How to Grow a Large Instagram Following as a Professional Photographer with Very Little Effort

People continue to ask me the same question over and over, "How do I quickly grow my following on Instagram?" I will continue to tell them there is no easy way to go about this, but I have found one way in recent months that has been building my following much faster than I expected. Here are a few ways I am finding great follower growth, as well as a rise in engagement. Trust me, hold tight while I go through a few ways you as a professional can get ahead of some of these young guns with iPhones. 

Alright, so this is more likely for the professional photographer in mind, but at the base level it could be even stronger for beginners to use these tips and tricks to begin to grow an organic reach on social, especially Instagram. If you are not on Instagram, and are a professional photographer, then you are seriously missing the train while kids with an iPhone are snatching up jobs and campaign work over you and your 5D Mark III loaded with sweet L glass (see my previous article how I've made a living with an iPhone). Sure, it's outrageous to watch a kid with a lesser technology take the next job from under you, but in reality that kid is likely telling a story via social while also creating great content, which is what brands freaking love to see these days. 

Collaboration is King

When it comes to social media, the groups that have been built have all been set under this umbrella by Instagram for wanting to create community. You want to have this ecosystem in which everyone helps and shares with each other in the fastest and most creative way possible. Where does collaboration stand on the scale of 1 to 10 for building a following, 10! Easily one of the best ways to build an organic following is to reach out and work with other creatives around you, whether in your city or beyond. I have been able to have great success while working with some of the best in the business in my own city all thanks to founding and running a group of Indianapolis Instagrammers. The group is completely for the community but has been building for almost 3 years now.

All photos featuring new found friends thanks to collaborating on Instagram. 

While a community based group doesn't seem like much of a money maker, its value has been in the community built and the relationships that have grown from that. Having my name attached to something like this is amazing, and I highly recommend any pro or amateur to push for joining a group in their area. The networking that can be done both personally and professionally is hands down some of the best education you can have in this industry. 

Build Social into Your Next Contract/Negotiation

When working with brands or companies on a professional shoot you usually have a contract or at least a select number of images you will be providing set in advance. Now, however you communicate with clients this next tip is very important for those professional photographers out there that want to get just a little bit mor reach on every project in the future. When creating that initial quote, email, or contract work, add in at the bottom social sharing. By that I mean push for them to share a select number of images on social per the contract, and have them mention or link back to your name on the platform. I can't tell you how vital this has been over the last 6 months with working with companies and has grown my following another 4,000 just by adding this to the talks. 

Now, this is not limited to just the pros. If you are just starting out and want to begin to grow an organic reach on social as well as your portfolio, reach out to a few brands to work with in hopes of a collaboration. This could mean a paid gig or even a trade of services. For example my work with Crevo Footwear was all built on a trade of a pair of boots for a few shots, as well as post on my Instagram page. I then built that into an incredible relationship in which I have shot their Fall line in addition to prepping to photograph their Spring selections in the coming weeks.

In each of these projects, I have worked in that simple addition of reshares and mentions on Instagram, and each time I will retain a mass flood of followers to my account. Below are a few other instances that worked similar to Crevo in taking simple trade or small projects at first to then work in reshares and mentions on their accounts. Some brands are much larger than others such as Mashable and Daniel Wellington, but don't count out the smaller guys such as local shops where you can pull in more local viewers. 

Always Give More

This might seem like a simple tip but always deliver more than asked from any client. Even with strict contracts in which you are delivering only a few very select photos for use on a specific ad or promotion, always deliver more. The idea is to give them photos that you feel will do extremely well beyond what their prime focus is and get engagement on their social. This will allow you to show more value than the other photographers on the list of shooters and bring work back to you later. 

A great way to make it easier for them is to build out your final folder of images per usual, but on top of that build another folder called 'for social' and have images Instagram and Facebook optimized. That way all the brand will need to do is grab those shots and post them directly to their accounts with ease. Again, this tip overall might seem like a no brainer to deliver more than asked but its something I truly believe has given me the edge over other photographers in my market and beyond. 

I really hope these tips were helpful from both the beginner and professional standpoint and it dives a bit deeper than simple hashtags and follow for follow style articles I see every single day. If you have any questions or if this helped you out let me up in the comments or shoot me a follow on Instagram. Would love to connect!

