This post was last updated on February 14, 2019.
Talk less, shoot more. This could really be the slogan of Instagram. The dominating social media channel did everything it takes to put images (and videos) at the forefront, with great success. Besides that, the platform is super easy to use, requires very little knowledge in tech and doesn’t ask you to be a natural born writer. Last but not least, Instagram now has over one billion monthly active users, eager to consume beautiful photos – and possibly yours! In a nutshell: Instagram is a paradise for photographers. It also just so happens to be the perfect complement for your online portfolio.
On Instagram, the more often you publish the more you can raise your brand awareness. Yes, you’re not only an artist, but a brand too. The channel is swarming with thousands of curators, agencies and potential clients looking for fresh talent like yours. Moreover, having an Instagram photography account will help you build an enthusiastic community that will hopefully associate with your imagery. This platform allows for one-on-one engagement that can bring you valuable feedback on your work and endless inspiration.
So what’s the catch? The competition is harsh between Instagram photographers. Everyone is fighting hard to claim their daily portion of little hearts, comments and new followers. That’s why we’ve come up with 10 crucial tips that’ll help put the spotlight on your Instagram photography account.
Don’t pose, compose
In the early days, Instagram users didn’t have much choice. They could only upload square images. We know that for a professional photographer this was extremely frustrating as composition is such an integral part of your presentation - as important as the chosen subject or camera. Fortunately, things have recently changed and you can now upload both portrait and landscape images. Although you still cannot control how Instagram will cut the thumbnail version, you’ll get at least get pictures that really resemble what you wanted to create.
Here are the optimal Instagram image sizes for each format:
Portrait images: 1080px by 1350px - 4:5 aspect ratio
Square images: 1080px by 1080px - 1:1 aspect ratio
Landscape images: 1080px by 566px - 2:3 aspect ratio
Any time of day is a good time
Unlike emails, Facebook posts, or even Tweets, there is no “best time” to publish on Instagram. Studies show that images work the same all throughout the week, with a slight bonus on Monday and Thursdays. However, this can vary depending on your location, the type of content you post, and your audience’s routine. So how can you make sure you’re posting at your optimal time? Post, experiment, learn, repeat.
Like many other things in life, the only way to figure out what works for you is by trying out many different options. Before you decide on a specific day or time to post on your Instagram photography account, play around with different publication schedules. Don’t forget that the most important thing is to be constant. There’s no point in searching for the best time to post on Instagram if you only do so once in a blue moon.
Let your style set you apart
Aside from posting constantly, you want to keep a consistent style or content pattern. Internet users are a bit like Pavlov’s dog: they are quickly conditioned to develop expectations. This is why you want to keep your posting to a pattern. Now we’re not advocating that you restrict yourself to one genre, but do make sure your followers immediately recognize your signature style when scrolling through their feed.
Developing a personal style is a crucial part of Instagram for photographers. Most of the time you’ll only get a fraction of a second to make an impact, and you want to make it count. A user sees one of your images on their screen and finds it appealing enough to pause, like it, and ultimately visit your profile. This achievement is comparable to the feeling of seeing a double rainbow on Yosemitebear Mountain. Having a consistent feed will ensure that the vast majority of those who enjoyed one of your photos are interested in the rest of your work.
Become a master in the art of hashtags
With thousands of images published every minute, there is little chance that a random user will stumble upon your photos, unless they are one of your followers. That is why we use hashtags: to allow for new curious eyes to see our images without needing to pay for a promoted post. A hashtag is text following a # symbol that is connected to a certain topic. Social media users can search a hashtag to discover content that would be most interesting to them, allowing them to discover new exciting artists.
You can utilize the power of hashtags every time you attach one (or more) of them to each of your picture’s descriptions. Thus, you’ll multiply your chances of being discovered and attract more followers, likes and comments.
Three questions will automatically arise:
How many can I use? On Instagram, there is a limit of 30 hashtags per publication. However, on the contrary, there is no reason to skimp on this. The most serious, scientifically-driven studies show that on Instagram, unlike Twitter, the more hashtags you put, the better your posts perform. Since you don’t want to overload your pictures, you can safely go for something between 3-10 hashtags per post.
Where will I put them? For your follower’s sake, please don’t write your entire description with one hashtag per word. Simply put your hashtags at the end of your posts for a clean look. You can also hide your tags, by including them in the comment section below the post or by burying them beneath 5 lines made of one dot line breaks (that’s because Instagram caps off captions after 3 lines, so your hashtags won’t be visible).
