With a little know-how and dedication, you can harness the power of Instagram photography to grow your business
Instagram is the app that made everyone a photographer. But now, it’s making dedicated, professional photographers more successful in finding clients and building relationships. So let’s talk about instagram photography, hashtags and how and why you might want to use it to grow your own business!
What is Instagram?
Instagram is the second largest social media platform, second only to big brother Facebook. IG, or Insta as users like to refer to it, was built as a visual platform. It launched in 2010, and has been gaining popularity ever since. Today, the app has more than 1 billion users. Yes, I said 1 billion. Like Facebook, users who build an account have a profile and a feed. But the app was designed mostly to share photos and videos. So if you post on Instagram, you must post an image or video of some kind. Users can interact via comments under the image or videos, but you cannot easily share someone else’s post, nor can you link to images, sites or blogs elsewhere on the web. These rules and limitations make it different than Facebook, which is some of why people love it so much.
How can Instagram Photography benefit my business?
Because Instagram is a visual app, it’s a great social media network to build interest in your work.
Instagram is designed for users to use their smartphone to snap pictures and take video. And there are plenty of popular Instagram photographers and personalities that only use a smartphone camera. Those online filters we all lament? Instagram made them popular. But you don’t have to be constrained by your smartphone when it comes to photography. You can use your regular DSLR or mirrorless camera to take images and upload to Facebook. This means you can post any image you take – newborns, senior portraits, landscape, macro shots, product photography, etc. If you take an image for yourself or a client, it can be shared on Instagram.
By using hashtags, which we’ll discuss in a minute, you can start to build a following on Instagram. The idea is that followers will turn into clients. You can grow your following organically, or Instagram now offers sponsored ads, for a small fee.
Hashtags are essentially keywords or descriptions that Instagram uses to sort posts. You tell Instagram that a phrase is important by labeling it with the pound sign, or the # character. Instagram uses those hashtags to sort and share content with other interested users.
You can use hashtags the same way to find content that interests you or create content that interests others. If I post a photo of a border collie, I can use hashtags related to dogs and pet photography to connect with my target audience.
The key is to use specific hashtags that will appeal to your audience. Simply labeling the post with #dogs doesn’t help, as #dogs is a huge hashtag with many followers, (more than 84 million). My post is likely to get lost in the vast sea. Instead, I’ll narrow down my audience by using more specific hashtags. I could choose #bordercollies (980,000 posts), #workingdogs (529,000 posts) or #cowdogs (14,000 posts). If I use #cowdogs I know that I’ll connect with others who use, love and admire cowdogs.
The same holds true with #photography (almost 400 million posts) vs. pet photography (1.8 million posts) vs. #Wyomingpetphotography (72 posts). With #Wyomingpetphotography people who might be looking for a pet photographer in my area can find me with that hashtag.
You can also increase your chances of being found by using multiple hashtags. Social media gurus recommend using between 7 and 20 hashtags for each post. You can intersperse them throughout your caption, or include them at the end.
Hashtagging is part planning and part art form. It takes a while to find hashtags that work for you. I find it helps to research what others are hashtagging and to test out several different hashtags before settling on my tried and true. Don’t limit yourself to just researching other Instagram photography accounts, either. Look at all the social media influencers around you and see what’s working for them!
How do Photographers use Instagram? How do you get your photos noticed on Instagram?
Photographers use Instagram by sharing images and using related hashtags to build a following and a community. They post photos of sessions to show their work and include hashtags popular with the target audience. Here are five tips for making Instagram work for you.
- Don’t ignore the words. The photo will draw your audience in, but use your posts to connect with emotion. The photographers I follow and connect with on Instagram are also wonderful storytellers.
- Don’t use Instagram as your portfolio. Your Instagram feed should be more ephemeral and current than a website portfolio. Share current sessions, behind-the-scenes images or snapshots of your life. Your audience wants more than just pretty photos – they want to connect with you, the photographer.
- Engage with your followers. Post content that connects with emotion and elicits responses. Ask questions, respond to comments, leave comments on others’ pages. Start conversations with your followers on your posts and on theirs.
- Test the type timing of your post. Most social media gurus say the best times to post on Instagram is between 2 and 5 pm. But that might not be the best time for your specific following. As you get started, post at different times and track your engagement. And track the response you get from your posts. A beautiful landscape might generate lots of likes, but a personal story from your childhood that accompanies a photo might elicit more interactions. Find what clicks with your audience.
- Don’t obsess over the number of followers. Consider quality, too. I’d rather have an active community of 500 followers that regularly like and comment on my posts and are local people I can convert into clients than I would 5,000 followers across the world that will never need my photography services.
Who are the best photographers on Instagram? 5 of my favorites.
Best is such a loaded word. But here are a few of my favorite Instagram photography accounts you might consider following!
Weddings and Portraits
Mary Marantz (@marymarantz) – Mary and her husband Justin are wedding and portrait photographers on the East Coast. Their work is timeless and positively stunning. But it is Mary’s inspirational thoughts and encouragement I truly enjoy!
Katelyn James (@katelynjames) – Katelyn is a wedding photographer. Her style is light and airy and her wedding imagery is GORGEOUS! But I also appreciate her willingness to be open and honest with her followers about her life. She’s incredibly vulnerable in dealing with topics like the death of her child and her struggles with fertility. Her stories make her incredibly real and inspiring!
Landscape and Nature
Dylan Fursty (@fursty) – Fursty is one of my favorite accounts for all things wild and natural. His vibe is definitely dark and moody, which is a different take than most other nature and wildlife photographers. HIs work makes me want to grab a book of poetry and a cup of coffee and curl up on a cabin porch somewhere.
Off camera flash
Joe Edelman (@joeedelman) – Joe is a photographer and photography educator. He posts a lot of portrait sessions AND gives you behind the scenes lighting diagrams. I learn so much from each of his posts and he’s awesome about answering follower’s questions to help them improve their own work. If you are growing your off-camera flash skills, don’t miss one of the best Instagram photography educators!
And finally, Steve McCurry (@stevemccurryofficial) – Steve McCurry, the man, the myth, the legend behind that famous National Geographic cover “Afghan Girl” has an IG account and it’s every bit as captivating as that iconic image. His photos are gritty, haunting and beautiful all at once. I love seeing the world through his eyes. He makes me want to be a better human and a better photographer.
Follow folks who inspire you as photographers and as people. And don’t limit yourself to just interacting with photographers. I learn and grow from business leaders, writers, comedians, and cowboys.
Bringing it Together
A lot of photographers waited to join Instagram believing it was an app just for the young. But the savvy photographers have jumped on the IG bandwagon and are leveraging their Intsagram following to build interest in their local business, gain clients and sell themselves online. But it’s not too late! Set up an account, explore the beauty and visual imagery Instagram has to offer. You might decide it’s not the right platform for you, or you just might find your tribe!