Instagram For Photographers In 2019

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon4 Comments

Jeff, Erica, and Connor talk through photographers using Instagram in 2019.

Massive Commercial Job Lost Due To Instagram

Let’s start off by talking about a story that made a lot of waves in the photography media here in late January 2019.  It is a story that came out from an discussion between Chris Do from “The Futur” (no “e”) and Yvonne Roman on YouTube.

In the video they have a discussion on the topic Do Likes & Followers On Social Media Get You Jobs?  They talked about the role Instagram plays with Yvonne and her professional photography.  Yvonne is a highly educated photographer with over 25 years of professional photography experience producing high end photo shoots.  Meaning multi-day shoots for a big brand with a budget in the tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars.

She said in the discussion that she has a highly contentious relationship with Instagram.  She feels like in today’s world she has to beat Instagram and that Instagram feels like High School all over again.  Photographers have to win a popularity contest and being a really good photographer capable of producing high end photo shoots is nearly irrelevant.  People are paying for followers and sharing really good work just isn’t enough.

Yvonne said she booked her job with Canon, it was the biggest job of her career, and about 20 minutes after getting hired they called and said back and said that they couldn’t hire her because she didn’t have 50K followers on Instagram!  She pointed out that she is one of the few people in the world with the skill and experience to do this kind of shoot and they won’t hire her because she doesn’t have enough followers on Instagram? Canon said it was an HR decision and not a creative decision.

The marketing world today is very different from the one we lived in even a few years ago.  On the one hand, it is understandable why Canon may have a policy where they can’t hire photographers who don’t have 50K Instagram followers.  Canon is a massive company who obviously knows what they are doing with marketing. Their marketing group has kept them on top, at least from a camera market share perspective, for many many years.  They are Canon and they can afford to be extremely picky as they select the photographers they are going to work with to market their brand.

50K seems like a really big number for a follower size.  That is a high bar. However, history has really shown over time that marketing matters more than the actual technical capabilities of a product.  Big brands, like Canon, knows very well that they have to win the marketing battle in order to keep their brand on top.

Should Hobbyist Photographers Use Instagram in 2019?

With some dedication to Instagram, making engaging posts often, Instagram can be a really valuable marketing tool for a hobbyist photographer.  Just be prepared to invest some time to see success.

Jeff: I am a hobbyist photographer.  Not making any real attempt to pay the bills through my photography.  I do paid shoots, mostly family portraits, to fund my very expensive hobby but I have a full time job in Information Security that pays the bills.  I love my job and my hobby and I don’t have any intentions of changing either for quite a while. Though I wouldn’t mind at all if I made more money from my photography, we can all use more income right?

I just wanted to establish that again for any new listeners before I say that Instagram is something that I don’t really use that much.  I have an account. I check it almost every day, but I am not posting daily or looking at my Instagram feed more than once a day for sure.  That means I have a tiny little following who are mostly personal friends and the photos I post on Instagram are a way for me to share with that small group of people some of the things I have done lately.

That is how I have chosen to work with it today.  I have made a decision personally that I am not willing to invest the time it takes to build up a large Instagram following right now.  As a hobbyist I have to really choose what I am going to spend my time doing with my hobby and for now Instagram just doesn’t make the list.

That isn’t to say Instagram can’t be really valuable to a hobbyist photographer.  A hobbyist can have huge success through Instagram if they are willing to put in the effort.  I did a Photo Taco podcast a couple of years ago with a super successful Instagrammer named Josh Packer.  He is also more on the hobbyist side of photography. He is a full time accountant by day and does landscape photography every chance he gets.  It is his hobby and passion. He loves it and he has some really good landscape photos for sure.

Josh posts to Instagram pretty well every single day.  He has beautiful images that have been very purposely composed for Instagram, makes his posts lengthy and engaging, and works those hashtags and mentions.  He has nearly 80K followers to his 300 follows, so it isn’t like he is building his account by following thousands of other accounts.

His use of Instagram is the primary way he sells his landscape photos and it has led to lots of individual sales as well as getting his images published in magazines and even licensed by the Department of the Interior.  You can check out his @packtography account to see how he is using Instagram. If you are interested in his advice on how to build an account like that, you need to check out the Photo Taco podcast episode called Instagram Like a Pro over at  I will also share a few of his tips at the end of the show.

After talking with Josh I had hope that Instagram could help me to get my work in front of more people and a percentage of them would convert to sales.  I even created a new Instagram account where I had intentions to post my landscape photos so that I could grow an audience. I knew that I would need to take a lot more landscape photos to feed that new account with lots of varied content, which I would love doing, but that is not where I am in my life right now.  I love creating photos and I am not trying to make a lot of money from that right now.

Should Professional Photographers Use Instagram in 2019?

