Instagram has nearly 1 billion active users per day and pulls in engagement rates 10 times higher than Facebook and 84 times higher than Twitter. With statistics like these, it’s the ultimate social media tool for photographers to share their work with clients worldwide.
Staying on top of Instagram’s frequent updates, however, and taking advantage of its potential to grow your business, can be a challenge.
You’ve probably heard lots of contradictory things about Instagram best practices, particularly when it comes to engaging with your audience. There are several different approaches you can take to grow your following, but you need to do what’s best for you and consistent with your brand. In this guide, we’ll aim to help you grow your presence on the platform with some proven and effective tips.
Before we even think about audience engagement, the first aspect to consider when thinking about Instagram is how you’re presenting your brand on the platform.
Your brand is an extension of your photography business, so the one particular question you should continuously ask yourself when sharing a post is: Am I “on brand?”
What does that mean? Well, some people think there are only two ways you can use Instagram: for your personal life or for your business. If you’re a professional photographer, Instagram is your social media platform, and we think that aiming to achieve a harmonious balance between these two types is the best route to go in order to add an extra layer of depth to your work. Instead of making your Instagram an exact copy of your website or portfolio, think of it more as a way to show your own unique style and personality. Try to strike a balance between exceptional shots that demonstrate your ability, and more personal photos that offer an insight into your process.
Be playful with what you post! It’s okay to share anything from snaps of what you carry in your photo bag to selfies with the dog on set the day of the shoot. After all, one part of your brand is the awesome imagery that you create, and the other part is you as a person and what it’s like to work with you. Most importantly, you just want to be posting relevant images and telling stories through what you share—whether those stories are about recent projects you’ve been working on, new updates to your business, or behind-the-scenes shots.
For some of you, this might go without saying, but we strongly recommend you make sure your Instagram is a business account. A business profile for your brand gives you credibility, plus there are lots of additional tools you can take advantage of.
Instead of taking up precious bio characters with contact info, there are separate buttons to call, email, and even get directions to your location—making it easier for clients to connect with you. You can also directly link to your website in your bio, which gives potential clients’ the ability to see your professional portfolio and solidify their interest in working with you.
You’ll get useful analytics on your profile through Instagram Insights, including when your followers are most active (by the hour or the day), where they live (by city or country), and what the demographics of your audience look like. You’ll also receive information specifically on your posts, such as impressions, reach, engagement, and saves within a specific time frame, as well as how many people clicked the link in your bio or tried to reach out via the contact buttons.
As you get serious about growing your following, we suggest investing in additional software for more robust, detailed analyses, (Hootsuite is a great option), but Instagram’s in-app analytics tab is certainly a great place to start.
After you’ve determined the types of content you’ll be posting, hold yourself accountable to a regular sharing schedule.
For most photographers, under-sharing is an issue more so than over-sharing. While there’s plenty of resources out there that offer different conclusions on how often to post, we suggest making your goal to post once a day. It’s okay if you miss a day or two each week because ideally, about 5x/week is the sweet spot.
Be persistent with it! We tell photographers if you’re only going to post on your blog twice a year, there’s no point in even having a blog. The same goes for Instagram—don’t let your account go stagnant. If your social media has the ability to get your work in front of thousands of people on a daily basis, you should be engaging more frequently.
If you struggle with finding the time to update your social media platforms in between assignments and projects as a professional photographer, we suggest taking advantage of one of the many scheduling tools out there. There are plenty of third-party platforms out there, such as Later or Buffer that allow you to schedule posts in advance and post them at a scheduled time. (Here at WM, Later is what we use to stay organized!)
Tying in with the last point, these tools also have the added benefit of letting you see into your audience analytics, with insights into categories such as impression and reach. Make it easy for yourself and do your scheduling and your analysis all in one!
If you struggle with preparing a photo to schedule and post daily, don’t forget that you can also harness the potential of Instagram stories.
Stories are the perfect place to share in-depth coverage of your process or more of the narrative of your day-to-day as a photographer. Since they’ll have disappeared in 24 hours, you don’t have to take them as seriously or worry if they’re getting less engagement than your other posts (no one will even know)! Stories push up your chances of appearing in the Explore section in addition to keeping you top of mind for your followers and clients perusing Instagram.
Instagram Stories also allow you extra fun ways to be creative through different fonts, colors, tags, mentions, and locations. With Type Mode, you can share your thoughts and words in a variety of different colors and font styles that tie in with your visual brand identity. With stickers and doodles, you can add on various interactive decorations that will change depending on your location, weather, or if there’s a special event happening.
Read more about how to create amazing Instagram stories here.
Captions and hashtags are an excellent way to draw engagement to your photos and drive up the likes and follows. While of course visual content is king, captions offer an additional space where you can infuse a bit of your personality.
Remember that your viewers are likely to spend more time on an image if there is an engaging caption to read. Per Instagram’s recommendations, 125 characters are what to aim for if you want your entire caption to display (for captions longer than three lines, people will have to tap “more” to read the whole thing). While length is a consideration, if there’s an interesting story to tell about the photo, take the time to write it out. You’re more likely to spark a genuine interaction this way.
Keep your captions descriptive (though not overly) and stay true to your personal voice, letting the language hint at your personality. It’s a great way to show clients what it’s like to work with you.
Hashtags are a different story, used primarily to pick out relevant topics, discover new accounts, and pick up followers.
