I am a photographer, and I need my images to be seen.
Years ago, that would mean I'd have to persuade magazines, chase publishers or convince galleries. And even then, not having the right contacts would pretty much seal my fate as a photographer.
Today, the attention has shifted and very few people buy photography magazines or books anymore. A big chunk of people's lives is spent online, and for most of that time they are where everyone else is: social media.
If you had to choose a spot to show your work, would you choose a shop in a decaying neighborhood or one in a crowded and vibrant one?
I can dislike it as much as anyone else, but as a photographer I can't afford to ignore social media because it's where people are. Used correctly, it can be a very powerful tool to promote your work and reach a big audience.
Hard work is not enough
Let's be honest:
Hard work is required, but not enough.
It's never been.
Photographers with a big following on Instagram were either already well-known offline or they started early on. In the early days, Instagram would recommend the same few accounts to everyone who signed up. That's how early adopter photographers got to have such huge followings (along with good work, of course).
Those days are over. I believe that it's very, very hard -if not impossible- to grow on Instagram with just amazing work.
Photography is not democratic
This is expected. After all, photography is not democratic and it's not based on merits. We all play a game.
Today, it's an algorithm who decides if your work is going to be seen. Yesterday, it was the middleman.
How can we get attention on Instagram nowadays? One way is by giving attention:
- Like a lot of other people's photos
- Leave a ton of comments
- Follow a bunch of photographers
This is called organic growth, and the goal is to interact with and be part of a community (there are some who take advantage of this, but that's a whole different topic).
Growing organically is a fantastic concept, and I did that for a long time. The catch? It's very time-consuming. The more time I'd spend posting comments, the less time I had for my creative work, to study other photographers, or to just think.
It's all a game
Facebook's game is simple:
- spend a lot of time on the app so you see as many ads as possible, or
- spend money.
Do otherwise and the algorithm will punish you.
A few months ago, I started promoting some of my Instagram posts. Small investments, around $2 per photo. At this rate, I'll be spending roughly $400 a year on ads.
Does it work?
My following almost doubled in 6 months, while spending much less time on Instagram.
There's still interaction: a lot of new people send me DMs asking about my work, in search of advice, or just looking for someone to talk to about photography and life in general.
For the most part, I've stopped using Instagram.
But for the most part, I've stopped using Instagram. I don't scroll through the images anymore. Every time I open the app is to reply to a message I've gotten or to post something. I will like the first 2-3 images shown, but that's about it.
This way, I've freed a lot of time that I can use to improve my craft or to just be away from a screen. Instead of being punished by the algorithm, my work reaches more people than ever before.
Your work still needs to be good
You aren't buying likes or followers
Promoting a post only means that it will be seen by more people. You aren't buying likes or followers, those will only happen if your work is good.
How to create an ad on Instagram
An ad can be more or less effective depending on the parameters you choose. You can let Instagram do it automatically for you, or play with the type of audience you want to reach. Some experimentation is required.
What I do:
- I usually target people who like Black and White Photography. In some cases, I will add Fine Art Photography, Film Photography and even other photographers like Michael Kenna.
- As for demographics, I choose 20+ years old.
- I experiment a lot when it comes to the countries where to show my work. Some are more expensive than others, but it all comes down to where you want to have more exposure.
Should you promote your posts?
If you want to reach more people and can afford it, absolutely, go for it.
There will be those who think that ads are for desperate people in need of attention. That's fine, to each their own. Just don't forget that even Ansel Adams had to advertise.
Being an artist doesn't mean we have to starve. The more people know about us and our work, the more likely it is that we can make a living from photography.
Your art first
I promote some of my posts to reach an audience while having time to improve my craft. Don't forget that: constantly work on your photography.