontal layouts. There is some rich history with the square format photo and I dig that it keeps me on my toes for the shots. Now if that is the only reason you are staying away form Instagram I would maybe suggest an app call Whitagram which allows you to crop to either a horizontal or vertical 16:9 ratio.

thanks, I will look into that :-)

Harold i hear you. Like Andrew, i treated it as something of a challenge. Recently i've been using an app called Square which allows me to crop the image. Many people on IG don't just follow the square crop that IG offers, and use a third party app to edit before uploading. It sounds like a lot of hassle but takes just a few seconds and all integrates pretty seamlessly.

Great article about the power of social media. I had a photo picked up by a Gannett publication that was taken on my phone and tweeted out. I received a call shortly after I posted and got some money for it too which was pretty cool. I have just recently joined Instagram and now wish I had done it sooner. Thanks for sharing!

you're welcome Keith, and great to hear that examples like yours and my friend's aren't totally random one off events. Give's more credence to that view that tools like IG have untapped value that we need to think about how to harness. Thanks for sharing!

This is one of the first articles that I've read on Fstoppers and I'm impressed. Are you sure you don't also work for Instagram? Because you've convinced me to set aside my initial bias against Instagram and take a closer look. I originally dismissed Instagram as one of the social media fads and I justified my bias by considering it yet one more time-sucking distraction. Sometimes it seems like photography has become more about sitting behind the computer than getting out and taking pictures. But your article has given me some ideas on how to use Instagram as a tool instead of an impediment. I think I found my project for the day! Thanks for making me see a new perspective.

+1 to Jennifer. The article was persuasive and made me reconsider my professional relationship to social networks, or at least to Instagram. I've been playing with the 1SE app this year and find it does push me to look for images throughout the day. Can I point to it producing paid work? Not yet, but it does keep pushing me to create. Thanks, Dave Geffin, for an excellent essay.

To reiterate what I just said to Jennifer, thanks CD, really nice to hear and glad it's making you at least think about how to maximize these networks and their use for your own benefit.

Jennifer, it's posts like these that make writing these articles worthwhile. Whether you end up loving or hating IG, the simple fact you're willing to try it is good enough for me. Thank you for the nice words and taking the time to share, much appreciated!

If I hadn't had Instagram since the very beginning, I would give it a try thanks to this article. Haha

"...but I would say open your mind and give it a try at least."

Your inference (despite your preface) here it seems is that people have closed minds if they don't embrace instagram ? Somewhat patronising.

While your friend struck lucky, like people do winning the lottery do we need to rush into adding upon the visual overload and excruciating mass (visual vomit to quote Grayson Perry) that is intagram. How many other sales via instagram has your friend made ? I would also like to see the demography (?) of instagram.

Now I can see the potential for having a 'trendy' and free social media window to one's work, I wonder though if it ultimately will also emphasise an increased short term-ism for photography as a whole. A feeling if an image isn't recent and of the now its value diminishes.

I offer this as a counterpoint to the other comments.

Valid questions and counterpoint, always enjoy hearing both sides, thanks for taking the time to post.

You're right - my friend got lucky but the point was to show how, through random events, we don't really fully utilize what could be a very powerful medium for getting out work out - and noticed. Other friends have booked clients from their IG posts. At what point is it not luck and rather creating opportunity? Look at Andrew Griswold's experience from his comments - was he lucky or has he worked hard using IG as a tool to create opportunity? (for me, it's definitely the latter).

I agree - there is a lot of visual overload, but we can't stop that, it's the way the world has gone. All we can do is use the tools available as best we can to stand out.

I too had dismissed IG because of the crap visual overload encountered. Taking a second look, the key to it's effective use is discrimination, in images posted, in whom one is following, and in the proper use of tags. I'll give it a second try. Thanks for the article.

In the example at the top, is the AP (or the NYT or NYP) paying a fair market value for the license or are they just throwing $20-40 to the shooters?

They are paying more than you've suggested, i have no idea what fair market value is these days though.

It's not enough to make a living off of one off events like this, for sure - point is that pre-IG, getting people to see your work (and get paid for shooting) were less accessible. IG is simply a tool that provides potential opportunity to better access client work and creative rejuvenation, both positives in my book.

Excellent article. I have always found it extremely discouraging to see the 'hate' spewed in the Fstoppers comment sections towards Instagram and its users. A bunch of professional and talented photographers clearly scared of something they either didn't like at the front end, or maybe did not understand period.

There is an absurd amount of talent on Instagram. If you took a second to realize it isn't trying to replace what you do, but can be an extension of. For some, it is just another tool in their photographic belt.

I've built relationships with some people on IG who have never touched a DSLR in their life, and are making some of the best photos on IG. Imagine if we, in turn, embraced their talent and helped foster it. I can tell you it has already begun, and the work some of these prior 'iphone photogs' are producing rivals that of some of the haters.

