One of the challenges for photographers who post online is learning to cultivate what we decide to post. When I was just getting started as a headshot photographer, I only had an occasional client, and the fact that I created a headshot at all was a huge accomplishment. Because of this, I would immediately post images from the session on my Instagram feed and website. As my clientele grew and I developed my own style, however, I realized that I needed to be much more selective in deciding why and when I post an image.
Part of the Growth Process
Growing as a photographer and artist is something I have purposely decided to do in a very public way, whether on my Instagram page, YouTube channel, or when posting photos and articles on Fstoppers. One of the core reasons for this is obviously to grow my business and brand as a photographer, but I also feel that posting, especially on Instagram, has spurred my growth and improved my skills faster than if I were working in a void. Besides this, I like having a visual record of my progress in thumbnail form on Instagram, because theoretically, the work should improve over time. I spoke about this in one of my early Fstoppers articles, which can be found here and still believe posting our work is best practice — to a point.
If you are just getting started in your photography journey and want to build your brand or online following, post away. Each photo or video can serve as a beta test for future posts, and even if you post something that is not well received, it’s not the end of the world and can be an excellent part of the learning process. On my YouTube channel, which is still fairly new, some videos resonate and some do not. When a video flops, it’s no fun for me, but if it helps me to improve the content, subject matter, and presentation, it’s still a win in the long run.
Cultivating Your Artistry and Brand
Growing our brands is a lot like growing up. As children, we say whatever comes to our minds, we act silly regardless of the situation we are in, and we have very little perception of how the world sees us. But, as we mature, we begin to become much more selective about how we present ourselves to the world, and the same should be true for our social media presence as photographers.
While scrolling through Instagram, sometimes a headshot will pop up that causes me to pause, and not for the right reasons. Whether it’s bad lighting, a poor expression, a contorted angle, or the like, I stop to gawk like someone slowing down on the parkway to see an accident (I’m sure people have done the same to some of my photos too). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scoffing at the photographer or person in the image, but often, I am surprised when said photo is taken by a photographer I know and whose work I admire. Instead, I ask myself why they would post such a photo when they have much better work to showcase? And the only answer I can find is that they basically post an image from every single session they have, without giving thought to whether the photo is helping or hurting their brand.
I think this is crazy, as well as unnecessary. And I think we are all guilty of doing this to some degree or another. In fact, as I write this article, I am scrolling through my own Instagram and remembering that I need to take my own advice and be more selective in cultivating my page, so to address this topic, keep in mind that I realize how many fingers are pointing back at me (more on that later).
Many of my photography friends and mentors have said, “show the work you want to be paid for,” and I think this is solid advice for all of us as we build our businesses and cultivate our social pages, especially if we are a few years into our journey as image-makers. If we are growing, our style is certainly changing, and our work hopefully gets better with time. If your work isn’t improving, that’s a topic for another day, but putting that aside, we must carefully present our body of images and videos whether it’s on our own website or any of the various social media platforms we use each day.
Time To Reflect
Some of my favorite Instagram pages are populated by a single theme, whether it’s headshots, portraits, landscapes, or street photography. The photographer’s body of work is obvious from the moment I visit their profile, and it immediately tells me what they do. As we reflect on our own work and our personal brands, now is a good time to scrutinize what and how we are presenting our images and videos online. We should also consider that consistency does not necessarily mean you must only post in a single genre. More importantly, we should strive to post content that is consistently good and forego the desire to post just about everything or everyone who passes in front of our lens.
I work with many clients who never make it to my Instagram page or website for a variety of reasons, and often, they are perfectly fine photographs. But, if they don’t reflect the direction I am going in with my business and artistic vision, they only serve to muddy the waters for potential clients and companies who want to work with me in the future.
As we reflect on these things, I don’t think that there is a one size fits all answer, either. For some of us, having a dedicated page that exclusively shows headshots, for instance, may be the best move. For others, the solution can be different, and having a variety of genres on one page might work well, but the theme for all of us who have been photographers for a while should be posting quality over quantity, and posting with intent.
As I mentioned, in some ways, I think that my Instagram page has become a bit of a hodgepodge since I began my YouTube channel. This is due in part to the fact that I now post lots of content geared towards photographers as well as clients, and the feed is peppered with sample images from gear I review to my own face in reels as I promote reels and attempt to keep my Instagram page relevant. Whether this is wise or not is something I'm currently thinking about, but so far my business and network continues to grow, and I take care to only post content that I consider high quality. If I do make a change, it will most likely be in the form of an Instagram dedicated to my YouTube pursuits.
To sum this all up, my advice to you is to take a good long look at your website and socials using a critical eye. Are you creating a consistent, quality brand that's easy for others to see, or do you post everything without a second thought? If you run a photography business and you are not carefully managing your online brand, now is the time to cultivate your website and social media presence.
Great article Pete. I totally agree with you on learning from what flops, especially on YouTube. I love the idea of using social media platforms like IG as ways of documenting our changing and hopefully improving work too. Really enjoyed reading this. Gonne go check out out your YouTube channel now too :)
Thanks Lucy! Running my YT channel is a HUGE challenge, almost on the daily. But each video is a learning experience for sure.