Here’s something to consider: Hashtags can have both a positive and a negative effect on your reach and engagement. If you use the most popular hashtags (such as #travel), there are millions of photos categorized with those tags, with new images appearing every second. So, unless you’re pulling in thousands of likes per photo and are featured on the “Top Photos” portion, users scrolling through are most likely not going to come across your photo. Plus, you may just end up receiving more spam comments and likes from bots rather than real humans.
The right hashtags you want to use are the more specific ones that real users (and potential clients!) browse and they are generally not the most used ones. Be creative with it – hashtag brands, your specific genre of photography, the city and state where you’re based, etc. For example, #fujifeed is a quality tag for Fujifilm camera users run by Fujifeed.
We recommend keeping it simple with 12-15 hashtags (maximizing out at 30 tends to look a little spammy) and using a site such as Display Purposes to come up with relevant hashtags when you get stuck.
If you use social media software like SproutSocial or Onlypult, analytics will tell you what your most engaged hashtags are, making it easier for you to replicate the success found with certain images.
You can also hide your hashtags so they aren’t visible when your image shows up in the feed by copying and pasting the ….. (five dots) on each line of text and then following them by your chosen hashtags. You can also have a set of hashtags ready to go, and as soon as you post the image, throw them in the first comment.
Hashtags were created as a way to organize the massive amount of content on social media feeds, but have grown to be much more. They offer a new way for you to begin conversations, interact with a creative community, and promote your services to large amounts of new users. Hashtags are an important part of discovery and allow you, as a professional photographer, to gain exposure with niche groups and specific areas of interest.
Geolocation allows you to tag a place in your photo. The same reasons why you should utilize hashtags and engage with your audience apply to why you should geotag all your photos. It makes it easier for your audience, plus people searching for pictures of a particular place, to see your photographs. Oftentimes when we are doing stock research for an ad campaign that wants to utilize Instagram photos, we’ll check the location of a particular spot to find relevant content.
By turning on location tracking in your phone’s camera roll, Instagram will be able to track the geotag of a particular spot where you were if you want to share a photo you took there later. This applies to iPhone photos, but a lot of cameras have GPS capabilities, and you can easily map your coordinates and enter the metadata yourself, or just search through the available locations.
One of the best ways to grow your social media reputation is to actively engage with others in the industry.
Start by searching hashtags yourself to find other photographers who are interested in the same subjects and techniques as you and follow accounts that inspire you.
Then, start to interact with these other photography accounts—we recommend liking, sharing, and commenting on other peoples’ posts as well as responding to comments on your own feed. When you encourage a two-way conversation, you begin to build real relationships online, and your audience will grow with it. Try to spend at least 30 minutes each day engaging with your community.
Additionally, who you follow plays a huge part in defining your brand, simply because who you follow is who you tend to engage with on a regular basis. Here at Wonderful Machine, we follow our member photographers, art directors, and other creatives who might be interested in knowing about our members or shoot production services.
While it might be tempting to follow your friends, family, and that cat IG account, those probably aren’t relevant to your brand. Save those types of follows for a personal, private account, and focus your professional account on professional connections. Following other photographers lets you see who is working with what client and the type of work they’re producing. You might also get an idea of production crew living in your area or find a new photography resource to check out. Engaging with other photographers on Instagram is especially important because they are most likely to engage back with you.
You will also want to follow the Instagram accounts of dream clients, current clients, and relevant industry accounts. Engaging with these types of accounts is going to increase your follower base with the right types of followers. A huge follower base is all well and good, but having followers that are photographers or photo industry professionals is much more helpful as that audience will have a higher engagement rate and have connections in the industry. Decide which client accounts you want to engage with and then commit—interact on a regular basis through likes and comments and tag the account in images you post if the content relates to that account. Be consistent—doing something once or twice is unlikely to gain traction, but consistently interacting with an account over weeks or months will have a higher success rate.
Collaborating with fellow photographers and other industry professionals is an excellent way to build your social media presence as well as overall brand recognition.
Take advantage of cross-promotions, shoutouts, and takeovers whenever you get a chance and don’t discount an account that doesn’t necessarily have the biggest follower count, as they potentially are attracting a very different audience than you are. Sometimes brands will do takeovers with photographers and influencers that they feel represent their brand, and this is where tagging those accounts in relevant images you post becomes important. They may repost your work or ask you to submit multiple images for a themed takeover if they feel your content resonates with their aesthetic. Here’s an example of the popular magazine and brand Bon Appétit sharing one of Photographer Chona Kasinger‘s recent images. It’s a great example of how you can feature your content on a related brand’s platform to garner more exposure for your work.
When posting work from a recent project, always tag relevant crew, clients, and brands. It may encourage them to repost your image and it will show up in Instagram searches as well as the account’s tagged photos. Recently, Savage Universal noticed the images using their seamless paper in non-traditional ways that photographer Lauren Pusateri was sharing, and reshared a number of her images—leading to additional exposure for Lauren.
We live in a mobile world where you have a much better chance that a photo editor will stumble on your Instagram account rather than on your portfolio (even if it’s well-referenced and cross-linked).
When you sign up on Instagram, you’re joining a creative community that will allow you to engage with your audience, share, be inspired, and continue to inspire others as you grow your business. As long as you post quality content, are strategic about when and what to share, and interact with others on the platform, your photography will continue to reach more and more people with each post.
Take advantage of the visibility that Instagram can offer you, and be interesting and interested in the online community around you.
Staying on top of Instagram trends requires continuous growing and evolution, just like your business. You can do it!
This article was written by Lani Assaf and updated by Hannah Sirusas.