Log in or register to post comments

57 Comments

Timothy Evans's picture

I'm curious how an instagram group works. I know some are curated and require a photo to have a specific hashtag. I assume others just share credentials among a group.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Check out instagram.com/igersindy and you will see what its all about a bit better. Its a feature account essentially for Indianapolis. The best shots posted to the tag #igersindy get a shoutout and we continue to build our feed with great shots.

Bert McLendon's picture

hahaha I like the baby toes in luck dynasty pic. Looks like the baby was taking the picture.... wait, those aren't YOUR feet are they? Dude you have some tiny feet!! =) instagram.com/mclendonphotography =)

Andrew Griswold's picture

Haha! Those would be my sons toes. He likes to sneak into my shots every once in awhile.

Caleb Kerr's picture

Great thoughts, thanks for sharing! I run social for a products company, and we jumped from ~5,000 followers to 8,000+ in 2 days by doing a collaboration with a massive account that has a similar audience to ours. Our products are Texas-related, and the other account posts exclusively Texas content, so their followers were very likely to like us as well. Personally, I would add to your point about collaboration that being relevant to each other is a really important detail. I've shot photos for fashion bloggers with 40k followers and she tags and mentions me and every once in a while I'll get one or two followers. It's because I mostly do athletic and fitness work on my IG, and her followers are (apparently) only interested in seeing outfits of the day. The times when getting reposted matters is when I've had @lululemon and @crossfit repost (both over 1 million followers) and I've gotten massive floods of followers because my work is directly appealing to their audience.

Andrew Griswold's picture

That's incredible! So many ways to grow a following on Instagram and social in general. Seems you guys have figured out some great ways to do that with simple collaborations. Keep up the great work!

Whats the name of your account?

Caleb Kerr's picture

The Texas lifestyle one is @fourstjames and my personal one is @calebkerr, (both of which consist entirely of my photos).

Chris Adval's picture

Don't you have to pay to get mentioned on those giant accounts with 1million followers or such? Even if they look or don't like your work, I've seen accounts with massive amount of followers (legit or not, can't tell sometimes) they'll ask for a fee to pretty much advertise your brand to their audience.

Caleb Kerr's picture

No, because they're real brands, not BS Instagram schemes to try to extort people. Some pay for usage.

Chris Adval's picture

good to hear, I thought the only way to get these collaborations with giant instagramers was paying them. I tried to offer photography in trade but not many see the value, at least locals (in my region) yet.

Caleb Kerr's picture

Well, to be clear, you've got to look at the bigger picture of what they are. The business of a company like CrossFit is in many things, but their Instagram account is merely a marketing arm of their real product. The times you have to pay and it starts getting dodgy are when the Instagram account IS the entire product. It's not wrong or evil, but there's a huge difference in a real life company's IG account, and someone who happens to have a lot of IG followers who uses that to make money. The same way there's a difference between a real model and an Instagram model haha.

Chris Adval's picture

Thanks for clarifying that!

Chris Adval's picture

Don't you have to pay to get mentioned on those giant accounts with 1million followers or such? Even if they look or don't like your work, I've seen accounts with massive amount of followers (legit or not, can't tell sometimes) they'll ask for a fee to pretty much advertise your brand to their audience.

Mike Bartoszek's picture

Hey i'm a Texas photog if you want to collab on something, i'm right in Central Texas so it's likely i'm just up the road from you. Photojournalism, travel/adventure, generalist. @toes_

Patric Wong's picture

I'm on insta quite a few months now..the best thing for grow a large insa following is instagress...you define hashtags and it'll like pictures with those hashtags..people see your stuff and like back...I gained 800 followers just in the last 2 months since I'm using it..nowadays everybody can buy followers..even superstar headshot photographers with 20'000+ followers only have about 300 likes for their posts..so that says about if you bought followers or not....if you have 10'000 followers but only get 50 likes per post its obvious that you bought followers...but with instagress you'll get real followers and likes..usually for every single like that instagress makes for me I get 10 in return...but one thing is for sure..you also have to have awesome content..if your content sucks this option doesn't work

L L's picture

Except, of course, that bots like Instagress violate the terms of service and dilute the quality of the site for everyone...

Anton Gorlin's picture

everyone decides for himself...

