T H E S O C I A L M E D I A U N D E R D O G
During this COVID-19 lockdown I have had a few months to not only work on a lot of RAW images archived away on the hard drive, but I have focused on reflecting on myself as a professional landscape photographer and where I can improve on various aspects for the future.
The same question in my mind came up over and over again. “I want to tell my story as an artist to a greater audience”. But how do I do that? Sure, as artists we crave for feedback about our work, and the more feedback we get the more satisfied we are. Come on, lets face it. It's not about getting 10,000 likes on Instagram for an image we just posted, but it’s interaction that on many levels makes us want to give back more and more. But for many of us, this high interaction isn’t the case is it?
I started out as a landscape photographer as a part time hobby back in 2002, and this passion slowly progressed over time. Suddenly the digital SLR arrived and I sat back a few years and waited till I was satisfied with its potential. Finally jumping right into the deep end of the digital world certainly changed the way I approached landscape photography, but utilizing the social media tools already available at that stage I never took seriously. I shot for myself and sold the odd print off Redbubble. Facebook was a way to communicate with close friends and family, and Instagram was just a toy for kids. That attitude soon had to change.
I finally found a website called 500px. A media platform carefully thought out for photographers like me, and interacting with other great photographers was so gratifying. I spent hours per week studying the work of people like Ted Gore and Enrico Fossati, and seeing their workflow certainly helped me progress further into a well established photographer with a distinctive style, that I consider myself to be today. Then soon after 500px was swarmed by tens of thousands of spammers and selfie shooters that completely changed the algorithim of this platform. I couldn’t get anything out of it anymore.
I soon after gave up and started using facebook as a way to showcase my work, and luckily enough, created a group called “Pentax Full Frame”. Within this group I was satisfied with the level of interaction amongst the group and have gained strong bonds with many photographers around the world. So not bad hey? Yeh, ok if you only want to interact with only people that shoot the same camera as you.
Where do you go from there? That’s a hard question
Then there was this kids toy called instagram! I hated this social media platform and tried to stay away from it as much as possible. While I was lets say, waisting time on 500px and chatting with friends and family on facebook, there were landscape photographers like Max Rive putting out his work onto a platform with an algorithm easily functional enough to gain an audience far broader than any other. Social media influencers such as Chiara Ferragni, with her massive 20 million followers, used this platform to sell herself as a brand name, and many photographers followed suite. Many would manipulate the platform to follow/unfollow, used specific hashtags to gain a wider audience, many would even purchase thousands of followers to give their IG profiles a boost for branding and other marketing tools, and even use BOT’s to cheatingly get someone else to do the work for them. This platform had gone viral and all the big name photographers were in there taking their slice of pie.
Then, something changed for me. …… Last spring I headed a workshop for a group of German photographers in Tuscany and while out on field one of the participants said to me “You know, I was a little hesitant about coming on this workshop with you because of your poor Instagram presence. You know, most of us that go on these workshops go with photographers that have such a high IG status that they sell the workshops on Instagram alone”.
For me that was a huge wake up call and game changer. I never felt the need to use such a platform. A platform that for me, not only reduced the size of your images and cropped them in a way that your audience can’t even appreciate your 36 megapixel image and the massive work that goes in to coming up with such an image. But I had to move with the times.
So, this is where “a social media underdog” stands on Instagram, and now it was time to get serious about how to move into a massive community and make my mark amongst the tens of thousands of photographers who’ve been using and abusing this platform for years.
I started posting some of my best work, hash tagging, posting stories of what I was up to…. And nothing. The interaction I was receiving was literally none existent. I’d see people posting their feet at the beach and getting more interaction. Was it that nobody found my work interesting? What was going on?
I then spent time doing some serious research into this platform and wasn’t going to let it go that easy, because lets face it, I love my landscape photography and love to not only interact with others, but really need this profile to work for me on a professional level.
So, the first thing that I discovered was that Instagram had recently updated its algorithms and basically whether you were cheating the system or not, buying likes and follows, or using popular hash tags, you won’t get you anywhere now. If Instagram finds out you’ve been cheating the system it will pick up your activity and punish your profile for future use. Instagram wants you to spend hours a day on their platform, and wants you to pay big money to gain a higher audience. For them its modern advertising, so why shouldn’t they right?
With a profile well under 500 followers I had to find a way to keep my profile genuine, interactive, and grow to the specific audience of landscape photographers to let others out there know, “hey, I am here too”. So, this is what I did.
Firstly, I updated by profile settings. My profile picture making it clear that I am a landscape photographer, so who ever see’s that tiny little circle in a comment anywhere they’ll know who I am at a glance. My bio stating specific to who I am, what I do, and straight to the point. If anyone is going to glance at my profile I want it to grab there attention. I filtered my posts out and only from there on showcased my best work, and not only that, the work the separates me apart from other photographers. So my base was there for real potential.
My hard drive was full of beautiful unpublished landscapes so for me to post a few times a week to IG was not a problem. Prior to posting I made damn sure that the cropping was correct, exposure was nice and bright for smartphone viewing, tagging and hashtagging were relevant to the post, my description of the image was indepth and interesting (one way of getting more feedback from an image to drag people into the post and keep them interested), and each post was immediately followed by a story of the post, just so who was following me wasn’t going to miss it
In between posts I made sure that my name was heard outside of my profile, so interacting with other photographers who interacted with who I was following was also an important step forward. You would be surprised who you find out there.
I then found an app called “Ninjalitics”. This neat little analyzer is capable of scanning anyones IG profile and gives you some amazing results. It will tell you the exact activity details of someones profiles posts, down to the percentage of followers that actually interact to their posts, the hashtags they use, if they have dodgy follow/unfollow activity, and the list goes on. I was surprised to find out that some of the biggest names in landscape photography on IG had below average interaction (1-2%), which basically interprets to “fake followers”. This made me feel a little better I must say. The data that I could elaborate from other profiles posts, such as hashtags, helped me understand how I could post my own images in the future too.
Being persistent on my posts, and interacting for at least 15 minutes per day with other photographers starting making a difference. Today I may not be seen as a high profile photographer on Instagram as such but I now have well over 3000 genuine followers who are interactive with me on a daily basis and its a great community out there if you can find it. If you scan my profile now on Ninjaltics you’ll see that my interaction rate stands well over 30%. So my followers are active on my profile and obviously enthusiastic about what I put out there.
So, there is a growth trend on IG for sure now for me, and although its a slow one, its certainly showing positive signs.
I suggest anyone using instagram who feels as though they aren’t getting the deserved exposure, they should certainly give these few methods a try.
With regard to Facebook, keep posting your images onto “facebook groups” specific to the image that you've posted. If its of any interest, the reaction you’ll get will be well deserved in my experience, and certainly appreciating ones art larger than a small image on your iphone is worth it!
Don't get me started on Youtube as I still can’t figure that one out yet. I have a bunch of videos out there that are literally non existent to the public as far as visibilty goes. This will certainly be another blog in the future when I figure this one out.
Hope this background on my experience as a photographer and “social underdog” has been meaningful and helpful to all of you out there, and remember…. Enjoy your time more on field, and less on social media.