Image by Kankana Saxena
“About 80% of my clients mention my Instagram account before they mention my blog or portfolio,” Offset Artist Kankana Saxena (@playfulcooking) tells us. As with many of her peers, her social media presence is part of her business, and her feed is an ever-evolving portfolio. The average Instagram user spends nearly an hour (53 minutes, to be exact) on the app every single day, scrolling through images and finding new people to follow. Staying relevant and in-demand takes persistence and innovation, but as talented photographers all over the world prove every day, it is doable.
We reached out to ten such photographers and picked their brains about some of the techniques they’ve used to build an active and dynamic following. As we discovered, some themes popped up again and again. Here are nine ideas you can start implementing into your social media workflow today to keep your feed fresh and exciting.
Image by Roberta Dall’Alba
Okay, this one’s pretty simple, but it’s important. You know all those 365-Day Projects you see on Instagram? Those are popular because social media is all about constant innovation. Your Instagram feed is different from a gallery or a museum because it updates every few seconds, so challenge yourself to make new work and post it regularly.
Posting consistently doesn’t have to feel daunting or intimidating. Quite the opposite—you can use your feed as a kind of virtual classroom where you interact with colleagues and exchange ideas. “Other photographers are not your competitors,” Roberta Dall’Alba (@healthylittlecravings, healthylittlecravings.com) explains. “They’re your inspiration (and almost your teachers)!”
Image by Cyril Saulnier
It might seem counterintuitive, but the photographers we interviewed stressed this point: only post when you have a stellar photo to share. It’s totally fine to share older work from your archives, so long as it reflects your standards. “Think twice before posting,” Cyril Saulnier (@c_reel) advises. “Sometimes it’s better not to post than to post to make content.”
Damon Beckford (@damonbeckford) agrees. “A good rule is to focus on quality rather than quantity,” he tells us. “Post only your best work on your main account. If a client or potential new follower comes to your profile, they’ll see your best work right away.” To strike that delicate balance between posting too little and posting too much, most of the photographers we interviewed recommend aiming for at least a post a day or three times a week.
Image by Emily Mitchell
Emily Mitchell (@everyday_films) suggests, “Show your best work but also your human side.” In other words, you don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be yourself. Her advice gels with a recent story on The Atlantic about the shifting aesthetic of Instagram. The artificial, highly manufactured perfection that once dominated the platform has been replaced by real people sharing our sometimes beautiful, sometimes messy lives.
“It seems that more and more often, we keep hearing about people growing tired of Instagram being overly curated,” wedding photographers Frankie & Marilia (@frankieemarilia) explain. “The photos are too perfect, and life is just too good. And we all know that life isn’t that grand all the time. Don’t be scared to reach out and talk to those following you. They want to hear from you for a specific reason, so you want to make sure you engage on a more personal level.”
At its best, social media fosters vulnerability and honesty. “When you work on stories, you don’t have total control of what images get chosen and how your work is presented,” Stephanie Foden (@stephaniefoden) admits. “But on Instagram, it’s your voice and your vision. That’s really valuable to me.”
Image by Damon Beckford
Beckford keeps his main Instagram account devoted mostly to travel and landscape images, since those genres are what he’s best known for. And since Saxena specializes in food, she also focuses on what she does best, with maybe a very occasional example of work in other genres.
“I wish someone told me about the importance of having a specific theme and keeping your feed good looking and consistent before I really started using Instagram seriously,” Beckford reflects. “Remember that you can have many different accounts; for example, one for portraits and one for landscapes. This will help you to gain an engaging following and grow your account.”
Image by Darius Šulčius
Instagram isn’t only a place to advertise your work to clients; it’s also filled to the brim with potential collaborators. “Make friends,” Darius Šulčius advises (@darius.sul). “Instagram is a great platform to find fellow photographers.” He has a group of penpals he’s cultivated using the app. “I don’t know them in real life, but we chat once in a while about photography and other relevant topics,” he tells us.
Amber Talbert (@ambertalbertphotography) has had a similar experience. “[Instagram is] a great place to connect with other artists and collaborate on creative projects to propel your craft forward,” she tells us.
You never know what kinds of opportunities can come from connecting with others. As Yuya Parker (@yuyaparker) puts it, “Finding the right audience can be more important than just having a large following.”
Image by Amber Talbert
This one goes hand-in-hand with being human and vulnerable online. “Shoot what you feel compelled to shoot, and don’t worry about the reactions,” Mitchell suggests. “Focus on capturing what’s important to you, and chances are, when you share it, it will be important to someone else, too. That’s the way to stay original, and original ideas around common experiences are what make a photo compelling.”
It can be hard to put yourself out there, creatively and personally, but it’s worth it. “I know there are so many trends on Instagram, and everybody wants to be cool and copy that ‘cool style,’ but [if you do that], you will get drowned in a sea of copycats,” Šulčius says. “Unique and different styles will get you noticed.”
Image by Stephanie Foden
Instagram is a visual platform, but it’s also perfect for delving deeper into your process. In addition to sharing your images, let people peek behind the curtain. “What I usually do is tell a little story: how I got a picture, what my photography goals are, etc.,” Šulčius says. “Sometimes I do shoutouts, and they lead to very interesting conversations.”
Saxena tells us, “If you’ve shared a compelling story in the caption, chances are people will slow down to read it, like your photos, and share their viewpoint in the comments section.”
Image by Frankie & Marilia
Saxena continues, “It’s extremely important to find out when your followers are active and share only during that time period for maximum visibility. You can easily find that under the ‘insights’ section of your profile.” Once you have those times organized, you can schedule your posts in advance using an app like Iconosquare.
“To keep our feed fresh, we try to post once every weekday, usually at times we’ve found work out best for us,” Frankie and Marilia explain. “We use Planoly to plan out our feed and leave a few drafts ready for posting for whenever we don’t have anything ‘freshly photographed’ to post.”
Image by Yuya Parker
Dall’Alba confesses, “One thing I wish someone told me is to focus on creating and not to be obsessed with numbers. They matter, but to a certain extent.” While it’s necessary to check your insights and monitor your progress, “likes” aren’t everything. Know when to focus on the numbers and when to let go and step away for a little while.
“One thing I wish I’d figured out earlier is to enjoy the creative process,” Parker says. “Often the objective on Instagram is to promote something or gain followers, but it doesn’t need to be that way. I think the best thing about Instagram for photographers is that it provides a platform where we can share our work with a lot of different people.”
Top Image by Damon Beckford
Want to learn more about working as a pro photographer? Check out these articles:
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