Hawaii Portrait Photographer's picture

anyone want to collaborate in Hawaii? I'm a wedding and surf photographer @hawaiiweddingphotographer

Andrew Griswold's picture

Ha, if you want to get me flight out there I will be there! Having visited a few years back I have wanted to go back ever since. Also been looking at connecting with someone in that area so hit me up! ha

Eric Pare's picture

yeah that instagram game is very fun. We got a 1700% followers increase in one year (well... 1k to 17k lol), and started to get business inquiries at about 8k. This whole thing is quite addictive :)
@ericparephoto & @kimhenry.dance

Annupam Singh's picture

Thanks Andrew, some really good tips in there. Collaborations and Giving more has worked for me and its always reassuring to know i was heading in the right direction.

www.instagram.com/annupam/

Liam Doran's picture

Good read, thanks! Social is a challenging beast for sure but always fun!
IG @liamjski

Faran N.'s picture

Thanks for sharing this Andrew! Good read.
www.instagram.com/farannajafi/

Chris Adval's picture

With these brands, do you approach them via informally on social messaging systems? (like on IG now has messenger/email format) or do you find them via research, contact their shop/owner or marketing dept. if one exists and setup a meeting? I had trouble with this as they always want to avoid unsolicited meetings/sales pitches, etc... Of course a walk-in its a little harder to say no, unless you got security/reception etc. Thoughts on approaching these brands local or not?

Sebastian Erras's picture

Interesting article with some good tips!
Nowadays "Engagement Rate" is another factor that brands start to care about.
Cause if you have a 100k Followers and you average 300-400 likes per post, there is something wrong.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Very true. Though the engagement rate with someone that has 100k and 300-500 likes is still within the ppc style of .5-2% engagement rate which is pretty solid in the ad world. Most the people you see wth bigger followers and solid work with that type of engagement including myself with the Instageam features.

Jeff McCollough's picture

It's hard to expect more than that though. I am close to 500 followers and I average about 50 likes per photo.

Jay Haach's picture

Thanks to everyone contributing in the comments, and thank you Andrew for the insights!

As someone who is just starting to try and grow my Instagram following (currently on 260) at the time of writing this, and trying for a very, very long time to grow it. These points are definitely something I'm going to put some time into.

It's sincerely appreciated that you have all provided so much detail for me to try different methods out.

Thanks again and keep up the good work! :)

www.instagram.com/jayhaach

Andrew Griswold's picture

Thanks man, going back and reading comments and spotted you are almost at 1k followers. Great work!

Francis Kim's picture

I've just launched http://IQta.gs which helps you pick your hashtags - do check it out :) The best way is to use a very generic term at the start like 'photo'

Jonnie Burnham's picture

Something seems fishy about your engagement. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the companies you worked for decided to buy you some followers. I only have 3,700 followers but get around 300-500 likes on all my pictures as well as lots of comments. I follow a couple girls that have almost 100k followers which have almost all been purchased.

https://www.instagram.com/instajonnie/

Andrew Griswold's picture

Pros and cons of being featured by Instagram is the followers go way up with brand new users and engagement at first doesn't quite reflect that number sadly. Over time it slowly goes back up.

Dalibor Bauernfrajnd's picture

How about if I just shamelessly mention my @dbauernf Instagram account and hope people wanna follow a nutcase from the exotic Croatia? >:)

Jared Beasley's picture

Love the article, Andrew. I run a feature account for the 757 area code (SE Virginia) called @757collective and I've had some pretty good success with it. I've found that it takes quite a bit of time to manage and it's left my personal account too often forgotten about. Do you have a team that manages your Indy account and have you found any nifty tricks for managing multiple accounts? I'm so ready for IG to introduce a way to switch between accounts similar to Twitter's app.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Really appreciate that! It takes LOADS of time to manage any social marketing for a brand or even yourself. As for the @igersindy account, yes I have an incredible community/team that has grown as the monthly meets continue to grow that want to help out. It started with 5 founders total and we would post once a day M-F on a specific day and then it would be free for all on the weekends. Now that we have grown a name for ourselves it has been a team of about 20 that post and share and reply to comments and messages. Cant wait for the day we can switch accounts easily but then again it will just flood the app with more spammers and also businesses marketing more and pushing their various brands out there.

Jared Beasley's picture

Thanks so much for the response. That's helpful. Dig your strategy.

Eric Rademacher's picture
Edward Pages's picture

Thank you so much for you valuable insight Andrew Griswold

Shameless plug @PagesEdward

megan chan's picture

Mr. Griswold, how would you recommend approaching certain brands and companies?

