Social Media for Photographers
Social Media for the Anti-Social
Part 1: Instagram
Social media is like the “rap music” of the last decade. Do you remember when rap music came out? When rap first became main stream it felt like the Right Wing of everything grew an extra three feet. Deemed “Not music” by most haters, the conversation quickly changed as social commentary, academics, and the even further right (who did not notice when it first came out) wanted rap music banned. They said its lyrics were violent, its message was dangerous, and it would ruin the youth of tomorrow. Well nearly four decades later…rap in all forms has not only grown, it’s flourished internationally and now rivals other vocations for the aspirations of children, as the phrase “I want to be president” fell out of favor for “I want to be a rapper.” And why not? Jay-Z seems like he has a more lucrative and less stressful life than Obama.
But much in the way that rap music became a cultural force, so too has social media. Platforms from Facebook to Snapchat are putting traditional media out of business and slowly positioning themselves well beyond websites for teenagers (remember MySpace?). Social media is at the forefront of every major global event, good, bad and useless. So what’s that got to do with photography? Social media is an audience, in fact, it’s probably your audience. So unless you are secretly archiving your work in the hopes of being the next “Vivian Maier”, it might not hurt to test the social waters of the internet. And I, as an initial social media chicken, am here to ease your entry.
What’s it do?
- Have a website? No big deal if you don’t. It takes time to make and might be further down the line, but it’s definitely worth considering.
- Are on Facebook? Unless you work for the NSA, swore allegiance to a terrorist organization, or just hate people…then I’d really consider using some form of social media microblog to get your pictures out there.
- Use any form of social media? I agree Facebook is kind of annoying, its founder is less than inspiring, and if one more person invites me to play Candy Crush Saga I might lose it…but there are other options too. Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Linkedin, & Twitter just to name a few.
Social media platforms offer photographers a chance to interact with an audience broader than other forms of communication could possibly provide. In fact, it is so large that it can even create the false impression that photographers who possess zero skill and negligible accomplishments are important, just because they show up frequently on the Internet. Like all movements, social media contains some of the very best and some of the very worst the photography world has to offer.
Why use it?
Who do you take pictures for? Is it just a personal hobby or do you nurture a secret desire to be recognized for your vision? Not everyone wants international recognition, but it’s not uncommon to want to take part in the artistic conversation. Remember that the French Post-Impressionist painter Cezanne did not sell a painting for the first forty years of his artistic life. And while he was an infernal pain in the ass and so temperamental that every artist from Renoir to Degas noted Cezanne’s dinner party outbursts, he was part of an artistic conversation. Commercial success and being part of art are not mutually exclusive.
Many of the impressionists and post-impressionists might have preferred Cezanne on Facebook instead of at their dinner tables. They could have then at least watched his painting career without enduring his tantrums. Social Media has some milder forms of interaction and Instagram is one of the best.
What do I love about Instagram? It is a continuous feed of pictures, plain and simple. I’m a visual person, I don’t like reading the news (it’s alarmist and depressing), and I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to. Instagram is probably the most selectively curated group of people I follow. Almost everyone I follow on Instagram I know personally. And for that reason, I pay attention to the pictures. Sure, there are a few wild cards in there, but when I want a smattering of anonymous pictures I head to Tumblr. But more on that in article No 3.
Instagram’s format lets me mix business and pleasure. I post everything from great wines shot on my iPhone to project pictures taken with my Leica’s. It’s a casual stream where I don’t have to worry about link backs, traffic, or any of the other things that you really need to consider with some other forms of Internet publication.
How does it work
To sign up you go to Instagram’s site and join…it’s free, pick a name that makes sense. Calling yourself something like, “iamdiddy” works if you are Sean “Puffy” Combs. But if not, pick something that people might find, like your first and last name all in lowercase. I use “adammarelli” which is easy enough to remember.
Then to use it, you can do one of two things…
- To upload images you can use your camera phone. If you do not have one of those, chances are you are not reading blogs either, so I’m not too concerned.
- Or if you are loading images from Lightroom, they have an export option. I actually export images as Jpegs and then dump them in a folder in iPhoto.
- To post, just follow the app instructions…they walk you through it.
What’s a hashtag? (it’s this thing (#))
- User Friendly: If you open an account, think about it from another users end. Why would they come to your feed? Do you lead an interesting life, do you see amazing things, or are you a masterful curator of a subculture. If so, help your feed along by using hashtags.
- The Hashtag (#). A German friend of mine said, “Why use hashtags, I don’t get it?” I told her that hashtags are just like keywords.
- If you post a picture of an elephant, you add at the bottom #elephant. That way, someone who searches #elephant might come across your picture. There are volumes written on keyword searches and hashtags, but you don’t need to be an expert to use them.
- A Test…you take a picture of a gondola in Venice, Italy. Post the picture without any hashtags. Then post the same picture with these hashtags: #italy, #venice, #gondola, #ladolcevita, #boat, #dreamboat, #italia, #venezia See what happens…my guess is the one with the hashtags will connect with more people, because people search those terms.
