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Building An Instagram Audience



A social media platform based purely on imagery is the obvious choice for photographers wanting to share their work and build a following—seems so obvious in 2017.

In October 2010 Instagram was launched and it took me almost a year to join the cool kids. In those early stages of the photo sharing platform, Instagram quickly found its place right in the middle of the very popular photo-taking app, Hipstamatic, and the king of social networks, Facebook. Remember Flicker? One of the original photo sharing sites is now Zombie status.  Along came the iPhone 4 with its much-improved camera, its impact on the point-and-shoot digital camera market was considerable.

A mere three months after launch, one million users were snapping away at cats, dogs, sunrises, sunsets, beer, coffee, every conceivable meal, and sharing those photos with their friends and family with three simple clicks. The first two photos I shared were of pretty rays of sunshine coming through some trees while out on a walk. The next day I posted four photos from a hospital bed after I tore my calf muscle. From then on, I would continue to share photos of my holidays, family, friends, locations I was scouting, behind-the-scenes photos from my shoots, and occasionally, whatever I was eating or drinking.

All the photos I shared were taken on my iPhone, and I prided myself on using my lighting and compositional skills to capture great photos on such a simple camera. After two years of only sharing photos from my iPhone, I started sharing some of my film images from my Pentax 6×7.  But it wasn’t until April 2014 that I started sharing edited DSLR images from my shoots.

The posts of those fully edited images were still sporadically placed amongst whatever beer I was drinking, the latest location I’d found, or a snap of the model I was working with that week. This was because I still viewed Instagram as a platform for sharing personal images for my friends and family, not from a business perspective aimed at attracting potential clients.


Before we get into the ins and outs of building and growing your Instagram feed, we probably should also talk about why you want an Instagram account in the first place.

If you are a hobbyist photographer, you probably aren’t too worried about the business aspect of attracting customers, so you may just be using it as a creative outlet—a place to share your new and perhaps old, re-worked images with your social network and gain some satisfaction from people appreciating your images. If that’s you, then fantastic; a personal Instagram account will be fine. Just post what you want, when you want and don’t worry too much about how quickly you are gaining followers or how many likes you are getting. Use your phone to practice your composition and improve your lighting skills, then share your best shots. If you are a bit more serious about your photography, or you work part- or full-time as a professional photographer, there are some benefits to switching over to a business account and building your Instagram feed.

Some photographers use it as a portfolio site, in place of a website. This can work well for enthusiasts and part-time professional photographers, as it allows them to easily share their best work with their followers.  They can gradually grow an audience in their own time, without having to spend much time posting and maintaining their account. If they can attract a few clients, that’s great for them.

However, if you are a serious professional, I don’t recommend using Instagram as the sole source for sharing your work. Like all social media platforms, it should be used to attract and then direct potential clients back to your website, where more information can be found about your services.  One of the main benefits of having a business Instagram account is the extra contact options. Once you provide contact information, your followers will then have the option of calling or emailing you, as well as getting directions to your location. Viewers can use the original direct messaging function through Instagram, but they also have the option of clicking on a hyperlink in your profile to be directed to whatever webpage you wish. Another business account benefit is being able to access analytics. Before Instagram rolled out the business account option, you had to use third party apps to access post analytics or insights. Now, that is all built into Instagram so you can check statistics about your followers, such as growth, the percentage of male versus female followers, what countries and cities they live in, and their age range. You can also access stats on impressions, reach, engagement, likes, comments and saved posts of photos and videos, with the ability to filter them over various lengths of time. All these insights can be beneficial if you wish to identify which posts get the greatest response, or find out what time or day of the week you should post to maximize your reach.
One final benefit of having a business account is the ability to easily create post promotions. Once you create a post, you will then notice a “promote” button under it. Instagram will often even suggest that you promote a particular post if it is getting better reach than some of your other recent posts. Of course, this isn’t free, but you can design your own promotion and easily select your budget. You can also select your target audience, customizing your promotion for your target location, age range, gender, and interest.


