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So much of what we view as necessities of photography centers around gear and technique. Sometimes we forget that the very nature of our work is visual. Photography being such a visual medium, we should always look for more ways to present our work to others, and yes, market ourselves to the full extent of our capabilities (and beyond) using that wonderful enigma born from the era of the internet. I’m talking about social media.
While there is no secret formula for building a strong social media presence for your photography there are ways you can work to optimize the results you gain from using these amazing little nuggets of self-promotion.
Understanding how to tailor your social media presence can lead to (and has for me) big opportunities including great careers within the photo world and beyond. In this article, we will look at some ways you can build your own personal brand using social media. We will also cover a few tips for optimizing your impact with the big three; Facebook, Instagram, and 500px.
The world of social media breaks down into two generalized categories; professional and personal accounts. This is true no matter what type of platform you are using (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
Begin a professional account to showcase your photographs which center around your business narrative. Keep everything OFF that pro account that doesn’t pertain to what you’re are trying to do and the type of photography that you produce. Yes, there are some accounts which seem to bend the rules slightly and still achieve a large following. Those are generally lifestyle-type accounts where the owner is driving a certain theme so their personal pictures do have a place there. When in doubt ask yourself, “Does this work with the overall feel of my feed?” In general, you should never mix the two unless it fits.
If you want to have a personal account to keep track of photos of you and your shenanigans with your friends, that’s great! Just don’t combine the two. No one wants to see a mix of high-class landscape photos intermingled with cell phone pics of you dancing on a table. Well, some people might…but as a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep them separate.
That’s right. ONLY your BEST images should be posted to your social media outlets. So many times I cringe when I see a post with a caption that begins with something like, “Not the best picture” or worse, “Forgive the poor quality”. That might sound harsh, but if you’re serious about growing a sustainable social media presence on any platform, then only your best work should be shared.
Notice, though, that I said best and not perfect. If you only share perfect photos then the walls and feeds of your social media pages could be completely bare. Instead, push yourself to refrain from sharing photos that you know could be processed better if you take a little more time, before sending them out into the far reaches of the internet. If you are having trouble deciding if a frame is composed the way you like it or if you could do better, then chances are good that you should forego posting.
To this end, remember that your skills will grow as you progress on your own photographic journey and your social media fronts should reflect that improvement. As you begin to refine your craft be sure to go back and cull through your old posts leaving only those that are the upper crust and represent your current level of prowess. Personally, I have looked back in horror at images I have posted even though at the time I thought they were decent. Keep in mind that your best will always change so be sure you keep your images up to date with whatever your current “best” may be.
Perhaps the most turgid and painfully ambiguous balance to reach with your social media ventures is the question of how frequently should you post new images. I am truly sorry to offer only an equally ambiguous answer when I say, it depends.
I know that leaves an infinite amount of wiggle room but anything more absolute than that is reckless because it doesn’t take into consideration your own personal style or the way you portray yourself to world. As with most things that don’t have set rules, there are a few proven strategies which are based on the very nature of social media itself that might help.
Remember that one of the reasons social media even exists is to connect people. So you should post enough to ensure that your audience doesn’t forget about you or your work. This means that your feed should be updated enough to show new work while at the same time giving each post enough time to organically reach people. This also means not bombarding your followers with ten posts in three minutes. Believe me when I say that few things will earn you a faster “unfollow” or “unlike” than an outpouring of images that clog your followers’ feeds, no matter how great the images may be.
A nice even rule of thumb is a post or two per day. The social media race is always better to be seen as a marathon rather than a sprint. A post per day, or even less, keeps you in the game while not being greedy. Personally, I post maybe one to four times per week. Depending on the projects I have going at the time that number fluctuates up or down. Base your posting routine on your own personal agenda and you likely won’t make a mistake. Less is usually more…but not always.
Using social media as a megaphone for your own personal vision is a great way to gain exposure for your photography. Social media is far reaching, free, and brings your work to people that would not have been able to see it otherwise. But you have know how to use the tools you have been given in order to optimize your chances of success.
Gaining a strong and sustainable social media presence takes time, along with a good bit of patience and determination. Don’t get discouraged, remember that every high-profile social media juggernaut had to begin somewhere. Following these basic guidelines will provide you with an excellent starting point onto which you can build your own social media plan.
In this next section, we will look at some simple ways for you to gain a larger presence on three of the largest social media outlets for photographers; Facebook, Instagram, and 500px.
