With every social media boom comes a new wave of photographers navigating its landscape. The TikTok world is completely different from the platforms of the past. On Facebook and Instagram, things are easy enough for photographers: post stills, write captions, engage, engage, engage. On TikTok, however, it’s a whole new ballgame, one that photographers aren’t quite yet prepared for.
When Instagram first arrived on the scene, it was huge. Growing an audience was easy, and photographers had an easy (and free!) way to market their work. As this social network grew into one of the most popular apps, the algorithm changed consistently, leaving creators to try and consistently find new ways to game this system.
The Rise of Tiktok in 2020 and How Photographers Are Taking Advantage of the Platform
With other apps attempting to reach Instagram-level status, few have succeeded. Snapchat’s popularity skyrocketed until Instagram introduced Stories, essentially killing the platform’s most-used feature. Other apps have popped up as IG alternatives, but none have succeeded. That is, until TikTok’s meteoric rise to mainstream popularity.
From less than 100 million users in January 2018 to almost 700 million active users as of August 2020, the growth of this app was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone at home on their phones, TikTok became a quick, easy, and addictive source of entertainment, inspiration, and creativity.
That being said, adapting to a new platform isn’t always easy. TikTok is an adjustment, especially for photographers who are so used to still-image-focused platforms. Let’s go through some of what we do know so far about TikTok for consumer photographers.
No, We Don’t Know How the Algorithm Works
The TikTok algorithm is a mystery. There are a few ways that people know help your videos get views, but nothing seems to be as obviously formulaic as with Instagram. On IG, we know that if you use hashtags, locations, tags, etc., you can get some decent traction on your images. With TikTok, however, it seems to be a wild card.
The recommended cadence for the platform is to create content once per day (at minimum) and to stay engaged with other users’ TikTok content as well. Using trending songs and hashtags is important to expand your reach as well. There is no real chronological way to look at TikTok videos, so keeping up with trending hashtags helps to get your videos noticed.
Yes, Gen Z Dominates the Platform, but It Doesn’t Hurt to Embrace It
That’s right, the platform is pretty much dominated by Gen Z. That being said, that’s something you can absolutely embrace. As a wedding photographer, for example, eventually, there are going to be fewer millennials getting married. They’re going to age out of the typical age bracket for tying the knot, and you’ve got to be where Gen Z is to reach them when they start getting engaged.
No, You Don’t Have to Dance to Be On TikTok
Tons of photographers are using TikTok as a social media platform for their business. Does this mean they’re getting in front of the camera and dancing? Definitely not all of them. Many people have put together slideshow compilations of their photos using relevant tags and challenges.
An example: share a set of your favorite winter wedding photographs to inspire people getting married in winter. Share photos from your favorite venue in your area and do a voice-over talking about how great the venue is. There are plenty of ways to get your TikTok videos seen without dancing for the camera.
Yes, You Can Reuse Content for Instagram Reels
Honestly, plenty of major brands are doing this and it hasn’t caused them any harm in the Instagram algorithm – just yet. That being said, Instagram hastily released Reels in a transparent attempt to compete with TikTok. They did it with Snapchat Stories, they can do it again… right? So far, wrong: TikTok seems to be the preferred platform for content creators.
The benefit of posting the same content to both TikTok and Instagram Reels is that you have double the chance of engagement and exposure. Instagram is pushing reels extremely hard right now to try and get it to take off. The more consistently you post to Reels, the more likely it is that your work shows up in explore feeds and at the top of hashtags.
No, You Can’t Post Once and Forget About It
Your first post may not perform well — heck, your first 20 posts may not perform well. What we do know is that TikTok loves consistency. The more consistently you’re putting content out there, the more the algorithm seems to reward you. I say “seems,” because again, we really don’t know the full extent of how the algorithm works.
Yes, Consumer Photographers Are Booking Clients From TikTok
Perhaps the most important point here is that TikTok has a lot of potential for conversion. The user base of this social network is super engaged, leading to tons of potential for inquiries. Although this evidence is anecdotal, in my first two weeks of posting to TikTok with barely any views, I received a proposal photography inquiry. This came from my use of local hashtags (using #nycweddingphotographer instead of #weddingphotographer), showing me that my optimization mattered way more than my video views.
So, What Kind of Content are Photographers Posting on TikTok?
If you’re thinking about starting a TikTok account for your photography business, consider what you’re planning to post ahead of time. A great way to keep up with a daily or semi-regular posting schedule is to create your videos in batches ahead of time. What some TikTok photographers do is to create all videos ahead of time and post daily.
Educational Content for Photographers on TikTok
Some photographers on TikTok post educational content for other photographers. This could be lighting demos, tutorials on neat camera tricks, or helpful hints for your business. Posting content like this is great if you hope to build a network of other creatives. You may wish to create that network if you plan to get into education for photographers.
Posing Tips and Tricks
Creating videos on posing tips and tricks are helpful for photographers and clients alike. Not everyone feels comfortable in front of the camera, so helping them with ideas can bring in loyal followers. If you don’t feel like stepping in front of the camera yourself, creating a slideshow of poses is equally as helpful.
Slideshows of Work
Sharing your work in slideshows is perfect for showcasing what you can do. Create different themes for your slideshows to keep people interested, such as "the best portrait locations in [insert city]" or "outfit inspiration for fall engagement sessions."
Dancing Videos With Cameras (Yep, It’s True!)
Many photographers on TikTok are doing dancing videos — and having fun with it! They’re holding their cameras and showing off their dance moves. The camera shows people that, I know, you’re a photographer! As stated before, dancing is not a requirement, but it can be a lot of fun.
Do you have an excellent story from a wedding or a portrait session? Share with a voice-over or by speaking directly to the camera. People love quick stories when they’re scrolling on TikTok. Illustrate your story with videos from the occasion to show off even more of your work.
Will You Be Joining Photography TikTok?
Despite some photographers on TikTok going viral for the wrong reasons, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun with this platform. As the network evolves, best practices will update, but for now, take some time and experiment. This network is starting to look like Instagram in its prime; anyone can go viral, people are highly engaged, and we’re all just doing our best to try to figure this thing out.