Photo: © Conor MacNeill
You’ve heard the stories. The New York City street photographer who sold prints via Instagram to make rent, becoming an overnight sensation. The famous dogs that land paid-appearances at red carpet events because they have over a million followers. The accounts that get paid to sling products because they’ve amassed such a huge following. You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s totally not attainable for the average photographer on Instagram.” But believe it or not, brands often hire photographers because they’ve found them through Instagram.
In fact, Daniel Davis
was hired as a content creator for the TGI Fridays “Summer of Fridays
” road tour after an ad agency that had been following him on Instagram reached out about the campaign. “They gave me a rental car and asked me to discover the best of handcrafted America,” he says. “Starting in NYC—armed with a camera and creative freedom—I embarked on a two month mission to find and highlight extremely creative individuals who are using their hands to create something beautiful. Hitting almost every major city on the east coast, it was a magical journey full of amazing serendipitous encounters that I’ll never forget. It just goes to show you how powerful social media has become and makes you wonder what is actually possible when leveraged properly.”
Build Your Following
Nowadays if it comes down to two photographers competing for a job, and one photographer has 300 followers, while the other has 300,000—the photographer with the higher follower count will get hired. Why? It means built-in authenticity and validation for the brand in the form of social reach and organic engagement, especially if that photographer is known to share their day-to-day activities.
Can you really build your following from scratch though? Yes, but not without a clear vision and a dedication to authenticity. Photographer Conor MacNeill has been on Instagram since 2010 and managed to land a place in their featured users list before they changed their algorithm to suggest users based on people you follow. But that’s not the only way to build your following. “I get some traffic from my other photography profiles as well, including my website, Flickr and Facebook. I think everything ties in together and drives traffic between each of your online arenas,” says MacNeill.
Another early adopter, Paul Pichugin
said he built his following with regularity, consistency, quality, and hashtags. “If you’re regularly producing great photos you’ll definitely find an audience on there. I use hashtags on most of my posts as well. Find ‘hub’ accounts with large followings and see if you have photos that are relevant to their subject material. If you do, post them and use the hub’s hashtag, if the hub shares it, you’ll pick up followers,” he says.
Instagram isn’t all about you
though. You need to remember that it’s a social
media. MacNeill says, “Interact with other users to get the most out of it. Try and reply to comments on your images and make meaningful comments on the work of others. Another key point, at least for me, is to get involved with your local Instagram community. I have made some good friends though this platform and nothing beats hanging around and shooting with like-minded people.”
Content is King
You can read hundreds of blog posts about the optimal times to post on Instagram or how to ramp up your following, but when it comes down to it, posting high-quality, engaging photos that resonate with real people is paramount. For many photographers, it’s also all about making sure you’re not posting photographs that come out of left field. “Remain true to your brand. If your brand is minimalist or portraits or something else, stick to that. I’ve turned away a few sponsorships and projects because they didn’t fit with my style and brand. I’m strongly for photographers and creatives in general sticking within their passion—no matter how niche you think your thing is—there is an audience for it online. Post what you like and the audience that likes what you like will find you,” says Pichugin.
Along the same line, Davis believes “you gain traction when you take a stand for something good and share it in an original way. It is always my intention to speak on the concept of love and gratitude. I believe positivity must have a voice in our world and I try to play my part in whatever way I can. We all now have the ability to significantly impact the world around us in a positive or negative way. The question is, which will you choose?”
Once you differentiate yourself on Instagram and steadily build up your following, using the leverage you’ve created is the final step. Make sure you stick to the principles that got you to where you are. Conor MacNeill sticks to travel-related jobs through Instagram, doing shoots for the British Tourism Board (VisitBritain) and recently a stint in Ireland with Jameson. He also helps promote travel photography competitions from clients like Hyundai and Marriott Hotels.
If you’re pitching for a job and have a high follower count, include that in the pitch.
Have you been hired for a job thanks to your Instagram account? We’d love to hear more in our comments. Of course, you can follow ImageBrief on Instagram here.