- Finding Followers: Don’t panic about getting followers…Instagram is one of the least business oriented platforms out there. I don’t buy things off of Instagram and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a stitch of business from it. It’s both a plus and a minus, but more of a plus.
- Make it neat. Post pictures that are clean and straight forward. Since everyone scrolls through their feeds quickly…Instagram can be a good exercise in simplicity. If your pictures are too complicated, too abstract, or confusing, they will not read as well. It’s a useful exercise.
- Adding filters: I add filters mostly to my iPhone shots and not my Leica shots. Why? My Leica images are already adjusted, iPhone images sometimes need a little boost.
- How often to post: Try to post regularly. Don’t lose sleep over this, but throw a picture up every two or three days. It will keep you producing and thinking about images, even when you are supposed to be doing the “other work” you do and remember that people want to see your pictures.
What not to do
- Do not expect miracles. Just because you joined an online world connected to a billion people, let’s not have a nervous breakdown if they don’t all flock to your feed.
- Avoid writing diatribes about anything. Yes, the world is going to s*&%. We know. And we go to Instagram because we are tired of seeing it on Facebook. Leave Instagram for all the cool things that are going right in the world. If you can fit in a few funny lines go for it, but Instagram works best for pictures that speak for themselves. If they need lots of text, I’d go for Tumblr instead.
- Do not use Instagram when your partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife is trying to talk to you. It can be fatal (trust me!).
- Try not to over process the pictures. Instagram has built some fun effects into their app, but use them judiciously. Sure, you can make a picture of a “white napkin at a diner” look like it just came out of Chernobyl, but why? Think of added filters like the temperature control in the shower; too much to the left and it feels like Siberia, too much to the right and it feels like the emergency room…balance is key.
My Favorite Instagram Feeds
- adammarelli: Here is a mix of my work, play, indulgences, and dream pieces.
- standardedition: My buddy Jamie is one of the most stylin’ guys I know. Follow his worldy adventures and cocktail sessions. You might catch the odd shot of me in the mix.
- lapaz_pt: Jose runs the Portugal based clothing company “La Paz”, inspired by fisherman and the ocean…two of my favorite things. It would be hard to mess this one up.
- contemporarystandard: Enrico is like Jamie’s counterpart, except that he hails from Verona Italy, has a longer beard, and smiles less (I love you guys.)
- claudiomajorana: Claudio is a Sicilian-based photographer doing great work inside of skateboarding communities (which is how I passed my time from age 10-20. Skateboarding surpassed even women for me, until college happened.)
- frickcollection: Probably my favorite museum in New York City, and if they can get on Instagram, so can you.
- the_explorers_club: Still wondering what The Explorer’s Club is? Only one way to find out. Plus they announce their public events here, so definitely worth following if you would like to crack the doors.
- jimmy_chin: National Geographic photographer, North Face athlete, has summited Everest and skied down it too, because walking down was just too easy. Jimmy’s a great guy and shoots a wild collection of “on the edge” mountaineering and adventure work.
- sextantiolegrottedellacivita: Yes, it’s a long name, but it’s one of my favorite “cave” hotels in Italy. Their spot in Matera hosts my workshop and I love checking up on Matera when I’m back home.
- hodinkee: The media gurus of the watch world…for those of you who wonder what blogs I read…it’s Hodinkee. Ben, Stephen, Will, and co. keep my watch fascination bubbling over with daily content.
- jeffjohnson_beyondandback: When your last name is “smith” or “johnson”, you are bound to need a longer handle, but while his last name is common, the work is not. Jeff is a Patagonia photographer, Leica shooter, surfer, and climber. He has made an art out of the meandering lifestyle. If your parents are on your case because you have no direction, just say you are “testing the early jeff johnson method.” Great things will follow.
- kishalady: This Aussie transplant to NYC is sweet as a button and cool as a cucumber.
- merzbschwanen: Without Peter and Gitta, I’d be running around the world shirtless.
- pilgrimsurfsupply: Surfing, on the east coast?! You bet ya! My ocean life blood.
- scottwitt: While he keeps trying to convince me he’s not a guru over at Apple, Scott is also a pro photographer in hiding and a Leica shooter.
- thewatchclub: When you can buy vintage watches and shop with the boys in the Royal Arcade, give yourself a pat on the back because you are doing A-Okay. From Patek to Mille to Roger Smith…they have things in their vault that Patek does not even remember they made.
Instagram might not make you famous but…it’s a fun way to keep your mind on images. Focus and regularity are two wildly undervalued traits for any developing photographer. Whether you are a photographer away from a day job or it is a life long passion you a following, give yourself an extra PR boost and try a little social media. Like any adult beverage, a little bit can be fun, a lot-a-bit can be disastrous. But we are all adults here right? So have at it and see you on Instagram.