When it comes to Instagram, how do you feel? More to the point, how are you using it? Since its launch in 2010, over 40 billion images have been uploaded and shared, with around 95 million shares each day. Not to mention the stories, videos, reels, Instagram lives and more! The platform has expanded exponentially - from momentary instant snapshot to curated grids, follow-along stories, live-streamed events, lecture slides, auctions and e-commerce. It has absorbed numerous other apps, encompassing different features and attracting almost as many and varied uses as it has users.
As a photographer, when the medium of communication and expression is captured in images, Instagram is a great platform. It has become a site of careers being launched, resources being shared, opportunities circulated and most importantly, it is perhaps the fastest and easily accessible way to showcase a portfolio of work. So how can you make the most of it? Before we go any further if you haven't yet - please check out a previous article which covers 'How Photographers Can Protect Their Work On Social Media' because it is crucial to understand the rights you have as well as the ways that your content might be used by Instagram and other social media platforms.
Typing a range of questions into Google such as, ’how to be successful on Instagram' and 'how do I use Instagram for professional photography?’ Will yield thousands of results, exemplifying just how important this topic is. Here are a few clues that will hopefully lead you towards some winning moves.
The question of profiles
Before we go any further - a big question many creatives have to answer is whether they want to have multiple social media accounts or just one. Do you want one account where you are able to post a mixture of personal and professional content or are you more comfortable separating things out? Do you have the capacity to maintain and manage different accounts? One very straightforward way to keep your photography social media pages clean and organised is to simply separate content related to your work from content related to your personal life. Not everyone does this, some people are able to straddle the personal amongst their professional images to the point that some photographers work are so entwined with their personal lives it wouldn’t even make sense to separate them! Others, however, decide to distinguish posting different kinds of posts across different formats - from Instagram stories containing snippets of their personal lives to curated images on the fixed feed grid.
Strategy, Network and Focus
The crucial thing to note when it comes to social media pages is how important strategy and consideration is. Whether or not you decide to have multiple or just one account, the key thing is to make a choice and be in control of what you do with them. Once you are in control, it demonstrates that you are capable, professional and can take command of your output - all of which is super important when it comes to working as a photographer. Having a clear and considered profile also means that you can tap into particular networks and encourage engagement because you have facilitated this through clear signposting and focus.
Some prompts to consider:
Am I using my social media page as a portfolio for my work or is it a way for my audience to engage with additional work, work in process, personal anecdotes?
Am I using social media to generate more work and opportunities?
Do I want my social media page to be a way for people to contact me directly and have I included all the ways for people to do this?
Is my social media page a platform for sales? Directly? Or through contacting me? Or redirection to an agent/gallery/my website?
How can I make use of my own network to gain attention and traction?
Am I comfortable promoting myself and do I want others to share my work too?
It is imperative to know what you want from your social media page in order to work out how to approach it. Here are a few things that should be non-negotiable if you are hoping to make an impact with your profile:
Full, clear and concise captions. Be straightforward and easy to understand, don't make it difficult for your followers to work out what you’re trying to convey. If you’re sharing an image of your work, including all the artwork caption information (title, date, place, format etc). If you’re sharing something that you want people to respond to, be clear about how - are you asking for feedback, advice, interaction, suggestions etc.
Think in threes or sets - the Instagram format uses grids in rows of threes, so consider the curation across these squares. Use the platform’s constraints to your advantage - play with narrative, colour, and form, as you would with any composition.
Use the tagging feature and hashtags with intent and to acknowledge. Did someone help you make the image? Tag them. Are you posting in response to a social media campaign prompt? Hashtag it. Are you publishing the image anywhere specific or is it being featured by a particular organisation? Tag them. Have you featured niche or noteworthy objects, places, topics etc in your post? Hashtag it.Â
Beyond these three key non-negotiable, there are numerous secondary apps that can assist you which have sprung up as social media platforms have evolved. Are you wanting to post an image across multiple squares on your grid? There’s an app for that! Are you wanting to include a frame around your image so that the square format of the grid won’t cut any part of your work off? There’s an app for that! Are you wanting to test out the curation of your profile before you upload you? You guessed it - there’s absolutely an app for that.
Find your heroes and show everyone that you’ve got this!
Network-building and wide-engagement are the most wonderful features of social media but also can be very anxiety-inducing. Don’t be afraid to seek inspiration and emulate others whose profiles you admire - find your heroes! This does not mean copying images or plagiarising their work, but take note of what you enjoy about other accounts and take some time to work out why and what they’re doing that is successful. This is an essential part of building your network, too - by following and engaging with accounts that are doing similar things to what you hope to do, you open yourself up to possible peers, colleagues, future collaborators. But again, your intention and clarity and conviction are key - social media by its nature is not about long term focus, so first impressions are really important. Make it clear to anyone taking a passing glimpse at your profile that yours is one worth sticking around for and clicking the follow button!
Clare Patrick is a South African Curator and Writer who creates work through a research-led practise, finding ways to make things that may seem invisible, visible.