Instagram – The Photographer’s Friend or Foe

Instagram Collage by Jay Goodrich

Company History

Instagram made its inauspicious debut as an app for the iPhone on the social media circuit on October 6, 2010. It was originally created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and a short 6 months later they managed to acquire $500,000 in seed money. From there, in just a little over 2 years after the app was created, it was bought by Facebook for a measly $300 million in cash and 23 million shares of stock! Essentially a $1 billion dollar offer/deal.¹ I wish photographers could pull off that kind of growth. We could rule the galaxy…

Instagram is now the seventh highest ranked social media platform out there.² They are ranked 30th in the world on alexa.com and they have an estimated 100,000,000 unique monthly visitors. They are quickly encroaching on tumblr and Google+.² Why do you as a photographer care about any of this? Well, unlike any other social media platform, Instagram focuses only on something dear to our hearts – PHOTOGRAPHY. Which means that if you are photographer, you need to care about this platform. Yes, Facebook is number 1 with 1 billion monthly visits, but we can essentially deduce that virtually everyone on Instagram is into photography on some level.

Users – Define Photographer

Now just like we have seen from Facebook and Twitter, there are going to be photos of my breakfast, my kids first steps, the ever amusing cat photos, and images of me going to some super mall somewhere in the world being shared even on the Instagram platform. The question that you should ask yourself is…Do I need to follow those people? I think the mentality of building a social media following by following those who follow you, needs to be left in the dust. If you are a photographer trying build your brand, does it make sense to follow everyone who follows you or do you follow only those who inspire and further refine you photographic vision? In my opinion, I am only going to follow those who truly bring something to my photographic table other than their breakfast. Unless of course that breakfast is their brand mantra and their photos of it, again inspire me.

Will this approach take longer to build a following? Of course it will, but the key is that you will have followers that are inspired by YOU. I have been on Instagram for a while, but have been essentially ignoring the platform until recently. Then, I began to understand the application’s usefulness to me because I am a professional photographer.

Mobile Purism

There is a trend out there pushing for Instagram “purity”; simply meaning that the platform began as an app and only photos created on a mobile device should make it into your Instagram account. I was adhering to this concept for a long time, especially since I use my iPhone all the time to take photos of interesting things that I see during the course of my day. I still do this to a certain extent, and I still post iPhone specific photographs to Instagram, but I have decided to let go of the purity concept and promote my brand (outdoor adventure photography) regardless of the equipment used to create the image.

This leads me to another often asked question: Do I watermark? I put my simple logo on the images that I post to Instagram because I also push those images to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and tumblr. sites simultaneously. By adding my logo, people get a piece of my brand regardless. Can they steal the image and clone out the watermark? Of course and they do regularly based on all the cases that our copyright attorneys find and settle. It is almost mind-numbing, but I consider it another revenue stream that covers a large part of our operating expenses.

The Square Edict

Unless you are a photographer shooting with a Hasselblad, you aren’t composing for the square mentality. Many of the photographers that I follow leave their images in the original format and use an app like Whitagram to add a simple white background around the original image ratio to bring into the Instagram square. I choose a different approach – which is to crop the originals to a square that I want to highlight. Again, at first this was something that I was against as well, but I also discovered that by cropping, my images came through larger and bolder and that immediately boosted my likes. Using Lightroom CC makes this a really easy process, I just create a virtual copy of the original, then crop it to a 1:1 ratio, and then export the photo. Again, all of this is personal preference.

Going Forward

So do we need yet another social media platform to be part of? I think only you can answer that question based on your own goals as a photographer, and what your vision is from a photography perspective. I have friends on Instagram who only post privately to their accounts and only their closest friends get to see their work. Then, I have others who have hundreds of thousands of followers and let everyone of those followers know where they are headed on any given day. We have recently analyzed my social media presence and have decided to concentrate on the accounts that best support my business plan. We actually have the most followers on Google+, but it seems like everyone has vacated the platform or no one seems to actively follow or care what we do there. What seems to be working to build my brand is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and yes, Instagram, so that is where we have decided to put our energy.

Consider some of the things that I have discovered by posting my work on Instagram. I do it everyday. I am trying to get more and more descriptive with my captions and tags. You can actually have up to 30 hashtags in a single photo on Instagram and many photographers have found that if these 30 hashtags correspond perfectly to the image, they get a huge uptick in likes. And finally, I push those images to my other social media networks because not everyone who is following me on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn follows me on Instagram.

I obviously work very differently than many out there and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with that. I know exactly where my posts and photos go, and what drives a consistent flow of traffic to my online business. I know that I have lower rankings than some of my direct competitors, but I also know that I have a much lower bounce rate than many of them. Which in turn makes me feel as if the content I am producing has a set of followers who truly benefit from what we are talking about. Obviously, if you are not a photographer and/or have very little interest sharing images, then Instagram probably isn’t for you; perhaps one of the other social platforms out there is a better fit. For me, Instagram is definitely a growing friend.


Want to see what we are posting on Instagram? Follow us @jaygoodrich!


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