I would challenge you to try it. Don't over edit. Capture your day, in an artistic way, and share it. It has already landed me paid jobs because of the community. People referring you. It doesn't comprise all my paid work, but it is work. I hope to see some of you and your photos on IG soon :)

Strongly agree with you, its unreal who I have connected with here in Indy via the monthly Instameets I have started along with the @igersindy group. Some of these guys I call my best friends now after just a year of knowing eachother and a few of them have sparked intersted in making this their career and have since had me teach them what I can with a DSLR and editing standpoint outside of their mobile devices. Its pretty incredible to see what talent is out there.

Thanks Brent, glad you enjoyed it and this:

"There is an absurd amount of talent on Instagram. If you took a second to realize it isn't trying to replace what you do, but can be an extension of. For some, it is just another tool in their photographic belt."

is the perfect summary to my thinking for this article in the first place, thanks!

PS good luck with the farm ;)

It's nice to see someone get lucky, and to hear about success stories, but it's good to keep this in perspective, these are Cinderella stories and it pays to recognise that. Aspiring creatives can be easily influenced by examples of striking it lucky. I think the angle on this article for me is "wow look at this isn't this crazy!" rather than.. "here's a reason you should use XYZ".

yes. it is the "American Dream" syndrome... it happens, but it is not even correlated, let alone caused, by hard work and/or talent.

an example never, ever, can be proof of anything — though it can disprove an assertion — and so we proceed with that in mind and certainly enjoy Instagram and see how others succeed, and not have illusion. nothing to be harnessed based on what happened to others.

Thank you for this article, I do hope it inspires photographers and creative individuals to show their view of the world and to not take themselves so serious. Share your vision with the world and it will uplift and inspire others around you.

Instagram has truly helped me move past obstacles from this last year and has really helped me step up as a photographer. No longer do I feel the need to be a perfectionist with my imagery and no longer do I take myself so serious. I use to hold my creations so tightly, that It was limiting my creative expression. Also, Instagram is now a beautiful timeline of my life and I have a simple way of taking a trip down memory lane. The potential that Instagram has, as a professional tool, is yet to be discovered but I do look forward to this and understand the potential that it has for me.

Thanks for sharing your insight Brian, this resonates with me and was the main reason i dove into IG initially and finally gave it a try myself.

I want to like Instagram, but I still have a hard time buying into it. It seem like everyone likes to pick a few lucky success stories to justify the use of X service or X social media outlet. "You need a Facebook now because this one guy had a lot of success very quickly with it."

The reason I don't use Instagram because it's just added anxiety. There's already Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Pinterest,and however many others, and I don't want to have to curate another social media outlet just so I might, possibly, probably won't, get new clients or my photo in the AP.

If I was already well known though with a large base of people looking at my work then I would gladly use Instagram. But most people I know just use Instagram as another way to feel validated in their abilities.

I used IG for a while and stopped. Curious how you feel about their TOS as it relates to what you wrote. Thanks, Bryan Mitchell

I think that whole thing was blown out of proportion to be honest. They have since changed their TOS back to the original statement and of course the photos are all fully owned by you. What exactly were your concerns with the TOS currently? Read through it a couple times to confirm it all of course. The only issue I have with it is how easily someone can snap a screenshot of your photos and repost them to their own page to build a follower base from 'popular' photos that I have posted arleady. Giving them the best out of my photos to grow on the site. I have seen a handful of my shots get out there but thats not really IG's fault. Heck I have seen a good dozen pages with my name and actual profile pic haha!

Thanks for your thoughts. Yes photos stay with the photographer however IG still has the right to use them anyway they like. Even transfer that right. I always hate the transfer part. Would they ever really use a photo you or me shot in some big ad or something and make a ton of money leaving us out. Probably not. Looks like the bigger problem is what happens to you (stated in your reply) and still blows my mind people pass off others work as their own. Crazy!
That said it seam other photographers I know, work with or just like their work are split even. Seems half left, half stayed.
I guess my real issue is I have always been on the side of the fence of photogs need to protect their work and not agree to bad contracts and terms, ever. (I know old school, but I'm old).
But I am rethinking things on how the good might outweigh the bad and your post got me thinking about it again in another way and I thank you for that!

Totally agree, you need to protect your work at all costs but in a world filled with a digital market with social media EVERYWHERE its important to read through any TOS you come across but if you did you would just freak out over all the details and not use the markets available to you with new age tools like IG. Its fun to see more professionals take advantage of it. Then on the other end its really neat to see just regular people spark up interst in photography and turn it into a career all from IG.

Great post, I've witnessed this firsthand as well. I don't have a huge IG following by any means, but one day when I was traveling over Thanksgiving, I posted an IG photo of the standing-room-only O'Hare airport terminal. I put a few tags on it. Within a few minutes, I had an email from an ABC representative, asking me to send him the photo for possible publication.
It really is incredible the kind of reach that we can have. And yes, sometimes it really is just by "chance" that we strike it lucky like that. But that's the point of competition, and yes it's a gamble.

If we always hide in the shadows, then that's always where we'll be.

Great article David! Found it linked from this page:

Thanks Erik, glad you enjoyed :)