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Canon Drops Photographer for Not Having Enough Followers: Time to Up Your Instagram Game?

We'd all like to think the number of followers we have on Instagram isn't harming our business, but it seems like it could be. Here's how to give your social presence a jump start in 2019.

The team over at The Futur are back once again with another fascinating video with photographer Yvette Roman. The theme of this week's debate is social media's impact on professional photography which is a topic I'm sure many of us have wondered about. Early on in the discussion Roman talks about how Canon changed their mind to hire her for a high profile job because the number of followers she had was far too low. While I'm not surprised things like this happen, it is disappointing to hear that the likes of Canon would hold a talented photographer's follower count against them when they ticked every other box.

You'd hope that if your portfolio and website looked like a million dollars then it wouldn't matter if you only had a few thousand followers on Instagram. Unfortunately, that one chink in your armor could be enough to plant a seed of doubt in someone's mind and it's for this reason that you should be making a concerted effort to try to align the message you give off in the many places you show your work.

Chris Do, the founder of the Futur, explains to Roman how her Instagram account is lacking the personal story which would add perceived value to her pictures as well as help potential followers warm to her and motivate them to hit the follow button. While many of us prefer to stay behind the camera, showing your audience who you are and what you are about, really can help to paint a bigger picture and allow you to stand out in the sea of images that are out there.

Do goes onto talk about how many photographers fail to either inform or inspire with their accounts and this can be a big reason why they may be struggling to pull in the followers. I have to agree with this point entirely and as much as it's important to show your personality on your social pages, too many baby or pet pictures on a professional page can be a big turn off for followers that came to your account to see great photography.

The video is jam-packed with useful pointers on how to up your game when it comes to social media. Running at over 45 minutes this deep conversation between Do and Roman is a long one but well and truly worth the watch.

What are your thoughts on Canon dropping a photographer for not having enough followers? Do follower counts really matter? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Lead image by Frits Ahlefeldt used under Creative Commons.

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76 Comments
Josh Zaring's picture

Most of the Canon “Master of Light” photographers barely have any followers, so this sounds bogus. Maybe they’ll consider me, it’s taken me YEARS to break past 10k followers!

aurèle brémond's picture

some have 100k follower, some have a little more than 10k, and some ... don't have an IG account (and they were good before internet existed ...)

Jen Photographs's picture

This makes me think there's more to the story. Maybe there's a different reason that Yvette isn't disclosing.

Kurt Lawson's picture

Maybe the criteria for the "Master of Light" is different than for what they wanted for the commercial job. Why should we assume that the two things are the same?

Yvette Roman's picture

Hi J, et al - it is true...this really happened. I was given the job, and then 20 minutes later, it was taken away, and the art director did tell me that it was b/c of my Instagram following. I have disclosed all I know about the situation. Perhaps there was more, but I only have that (my) side of the story, which has been disclosed in full. In the end, losing that job was a game changer for me - it resulted in the realization that in this world, it counts. In retrospect, I wouldn't have changed a thing, as it resulted in my having to deeply consider my career trajectory, and how best to adjust to working in this environment. I have used Canon equipment for decades - their cameras and lenses are impeccable. I love their products, and I continue to have massive appreciation for the technology that has taken my career to where it is. Feel free to ask any questions you like...if any. I'm here. XX

udor nyc's picture

Hi Yvette! I feel your pain, I am scrambling on IG for years... I was a guest on the American Fashion Podcast and two of the other guests were Alexandra Steigrad, media editor for Women's Wear Daily, and Mickey Boardman, the editorial director of Paper Magazine. Until then, I had never utilized my IG account. But Mickey and Alexandra schooled me (without them knowing!) about Instagram and that's the single most important tool for photographers and models in existence. Even more important that a website.

The reason for them wanting 50K+ followers is that this means INSTANT reach, because you post a BTS photo from your shoot... it reaches 50K and more of your followers... that's advertising for them and that's why the art director's low IG number doesn't matter, but yours is so important.

I am trying to up my IG game big time... but I need to develop the discipline to have one post daily and not months and months in between posts...