Andrew Griswold's picture

Honestly there are a million and one ways to connect with a contact or potential client. You can check out the Instagram for Business page here https://fstoppers.com/groups/instagram-business but in a nut shell I will try to explain it a bit more on my personal experience.

When starting out simply sendin the brand a message on IG or a simple comment can start the converstain. Getting an email or phone numer (hard contact) is the goal though and someone to chat with on a more consistant basis.

Abbie Ford's picture

Hello,
I am in a small group photography business and we are just setting up really, so I was wondering if you would be able to follow us on Instagram? We are called stopandshootphotography :)
Thank you

Jenna Huges's picture

I was actually chewed out by some lady on Instagram yesterday. I did a colab with a company. They sent me some of their products and I took photos for them and shared to my profile and wrote a bit of a review. But this other account said that it's unfair when we do these shoots for free that it makes it harder for the rest of them to get commission from these kinds of jobs. I just recon it costs them money to send me a product for free and it doesn't cost me anything to snap a few pictures. And and me and this brand have a good relationship and the are sending me the next products in their line prelaunch so I can take photos for them. I see nothing wrong with a skill share

Andrew Griswold's picture

This can be the argument for the ages to be completely honest with you. Working for "free" does in many ways devalue what we do as creatives. Though on the other hand this is what the business side of photography has become and if you, as a professional, cant handle the swings of getting bid out by talented younger shooters that offer it up for free then you are in the wrong business. This is a tough one and a place where plenty of people will argue. I have easily taken products in trade of a post or a simple photos on Instagram. What I am really doing when I take these deals is seeing what and how I can show value in what I do and how I can twist it into my advantage to get somethign greater from the deal. In some places I took a free watch for example from a company. Watch value might have been $100 MSRP, maybe $25 to the company, if that. So I am valuing my skills and time at $25 cost but that company sees a simple $25 cost to market to thousands on my page. In this case I know the brand and have built a relationship. They have a much larger following on Instagram than I do so I asked in the beginning if they would reshare my photos on their page. That way even if I do it for only a watch I get a reshare andmore followers on my account.

Jim Stoicheff's picture

I'm wondering about workflow. You can't upload directlly from professional-grade cameras to Instagram—at least not as far as I can tell, and Instagram doesn't offer an app for Windows or Mac. So do you copy photos to your computer and then use a third-party app to upload to Instagram? Or do you save the images to a mobile device and upload from the mobile device using the Instagram app? Or do you take some photos with your mobile device and use those?

Andrew Griswold's picture

My workflow for the last 3 years has consisted of the following. We can talk gear first. DSLR (Canon 60D) paired with a $30 EyeFi Card to transfer shots from my DSLR to my phone to edit and then post to IG. Now with my new setup I still have the iPhone but now have an Olympus with built in wifi as well as a Canon 6D with wifi. All incredibly fast and reliable to get what I need to my phone quickly to edit and post.

Travis Alex's picture

So wait, when incorporating a line into your invoice for social sharing...you are charging them for it? Is is this just a request you put into the email? How would you word it?

Andrew Griswold's picture

I have been playing with this for about 6 months now in a package form. Small, medium, large. All of which include a section at the bottom with "x amount of shares with this package" and then I simply create a larger total package cost to make up for the posts. Then I also have a cost per post package to show the value in a post to market. So I can go both ways.

Henry Do's picture

One thing that I have learned in the past year being on IG is that you need to have great contents and something that is unique and that will attracts people toward you. If you post the same B&W photos or a regular landscape pictures standing at the same spot as all other tourists, do you think people will follow you? This comes down to photography fundamental and the basic foundation as well.

Another point is cropping. Cropping plays a huge role in IG. They recently added in the horizontal and vertical crop and you are no longer forced to just have a square crop picture. On mobile device, tall, vertical crop is much better than the regular horizontal crop that your camera typically produced. Phone's screen around between 4"-6" so if you upload a picture with horizontal crop, it will be really small and can turn off some of your followers. Try to frame your picture in vertical frame or crop it vertically in post-production so that when you post on IG, it will looks good on mobile device for everyone to see.

My pictures may not be as good as most people here so any comments would be greatly appreciated! www.instagram.com/henry_do

Benjamin de Marseille's picture

How do you get companies to let you shoot their products??

Andrew Griswold's picture

Simple. Offer then something they need and has value to enhance their brand for the better. In all of our cases, we can offer great photography work. If you have a social following, great but in the end these places reach out to me over others because of my body of work.

More comments