The rather clichéd phrase from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams— “If you build it they will come”—isparticularly apt when it comes to building your Instagram followers. It may take a lot longer than the uptick of Instagram users initially did, but eventually, the followers will grow.

I gradually started sharing more of my final, edited DSLR images from my shoots and fewer iPhone snaps. I also started posting on a more regular basis as well as using more hashtags appropriate to those images.  While I wasn’t actively chasing followers, I did see the numbers start to grow, and with the increased followers, the engagement through likes and comments also started to increase—but not quite in proportion to the rate of followers.
I hit my first major milestone of 10,000 followers in January 2016, then 20,000 by mid-year and 50,000 in January 2017. The growth between 20,000 and 50,000 followers was quite rapid and all organic. I don’t believe in buying followers; I only want followers who genuinely appreciate my work, and I only post what I want to share, not what I think will get the most likes.

After I hit 20,000 followers, I made the decision to treat Instagram more as a marketing tool for my photography brand and not just a platform for sharing any old photo. Since I started doing that, there have been five key things I’ve learned that have helped continue that growth.


Consistency in how often you post as well as in your content are both extremely important. Major brands average around 1.5 posts per day; I aim for one post per day.  In reality, I now average around 0.7 per day as work, travel, and life in general sometimes make it difficult to achieve that target.
The quality and style of content you post are just as important as how often you post, and maybe more so. It was no accident that my followers started increasing around the same time that I started consistently posting my best work. I reduced the number of iPhone captured posts and increased the number of professionally captured, fully edited images.
I still try to post the occasional behind-the-scenes capture, however, as a large percentage of my followers are other photographers and models, and these images are popular and often attract more engagement.
Also, think about your main photographic genre and try to post only images that fit that style. If you post a portrait one day, a still life the next, and a sporting image the day after that, you aren’t giving your followers a clear message about your style, and you may end up diluting your fan base.


Hashtags are a great way of attracting followers who are genuinely interested in your photography. Here’s some hashtags you might like to consider.

• Style or genre of photography, such as #portrait, #landscape, or #artisticnude.
• Popular locations, as those are often searched for through hashtags.  Using those names in a hashtag increases the chances of your image being found. You can use a specific location, a general locality, and a state or country.  For example, you might use #brokenhead, #byronbay, #australia.
• A description of the main elements that make up the photograph, like #rocks, #ocean, #trees, #girl, #flowers, or #reddress.
• The gear you used to create the image, since photographers, particularly newer ones, love to search by this information. Think #fuji, #fujiXT2, or #fuji23mm.
• Your photography brand name, which should be included every time you post. For example, #camattreephoto.

Did you know that certain hashtags are banned on Instagram? There are two ways that Instagram can limit or ban a hashtag.  One is through an absolute block on the hashtag, which will return no results in a search. The other is more of a partial, temporary censorship which returns only limited results. Some banned hashtags are obviously aimed at limiting unseemly or offensive posts, but others are rather odd. If you are curious, you can Google for an updated list of what is currently on Instagram’s banned list.


Not only is it good etiquette to tag your clients, models, makeup artists, or whoever else was involved in the creation of your image, it also helps promote your posts. I always tag people in the image, as well as mentioning them in the comments to ensure anybody viewing the post will see who the model’s name. In return, I always ask that models and clients tag me in any of my images they may post.


Instagram is a social networking platform, and responding to comments is one way to make you and your brand seem more personable, even if it’s just a simple “thank you”. Following, liking, and commenting on other accounts with similar content to yours will also attract new followers.


Adding a location using the “Add Location” feature is another way people can search and find your posts. This is especially useful for popular travel destinations, but also great for advertising your own studio or office space.


Fine art nude and boudoir photographers face additional challenges when it comes to social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram.