Good luck to you! :)

Alex Stevens's picture

Yvette - curious - you mention the Art Director - was this from Canon's agency or directly at Canon?

John Dawson's picture

This is just more evidence of the commoditization of photography.

imagecolorado's picture

It could be a blessing in disguise.

I dropped Canon for not having enough critically sharp sharp images.

Johnny Rico's picture

well I laughed

Karim Hosein's picture

You dropped them? I didn't even take them up on the offer.

Oh, wait…. They never made me an offer.

Nevermind.

Deleted Account's picture

If the cult of personality is what sells, then, they are not wrong for prioritizing that. Nothing new or unreasonable about it, might not like it, but it is what it is.

John Dawson's picture

Everything, by definition, is what it is. Nothing can be what it isn't, as that would violate the logical rule of non-contradiction.

Deleted Account's picture

I guess you're not a fan of colloquialisms.

John Dawson's picture

Logical ones, yes.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I bet you're super fun to be around

Mike Reilly's picture

I'd buy him a beer.

Felix Wu's picture

Canon USA?

Jonah Ritchie's picture

Thanks for the share bro! Signed up to The Futur on Youtube..

thomas Palmer's picture

douche company

Diane Marie's picture

Looking at someone like Peter McKinnon proves that personality is important. People don’t understand how he got so popular so fast, but my best guess is Peter. He just seems so darn nice. Like his photography is definitely pro, but there are many others equally good. But, dang, don’t ya just wanna hang out with Peter? He just seems so real.

16mm Camera's picture

He comes off as unoriginal and uninspired for me persoanlly. I’ve seen very few seemingly authentic moments from what I have seen from him, he is a magician after all and I do know all his tricks. Maybe that’s why.

Nick B's picture

Problem is, other photographers who met him say his YouTube personality is all fake...

Jen Photographs's picture

Acting!

If all the youtubers showed their real personalities, very few would have a strong following.

Nick B's picture

In the case of landscape photography which is the genre I follow, most youtubers seem to show their true personality, and yes, only one has a strong following, and that's Thomas Heaton. It's still low though by "youtube personality standards", at around 350k followers, but in a year I'm pretty sure he'll reach one million. Most of the ones who have above 1 million do a large number of gear reviews or tutorials and don't focus on their photography.

Dilyana Hezhaz's picture

I'm a big fan of his work, he also comes across as a well grounded guy who more than knows his craft. Nothing pretentious or too flashy, just solid landscape work and tips for other photographers in the genre. I'd rather follow a guy like this then someone more focused on the whole 'lifestyle influencer' thing. Sadly, we've been living in a Black Mirror era for quite a while now, it's just starting to blow up more and more.

Diane Marie's picture

Wow, so Peter McKinnon is not the real deal? Well, that’s disappointing. I’ll have to check out his earlier stuff if it’s still up. I’d be interested to know what the other youtubers that have met him say he’s really like. I guess he just has one of those pleasant faces that I hoped matched his personality. Anyway, I will change my comment to say he PROJECTS a great personality, and that is why he draws so many in. I will have to meet him to know what he’s really like. LOL

David Moore's picture

make all your photos orange and blue and maybe do some shoots with neon.

Chris Silvis's picture

I just snorted. Lmao

David T's picture

I feel offended

Alvin Toro's picture

This is extremely comon in fashion. Follower count and engagement is one of the most important factors a lot of brands are looking for in a model for a campaign and is the first things they will look at after getting the packages back from the agencies.

borisschipper's picture

Indeed, all the big agencies (or at least the ones I worked with) have a follower count next to their models

Yvette Roman's picture

Thanks for your input, Alvin and Boris...it's great to know what's going on out there, and truly worthy to discuss. So appreciate your thoughts... - Yvette

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

"You'd hope that if your portfolio and website looked like a million dollars then it wouldn't matter if you only had a few thousand followers on Instagram."

well, the thing is there are people who have a portfolio & website that look like a million dollars with a good following. If you're a company and you were choosing someone to help promote a product, who would you honestly pick?

I'm also always blown by the logic of people. Instead of saying "oh damn, this is happening (whether it makes sense or not), I better get on it and find a way to grow a following" and adapt, instead they like to complain and sit on a high horse and say "My work speaks for itself".

