If you've found yourself wondering how you can go about using hashtags on Instagram for tagging your work, here's how I go about it. Spoiler alert: I don't overthink it, and I keep it as simple as possible.
I think that people get too caught up thinking that the hashtags are crazy important and fretting about using the right ones. To me, that kind of stress seems like a waste of energy, and I, for one, am not prepared to lose any sleep over whether or not the tags for a given photo were on point.
With all that being said, I do think that the general use of hashtags is worthwhile as long as you don't get caught up in overthinking the process. For instance, searching specific hashtags has been very useful in finding inspiring photographers to follow, finding talented tattoo artists (an interest of mine), finding new restaurants to try out (who doesn't love mouth-watering food photos?), and sourcing general inspiration. When it comes to my own work, I keep it as straightforward as I can. I view hashtags as keywords to identify or loosely describe a given image — nothing more, nothing less. So, when I go about tagging my work, instead of a massive copied and pasted, predetermined list I found on the internet, I try to break down the image into a short and simple list of keywords that I'm feeling in the moment.
Let's take a look at an example. In the above image, if I were going to post and tag it right now, I would use the following tags:
#water #ocean #tidal #mermaid #siren #blue #blondehair #gloomy #pnw #seattle #nature #photography #beauty #reddress #warmweather #goodtimes
I wasn't kidding when I said I keep it simple and basic. An Instagram post can be accompanied by up to 30 different hashtags, and if that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. I'm not really looking to try to think of 30 different keywords, the majority of which wouldn't really apply, if we're honest. When I set out to tag my work, I want the basics of what the image is to me, and that's it, usually about half the total number of allowed tags. My philosophy regarding social media is as follows: it's going to do whatever it wants (Instagram, in this case) regardless of my efforts, so I won't put in any more time or energy than I choose to. Furthermore, the use of a giant list of tags that may or may not even apply feels stale and disingenuous to me.
When it comes to things I won't do with hashtags, a copy and pasted list of feature page tags is right at the top. This is just my opinion here, but I am terribly uninterested in actively contributing to the image base and brand of feature pages that arguably steal work, barely credit the creator, and often makes advertising money from the people whose work they are featuring (sometimes even trying to charge the creator themselves for the feature). No thank you, that is a game that I personally choose not to play. Again, my goal is to keyword my own work in a simple and effective way, not chase features. In the past, I have tried the top tags method, and if I'm honest, I noticed absolutely no difference at all, and it just feels fake to me (this is the part where you go with your gut and stick to your own personal preferences).
Again, let's look at the above image, and this time, I'll include a bit more branding tags. This is how I would go all out for an image and use specific brand tags that I feel are appropriate:
#water #ocean #tide #waves #mermaid #siren #gloomy #moody #blondehair #reddress #pnw #seattle #nature #photography #beauty #nikon #d750 #sigma #85mm
It's barely different than the previous set, though I sometimes opt to include tags related to the equipment, as that can be useful for people searching for images taken with specific equipment (the camera make and model plus lens focal length are simple inclusions that can be helpful). Know that your mileage may vary, but give it a try for a while and see how well it works. For my water shoots, I use the tags #mermaind and #siren not because I think that the images specifically look like mermaids (no tail, after all), but because it's generally what I'm trying to imagine when I envision one of these sets. I want my keywords to be generally accurate and more importantly, to feel right to me.
This is definitely a lot of my own personal opinion here, but I believe you've got to try, and just go with your own flow when it comes to social media. You can be a drone and do the same thing that everyone is doing, or you can just do what you want. It's how I do it, and honestly, I feel like it more or less gets the job done in a way that I'm okay with.
If you folks have thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Do you think that hashtags are particularly relevant? Do they matter at all? Maybe purely for the sake of time and ease, you keep a list on your phone ready to be pasted when you post. If you've found success with one method or another, let's hear it; sharing is caring. Happy New Year, folks, wishing you all well in 2020.