Instagram’s take on posts containing nudity is as follows: “We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”

I do my very best to abide by the guidelines, but they can be very vague. A post may be removed just because one viewer found it offensive, even if it didn’t violate the guidelines. This makes it very difficult to know what is and isn’t allowed. I always digitally censor my posts if the image shows nipples, but I’ve even had some of those censored images removed. Unlike some of my peers and model friends, I have thus far avoided having my Instagram account deleted due to content, but there is always the risk that one day, someone at Instagram will make that decision and there will be very little I can do about it. Though I haven’t personally seen it yet, there is talk of Instagram having implemented a new feature which will entirely blur out photos and videos that have been deemed sensitive, with users having the option of tapping on the censored posts to view them if they wish. While this is a step in the right direction, I believe they should go even further by implementing an “opt in” feature at the profile level to allow content containing artistic nudity. Obviously, this would require a proof-of-age feature to ensure the sensitive content wasn’t visible to minors.


Building your Instagram following really is simple. Post consistently (once or twice a day is more than enough), use appropriate hashtags, tag any of the other creatives or brands associated with the post, engage as often as possible with anyone who comments, add the location where the photo was taken when appropriate, and finally, if you shoot anything that can remotely be considered sensitive, just play by the rules and you should be ok.

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Industry Insiders

Finding and Writing Grants for Working Artists




How can a photographer get a grant, and what kind of photographs do you have to take? This article will explain it and give you resources to finding and writing your first grant proposal.

The images for this page are from a young professional photographer who goes by the moniker, Shiva, for his art work. His images reflect some of the core issues in photography. Like most photographers, Shiva must decide whether to sell images or find funding for these images, photo excursions, materials and more. How does an artist-photographer create an income?

Believe it: a simple Google search can be incredibly helpful. Most grants come from non-profit organizations, so pay attention to the web address; while not a hard and fast rule, more likely than not, most foundations will have a “.org” website as opposed to a “.com.” If you are unsure about a site, do your due diligence before sending information or money.          

Another excellent resource for searching grants is The Foundation Center, nonprofit which advances awareness of philanthropies around the globe. From their homepage, you can search any topic you can think of to source pre-vetted grant foundations without worrying about their legitimacy. Another such resource, Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies of which I am a founder, offers an extensive resource page where you can find open calls, residencies, and of course, grants. The page is curated regularly and I highlight a few opportunities each week.

Of course, it’s no secret that you will not get every grant you apply for, so while quality is key when submitting a grant, quantity also plays a significant role. The actual writing of a grant is an acquired skill, and over time you will become more comfortable with the process. That said, if there is one thing that can make or break your application before you are even out of the gate, it is failing to read through your grant and follow the instructions to the letter. If your grant asks for a 500-word statement explaining how your work relates to the mission statement of the foundation, do not under any circumstances fail to deliver exactly this. Be sure you know the grant inside and out and do not fail to submit exactly what you are being asked for in a timely manner. The fastest way to be out of the running is to fail to follow instructions, and every grant is different.

That being said, not every grant will be right for you. Perhaps your work simply doesn’t relate to the mission statement of the foundation offering a grant you may have found. That is okay, and it is better for you to move on than to try fitting a square peg into a round hole.

As a working artist, finding and writing grants must be part of your regular practice. You must give it some level of priority, because this is a true part of any artist’s bread and butter. Once you get started, and once you begin to feel more comfortable with the process, you will be finding and writing grants on your own, and won’t even remember why that ever seemed so overwhelming in the first place.

Brainard Carey is an artist, educator, and author. He has written three books for artists on developing their professional careers. He hosts a radio series on Yale University radio where he interviews artists, curators, and writers. He also founded Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies, which offers classes for artists to develop their careers, from finding a gallery to writing a grant.

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Industry Insiders

Focus On Marketing




The days of meeting clients face to face are dwindling, now that social media has taken over as the number one marketing platform for growing a successful photography business. So, if social media is so hugely important, why do so many photographers continually get it wrong?

All too often, photographers don’t fully understand the concept of social media. But when you begin to explore the concept, it’s not that hard to get your head around. The clue for a start is in the name—social media.
Advertising has changed dramatically; we must no longer be set on trying to sell to our prospects, and this is where social media differs from printed press advertising. To sell on social media, you must first earn the trust of your followers. Engage with them using informative and useful content that they will like and interact with. That, quite simply, is the “social” part of social media. First build a following by earning viewers’ trust, and in return they will develop an admiration for your brand and become your loyal community of prospective customers. Once you have a loyal following, they will buy from you, review you, recommend you, and share your content with their own following of social media friends.

