If you are a landscape photographer trying to get your work out there, you have surely heard about that one big imaging platform called Instagram. So you made yourself a profile and started sharing all the gorgeous work that you worked hard for and suddenly you wonder: why is nobody liking my images and why do I have 50 followers while others have thousands and just keep growing?
There isn’t just one single reason for this — it’s actually many, and I’ll try to cover some of them here in this article, giving some tips along the way that have worked for me in the past. I’ll also cover why this isn’t exactly working super effectively for myself any more at the end of the article.
Using Instagram with the expectation of having a growing following isn’t an easy thing (for most people, at least, unless you are already a superstar in the worldwide photography business). But we are not one of those superstars (at least not me).
So for us, it will be a decision that more than anything else will involve time spent on the platform and some changes to our imagery done especially to share them effectively on Instagram.
Spend the Needed Time
You might have read this often, but because it’s true you’ll read it again here: You need to spend time on Instagram in order to grow — “post and run” does not work! So prepare to have at least an hour, better two or more, per day to spend “working” on Instagram.
Engage with people that have similar interests and well-run accounts. While it might be effective to simply like and comment on whatever stuff you see, don’t do it — choose images and photographers whose work you actually cherish and like.
After all, you are trying to build a name for yourself and it’s important to stay true to quality. Once you’ve built up some kind of “name”, you want people to appreciate a like given by you because they know it’s honestly telling them that they did something right.
Who You Should Follow
Same applies for following people, so watch out that you don’t fall in the follow/unfollow trap and instead curate the list of people you follow. I also follow friends that aren’t photographers at all and some people I also follow because they are just fun people. In those cases, I don’t care about the imagery they post, but for those photographers that I have been following: I follow you because I appreciate your work.
Optimize Your Images for Instagram
Unlike on other imaging platforms, on Instagram you know that the vast majority of people will be seeing your work only on a very small screen. And your image will compete with bazillions of others being posted at the same time. You only have a fraction of a second to capture the viewer’s interest to get them to double tap and maybe even drop a comment.
So your images need to stand out in some way.
Ignoring this might be the biggest mistake causing people to not grow on Instagram. They process the images like they always do and then upload. Most likely it will be looking quite dull on phones because the size factor that other platforms offer gets lost. The image won’t just stand out because of a neat composition and when very subtle colors can totally work seen on a big screen, on a little phone screen they might look less interesting.
Crop Your Photos to a Vertical Format or 1:1
Now comes the hardest part for us landscapers who often tend to shoot in landscape formats or even panoramic work.
Landscape format does not work well on Instagram. Why? Because only a small part of the screen is used to display the image. Your phone screen is the canvas that you have to display your image, so make sure to use it to the fullest.
So you’ll have to shoot vertical format (I use this format very often because I love portrait format landscapes. I was lucky there) or if you shoot wide, crop the images to square or portrait format in order to fill the screen with them.
On this point, I often receive reactions from people who don’t want to follow the tip of keeping the aspect ratio of posts in mind. They’ve made a principle of not adjusting/applying changes to their work dependent on which social network they’re using. But in my opinion, if you spend time on the platform, then do it effectively. At least that’s my view on it.
Instagram is not your real portfolio — that one should be on your website or somewhere else where people can really appreciate your shots in full size with all the important details that you worked out carefully in the field and afterward during post-processing.
Instagram is a valuable tool for self-promotion of your work and it doesn’t make you less of a landscaper if you adapt to it a little bit. It will instead only improve your Instagram experience.
Work Images with the Built-in Processing Tools
It’s a good idea to post the images with a little higher saturation and contrast than you would normally do. Also enhance sharpness and structures slightly in the app. Don’t go too far, but something like dialing in something in between of +5 and maximum +15 will do your images a favor as they will look crisper.
While it might seem obvious to most of you reading this, there are still some who post on Instagram expecting people to see their work but have never really spent time thinking about why people keep tagging their images.
In this huge ocean of posted images, hashtags are a way of getting your image seen by people with certain interests. But to use them to their full potential you need to understand how they work.
There are very popular tags that are used very often and others that don’t get used much. Using #landscape (87 million tagged images), #sunset (176 million) or #nature (328 million) is not effective unless you are already getting thousands of likes on your shots in a rather short amount of time. Your tagged image will disappear from the tag list in seconds as so many images get posted with these tags.
Drop them in every now and then, but don’t make using them a strategy. It’s better to look for tags that have between 30k and a million tagged images — there you have the biggest chance of getting your image seen.
Also, it’s not the smartest thing to use tags with very low tagged images, because it’s most likely that no one is interested in them (unless a promising new hub or company has just invented the tag — then try it).
While you can use up to 30 hashtags per post, lately it seems to be better to use between 10 to 20 max — don’t ask me why this is the case. I just noticed it in the last year. Same applies to where you drop the tags. I personally prefer to put them in the comments as my captions look cleaner this way, but I don’t think that it has an effect on how the mighty algorithm ranks the image.
If you really want to use Instagram as a landscaper, tripod warrior, or whatever you wanna call us, realize that it’s not the best idea to ignore the key factors that can make your work stand out on the app. Traditional landscape photography is not the ideal kind of imagery for this app — you see it when you look at other photographers that chose a documentary style of landscape photography that many call adventure/lifestyle photography. Here they often place humans doing something or interacting with the scene in the frame.
I really love the kind of work of many artists out there who create that strong feeling of wanting to get out into nature and gaze at the elements. Often I also find it rather boring when I notice that it was just done to have a potentially popular image.
While this style of imagery is definitely more likely to quickly gain traction I have never considered changing my style just for this fact and I think you shouldn’t do this either unless that is what inspires you the most.
We only live once — follow your own passion!
Now we come to the point where maybe some of you may think: OK, Felix, thanks for the tips, but if we look closely you haven’t really been killing it yourself on Instagram anymore. And yeah… that’s true.
The days when I spent the needed time for this app are long gone. There are many different reasons for this fact, the biggest and most important of all being my wife and my two sons. They deserve my attention more than my phone, and this alone is already a disadvantage if I still wanted to keep my account growing as it once did.
I also don’t feel as inspired by the app as I once was anymore. I don’t want to start circle jerking just exchanging likes and comments with others just for the sake of it.
About the author: Felix Inden is a photographer based in Köln, Germany. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.