A dog is a man’s best friend, but Instagram might be a photographer’s. With more than 800 million monthly active users, it’s no wonder the photo-based social media platform draws the attention of photographers. You could rev up enthusiasm among a dedicated base of followers and even find your next client, turning Instagram into a creative’s paradise. For Raleigh, North Carolina based photographer Bryan Regan, it’s also about fun.
Every year a huge field of sunflowers blooms along the greenway in Raleigh. I, like most Photographers, head out there and shoot photos. I got to thinking what would be interesting and odd and out of place in a giant field of sunflowers? I talked to my girlfriend Cydney Graham (aka – Sideshow Panda) and we decided on some type of mascot costume. After looking on the internet we ended up with a Panda costume basically because it looked the best and was cheap.
When Bryan and Cydney got back to the editing room they instantly knew they had something bizarrely unique and contrarian. What do you do with something of this nature? You share it with millions of people on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr, of course. After some moments of deep contemplation, the couple settled on a highly suitable domain name and moniker for their mascot: Sideshow Panda.
Most projects involve an inordinate amount of planning. Whether it’s a self-assigned project or a larger shoot for a client, there’ll be discussions about the talent, location, the setup, the schedule. The list goes on. But for this social media experiment, Bryan summed up the preproduction and planning in three words.
Giant Panda Costume.
When it comes to the actual production work, there’s a little more effort put in. Bryan would be driving around town and spot an ideal location for an image. He’d come back to the location with Cydney when the lighting was precisely to his requirements, and he’d snap away. The duo keeps a close watch on pop culture to make the Instagram posts as relevant and engaging as possible. Take a look at some of the captions and hashtags used and you’d know immediately. The Raleigh resident could easily pass for a millennial at this point.
Despite the success, there were a couple of tumbles early on. Some of the earliest posts used the hashtags #furries and #furry, drawing in the wrong audience for the account (Don’t Google it). In addition, as Bryan put it, you either love the panda or hate it. They haven’t been kicked out of a location yet and it probably won’t come to pass, since no one could possibly hurt a previously endangered species or a person dressed as one. Other than that, the project has been successful enough to get Bryan and Cydney free giveaways: shirts, bags, meals, and even hotel rooms. It hasn’t been long, but Bryan’s already got the ins and outs of social media sorted out and even been featured in his local newspaper. In less than a year, Sideshow Panda now has just over 4,500 followers.
The goal was to learn something new, social media. I started in photography over 30 years ago and still remember all the hours waiting at the lab for the E-6 to come out and hoping you nailed the exposure and got the shot. I embraced the digital era with the first cameras, Mega Vision, Better Light, and Kodak. Times are changing, and I think you need to be able to adapt.
The learning experience was more than rewarding, and Bryan’s already seeing how the social media ecosystem works, especially in regard to Instagram. Having been in the business for years and recognizing the needs of agencies, brands, and designers, Bryan has a good idea of how Instagram fits into the landscape both now and in the future. If he goes viral, he’ll have Sideshow Panda to thank for that.