Four photographers who have used Instagram to raise money, promote their work and land assignments explained how they curate their Instagram feeds during a seminar at PhotoPlus Expo. They also explained how they handle clients’ requests and expectations about sharing assignment images with their followers, and how they interact with their audiences.
When outdoor photographer and director Chris Burkard was crowdfunding the documentary “Under the Arctic Sky,” he promoted it through Instagram. He created a Google calendar to plan and schedule social media posts that highlighted different pitches. After the film was finished, he made a trailer promoting a worldwide tour to screen the movie, then cut a second, shorter version for Instagram. “You need a 30-second cut down for social media,” Burkard said. “This is the way we digest information.”
Malin Fezehai, who uses both Instagram and Instagram stories to share images she has shot while on assignment for UNICEF, the Malala Fund and Water Aid, noted that some of her nonprofit clients have seen increased donations via social media. This is thanks in part to the Instagram Stories swipe up feature, which makes it easy for viewers to make donations. Like other panelists, Fezehai asks clients who hire her if they want images or outtakes shared while she’s in the field, after the assignment is published, or never.
Dina Litovsky said she was always “bad about self-promotion.” She says that through Instagram, potential clients can see her work “without me pushing it in their in-box.” As her following grew, she says, she began paying attention to the images and captions that work well on the platform. She loves layered images that fill the frame with information, but when posting on Instagram, she says. “I think the graphic, simple ones with a lot of colors work best.” People check Instagram while commuting to work, Litovsky notes, and she views Instagram “as an entertainment platform.” She keeps her captions short, with few hashtags, and strives for humor. She uses a DSLR and flash on assignment, and picks one or two images to post on Instagram, she says; iPhone imagery “was not my look.”
Litovsky, like the other panelists, never posts more than twice a day. She notes that she’s “unfollowed” people who post too often.
When Ryan Pfluger began making road trips to explore what it means “to be queer in America,” he would post images in the morning and at night, offering a glimpse of his process. He showed, for example, an image of his car broken down by the side of the road.
Sharing his struggles “builds camaraderie,” he says. When a client publishes an image he’s shot, he posts the image on Instagram, always thanking the subject, stylists and photo editor. “I think other photo editors see that, for me, it’s a collaborative process.”
Many of the celebrities he photographs repost his photos. In his agreement with celebrity publicists, he notes that his credit must appear with all his photos.
Panelists emphasized the need for an authentic, intimate voice on social media. “As a photographer you’re asking people you photograph to be personal, so I feel it’s important to be personal yourself,” said Fezehai. Moderator Conor Risch, senior editor of PDN, noted that Burkard uses a “heart on his sleeve” tone in his captions and his interactions with followers. “I’ve placed emphasis on getting to know followers,” Burkard said. “If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be on social media.”
Burkard says every commercial assignment “now has a social component.” Some commercial clients ask his advice on how to appeal to the climbers and outdoor enthusiasts who follow him. “If they’re trying to market a product to your demographic, they want to know what you think,” he says. He added that he’s talked to book publishers “who take into account your following” when evaluating an idea for a book and its potential market.
Burkard says that when he submits a bid for commercial jobs, he makes his fee to share on social media a separate line item on his budget. Once, he said, a photographer could shoot a job for Toyota one week, and shoot for a competing car company the next. However, when photographers mention a client on social media, competitors notice. These posts are an implied endorsement that may hinder a photographer’s ability to get work from a competitive brand.
The panelists see Instagram as a supplement to their portfolios. “Don’t put work out there that you don’t want to shoot,” Burkard advised. Certain commercial jobs he’s done that don’t fit his usual style or favorite subject matter are found deep within his website, but not on his Instagram feed. While his portfolio is more “carefully curated” selection of portrait, landscape and fine-art work, Pfluger says, any client following him on Instagram “could see the consistency of my visual language regardless of what I’m shooting. It looks like me and feels like me, no matter what I’m shooting that day.”
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