Now that you understand the first rule (don’t oversell) you are ready for the second: be sure to post content that is relevant to your social media audience every single day. I find it a lot easier to do this by scheduling my posts on Facebook every Monday for the full week ahead. To some photographers, that may sound like a lot of posting, but don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be strictly your original content. In fact, far from it. Try sharing other content from the Internet, but always add a few lines of your own comments above the shared article. For instance, if you are a wedding photographer, you could share someone else’s post of the latest trends in wedding table decorations or amazing ideas for themed wedding cakes, adding a few of your own suggestions.

Another great way to enhance engagement is to start a good debate on your page by asking a question. I once uploaded an image of two wedding cakes and beneath it wrote, “I’m a traditionalist myself; you can’t beat a good fruitcake at a wedding. What do you prefer, fruit or sponge?” It was surprising how much interaction this comment caused. The brides on my page were certainly passionate about their preferred style of wedding cake!
Don’t give in to the temptation to upload too many images in each post. For maximum engagement, try uploading two or three images from, say, the bridal preparation on the wedding morning, and tell a story about those images. People love stories on social media, and by tagging the bride and her bridesmaids in the photos, you’ve created an immediate audience. Tag the venue in the post along with a compliment, and again you’re creating a second generation of audience. The following day, you can upload a few more images from the same wedding, perhaps this time from the ceremony, telling another story about that part of the day. As before, tag the guests in the photos. Feed your audience with small, bite-sized chunks, and at the end of each post, you can say, “more to come tomorrow, so be sure to keep following.”

To really boost your page and website with search engines, try adding a few keywords to the bottom of your post along with your website address. For example, “fine art wedding photography New York,” This way, every time your post is shared, Google recognises that as a piece of authority for your website. The more authority you receive, the higher the search engines will rank your website and social media pages.

Earlier we discussed posting relevant content on your page. Never forget who your audience is, and write for them and them alone. The second biggest mistake photographers make on social media is not posting their entire content to just one audience. Use the “Insights” tab at the top of your Facebook fan page to gain an insight as to the demographic of your current audience. To do this, select “Insights” and then navigate to the “People” tab on the left-hand side bar. Here you can find useful information about the age, gender, and locality of your audience. For example, on my own wedding photography page, I know that my audience is 92% female aged between 22-34 with the majority living in the Northeast of England.
Over the years, I’ve grown to know my audience; for instance, because of my pricing bracket I find a lot of my followers will react to posts about fine dining, country getaway breaks, or romantic holiday destinations. They are also interested in fashion and designer brands, and I can always guarantee likes and shares if I post content about pets or newborn portraiture. In contrast, commercial photography would likely be of no interest to my audience whatsoever, so why would I post it?

Should you wish to showcase your commercial or fine art photography, LinkedIn is the ideal forum to do so. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to create one. The more niche you can make your profile and the more targeted your audience, the greater the results you’ll achieve.

I personally work with hundreds of different clients from many industries around the world, helping them turn their marketing around and grow a large and profitable following of clients via social media. However, on LinkedIn I market my marketing and mentoring services to photographers alone. In fact, because I choose to ignore everyone else and niche my profile and content solely to marketing photography, the results have been nothing short of amazing. Each month I receive hundreds of messages from photographers who are keen to turn their business around and want to learn about my services.

To really work your magic on LinkedIn, you must be totally niche as mentioned previously. This could be great if, say, you are a wedding photographer, but you also offer commercial photography service. Keep your wedding photography on your Facebook page and build your LinkedIn profile around your commercial photography only. But you can go even deeper than that.

LinkedIn works much better when you can target a market directly. For example, if you’ve a passion for cars or a good portfolio of work based around motor dealerships, then consider photography for the motor trade and base your entire profile around this niche, and become the “go-to person” for this kind of photography. Post only content and images based around the motor industry; classic cars, motorsports, enthusiast rallies and such, and connect with as many people as you can in this market. This could be dealerships, manufacturers, race teams and sponsors. Just make sure you connect with the decision-makers, such as the MDs, managers, and business owners. You can also target enthusiasts, private collectors, and owner clubs and groups on LinkedIn as well.