Which should I use? Don’t try using obvious, common words like photographer, love or landscape. They are overused, which means that your pictures will be instantly buried under thousands of new posts within a second. Plus, you’ll receive a lot of spam comments from bots, which can be extremely annoying. Instead, go for photography hashtags that are just popular and relevant enough to give you potential, but not too crowded, so you have a chance to stand out. How to establish your hashtag repertoire? First, check out which hashtags other photographers in your field are using. Second, consider related hashtags by browsing through posts containing a hashtag you’ve already successfully used. Eventually, don’t forget to use Instagram’s search function to discover a list of valuable new ideas and the number of posts related.
(H)ubiquity [aka be everywhere]
Speaking of visibility boosters, there’s something called hubs (also known as “feature accounts”), which are pages that curate and share the most beautiful pictures. A kind of art gallery for Instagram photographers, if you wish – except that you won’t make any money from them. A few embrace photography in all of their facets (@wix_photography), while others revolve around specific gear (@canon_photos or @nikonusa) or specialize in distinct photography genres such as portraits (@portraitpage or @portraitmood) or wildlife and nature (@ourplanetdaily or @visuals.collective).
To be featured on one of these accounts, you need to use their dedicated hashtag and keep sharing until your work is noticed. Of course, the more stunning your photo is, the greater your chances of getting discovered are. If you succeed, the reward will be huge for your Instagram photography account since the hubs typically attract thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers hungry for beautiful shots.
Don’t expect your photos to do all the talking
On Instagram, you don’t have to write a lot. That’s one of the reasons for its huge success. Still, don’t forget to add a description (or “caption” in social media slang) to each of the images you post. It can be short, but should still be enriched with valuable info for your community.
Lacking inspiration when it comes time to type? Don’t worry, you have much more to tell than you think. For example, you can talk about where your picture was taken, the gear that you used or even the people you met along the way. For the more adventurous, shape a funny haiku-like caption to show that you’re as agile with words as you are with your lenses.
Useful tip: don’t forget to tag all the people involved in the photo (from the client that commissioned it, to the hotel where you took it, to other professionals you worked with). This way, you will naturally multiply the chances of your image being seen, liked and commented on.
It’s okay not to be perfect
In fact, it’s expected of you not to be. Long gone are the days when people used social media to fuel their dreams of a perfect life. Your followers want to see what it takes to capture those outstanding shots. They want to be involved in every step of the way - from packing your gear to processing tips.
There are two main reasons behind this tendency: content oversaturation and Instagram Stories. People are tired of being exposed to unreal expectations, and Stories are the perfect way to share and consume behind-the-scenes content. Use this feature to allow your followers to tag along to your adventures and learn more about you and your work.
Don’t neglect your profile makeup
Wondering what the first thing is that people see when arriving to your account? It’s your Instagram bio. This important section of your profile should always include your username, some personal and professional info, your email address for potential clients and the city you’re located in. Of course, don’t forget your website’s URL. And speaking of your site, make sure you put a link to your Instagram photography account here as well. This way your site visitors and social media followers will be directly connected with one another, and all your adoring fans can see the whole picture with a simple click.
Want to take it a step further? Add the Instagram Feed App to your website for free. This will automatically sync your Instagram photos (and videos) straight to your site, in a stunning, customizable layout that fits your unique design. It’s an excellent way to update your portfolio with minimal effort.
Share videos to strengthen your account
A video is said to be worth 1.8 million words. In case math is not your strong suit, 1.8 million is more than a picture's 1,000 words. We’re living in the golden era of video, especially when it comes to social media. This content format achieves what every social network aims for: to have users stare at their screen for longer, and consequently spend more time on the platform. Because of this, social media networks are actively encouraging users to share video content.
Such is the importance of video that Instagram has created its own stand alone video-based app: IGTV (Instagram TV). If you’re interested in expanding your portfolio by doubling as a videographer, a whole new audience will be waiting for you on Instagram TV. Before you give up on the idea of video altogether, you should know that publishing videos on your feed could actually help you beat the Instagram algorithm by making users linger on your media for longer than average.
Remember that followers just wanna have fun
As may now appear obvious, your Instagram account is not your photography website. Why is that exciting? Because you can use it more regularly and more informally - a bit like your daily photo journal. Instagram is a “cool” social media channel where people want to find inspiration, delight for their eyes and have fun too. That means over-branding is a big no. Instead, feel free to post in a playful way by sharing images that you wouldn’t even consider including in your online portfolio, such as behind the scene shots, snaps of what you carry in your photo bag, and more.
This friendly and casual vibe also applies to your writing – notably in your responses. It’s important to answer every comment you receive in order to grow your community online and gain the loyalty of followers. Thank the person that wrote to you, and take the opportunity to create a special bond (compliment their work, ask for advice, etc.). Our vote is to always communicate in first person and avoid anything too formal. Remember, this is a chance to grow an amazing community, from which you’ll get feedback, tips and clients – and possibly even friends.
Written by Judit Ruiz Ricart and Jonathan Sitbon