Instagram tips for photographers
Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Dawn in Richmond Park. Photograph by Simon Wilkes, 2017
I’m still quite new to Instagram, having only joined mid-2016, but I’ve manage to gather a reasonable number of followers in that time. It’s a modest amount by Instagram standards of-course. Most importantly though, this excellent bunch of people frequently comment on my photos, leaving many encouraging and supportive messages.
Instagram is one of the best ways to reach new audiences and get your work seen by the wider public. It can lead to commercial opportunities and even commissions. I’ve also made lots of new friends via Instagram – fellow photographers, artists and kind, friendly people interested in my photos of Richmond Park.
So how do you build a following and keep that audience engaged? Well here’s a few tips I’ve learned that might help you.
Post photos of the same high quality with an overall theme, style or subject. Landscapes, wildlife, street or reportage . Whatever your niche, post only your best photos and keep your feed just for your photography. Think of it as an extension of your professional portfolio, not just a dumping ground for photos of your cat or last night’s dinner. If you really want to post those kinds of photos then set up a separate feed. This way your photography feed will have a focus and potential new followers will be able to get a good idea of what to expect from your future posts. If it all looks like a random mess then you’ll be less likely to hook those all important followers.
Tip – try not to post too many photos. One or two a day is fine. Post too many, too often, and your followers might think you’re spamming them. Restraint is important.
Timing is key
Timing your posts to target your followers downtime is likely to get better numbers of likes and comments.
Instagram is global audience. 400m users around the world, logging on every day. I have followers from the UK, Europe and the US and all places between. You’ll likely have a similar international audience. You have to bear this in mind when you’re posting, especially if you’re in a timezone that doesn’t always align to the rest of the world.
Generally, I post once a day, in the evening around 21:00 -21:30. Why that particular time? In the UK, it’s late evening, people are winding down, checking Instagram before bed. In Europe it’s a similar story, just a little later. In the US it’s typically late afternoon, people are commuting home and checking their feeds. I’ve found, mostly through a lot of trial and error, that this time of day works best for me.
So try to think about when your followers might be viewing your post. If you post during the working day in the UK, they might not see your post at all as it’ll be buried by the time they come to check their feed at lunchtime or during the evening commute. Timing your posts to target your followers downtime is likely to get better numbers of likes and comments.
Tip – a new post has a shelf life of about 4 hours. After that it will be buried in people’s feeds, so maximise your visibility by posting at the right time of day.
Use hashtags wisely
Hashtags are essential to getting your photographs seen by a wider audience. They also add vital meta data to your photos, making it easier for Instagram group your photos with similar ones. You can add up to 30 hashtags per photo, but usually 15-20 works best. Try to avoid the big obvious hashtags like #photo and #nature. While these do attract millions of posts, they are largely ineffective at attracting more followers. Instead, go for more specific hashtags that explain a little about your photograph like #londonsunset, #ukwildlife or #rurallife. Admittedly, hashtags are a bit of a dark art and can take a bit of trial and error to get the right combination. It’s worth investing time to learn about the right ones to use on your photographs.
You can find a list of top Instagram hashtags here and here.
Tip – keep your hashtags in a text file or note on your mobile so you can easily copy and paste them into your post. This will save you a lot of time.
Tag the hubs
Hubs are collectives that gather together the best photos within a particular theme or subject. These feeds typically have followers in their thousands and some even have millions. You can target these hubs by using their hashtags. Tag your photo with the hashtag from the hub, so that they’ll see you’ve mentioned them. If they like your photo they will post it in their feed. This can be a fantastic way to reach new audience and gain new followers. So it’s worth taking time to find hubs that best suit your particular area of interest. I’ve been featured on such wonderful sounding hubs as Earth Shotz, Allbeauty Addiction, Tree Magic, Fifty Shades of Nature, Heart Imprint, RSA Rural, TV Foggy and Scenic Britain. These are mostly landscape, nature and outdoor photography hubs, but there are all kinds out there. Whatever your interest there is a hub for it and getting your photo featured will help you get noticed.
Brian Venth has a great blog post about the hubs you can use.
Important – hubs are free. They repost your photos so they have content for their feeds. In return you get followers, likes and a general sense of wellbeing. If a hub asks you to pay for being included on their feed, run for the hills. Or better, report them to Instagram. These kind of hubs are scams and should be avoided at all costs.
Engage with your followers
If someone has taken time to comment on your photo then you should take the time to reply, even if just to say thanks.
I always reply to comments. I pride myself on it. Even if a post gets 50+ comments, I still take time to reply to everyone who’s commented. Why? Because engaging with your followers is one of the most important things to being a successful Instagrammer. If someone has taken time to comment on your photo then you should take the time to reply, even if just to say thanks.
I set aside an hour or so each evening to look at my feed, to leave messages on photos I like and find a few new people to follow. It’s not that hard and doesn’t take too much time out of my day. To achieve engagement you must be ready to engage. Lead by example.
Be a good Instagrammer
Instagram knows if you’ve been good. Sounds scary, but its algorithms calculate how much you post, like, comment and follow. It uses this data to determine whether it should recommend you to other users. Rather like Google and how it ranks its search results, Instagram is constantly tweaking this data, assessing you based on your actions.
On a more human level you need to inspire your users, make them want to follow you. Be chatty, be friendly and be sincere. Follow people back. Like their photographs. Leave a comment or two. Be a good Instagrammer and you’ll see the benefits.
Some photographers to follow to get you started
Here’s some photographers that I follow on Instagram, a great source of inspiration:
Have any Instagram tips to share? Want to ask me any questions about Instagram?
Why not leave a comment or question below. You can also get in touch with me via Instagram.