Professional photographers should absolutely plan on spending some portion of their time every week posting beautiful, meaningful, and engaging content with the objective of growing a sizeable following of real users.

Erica:  I have two very different photography companies. Erica Kay Photography is still my baby, and that’s where I focus on weddings and engagements (and even a little bit of maternity, families, etc.). It’s very retail based. My second company is UA Creative Studios and that is where I focus on commercial work (corporate headshots, commercial lifestyle/food/product/architectural photos & videos, corporate events, marketing materials, etc.). Instagram plays a very different role in each of these companies.

For Erica Kay Photography, which is more retail photography, it’s super important that my clients know who I am.  My Instagram feed is a carefully curated portfolio of my professional work and professional photos of myself. My Stories and Highlights are a mix of my work, my hobbies, my client experience, etc.

For UA Creative Studios, we’re a conglomerate and we serve professionals.  We focus a lot on professional content, with a dash of personal (but still work related) posts in our Stories.  Our Instagram posts are highly curated and professional. Nothing gets posted for that account unless it meets a pretty high quality bar.

Instagram is a very important marketing avenue for both companies.  UA Creative Studios hasn’t leveraged the platform as much as we should have until recently.  We have seen how important Instagram is to the business and we have made a decision to spend more time with the platform.

Connor: I have moved from more of the retail portraiture business to one doing corporate headshots and other commercial photography business.  As I have done that I have found that Instagram isn’t meaningful for my business. Maybe it is the area I live in but the type of clients that I attract through Instagram and not the clients I am looking for.  Linkedin and word of mouth is doing better for me than Instagram for what I am doing.

Should Instagram the Primary Way To Market Photography Services?

Erica: This is not how we are doing things in any of my businesses today.  We are increasing our marketing spend (time and dollars) on Instagram because we are seeing results in that investment but it is not the primary way we are marketing our services.

Does the Demographic You Are Targeting Determine Instagram Marketing?

Connor: For any kind of retail photography Instagram is an important marketing avenue.  The millenial age group is something like 37 or 38 years old at this point, so they are in the stage where they are having families.  The kids are probably a little younger, so you would want Instagram posts to show younger families so that your services appeal to them.

I have been shifting my business more to corporate head shot and event work and Instagram just doesn’t seem to be the place to advertise that kind of photography service.  Other types of retail photography like seniors, family portraits, boudoir and the like can benefit greatly using Instagram.

Erica: Every type of photographer can be successful marketing their services on Instagram.  It is just a lot easier for retail photography services to see a benefit more quickly and probably with less effort.  If you want to market commercial photography services it will probably take more effort and time to realize a benefit to your business by posting to Instagram.

Jeff: Going back to the story that we started with, it makes sense that Canon has a motivation to hire photographers who are going to help influence others with their brand.  They want to find photographers who are both ultra-capable of executing the shoot and creating the photos they need for their marketing purposes and have massive followings on Instagram so that they can benefit from that influencer pushing their brand.  It is a double win for them. If that is your target demographic, the Canon’s of the world, then having a large Instagram following is going to be a must. For other demographics it may not be as fruitful.

How Can a Photography Know If They Should Invest In Instagram?

Erica: Consider if you want more marketing outlets.  Do you need more ways to market your services? If you do, consider Instagram, especially if you don’t currently have much of an investment (time and money) in using the platform.

Also need to think about the time you have available to develop a loyal following on Instagram.  You have to get it going, need a lot of content to really get it started, and it is going to take some time to see a return.  You have to decide if you have the time and energy to dedicate to Instagram.

Finally, you really have to figure out if the genre or type of photography service you offer is likely to be successful through Instagram.

Connor: Instagram can just be fun to use as well.  Some photographers may want to use Instagram just to see their photos get some likes and have some fun with it.  Nothing wrong with using it that way. Just keep things in perspective with what you are expecting to get out of Instagram.

How Long For a Photographer To See Results From Instagram?

Erica: This is a really hard question to answer.  With Erica Kay Photography, my retail photography business, I have worked on building my following for 5 or 6 years.  I am not posting daily. I am only checking a couple times a day. My following is at nearly 4K followers and growing but I am not really putting enough time into it to really grow it quickly.

On the other hand, with my travel business (which isn’t photography based but serves as a good example), in nine months we were able to grow our followers to about 12K followers.  It was fast. At that point we were getting a lot of attention from people in the travel industry wanting us to sell their brand on our account.

If you can spend a lot of time posting really good content very frequently, like daily, you can grow the follower base quickly and there are benefits.

Connor: You can also pay for advertising.  You can build an effective marketing plan and if you use a business account you can see metrics on how that spend has gone.  You could spend money and it can meaningfully grow your audience even faster. Like all marketing, not guaranteed to produce results, but it can help if it is taking too long to build up a following.

