Instagram and the Professional Photographer

Girl watching fireworks in Japan. Dear Blue
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I have had the opportunity to do a lot of incredible things because of mobile photography and a lot of the reason is behind the photo social network, Instagram. Despite some of the changes that Instagram is going through (decrease engagement, crowding of users, implementation of advertisers), it still remains to be at the top of all social networks for sharing amazing imagery.  The maturation of Instagram is due to its crazy growth and targeting of users as consumers.

The users are incredibly diverse within the platform. Millennials to grandparents to corporate brands, all are seeking the spotlight on the platform.The question I have been asked time and time again is, "How can a professional photographer utilize the platform to increase opportunities for attaining and maintaining clients?" 

I find this truly interesting. In the beginning, Instagram was truly just a social place for sharing images MOSTLY taken and shared from a mobile phone. Since then DSLR and film scanned images are being shared. At first, there was a backlash from mobile photography purists. Widely it is now accepted and the two factions are now unified against the meme users and celebrities who have taken away from the photo aspects and totally have used Instagram as just another social network. Despite the latter statement, I would still like to believe that Instagram can still be a place to house images that may help pro photographers show their work, share their inspirations, and ultimately promote their photography business and gain clientele.

With over 500 million users, the percentage of creatives, potential partnerships and collaborations, and prospective clients are still there and within reach.

As a Professional Photographer, Why Would I Use Instagram?

I have many friends both professional and amateur who have parlayed Instagram into a client builder.

I definitely want to add that they have done this very successfully. Becoming visual storytellers for brands, consultants to brands for social network, becoming shooters for hire - all of which have been possible because of their prowess and savvy within the app/ social network. I asked them why you or any other aspiring photographer or creative should take advantage of Instagram - still! 

1. It's still a place for being creative. Now Instagram is not the only place to be creative as far as social networks. Apps like EyeEm are definitely more photography focused and also offer a chance to see your images through their partnerships with the likes of Getty Images. BUT, Instagram is still the place with the most people, the most eyes for your work to be seen and truth be told - the space to still become inspired and to inspire. As a professional creative, you can take what you see on Instagram and say to yourself, "Self - I like that or whew, I'm not ever going to do something like that!"

2. It's still a social community. Instagram lends to awesome engagement and relationship building - if you choose to. You can meet other photographers, models, stylists, marketing directors, potential clients - all of which can lead to partnerships and collaborations and my favorite non-monetary connection - instameets.

Even before the likes of Instagram and EyeEm, being a visual creative, a successful one at that, you would need to be social and engaged with your audience.

3. It's still a perfect place for you to build your business through awareness and self-promotion. Social media, in general, is a must use tool for building your business these days, but these photo social networks are more so for visual creatives because you get to show your work in a non-traditional way.

What is the difference between Instagram and your online portfolio?

Keep in mind that Instagram and other social networks are to show your work in a non-competitive, non-portfolio, personal, and engaging way.

This is a place to show some of your best work, some of the BTS (behind the scenes), some of your amazing mobile work, some of your experimental work, so on and so forth. These platforms should be unique from your online portfolio.  I know of some photographers who have found that through Instagram, it has been way easier to secure a job because of its accessibility. Everyone has a smartphone and on that smartphone usually is the little Instagram app icon.  You can add potential clients and build a relationship further than through your online portfolio. You can truly engage with your potential clients which brings a bit more of humanity than through the traditional portfolio. Again most folks who will look at your Instagram feed will be doing so from a mobile phone. It is quick and can show your range as a creative. Maximize that to your benefit. For example, my music and concert shots on my Instagram led me to shoot on the first leg of the Justin Timberlake 20/20 concert, the MTV VMA's, and countless other events that would have never garnered the broad attention on my website/ online portfolio.

Also through Instagram, I have been able to enter numerous photo competitions or asked to enter those competitions and gained awards for my work solely on the idea of hashtagging. This is another way that Instagram has changed the landscape for photographers to get noticed and build their personal brand.

Instagram is a place for you to offer a different side to your work and to your online portfolio.

It should not ever be a copycat of your website.  That just does not make any sense. It can either be a compliment to your website or your sole referral point to your work.

You Are Still A Professional

When I first started using Instagram, everyone and their mother used the filters provided within the app. It was one of the reasons why people got so addicted to using the app. The vintage filters, especially, made the app more appealing to users. The Early Bird filter was my absolute favorite. I think I posted over 75 photos in a row with that filter slapped on it. This is the definition of a fad or trend. As with all trends, those end. This aesthetic was no different. Soon other visual trends started and users veered (actually I think the correct word is fled in droves) away from using Instagram's filters, even the new ones that they released.

As a professional, as I soon learned that more potential clients were looking at my Instagram feed as a work reference, I quickly quit using any filters and stuck to basic post-processing. I want to make sure that my Instagram was as close to the representation of the work that I would do for a potential client. It was not about the filters. It was about how I saw things and how I told a story through the lens.

If you are a professional, please do not use the filters in Instagram. 

There are many apps out there (if you are doing mobile work on your Instagram) that you can use that can show off your style and your work.  Apps like Snapseed, Lightroom Mobile, VSCO, Afterlight to name a few.

 All of these apps can be found in the App Store, Google Play, or Windows Marketplace.  Use these apps to present your style.

Remember Instagram is Still A Community

This is the single most important aspect of Instagram that a professional should remember. You can promote yourself and your brand, but the best way to do that is to build relationships and engage within the community. The aspect of social media is the best way for you to be successful on Instagram. Join a community, engage with your audience, share, be inspired and continue to inspire are the best ways to turn this platform into a fruitful way of your creative business. Here are some tangible ways for you to do this:

1. Engage and follow users who you are truly and genuinely interested in. Mass following accounts is one of the worst ways of building an audience. Not only does it seem somewhat desperate, but you can truly not engage and participate with people if you are not able to engage with them. Following thousands and thousands of accounts increases the chances of you missing out on some amazing work. Because Instagram is so crowded and the algorithm has changed so much for the worst, means you really have to be meaningful in who you choose to follow.

2. Engage with those you follow and with those who follow you. Join in the conversations that your community have. Ask those who inspire you to collaborate. Answer questions from your audience. Be interesting and be interested in those communities.

3. Be thoughtful in how you share and what you post on your feed. I remember talking to Eric Kim, a well-known street photographer about Instagram a few years back. He thought that posting once a week is best for him. Another inspirational photographer of mine, Hiroki Fukuda, told me that posting once a day helps him stay on top of his game. Not only does it show that you are active on the platform, but it also keeps you motivated to keep shooting.  Find your happy, sweet spot for sharing and make sure that it also works with your audience. You can find websites that can help you determine the best time to post and what days, but really you know your audience the best. Follow your gut.

4. Use hashtags without abusing the feature. It's not best practice to hashtag your photos with 50 hashtags. Be conscious of the audience you would like to gain through your hashtags. Along with this recommendation, tag the location of your photos.  You will be surprised at how many people want to see the locations of images.

My Final Thoughts

Instagram and other visually creative social networks are a great way to build your personal brand and grow your photography business. A lot of what I have stated have been words advice given to me and/or tips I use myself.  Like anything, it does take time but again it you can reap the benefits if you do it with good awareness and knowledge of the way each platform works.  Instagram is just one of the platforms. EyeEm and now Snapchat have all become up and comers in building revenue for visual creatives. All in different ways and in different fashions, but use them correctly and it becomes a tool for you to be successful in your creative field.