I recently wrote an article on why photographers hate but still use Instagram. While writing it, I started thinking about how photographers use Instagram. Unfortunately, there are several mistakes that you are probably making. Here are some of the most common ones.
The bio is a crucial part of your profile. Only the most important info should go on there. That important info is not what your camera is, what lens you use, or some quote you ripped off the internet. Your email also does not belong in the bio, especially if you have two or more.
If you put your camera gear and other techy stuff in the bio, the people won’t look beyond that and write you off as an amateur who’s proud of the tool they have, now of what they do with it. You are not that person, are you?
If you have a ripped-off quote, I would argue that you’re taking up valuable real estate in your bio. After all, you can be using that space for something that will show you as a professional photographer.
Why does your email not belong in the bio? Well, because if your name isn’t literally Tom Scott (I'm a big fan of his YouTube), people will get it wrong. Even Scott can be misspelled as Scot, Skot, etc. I need not go into the 1,001 ways I've seen Illya misspelled in email. Instagram has a feature that lets you add an email button. That way, the email address the mail is sent to will at least be correct. Another reason to not have your email in your bio is because of wasted space.
So, what should you have in your bio?
I try to make my bio a mix of somewhat personal and professional things. Here is mine, I haven’t changed it significantly for a while:
🇺🇦 Fashion Photographer | Rock fan | Coffee addict
While not the holy grail of bios, it works for most purposes. Each element has a role:
- Ukrainian flag: a personal touch
- Fashion photographer: what I do
Please don’t put photographer, videographer, graphic designer, pianist, professional juggler, godlike creature, lawyer, paramedic, and freelancing writer. You can’t be good at all of these things at the same time. The maximum would be photographer/videographer, possibly art director if you’re known for that. The debate on photographers being art directors is worth a separate article.
Rock fan | coffee addict: a personal way to connect with people looking at my page. I have a Q&A on my website for that same reason.
Budapest/Vienna/Munich: my location. I travel between these three cities weekly at this point. Everything beyond a camera is rented for jobs.
I used to have a “Represented by” line until I cut ties with my old agent not so long ago. Once I sign with the next person, I will add that back in.
The bio I have is minimal, but it does a good job of saying what I do, who I am, and what I like. As you develop your style, you may want to write something like “ethereal fashion photographer.” Just like startups have an elevator pitch, you need to have one for your work. What describes it? For me, it would be a “colorful and vibrant fashion photographer.” But because my feed is a reflection of not just that, I can’t say it.
If you want to work in the commercial world, get rid of anything that isn’t your name. I wish I could have “illyaovcha,r, but I can’t, so I use the next best thing, “illyaovcharphoto.” That is the maximum allowed. Name, surname, and "photo" if the first two are not available. Forget anything along the lines of “prettypixel_photography_99_Xx”. That looks silly, sorry. If you have a brand name for social photography, feel free to use it, but I think I know one, maximum two photographers who do this. Even then, they are a photographer within a company, which makes it less cringeworthy.
Mixing Personal and Private
Your Instagram has to be professional. This means no private images are allowed to be shared on it. I have a second account for sharing private images. When my main account went down, people started tagging my private, to which I responded by asking them not to tag me at all.
The approach I take to my professional Instagram is fairly simple: portfolio work in the feed and BTS in the stories. Sometimes, an occasional workshop announcement and other things make it to the story, but I almost always refrain from political posts on my account. Moreover, I don’t share my personal life on my professional Instagram, unless it’s a big celebration such as an anniversary or a birthday. It is important to draw a line between your professional and personal life. Being a freelancer, it can sometimes be blurry, and people will want to get into your personal life. Keep your private closed, please. Some people from my audience and beyond have made successful attempts to fish me out on private social media channels. It is no surprise that I blocked these individuals regardless of what the situation was.
Here are examples of what I post to my private, as opposed to my professional, Instagram:
I get it, you probably want lots of followers. While I don't have a particularly big audience (nearing 2k), it is still something. There are times when I follow people I really want to work with, but they don’t follow me back. But instead of following/unfollowing and doing this thing again, I just move on. There is no reason for you to follow someone just because you want more followers. A tactic suggested by some people is going on a celebrity’s page and following everyone who follows them. While it will bring you some followers, how valuable will they be? If all you want is a higher count, sure. But having an audience of people who are not your customers and hence don’t bring in revenue is, to some extent, pointless. I would rather have 10 major art directors follow me than 10,000 random people. Oh, and don’t buy followers, that’s a little sad.
There are many more mistakes that photographers make when working on their Instagram profiles. To be frank with you, I am guilty of these things as well. My bio was rubbish, the name was “ovcharstudios,” and I posted everything I wanted. In fact, my @illyaovcharphoto account started as a personal account, which I turned into a photography one once I started taking pictures. But shh, I didn’t tell you that.
Really enjoyed reading this 🙏🏼
The real problem with instagram is that people (including me) think of it as a Portfolio, where it's a platform to build connection with other people. Interact with your audience, talk to them, show your life, your uncertainty, your unfinished project, ideas. Just sharing your great photo and waiting for likes will get you nowhere unfortunately :/
I think the exception to the "no family photos on the professional account" rule would be if you can shoot family photographs that are as strong as your professional work, then you might consider having those images in your main feed. Jeremy Cowart (who deletes and changes up his IG account regularly) often posts family pictures in his main feed. The family images blend right in because the emotion of those images, as well as the color grading and visual asthetic of the family images match what he does in his professional work.
This list is pretty pedestrian. This is stuff that anyone who pays attention to the professional side of things should know already. I understand trying to be helpful but this is just kind of too basic to be recommended. Needs more meat.
A commenter mentioned that people think that Instagram is your portfolio. As someone who's worked around editorial for at least a decade and worked at a magazine a few years ago, it is absolutely treated as an initial portfolio. What I mean by that is that sometimes the EIC or photo director simply looks at someone's Instagram and says hey I want that person. Many many other times the Instagram is used to get the person a interview and then they come in with their full portfolio. At my old company we had a range of photographers that shot particular events. The EIC said no we're going with this guy. Turns out the person was an amateur for a long time and then just happened to get some good breaks. That said I greeted him when he was in the office because he definitely knows of me and I know of him. That's what a lot of the photo area is like, is who is aware of who, and if that is merely an Instagram link then that is what it is.
So basically just saying "this is not your portfolio.." is not giving much valuable information. Your website is obviously your website, but for literally millions of people, they are going to your Instagram instead. If that provides a leading to go and check out the rest of your work then your Instagram has done part of its job.
Lastly, various internet personalities and photography websites every year has new rules of what your Instagram is supposed to be for you. It's not unlike Facebook changing its standards every year. Pay attention so what other professionals (in your genre) are presenting themselves and copy it. That way you have a baseline. It's a better place to start then just throw in stuff at the wall and wondering if it works.
I especially agree with your first paragraph, Edo. I came to this article expecting to read things that I haven't already read over and over and over again. But instead it is just the same advice that everyone has been writing for years. I'm really wanting something new and fresh in the way of content about Instagram and how to use it.
I am not entirely sure about "no personal stuff", it's still a social media platform. So the ppl expect some personal social stuff. And not just a lead generator into a professional website or so. At least some personal stuff in stories, perhaps a post that shows you're still a human, with humor and a life.
I’m disappointed by this article. While you gave suggestions about HOW you set up your profile, you gave no reason as to WHY your way is preferable. Have you increased your ability to monetize your views since you made these changes? 🤔