Facebook has continued to have a love/hate relationship with photographers. It’s a great place to network and post updates, but generally, image quality is never on par with what you hope for when you upload your images. There a few key points to remember when posting your work on Facebook.
People can be somewhat addicted to Facebook. It’s one of the first things they do when they wake up and it’s one of the last things they do before they go to sleep. It’s just the nature of the beast. Tailor your postings to coincide with when the most people are on Facebook, or more specifically, when the majority of YOUR followers are on Facebook.
This means finding a time in the morning when your audience is likely checking out what’s new as well as a time at night when they are probably browsing before bed.
If you have a business page on Facebook, the Insight tab is a great place to get an idea of where your viewers are located so you can approximate your own ideal posting times.
Like most places, Facebook will change the file sizes of your images in order for them to fit within their limits. This varies from platform to platform but if you look you can usually find the info you need somewhere on the site. Here’s a screenshot, taken directly from Facebook’s support page with their image sizing guidelines.
Instagram and Facebook have become very interrelated over the last few years, mainly due to the fact that Facebook bought Instagram in 2012.
But that doesn’t mean that Instagram hasn’t remained its very own animal with its own subtle nuances when it comes to posting.
Instagram follows a similar posting time to Facebook. However, since it is a photo-driven platform, the rabbit hole delves a little deeper than that. It’s a good idea to post in the morning and early evening, but since people also randomly want to see nice pictures throughout the work day it’s a good idea to throw in a post midday as well. This can catch your audience while they are out to lunch or while they are bored at their desk suffering from the midday blues.
Instagram has done away with the 1×1 (square) image format so feel free to live your life un-cropped. Still, they also have some ideal image sizing parameters that would benefit you to understand. Here’s another screenshot directly from Instagram’s support pages regarding optimum sizing.
Yes, the little hashtag (#) symbol is the one that propels your images into the infinite void of Instagram. It places them in front of the eyes of people who are looking for images just like the ones you post. But you have to be smart about the method with which you hashtag.
The art of hashtagging is virtually a science. Make note of the hashtags employed by users who have large followings and apply them to your own work when you see fit. Aim for hashtag groups that don’t have an enormous usage number, say below 500,000. This may seem counter-intuitive, but your image will have a greater chance staying at the top of the postings with that hashtag if it’s not competing with millions of other images.
Also, be specific and shoot for groups that revolve around your style rather than specific objects exclusively. For instance, instead of using #tree for a picture of a tree try to find groups where their entire theme is based on trees. The same goes for photos of waterfalls or night skies.
Be specific and you will find your images will be seen by those who want to see them and who are likely to follow you for more. Compile your own personal database of hashtags that produce the best results for you through trial and error.
A word on the importance Instagram Followers….
The world of 500px is that of a high-end curation of images, ranging from personal cell phone pics to high-grade pieces of fine art which are sold to buyers.
Regardless of where you may fall in that range, these are some tips to help you along the way.
Hashtagging on 500px is quite different than on other sites. Here, your hashtags should focus on the specifics of your images. Any object, place, or thing in the frame should be included with your list of tags. That means don’t just tag “#people”. Be more specific with something like “#people, #man, #blondman#, #youngman”.
If you have a photo of a waterfall don’t just stop at #waterfall. Place tags such as “#river, #stream, #flowing, #rocks, #natural” into the mix as well. Being specific and content-based with your 500px hashtags will make sure your images are placed in the feeds of people looking for those sorts of images.
Of all the social media platforms we’ve mentioned so far, 500px arguably offers the most straightforward image uploading guidelines of them all. While you will be hard pressed to find official concrete posting guidelines the general rule is the bigger the better on 500px.
There appears to be some type of advanced algorithms used by 500px which have been alluded to in forum posts and comments that imply that the higher quality image file you can upload the better. I myself tend to follow this and each image I place on 500px is the maximum quality that I save to my drive.
Again, posting times are less relevant on 500px since the viewing demographic is so broad. If you feel better posting in the early morning or late afternoon that is perfectly fine. But I have seen no real difference between images that I have posted during all hours of the day or night in regard to popularity. In short, use your own judgment and if find a posting time frame that seems to offer more results, then by all means, use it!
It’s sometimes difficult to find ways to keep pace in a competitive world where everyone seems to have a camera and a way to share their images through social media. Don’t be frustrated!
Developing your own recipe for successes in a highly saturated landscape of other photographers takes patience, planning, and a good deal of determination. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to see yourself as a needle in a haystack. If you decide to use one one these social media platforms follow the tips outlined here and begin to understand your own unique needs that will lead you to social media success.