Instagram for Photographers

What my harsh journey taught me

It’s no secret that Instagram is the place to post you work. With rough numbers putting the daily user count to 500 million (give or take) it definitely seems, at face value, the place you want your work to be in order to reach the most eyes. For Photographers, the more people to see our work, the better our chances at success.

“500 million eyes is amazing for my work! So what’s the problem?”

The problem? They don’t care. You’re one lonely Photographer in a sea of quick-snapping image makers. From professions to amateurs, budding photographers to pre-teens with the latest iphone, there are just too many photos being uploaded daily and the reality of it all is that your absolutely beautiful, passionate work of art is nothing more than a one second scroll by photo. Let me expand for those that seek validation.

Popularity is key

The way you get your photos out to a larger population of people and reach the ones that might actually admire you is by being popular; the more followers you have, the more people will see your work, like your photos and engage. This even goes so far to the point in which they just engage for your attention. I constantly find people will comment consistently on accounts from people that have a feed entirely of the same selfies from the same angle. Why? Good question.. I have no idea other than to believe that it’s for attention.

There are also an insane amount of “feature" accounts. For those that don’t know what those are, they are accounts that are made for the sole purpose of posting other people’s photos for likes and followers with the idea of tagging you in it for more views yourself. Sounds cool huh? Sure, in a perfect world, but the reality is quite the opposite of the intention.

Feature accounts are useless to you

I say this wholeheartedly, but truthfully. I see photos that have upwards of 30 feature accounts tagged for the very reason of getting noticed and reposted. I too was once guilty of this behaviour at one point, but then I started to notice the trend. Some of these accounts are massive, 100 thousand plus, some only 10 thousand, but regardless the size of the account, they all follow the same pattern; to only repost photos from accounts with 10 thousand plus followers. If your beautifully crafted Instagram has only 500 followers on it, you can guarantee that they will never repost the photo you tagged them in because your following isn’t enough for their gain. If they repost from a popular account, they will have a higher chance at that account’s followers to notice and follow them as well. You have 500 people following you, most of which don’t actually pay attention to you so that’s bad business for them.

Upon this realization, I have since stopped tagging any feature account on my photos. My hard work only benefits them. Even if you do gets reposted, people following that account will like and comment on their post and almost never make their way to your account.

A lot of people are fake

Now this one is really important to know. Many users (not all) follow you with the intention of gaining your follow back with no regards to your work at all. I started to notice that people would follow me, I would follow back, but then a day later or so, my followers number would drop. I quickly learned that I had people follow me and when I followed back, they would unfollow me, sometimes within the hour. I combated this by installing an “unfollower" app such as “followers & unfollowers" by One Tap Lab (not sponsored). In their essence, you link your account and the app provides you with consistent analytics. There it shows you things as:

  • Don’t Follow Back
  • Mutual
  • Follow Back
  • I Follow

And the all important

  • Recent Unfollowers

From that point, when somebody would unfollow me, I would return the favour to them. Seems petty, but I want to follow genuine people.

I once had a band, 3 members, all follow me and then pull this move on me so I unfollowed all 3 of them. Within a couple days, they all followed me back and have since stayed. The simple lesson for them? Don’t try to trick your followers especially if you’re a band and your livelihood is based on fans.

Consistency works (but it’s limiting)

You’ll hear or read many times that having a consistent feed is the key to building your followers on Instagram. After all, most of the biggest accounts all do it. Similar photos, one theme and a small colour palette. These are the things that garner the most attention and that’s fine if you are only going for a big following or if you’re okay with having all your photos look the same.

Some Photographers do it well, but for myself, I couldn’t imagine taking the same photos all the time. I take portraits and I take cityscapes, but by the “rules of Instagram growth" I should choose one and focus on that, but how can I? I have the privilege of being able to walk around Toronto, a busy, towering city with a beautiful skyline and the very familiar CN Tower. How could I ever spend my time taking only portraits when I have all that? Sure, I enjoy finding ways to incorporate both, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to devote all my time to taking photos of the CN Tower or having it in all my portraits just for consistency. I have to grow and expand and so do you.

If a repetitive style and colour palette is your interest, go for it, it’ll surely get you some traction, but if you don’t want to be only a certain type of Photographer, then branch out and explore your creativity. Instagram society has put rules to art and that’s not acceptable.

Equipment doesn’t matter

Looking to take photos only for Instagram will make you rue the day you purchased that 5D Mark IV with the beautifully paired 24-105 f/4. Mainly because a 30mp full frame means nothing once you crop it to a 4:5 ratio jpeg and Instagram compresses the image to upload it.

In fact, throw out everything you know about aspect ratios and printing sizes because you’ll no longer need that. You’re an Instagram photographer now! And also because there’s people with more followers that you can dream of who are “Phone Photographers" who use nothing but their iPhone to snap and upload. All that time wasted on shooting and editing your Raw file to look ideal when you could snap a quick jpeg on your phone, boost some contrast, adjust the vibrancy and post it in 5 minutes.

My phone for instance, is a Samsung a70 with 3 cameras in the rear, the more powerful one being a 32mp f/1.7. I personally prefer using a dslr though.. I know, crazy right? That’s because I know for a fact I can produce better photos than I would with a phone and I still print and frame my photos to hang on the wall.

My equipment, though may not be the greatest, it gets me doing what I love.

Final takeaway

Instagram can be utilized to your advantage and it can in fact be a brilliant way to share your work, connect with other Photographers and even a tool to learn and grow yourself and your skills. While I do have my complaints in the way people are on the site and the way society has treated such a beautiful form of art, I don’t in any way want to discourage anyone from using the site. I personally love how large it has gotten and admire that people have been able to use it to follow their dreams successfully.

Take this article only as a guideline to learn that success on the site is attainable, but it is not in the slightest way easy. It can be frustrating, but with the right attitude towards it, you can make it!

All images in this article are my own from my instagram account



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