To be a real success with social media, your first step is to consistently post interesting and informative content that your audience will love, always go niche and write for your audience alone and no one else. Once you’ve built up a following, analyse your audience to allow you to further refine the content you choose to share. Be sure to post daily, and only ever post one sales post for every seven to ten info posts. Build trust before trying to sell to your audience, and encourage your followers to leave five-star reviews every time they use your services.

Jeff Brown is a professional photographer and marketing consultant living in the UK. For more than 15 years, he has helped others by combining his knowledge and experience into an information-packed Skype Success Mentoring and Marketing Masterclass for photographers who are serious about turning their hobby into a success story. For more information and to learn how Jeff can help you develop a winning marketing strategy, email at And for more ideas, check his LinkedIn profile at

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Industry Insiders

Social Media Isn’t So Social





If you haven’t been enlightened or understood the unfathomable possibility, it is time for an awakening into the most wrongfully termed two-words ever coined — Social Media. This world of communication is not social until the magical depth of engagement occurs. Until then, this act of sharing photography, films, ideas, is publishing.

Social Media is the most powerful, elastic, ever expanding, truly astonishing means of communication ever created. We are not only witnessing this change. Each of us are playing a role in the certainty of print, film and digital, all coming together into a development of its own model we have yet to comprehend. These publishing platforms — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube — are conduits of limitless possibilities. We can reach a massive readership, an audience that if you have a meaningful subscriber-ship makes the New York Times tremble.

In recent years, entire businesses that did not adapt — this includes photographers — have either vanished or became less relevant. In even greater measure, countless new photographers who never had been published through ink on paper or had their films in theaters have stepped into the space. These photographers, artists, small inventors, doers, and makers fill a potent space of communication and art, altering the economy of nearly every business on the planet, utilizing publishing conduits that have profoundly transformed how we publish.

The beautiful plate tectonic movements began in 2017 and at their inception, for those who got it, understood beyond what seemed like frivolity of Kim Kardashian’s selfies (think what you will, Kim is a publishing/marketing genius to her subscribers) or images of pets looking cute, they realized there was an economy turning in expanded directions. An eyeball engine of engagement that turned subscribers into buyers.

You may wonder why I don’t use the word, Follower. These fellow human beings are not following you. They are subscribing to what you create. They believe in you. They want to feel and be moved, enlightened by the content and messages you create. Be it images of your most powerful, poetic work, to the making of the art or products you create. Even throughout the flow of your daily life. They may seem to be following you, but they are not following anything. They want to learn, grow. Be enlightened. By you, the content creator.

In this depth of engagement, they subscribe. It’s no different than the coveted subscriber’s legacy publications have been scrambling to retain as we moved away from traditional media outlets, into the narrative journeys of content created by individuals like you.

Where It All Began

To be honest, I have no idea what was in the minds of Instagram cofounders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger when they imagined a simple means to share and publish images. Or Mark Zuckerberg, when at Harvard he created Facebook, nor the spinning minds of the four who created Twitter. They were utterly clueless what may have been seen in the periphery of the former Stanford University students who designed Snapchat in 2011.

Six years ago, is but a strand of hair on the colossus trunk of the mammoth we call social media. Some millennia of time has passed since the internet became real. The reason why none of us know where self-publishing is even going is because even these risk takers who created these publishing entities didn’t know either. No true clue of the possibilities they were unleashing.

This is due to the reality of what social media is…a vehicle of unprecedented unknowns, driven almost solely by the implausible possibilities of those who create. In fact, it is us, the user and those we engage with, the subscriber, that drives the direction of what we call social media. Why? Because this act of social media only becomes social when we engage with each other. This socializing, the act of touching, interacting with others, is when it becomes social.