I'm sure those are the same people who laughed at digital when it first started coming onto the scene.

Having a good following is pretty much having a built in audience which is just another form of distribution. It's ALWAYS been this way. That's why celebrities are normally used to endorse. The only thing that's changed is that now regular people can work and build their own following. It's accessible to anyone.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

"If you're a company and you were choosing someone to help promote a product, who would you honestly pick?"
It depends. Are the fans legit, alive and actively following? Can they afford the car, fashion, travel to exotic locales that they "like" ? Are they buyers or kids or just wishful thinkers. Agencies spend a lot of time and money figuring out how, where and who they advertise to. But they are also notoriously cheap bastards...so a few more customers with no effort is a win-win.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

"Are the fans legit, alive and actively following?" that goes without saying. Companies aren't that stupid. I know people from brands that look at this and it's literally their full time job.

"Can they afford the car, fashion, travel to exotic locales that they "like" ? Are they buyers or kids or just wishful thinkers." why are you applying such harsh standards that are never put on traditional marketing? When companies spends millions on a Super Bowl ad, you think they ask those questions? No... there is such thing of brand awareness and consistently keeping your brand in people's mind regardless if they are "wishful thinkers".

Again, all things equal. 2 photographers w/ similar work. 1 has following of 50k of real people and engagement that's been checked out/verified. The other has zero to no following. Which one you pick to hire and who can help you indirectly w/ brand awareness? again, I stress both photographers have similar work and both are equally professional to deal with. At that point if you're saying you don't care about someone's social following, you're either lying to yourself or not living in 2019.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Super Bowl ads are an anomaly. Usually well established brands and agencies showing off and to win awards. But most folks who see the spot with the fire fighters and the lost Lab puppy sitting on the tailgate of the pick up truck having a cold drink with Bradley Cooper most viewers don't recall if the ad was for Ford, Purina, Coke, a movie or an Insurance company. But it was good!

I know people who work at agencies too.The "harsh standards" have been going on with traditional marketing forever. That's why there are focus groups , target marketing, test running different ads to see what tests best, and people working full time analyzing where and how to run their ad to find qualified buyers to buy their product, not just wish about it. Now they also count the fans of the photog or director too. Mostly to CYA "Hey don't blame me it flopped, he had 50k fans!"

I went to school with a woman who ended up in charge of marketing for Chevrolet, WSJ did a story about her, she said at the end of months of research and meetings on how to market the cars she had to sign off on spending $1.5 billion dollars and hopes she doesnt get fired. So it's always been a crap shoot.

When you skew your example to be "everything is equal" except the fan base then of course it will come out in your favor, but IRL everything is rarely equal.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

"When you skew your example to be "everything is equal""

umm, you must live under a rock. That's not "skewing", there are tons of talented photographers that have a good following. Wake up. Also, just like any profession, even if the work isn't "as good", but they are a pleasure to deal with and have a good following, that person will get chosen even if the other's person work is amazing. It's like that with everything.

At the end of the day, whether or not you like it, it's what's happening. You're doing a lot of talking under a fake account or false name not linked to any work... yet you want to have credibility? Okay, you win.

cheers!

Mr Hogwallop's picture

A lot goes into choosing a photographer for a job, it always has. I'm just not sure where the fanbase fits in. I have 310 fans yet still get plenty of work, but my work is in a specialized genre so it's more word of mouth rather than IG likes. YMMV

Andy Barnham's picture

While I hate social media (mainly due to data abuse and the monetisation of it for corporate giants), I agree with your comments. However... when it comes to followers/ likes, it's an arms race as I believe organic growth is close to dead. Most companies/ brands etc don't do enough due diligence when it comes to social and just look at the follower count. Also celebs hide the fact they're being paid to endorse items; the system is just rife to abuse.