Instagram Tips for Photographers

  • Should a photographer buy followers?  No.  Buying followers is really only a vanity metric, it won’t help you to sell your photos or services.  Value only really comes with real followers who will actually do something based on the content of your post.  What photographers should really look for is an actual audience who like the work they are producing and a portion of them will buy their work and/or services.  This is something Josh does so well with his posts. He is constantly asking engaging questions in his posts AND he responds to the comments. He hearts and responds to nearly every person who comments on his posts.

    If people go to your Instagram profile and see that you have 50K followers but that you only have 50 likes on a post, they are going to know what you have done and that you bought followers.  Brands are definitely going to recognize that and won’t reward you for a large audience.
  • What about the follow/unfollow game? This game is awful! The follow/unfollow game, for those who don’t know, is where people follow you for a few days in the hope that you’ll follow them back, then unfollow you whether you follow them back or not. This is a way for people to grow their followers while keeping their own follow count low. It feels dishonest, deceitful, and frankly it’s annoying!

    Who really cares about your ratio of followers to follows?  Sure, it may be a decent metric that indicates you are an influencer that might be important to a brand looking to find influencers to sell things for them, but for photographers this is probably not that important.  Getting out there on Instagram and engaging with others, real engagement with meaningful responses to other posts, is going to help you.
  • Should a photographer post personal images?  We are talking about things like selfies, behind the scenes, pets, children, etc.  There is value in making your posts show your personality. People want to follow Instagrammers who are passionate about their craft and tell a story about themselves.  They want to get to know the person behind the images, but the vast majority of the images should be those that inform or inspire. Use Instagram stories to let your audience get to know more about you and want to follow.

    Use Highlights to feature different parts of your life and business so that people can always see who you are and what you can offer professionally. If you choose to post personal stuff in your gallery, use professional images so that your gallery looks like a portfolio rather than a hodgepodge of randomness.

    Be aware of how your profile grid looks in Instagram.  You should have consistent image quality and editing. The grid should flow well, looks pretty, looks consistent, it is aesthetically pleasing.  You can curate this grid by archiving posts to take out those images that disrupt the flow here. Let your followers see that more random post for a couple of days and then go back and archive them so that you have more a professional look for new people checking out your account.

    For some types of photography, wide landscapes for example, use the stack feature where you can post multiple square photos in the right order so that they show up as a single post and it looks like you can scroll across a larger image and it can show up in your profile grid if it is 3 squares.
  • Do I have to post daily?  The frequency of your posts on Instagram has a direct correlation to how quickly your followers will grow.  However, don’t post just because there is pressure to post every day. You need to create engaging posts. Need to post so that you can share your story.  The story about you as a photographer. Something that will appeal to the type of clients you are wanting to work with.

    Like all social media, Instagram has algorithms that are choosing what content should be shown to users.  Not as bad as Facebook yet, but frequency is a factor with the algorithms. If you don’t post frequently the algorithms may hide your content to some degree.

    The most important thing with Instagram is authenticity. Authenticity is how you weed out the follow/unfollowers and ensure your followers are those who appreciate you and your work and will engage with you.
  • Business vs. personal account? I have a personal account for Erica Kay Photography, and a business account for UA Creative Services. I kept Erica Kay Photography personal because, like Facebook, Insta prefers that businesses pay for their content to be seen.  While organic reach for businesses is not yet as bad on Insta as Facebook, I see it heading in that direction and I don’t want to take that chance. However, there are benefits to having a Business account. You can run ads, sponsor posts, see analytics, etc., which are all very helpful to businesses.

    Just kind of depends on how you want to use Instagram.  If you have a marketing budget you want the analytics and you need a business account.  If you aren’t planning to put money into it then you may be able to stick with personal.

    Also be aware that there are Instagram features that get unlocked when you get 10K followers.  So that might be your target and you may decide you need to spend some time on this until you get there so that you can get those features.  One of those is the ability to use links per post instead of just a link in your bio. New Instagram features roll out earlier to those who have 10K or more followers as well.


Jeff: Photoshop 20.0.2 and Lightroom 8.1.  I make them my doodads this week because I can finally give that combination my Photo Taco seal of approval.  Photoshop had been the issue why I couldn’t recommend Lightroom 8.1 because you really want to keep the two in sync making sure Camera Raw is up to date with Lightroom.  Anyway, those two versions are safe for professionals who rely upon that software for their business.

Erica: Upgraded version of Fundy Designer – it has the normal album designing (which is so clutch for those who design albums), wall collection designing, and even magazine designing for welcome mags, pricing guides, etc.

Connor: Later post scheduling. Use on a computer and the Later app on your phone to “schedule” posts. It won’t post for you, but you create your post on your computer and then when it is time to post an alert pops up on your phone with the image and text so that you can make the post through Instagram.



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