I loved your analogy about growing your business is a lot like growing up and becoming more aware of what we present to the world and how we present. Great piece
Hi Pete, I get what you're trying to say, but honestly I totally disagree. I can see on your Instagram page that youve been sharing images from most of your shoots since Jan 2017, you talk about 'sharing the image you want to sell', but a lot of yours are selfies and videos talking about your work, so it makes no sense to me at all. In 5yrs, youve managed to gain less than 2,000 followers, most of whom are photographers, who are never going to buy your work, I understand they may buy tutorials you offer, but that's entirely different to what youre discussing here. In my opinion, one of the worlds best and leading 'headshot photographers' is London based 'Alan Howard'. ( Insta: _alanhoward - check him out! ) Alan shares at least two or three images from every single photo shoot he does, he has almost 10,000 followers and most of them are his clients, or people wishing to work with him. He only talks about his work on his website and he's not one for taliking about himself, he certainly doesn't try to 'big himself up' and his work speaks for itself. I suggest to any photographer to share, share, share... be proud of every single shoot you do, show people youre in demand, grow everyday and dont be a 'it's all about me, me, me' taking selfies and sharing videos photographer. I don't want to sound rude, ignorant or aggressive Pete, I do like your photography. But sometimes, sharing unproven strategies like the one youre talking about, to an audience that's already struggling, is very risky. A picture says a thousand words, so share yours, all of them and encourage others to do so, because the feedback they get can only help them grow and get better. Good luck everyone and apologies for ranting on.
Hey Dave, I appreciate this and totally get where you're coming from. In the vid I do talk about my Instagram, and how I'm still working on figuring out my own page and the direction it's going in since I started my YouTube page and admit it's become sort of a hodgepodge since I started my channel. I think all of this depends on where you are in your career, and what your goals are, and I don't think there is a one size fits all approach. One of my considerations at this point is whether I should create a headshots only Instagram like Alan's.
I also think that beginners should post from every shoot, which is what I did in the past, but as my business grew I began to become more selective about what I post and what I don't post. This was kind of the point of the article. I use this philosophy on my website too, and honestly, with Instagram not being geared towards still photogs anymore, my energies of late are focusing there.
Remember too that # of Instagram followers does not necessarily equate into a thriving business. And the advice I give here is based on my experience in business, and coming from someone who runs a thriving studio in New York.
In either case, I genuinely appreciate your comment and thank you for being honest and respectful about it - you didn't come off rude or aggressive by the way! Hope this helps to clarify a bit what I meant in the piece.
I think the biggest misconception is that for the VAST majority of photographers the follower count has little or nothing to do with selling actual paid shoots. Furthermore, I would argue that strategies designed to build a following run counter to strategies designed to make sales. (exception being if you can say hit a critical mass of followers but that is out of reach for almost all photographers)
For a photographer who is looking to generate consistent work in their local area, social media is simply to provide another avenue for portfolio and credibility. Your socials should ONLY be about your work. It likely won't generate many leads but needs to inspire confidence in potential leads who are looking to learn about you. Thus your socials should simply mirror your portfolio and represent your best-quality of images. Beyond that, your efforts are better spent elsewhere pursuing local marketing strategies to generate local awareness, word of mouth, etc. Optimized posting to maximize reach is harmful.
For a photographers who is looking to generate a massive following social media means documenting everything you do. Your socials become about YOU more than your work. Your experience as a photographer. Your adventures. The BTS of your work. You need to post obsessively and often constantly telling the story of your experience while showing work along the way. Your social media is a blog. Optimized posting to maximize reach is critical.
Very difficult to have it both ways. (and far too many would-be pro photogs do the latter trying to be the former)
Good points Ryan. But I do think there is overlap with all of this. That's why I don't think a one size fits all approach works for something like Instagram. I've had clients book me due to posts where I posted my own image and talk about my life and path, for instance. People like working with real people, and so if I have photos of my kids there, for instance, it reminds them that I'm just a regular guy. I've had clients tell me that they booked me bc of my YouTube videos, as well, even though those videos are geared towards other photogs primarily, but because it allowed to see me as a real person and get a sense for my personality.
I think that it's more important on a local level that your website be only about your work, especially as Instagram becomes less relevant for photographers. When people visit my site, they know right away that I specialize in headshots and portraits. I do agree with you that Instagram followers doesn't correlate with clients, especially since people can purchase fake followers.
I know very successful photogs who have an Instagram dedicated to JUST one kind of work. I also know others that have everything and anything on their page and still have a ton of clients. I don't agree that only one method works, which is why I kept it open ended in the article and vid and think we all should reflect on these things as they relate to our own brands and goals.
At the end of the day, I can only tell you what has worked for me, and what I am doing now as I continue to grow my business. But I'm speaking from experience as someone who is a photographer in real life, not just a YouTuber (not that there is anything wrong with that as well).