I’ve been posting my work online for almost 8 years. What’s been consistent throughout that time is the pressure to post only my best photos. With the introduction of Instagram Stories, I feel as though I’ve found an outlet that not only relieves some of that pressure, but also allows me to showcase a bit more of myself and my personality too. It’s completely revolutionized the way I use social media.
From the dawn of my time posting work online, I’m not afraid to say I was nervous about it. Nobody really tells you how to “do” social media… nor is there a correct process with which one should follow. There are endless articles about the best times to post, sure, and I’ve come across models whose agencies have given them guide booklets advising on what ratio of work photos (as in, actual shoot pictures) vs play images (ie selfies) they should be posting. But who really knows?
Not only that, but posting online opens you up to criticism. It was hard to know what kind of photos my followers want to see; I shoot what I enjoy, not necessarily what I think people want. Sure, there’s usually a strong correlation between the two anyway, and my work isn’t particularly niche enough to fail engaging your average Joe. Still, the pressure of uploading your work to a public domain is one of few constants in the photographic world.
The other side of it was that I wanted to share behind-the-scenes content, particularly as much of my shoot set-ups are quite basic, or done in a very "DIY" manner. I like to show that even amateurs working without big budgets can produce great results. The problem is, I’m not sure how interested those who follow me are. Perhaps they just want to see the pretty models.
Instagram stories have opened up a plethora of options that were not a possibility before. I wasn’t a fan of Snapchat - it felt juvenile somehow. Not to mention the mere thought of building a following on yet another social platform felt exhausting. With Instagram stories, I can engage with an audience I’ve already spent years building.
Utilizing Instagram often feels like a full-time job in itself. Of the many subsidiaries to master, posting at the most "relevant" time to maximize the scope of the audience who might view your posts is an ongoing issue. Stories, however, have again helped free up some of that burden. In removing the consciousness of likes in favor of a number of views accessible only to the owner of the account, we feel freer than ever to post what we want, when we want to. I’m quite strict with actual posts, and tend to stick to a similar timeframe each day. But I’ve found myself posting to Instagram Stories at all hours of the day instead of planning my evenings around making sure I have photos ready to post at certain times.
Some articles have even suggested that breaking up your Stories posts can help increase engagement by placing your updates at the front of the queue. Posting, say, 4 times throughout the day ensures that your Stories get bumped to the front of someone’s feed, resulting in a higher chance of them viewing your posts from earlier in the day, too.
I’ve noticed the introduction of Instagram Stories has had a positive effect on my work as a whole. Like it or not, social media is important, and being able to share more photos from the same series in a casual manner – and one that doesn't leave us panicking about likes – is invaluable. I’ve produced many shots that were personal favorites, but that I didn’t feel would be a crowd pleaser. Instagram stories is the perfect compromise, allowing me to showcase more work, but in a temporary manner and without the pressure to see it bring in a record number of "likes".
I recently interviewed Jason Miller, a rock n roll photographer by night. His day job, however, is Global Content Marketing Leader at LinkedIn. In short – this guy knows what he’s talking about. After years of posting my work whilst keeping my identity relatively vague – and with the recent emergence of Instagram Stories – I probed Miller as to how important he felt engaging with your online audience on a personal level was. Just how much of ourselves do we want to showcase to our audience? Photographers are lucky in that - unlike models and musicians – expectations of a photographer aren’t strict, or ageist. But is that due to us being largely without an online presence or personality? Should photographers remain largely anonymous and let the work do the talking?
In short, Miller said he feels it’s absolutely essential. Many photographers, he says, assemble a portfolio online and expect it to be enough. Working at LinkedIn has taught him how to translate his skills into an digital profile, strategically laying out his profile in order to maximize the ways in which he can be found and optimizing his presence; “Certain key words, application triggers, different ways of showcasing my work in a unique way,” he said at the time. Essentially, your social media should differentiate from your online portfolio, and not just be a replica.
Thinking of the photographers I follow on social media, I know what most of them look like, and have some grasp of what kind of person they are. Is that the defining factor between whether or not I continue to follow them? Possibly not. I’m there for their work ultimately. Does it make me stick around if they’re posting work I don’t feel is their best? Perhaps unconsciously, I think it may have some effect, yes. I feel some loyalty towards them – it’s almost as if I know them, because I can picture their face when I see their posts pop up. Another issue I had (and hid behind) for a long time was the desire to keep my feed uninterrupted. I don’t want an excitable iPhone selfie with a celebrity client wedged in between photos I’ve spent hours shooting and editing as it feels disjointed somehow. Selfies and behind-the-scenes content are disposable; it’s nice to share an insight into my working life, but none of it is how I wish to define myself to anyone clicking onto my Instagram for the first time. Naturally, once again, Instagram Stories provide the balance.
Of course, with the accessibility of live-streaming comes an entirely new method by which to engage with those that follow you. In future I hope to live-stream a shoot, talking through not only what I’m doing, but also how and why I’m doing it. It’s a world away from the photographer I used to be, hiding behind my images, and something that we should all be embracing if we’re to stay relevant in this fast-paced industry.