If You Are a Photographer and You Aren't on Instagram, You're Doing It Wrong

That’s right, I said it: If you aren’t sharing content on Instagram, you are shutting the door on a world of potential opportunities! With over 200 million users, this social network has the power to become one of your most important means of promoting your photography business.

Did you know that Instagram is the only social media built strictly around sharing photos? Instagram is literally all about photos. There is no text to junk up your feed, just pictures! And you are a photographer! It is basically a match made in heaven. Jump on the theoretical bandwagon already and capitalize on our fascination with photo sharing.

“But the quality of my photo will be lost,” you might lament! While this is true, companies like Getty Images and Sports Illustrated are curating galleries using photos taken from Instagram. If these big names (and more) think the quality is good enough to print in their magazines and license on their websites, it is pretty safe to say that your professional photos will be just fine. After all, you are probably already posting to Facebook and the quality on that platform isn’t all that grand to begin with. Link your website in your bio and you will be set.

Instagram allows your work to be discovered. My underwater photographer friend, Jenn Bischof, always knew the importance of Instagram. One day, she entered their “Weekend Hashtag Project” contest on a whim and won on her first try. This led to Instagram discovering her page, her gaining 10K followers, and Instagram featuring her photo at their convention in NYC. Similarly, I know many people who share photos of when their idols or famous people like and follow their pages. Many other social media platforms just don’t allow for this type of involvement. Instagram doesn’t discriminate between accounts with millions of followers and accounts with ten.

If she wasn't on Instagram, Jenn Bischof's photo (middle row, far left), would never have been displayed in front of 110 million followers.

Instagram doesn’t limit your post reach (yet). One of my social media clients has 13,000 Facebook followers. When I share content through this page, Facebook “decides” that 400 people will see it. 400 out of 13,000 people. Sometimes, if I am lucky, that reach will jump to 2,000, but that’s usually about as generous as it gets. Facebook’s algorithm is set to limit the reach because Facebook wants you to pay to promote. Although Facebook acquired Instagram, we have yet to hear of any reach-impeding algorithms or pay-to-promote ad options. Share your photo, hashtag appropriately, post consistently, and watch the likes roll in!

Hashtags let you engage with your target audience. Sure, on other social media, you can hone your target audience, but Instagram takes it to another level with their massive hashtag database. Hashtagging your photos is easier than ever before! Instagram even allows you to see how many other people have tagged #landscapephotography or #weddingphotographer. You are allowed to have up to 30 specific tags on each photo. Use them wisely and to your advantage. You can even come up with a unique hashtag that is specific to your business and curate your content there.

Type in your potential tags and see how many other people use them. The more tags, the more likely people are to see your photo!

Sure, you can stress to me all of the reasons why Instagram is a horrible invention and kills opportunities for the modern photographer, or you can jump on this growing craze, focus on your business, and set yourself up for social media success. Either way, the pros outweigh the cons and almost every major business, established photographer, and successful retailer has made the move to Instagram. Now, it’s your turn!

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67 Comments

Bert McLendon's picture

Testing this out... hit the follow button on my profile to see if it works. I heard something amazing happens when you do. https://instagram.com/mclendonphotography/ =)
Just seeing if click bait happens for new followers. "I hit follow and I couldn't believe what happened!"

Matt Owen's picture

I hit follow. It suggested three more accounts to follow. I suspect an infinite loop.

Eric Pare's picture

it's not infinite. Once you follow everyone, you're good to sleep. Have fun :)

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Not infinite ... 400 million users (last i checked) ... 7.5 billion people on the planet. :p

Andrew Richardson's picture

Well it worked on me, so I think you're on to something...

Michael Steinbach's picture

Maybe there is a correlation between this and the next article. Just say'n. Waste of time.

Victoria Yore's picture

The next article was written about a model who got burnt out and decided to portray herself as perfect on social media. This article discusses how photographers should leverage IG for their businesses. Same social media, two totally different points.

michael buehrle's picture

model and burnt out in the same sentence ? once her cash flow stops she will wish she was making 2k to post something.

Chris Cheek's picture

Instagram is overrated...The biggest turn off is all the shitty filters people use and people who know nothing about photography think that is cool. Another turn off is not being able to post your work from your saved images via the computer.

Bill Irwin's picture

Chris,

If you upload to a gallery like smug mug or zenfolio, you can download the images to your iPhone or samsung photo gallery. Once there, you can just go in Instagram and post the picture, pop in your hashtags and you are good to go.

I don't deal with filters, I like my images straight up and post them that way. People who do filters, that's their prerogative and most are not "photographers" but just having some fun. I'm ok with that too.

Victoria Yore's picture

Hi Chris! Thanks for commenting! The shitty filters are for random, non-photographers like me to beautify our pictures before uploading. I don't know of any pro photographer who uses filters and they don't really even apply! Also, just email or fb message the photos to yourself and download on your phone! It's only one step extra! Depending on your settings, you can download directly from your website as well :)

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I HATE not being able to post from my computer. Like what kind of decision was that?!?

