Instagram for Photographers: Is it Useful to Promote Your Work?
The world of photography has changed. A lot. Some photographers hate it and suffer while others take advantage of the changes and grow their business. Instagram plays in important role in how photography has evolved and changed but the social media platform also changed a lot in the past ten years.
What started out as a fun and interesting platform to share photos is now an advertising business of astronomical proportions, owned by Facebook. But with almost a billion users, there must be some reasons for photographers to use Instagram, right?
I’ll talk about some ways you can use Instagram as a photographer later on:
Promote your photography
Connect with fans or photographers
Discover and be inspired
Make money from Instagram
Instagram turned photography into a mass consumer product
Yes, Instagram changed photography and how the world sees the medium. Where it used to be a skill for specialists in the years of film, now everybody is a photographer. Professionals don't like to accept it but it's true. Everyone who owns a smartphone or camera can call himself a photographer, especially on Instagram.
Does that mean photography is dead and there's only junk on Instagram. Not at all, there's great stuff to discover on Instagram and some of the best photographers use Instagram to show their work. Not only that, some even show their personal lives or behind-the-scenes. Instagram is still useful for photographers but you just have to know what to expect from it and how to use it.
Advertisements, likes and followers
First you have to understand that Instagram is a business owned by Facebook. They make an astronomical amount of money with it and it's all based on selling advertisements. From Facebook's point of view, your photography is just something to fill up the space between the ads. If you accept that, you know what to expect from Instagram as a photographer these days. Especially when setting up a new account.
Some of the best photographers in the world have an Instagram account where they connect with their fanbase and you can see some great content. But they already have a fanbase and inspire a lot of people. The problem is that lots of new people and photographers start to promote their photography on Instagram solely for the purpose of gathering likes and followers, thinking that’s the best way to grow a photography business. And even worse, a large part of them try to copy the photography style of accounts with a lot of followers.
It's so bad these days that there are hundreds of accounts that look exactly the same. Same colors, same style, same locations and destinations. You can't tell the difference or see a personal style by looking at the photos anymore and the problem is growing because Instagram suggests similar accounts when you open one of them. It also rewards those accounts because they pop up everywhere.
If you want to start a photography business and Instagram account for the long run, a solid base; don't copy the popular styles but develop your own and accept that you'll grow slowly. Use Instagram not to gather likes and followers as fast as possible because you photography will just be another mass consumer product. Don’t believe people that call themselves growth hackers who say they will grow your followers amount and make your career successful. It doesn’t work like that.
Work hard, make awesome photos and develop your own style.
How to use Instagram as a photographer
Promote your photography
Instagram is a great place to get –some- exposure and build up an easily 'consumable' portfolio. A lot of people browse Instagram to discover new and interesting photography. Magazines, journalists, editors... Build up a gallery that shows some of you best work. Some photographers mix it up with personal stuff or phone shots but it's totally up to you. Make sure it looks good and try to stand out. Be different. You won't grow as fast as some of the accounts that all have the same 'Instagram look' but the followers you'll get will be genuinely interested in YOUR photography and YOUR style, not just pretty colors and images specifically produced for Instagram.
Connect with fans or photographers?
It's important to accept that it's difficult to build up a large fanbase on Instagram that's genuinely interested in your photography. Unless you have a career of decades being a famous photographer, a lot of people will be there just to consume pretty images with nice colors. Most of your followers who are genuinely interested in your photography will be... photographers. They'll give you real comments on your work instead of an automated generic heart or “Love this! *smiley smiley smiley*”. You'll see these generic comments A LOT and they're just intended to make you follow the people who write them. Don't fall for it, don’t do it.
Discover great photography and be inspired
Why I use Instagram a lot is to discover new photographers and to be inspired. There are a lot of great photographers on Instagram and it's always fun to discover new people and their work and connect with them. These people are the ones that will help you grow as a photographer, not the likes and generic followers. Of course, not all followers that aren’t photographers are just interested in consuming pretty colors. There are a lot or genuine photography fans out there too who’d love to discover new good work. Again, be different and develop a style.
Making money from Instagram
No, you can't make money from Instagram as a photographer. Well, most can't, I guess. Use it to show your work and indirectly it could help you to make some money. Magazines might reach out to you. A freelance job might pop up because someone accidentally saw your work or you can offer products or prints to people who are interested in your photography. But Instagram won’t make you money tons of money as a photographer. On the other hand, you’ll make Facebook a lot of money by using it ;-)
The point of all this writing is that you have to accept and know that an Instagram account won't boost your career overnight or will make you a lot of money as a photographer. It's a simple way to discover and connect with, mostly, other photographers. Don't fall into the trap of wanting as much followers and likes as fast as possible.
Instagram is based on selling advertisements and Facebook wants to make as much money as possible. They don't care about your photography.
I do think an Instagram account can still be of value for photographers but don't put all your work in it and know what to expect and how to use it. It should just be a small part of you proving and branding your work.
The point of Instagram is consuming images at lightning speed and people who are interested in your photography and other photographers will appreciate your work in other ways too. Use Instagram as an extra but don't build your career on it like many are trying...
By the way, here’s a very interesting read by Eric Kim if your building your photography career on Instagram: Why You Should Delete Your Instagram and Start Your Own Blog. Definitely something to think about…
Show me your Instagram in the comments!
And in case you’re -genuinely- interested here’s my account @hermans.joris