Think about the functionality of this social interactivity through the the tangible…a newspaper or magazine. What we call a Like is no different than when you picked up a copy of the Washington Post, National Geographic, Vogue or Time and stopped for a moment. That pause is engagement. Where mind and spirit interact through feeling by what is seen, read and felt. The act of pausing is no different than “liking” a photograph.

But who knew that you paused? The interaction occurred in a personal space. A vacuum of time that only transpired in solitude. In the semi-distant past, publishing only became social when you were moved by a story, a film or a photograph, that you took pen to paper and wrote a letter to the publication. We never saw those countless comments mailed and delivered through the post office. Interns or the editor read these letters, choosing a select few to publish in that section aptly called, Letters to The Editor. A comment is just that…a letter to YOU, the creative, the editor and publisher.  Every comment is therefore a Letter to the Editor — you.

Let me take this even further. When someone leaves a comment, it allows for an extended, much deeper interaction than ever known. You, the publisher, has the awesome power to continue an interaction with that subscriber. This dialogue leads not only to further engagement, it can and will lead to unique forms of revenue never imagined. This moment of interaction begins the greatest manifestation. Your subscribers have entered your studio. Your store. They are engaged, getting to know you more personally, if you have a commodity to offer — as a photographer, you — this interaction turns into a revenue stream of power.


A dear friend of mind recently created a limited edition handmade book; an art piece that is not inexpensive. Using available publishing platforms, she sold more than 10 copies in addition to numerous other pre-orders for books yet to be printed, generating a few thousand dollars in the first week alone. In the last four years I have sold numerous prints to buyers through my Instagram publishing feed. When having time to host photo workshops around the globe, two or three posts on Facebook and Instagram sells out educational events within days. When doing lectures and book signings, publishing to my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds brings countless people to an event they would otherwise never knew existed. This expands even further…in the past two years, major companies I believe in or who’s products I use have commissioned me to publish stories and images on my publishing feeds, garnishing rates we normally receive only for major corporate assignments.

Here is the additional gift — all this publishing, marketing, these gentle kind ads for events, workshops and print sales cost $0 to advertise. The only cost was time. When beginning this wondrous, equally involving level of engagement to build your subscriber-ship, you might begin to ask yourself…” when will I see an actual return on my investment?” of the most precious commodity any human being has — that of time.

Nothing comes from nothing. You must give to receive. In the world of social media, this receiving through giving does not happen overnight. It takes time. Months. Maybe even a year or more. With love, passion, relentless doing, an organic growth turns into a domino effect of exceptional engagement with others. Buyers.


On all your publishing platforms — you need to be on all of them, create each day — curation is acutely important. Always try to avoid publishing the same content on all accounts. What works on Instagram may not work well on Twitter. If it does, reword the text, adding other pieces of enchantment to expand laterally to your subscribers. Often your subscribers connect to all your social media accounts. If you repeat or do reposts, subscribers become bored, overwhelmed by monotony.

No question, Instagram is all about the visual. Twitter is a fabulous way to republish stories you’ve read, sharing with  your subscribers the topics and issues you are deeply engaged in. Facebook is a vista of wide possibilities, be it for your photography, films you may be creating, stories or just thought. Instagram Stories, a spinning universe to the most beautiful ephemeral creation and content. On each you can and should intermix. A limitless means of communicating, all weaving a tapestry of who you are, what you create, and you truly believe in. A rounding that humanizes and expands all you are.

Keep this in mind when building and sustaining your publishing…we, our global community, want and need consistency. Brilliant work. Not the mundane. Take us places we never been or felt before. Our role as artists is being communicators. The most important giving aspect of being human.

The Future

If anyone tells you, they know what the future is in our business they will be lying. Yes, some are deeply in-tune to what is taking place, but no one has a crystal ball. Our profession today is incomprehensible to what it was twenty years ago. Turned on its head from just five years ago it, evolved in since 2016, and stretched once more since I began this article a few days ago. The real unimaginable? Within six months our business will have adapted and changed yet again. The adaptation is what we need to embrace. This embrace is the gift that has been given to all of us. What you do with it, for it, will be what determines your future. This unknown destination, the ever-changing journey, is the beauty of the unlimited.

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