Yvette Roman's picture

Hi Alexis - it's Yvette! In the end, losing that job was a game changer for me - it resulted in the realization that in this world, it counts. As much as I tried to push back, as much as I tried to deny it, or dig my feet into the sand. In retrospect, I wouldn't have changed a thing, as it caused me to deeply consider my career trajectory, and how best to adjust to working in this environment. I have used Canon equipment for decades - their cameras and lenses have been impeccable. I love their products, and I continue to have massive appreciation for the technology they have created, that has helped me take my career to where it is. The money I could have made, and the opportunity I could have had were all "could haves" at that point. The greater value was the lesson, by far. :)

Deleted Account's picture

Canon.

Nuff said.

Carl Irjala's picture

I have 398 who follow me on Instagram @irjalca. Every time I publish a new image, the number rises considerably, but after a few hours it drops again. So it seems as people are following to be followed and they like to get likes. I have my profile there only because my friends and relatives asking for it.
So I can understand that Canon is responding as they did in this skilled photographers case. In that market area Canon has a hundred million potential customers. The Finnish market is so small and we have thousands of semi pro photographers who do the job for free. In Finland, the number of followers in social media does not play a big role.
When I took the step to start photographing professionally, I searched an other method to market myself. My main goal was to be published by National Geographic once. So when the customer asks if I have a portfolio on Instagram I answer that it does not mean anything at all to me, and then I show the two pictures that NatGeo has published. So far I can choose the jobs I want to get.
It feels like popular social channels are an huge international garbage dumps.
Kind regards to all of you from me here in Finland.
Carl

Yvette Roman's picture

Hi Carl! Agreed, completely. Losing this job was truly a wake up moment for me, and I, like you, was in that rut of gaining and losing followers up and down a bit every day, and never getting past a certain marker. I completely agree with you about it finding other ways to market yourself - I'm certainly not saying or intonnating that it has to be instagram or nothing - I am a full-time shooter, and I deeply understand those other ways! Congrats on Nat Geo - that is amazing... xxxx

olivier borgognon's picture

I do firmly believe this is amazing and quite crazy. Studies show that social media is related to depression, addiction, low self-esteem, and weaker human interactions.

Reading and seeing that a major player such as Canon drops photographer for not actually buying into these potential risks amazes me. It's like if we told kids... no, no pocket money if you don't take a line of cocaĂŻne beforehand... Your call.

Please... major brands, see the light !

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Her story about losing a 4 day ad shoot 20 minutes after getting it has me thinking...
There is a difference in shooting lovely photos at a high end wedding that has been bought and paid for, planned and set up months before the photographer even gets there and budgeting, planning, producing and pulling off a 4 day ad shoot from nothing. Her work is very nice but maybe someone at the agency said "Wait, you booked a wedding photog to shoot the ad campaign?"
And HR put the brakes on her because of weak following? Must be a spineless creative department. Usually the conflict is between the Creative and the Account side, never heard of Human Resources getting involved...but who knows these days.

Yvette Roman's picture

That is possible indeed! I only know what they told me. Nevertheless, it forced me to take this lesson, as it was handed to me, which has become infinitely valuable. But...btw, I did submit an editorial portfolio for this job that had nothing to do with my wedding work. It was that work that the art director was looking at... :)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Ah , I didn't see that on your website. which is very nice. More than once the agency said "We are going in a different direction..." so ya never know why or why not you get the gig. It sucks when they giveth and then taketh away. It's happened to me too.

Yvette Roman's picture

Absolutely! I have lost as many jobs as I have gained - seriously...this, however, for all the reasons stated was the "come to jesus" one. The Canon story was merely an example of the real struggle that professional photographers face when confronted by the 95 million per day uploads of imagery on social media, and (hopefully) the podcast did well in communicating ways that they (we) can distinguish our professional practice from getting lost in that noise. It's really too bad that that focus has been redirected to Canon, as the overall theme of the podcast has resonated for many people. :) :) And thank you so much for your compliments on my website - so kind of you to have a look! xx

Ryan Burleson's picture

All you have to do is say Instagram and we all know it’s another example of our sad state of being. The fakest of all apps/sites and any company relying on it is pure trash. GG Canon or idiot working for whatever department doing the recruiting. I didn’t waste time watching any video on IG anyway, but if the person who got turned down was doing any work for Instagram related projects then it seems like an upgrade to me.

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