Prefers Film's picture

Latergramme.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Then don't follow the shitty bad filter posting people?

Conor Clarke's picture

"shitty filters people use and people who know nothing about photography think that is cool" for most photographers the market is people who know nothing about photography so if they think it's cool then there's a market. Also what's wrong with people liking it? It's subjective.

Bill Irwin's picture

Here's my additions.

Instagram as of recently will allow you to post your images full sized. If you are not familiar with this, check when you post your image. On the bottom left of that screen where you pick your image, you will see what looks like two corners. Click on this and it will show your images full size proportional instead of square. This feature was specifically added due to Photographer demands.

Hashtags are the MOST important part of using Instagram. You need to be careful about overdoing it or under utilizing this important aspect of Instagram. You should be very focused on your target audience for the hashtags. Also you should include "Like and follow". This simple request makes a difference in my postings as I tend to get more follows when I ASK for them. Funny how that works!

Use an analytics site to follow your progress. http://iconosquare.com/ is a great one to use and you can see on the "optimization" screen when your best times to post will be. I believe Google Analytics can be setup for Instagram as well but I'm not familiar with the process for doing so.

Victoria Yore's picture

Yes! Lovely additions! I cannot stress enough how important hash tags are!

Chris Demadura's picture

This is probably a silly question but...

How do I instagram?

Victoria Yore's picture

Start account. Make bio. Post your first photo and hashtag things that make sense and describe your demographic. :)

Chris Demadura's picture

Should I post any photo I feel is worthwhile there? Or should I focus on a particular type of photo? Like say if I do mostly weddings, would I want only weddings on my instagram?

Victoria Yore's picture

Chris, DM me on Instagram when you make one @veejaywhy. You Could focus on only weddings but tons of famous photographers and well established professionals share 75% their main style and 25% other styles and personal shots. You want your profile to have a voice :)

Chris Demadura's picture

I'll message you when i get set up. Thank you!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Chris, thank you for asking this question. Just goes to reinforce that there is no such thing as a silly question.

Victoria, thank you for writing this article. The info you provided was exactly what I needed and your reply to Chris was the answer to "okay, now what? How do I get started?" I created an account a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't uploaded anything to it yet because I didn't want it to be a thoughtless, random, uncurated mess. I've been looking at the accounts of professional photographers and serious hobbyists, trying to figure out a formula for "targeted, interesting, and coherent" and I hadn't yet figured out how to do it. But now, with your response to Chris, I have the direction I need.

Again, thanks to Chris for asking the question that I would have been too scared to ask and thank you, Victoria, for such a helpful article and thoughtful follow-up in the comments.

Bill Irwin's picture

Chris, to start with I think you need to have some kind of vision of what you want to achieve. Do you have a photography business? Is your goal to increase your following so you can increase your business? How much to do you want to increase weekly or monthly? Set realistic goals and work towards that first.

What is your target audience? Portraits? Weddings? Headshot? Commercial? Start doing that kind of work and posting it on Instagram. Use an analytics to find the best time to post for your audience. Show some Behind The Scenes (BTS) stuff to give people a more personal touch to your work.

Be sure you include your website link in the Bio area. it is the only place you can post a link.

Above all, ask people to like and follow.... this simple act will get people to do so.

Chris Demadura's picture

I'm in the process of starting my own wedding photography business. I think my goal would be to help use it to increase my business.

Edward Porter's picture

Again, the biggest issue I see on Instagram is the rampant follower and like inflations through bots. This plague is poorly combatted, incredibly cheap, and easily available. The inorganic nature of it is quickly masked once these images reach hashtag top posts, which then real users unknowingly create a smoke screen. If Instagram was a bit more serious about steroid testing, it wouldn't put so much pressure on the little guys to join the club.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I just strated on IG recently and some of the accounts that follow or like my images are these random GROW YOUR IG ACCOUNT, accounts ... eurgh. And there is no block account function.

https://instagram.com/evildaystar/

Prefers Film's picture

Trackgram app.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

5000$? I'd settle for 300$ (depending on size and materials ...). LOL

Andrew Richardson's picture

Ask all the companies who hire Andrew Griswold. https://instagram.com/the_gris/

Max Leitner's picture

www.instagram.com/maxleitner_ here, go find me and ask me questions. DM me... I got a lot of insight these days and am always up to share my knowledge.

Justin Haugen's picture

Instagram is a valid and useful means of connection with the millennial marketplace. Little by little, with deliberate and consistent use of hashtags and location tagging, I've started to notice an uptick in newly engaged brides following my instagram account in my local market. There is credibility to using instagram to connect with an audience and I hope to see it connect me to brides who book me for their future weddings.

It's not just a place to post terrible photos from your cell phone with filter effects. If you aren't using instagram in your marketplace, someone else is.

Victoria Yore's picture

Yay! Thanks so much and so sorry about that!

Scott S's picture

I think a lot of the social media articles on this site focus too much on vanity metrics. By vanity metrics, I mean followers, likes, number of people who use a platform. Most modern research shows that, while Instagram is popular, the click-through rates and ability to monetize the platform are still not anywhere near Facebook, direct mail, or organic search. Yes, we need to be focusing on what is out there, but I would have appreciated more of a "well, thats nice but where's the proof it's worth your time?" type of reasoning.

For me personally, I look at social media as 1) a way to increase brand awareness; 2) a way to increase engagement with my audience; 3) a way to increase the relationship with my clientele in order to develop relationship marketing principles; 4) a way to move people along the consumer pathway. Instagram, to me and other researchers, still has a long ways to go.

With that being said, I know lots of senior photographers make a killing on it and I'm not viewing Instagram from that paradigm :) But, it just has a long ways to go still.

Victoria Yore's picture

Your four points are spot on!

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I'm not a huge fan of Instagram (no desktop usability, a lot of fake accounts ...)but one of your concerns ...

" to monetize the platform are still not anywhere near Facebook, direct mail, or organic search."

Is mitigated somewhat by IG, ability to post to FB and Twitter directly.

Scott S's picture

True, if you're just looking at a form of brand awareness and the number of eyeballs on a post. However, the true goal of social media is moving people along the consumer pathway of brand recognition, to engagement, to active consideration, to purchase, and eventually to advocacy. In that way, cross promotion has been somewhat limited for small businesses.

Most studies and market research suggest each platform must be managed differently with different posting strategies. For example, character limit and type of photo varies on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc...

I love Instagram and I get the most interaction on there. Like I mentioned earlier, several friends use it to connect very well with the senior market as well as Snapchat. My main concern is we focus too much on eyeballs on posts as a photographer industry and ignore social media's place in the consumer pathway model.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Agree. It's like people have forgotten what RoI means and instead gauge the success of advertising based solely on views/likes and not on actual return on investment.

Sure, Instagram is free to use but there is still a cost in time. This is true with all forms of advertising.

Barry Chapman's picture

It sounds like your insights could form the basis of a good article on social media for fstoppers. Good luck with your book btw.

Scott S's picture

Hey Barry, thanks for the kind words.

My little niche probably isn't the best fit for fstoppers because I focus primarily on social media marketing and integrated marketing communications in rural areas of the country. But, I'm always game for writing an article

Barry Chapman's picture

Nonetheless I imagine you have a much better understanding of the principles involved in how social media marketing and communications can help a business than the people who have written about it here.

I don't think the fact the businesses you work for are limited to a particular category or area would diminish the value of your contribution. After all, each photography business seeks to reach and cultivate clients for a particular category or area.

Of course you'd need to consider how contributing an article would benefit your own business.

Matthew Odom's picture

Been gramming for a few months! ( I love it)

https://instagram.com/mattodomphoto/

JORGE AMIN's picture

Comparto tu misma opinion Victoria. Ayer justamente muchas personas de Chile me insultaron por decir que Instagram es una ventana para nosotros los fotógrafos y por decir que ahi podemos encontrar muchos clientes. Un saludo desde Venezuela. Mi Instagram es Https://www.instagram.com/jorgeamin

Ryan Kane's picture

I've found after using Instagram over the last few weeks this is how I've ended up posting. Fairly straightforward after you get the hang of it. http://youtu.be/V0hR3Awb4Xg

Jenn Zeller's picture

I adore Instagram. I get a lot of brand recognition there, and unlike Facebook, they don't throttle back who sees me and who doesn't. Twitter, the lifespan of a post is about 19 seconds. Instagram is forever, especially with hashtags. I made the TIME magazine list of 50 Instagrammers to follow this year (I live in South Dakota) and Instagram just chose me to be part of a gallery exhibit in LA for their new #MyStory Hashtag launch. That got me a mention in the Huffington Post. So it's a totally valid and great way to market yourself.

Victoria Yore's picture

Congrats!!!! That is awesome! I am so happy you are finding success through social media. I also saw their #mystory search and that is so cool you made the cut :)

Eric Lefebvre's picture

That's great and I'm super happy for you but that's one success story out of 40 million accounts. Your situation is a statistical aberration and not the norm.

There is success to be found on social media like Instagram but your success is not how it works for most.

Also, surprised you didn;t plug you instagram on here. :p Can we get a link? I'm curious now.

Jenn Zeller's picture

Hi there -- you can find me @thesdcowgirl on Instagram. I've also been published internationally for my Equine Photography, and Nationally for rodeo photography/portrait work. My work has been published in many ag publications as well. That may/may not have helped in my case.

Brian Dowling's picture

Has anyone gotten jobs from their 500px account? I have a nice following on Instagram; about 65k. Although, I haven't gotten too many jobs from it, was planning on utilizing 500px/Google Plus a bit more.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Mathias : Do you have any social media features?
Google IRL / Markiplier : Yes! I've just shared your location with all your fans on google+
Mathias : What! noo...body is on Google + ... what?

https://youtu.be/c4VFJGLTlhQ?t=2m1s

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