Instagram for Photographers

Instagram History

The social media platform Instagram made its inauspicious debut as an app for the iPhone on October 6, 2010. It was originally created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. A short 6 months later they managed to acquire $500,000 in seed money. 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 and deal. I wish photographers could pull off that kind of growth. We could rule the galaxy…wait that is a different success story.

Instagram is now the seventh highest ranked social media platform. They are ranked 16th in the world on and they have a community of over 500 million people. They are right below tumblr and have surpassed Twitter. Why do you as a photographer care about any of this?

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 1.7 billion people, but we can assume that virtually everyone on Instagram is into photography on some level.

Instagram Users = Photographers

Just like we have seen from Facebook and Twitter, there are going to be photos of users’ breakfasts, kids’ first steps, and the ever amusing cat photos, on Instagram too. 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 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”. The platform began as an app and some believe that only photos created on a mobile device should make it into Instagram. I was adhering to this concept for a long time, especially since I use my iPhone to take photos of subjects that catch my eye during the course of the day. While I still post iPhone specific photographs to Instagram, 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 photo.

The Square is No More

Unless you are a photographer shooting with a Hasselblad, you aren’t composing for the square. Instagram completely understood this concept and opened the platform to rectangular formats both vertically and horizontally. You can still use the square format if you like, but I shoot in the 35mm/2:3 format. This had me cropping everything that I posted to Instagram. I would also use an app like Whitagram to add a simple white background around the original photo to bring it into the Instagram square. It took some logistics for me to originally post to Instagram, but all is gone now with the newer formats.

Photo Resolution

Here is what Instagram says about photo resolution, REMEMBER, that a rectangular crop falls into this category. Which means a vertically cropped or presented photo will only work on Instagram if it is in 4:5 or 8 x 10 format. You can still use Whitagram (see above). If you are using a DSLR for your photography like most of us are, then you will need to crop a vertical photo because a DSLR shoots 2:3 format.

“When you share a photo that has a width between 320 and 1080 pixels, we keep that photo at its original resolution as long as the photo’s aspect ratio is between 1.91:1 and 4:5 (a height between 566 and 1350 pixels with a width of 1080 pixels). If the aspect ratio of your photo isn’t supported, it will be cropped to fit a supported ratio. If you share a photo at a lower resolution, we enlarge it to a width of 320 pixels. If you share a photo at a higher resolution, we size it down to a width of 1080 pixels.” ~ Instagram Support Pages.

Translation – Horizontal photos can be just about any ratio until you get into extreme panoramic. You need to crop your vertical photos to a 4 x 5 format before you upload them. If you do not crop your verticals, the app will automatically crop them for you. This could potentially crop something important out of your photo. That is why I post more horizontal photos than vertical ones. And I crop my vertical photos to 4 x 5/8 x10 before exporting them for my Instagram posts.


This leads me to an often asked question: Do I watermark my photos for Instagram? I put my simple logo on the photos that I post to Instagram because I also push those photos to my Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Tumblr accounts simultaneously. By adding my logo, people get a piece of my brand regardless.

Can they steal the photo and clone out the watermark? Of course, and they do it pretty 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 my operating expenses.


aInstagram is hands down my favorite social media platform to use. As a photographer I love that people can’t share or steal my photos. If I weren’t posting my photos to other platforms, I wouldn’t even watermark them. My photos look crisp and detailed. And I love the simplicity of posting and viewing other peoples’ posts in Instagram. It’s not full of side bars and all of this other distracting poorly designed shit.

I love the UX of Instagram and cringe every time I log into Facebook. I know that Instagram is owned by Facebook, but honestly it functions so much better than Facebook. This is probably because the people who started Instagram had a sense of design and Facebook began as a college project. Yet, I need Facebook to utilize some of Instagram’s new functionality…

The Recent Changes

Logo Redesign

In May of this year, Instagram launched a redesign of their logos and even cleaned up the user’s experience inside of the app. This made me even happier.

Business Account

About a month back Instagram asked me if I wanted to turn my account into a business account. This was HUGE for me, but this where you need a Facebook account. Instagram uses your ad account in Facebook to make the conversion happen and then only allows you to connect to your commercial Facebook Page to Instagram.

Having an Instagram business account provides me with analytics on who is looking, when they are looking, what they are looking at most, and even where they are looking from. And and another big feature – I can advertise on Instagram now! Your Instagram ad is managed via your Facebook Ad network, this is why you have to be part of Facebook as well. Facebook owns the platform so this is how they collect the revenue ;).

Advertising on Instagram allows me to add a specific link within a post that drives potential clients to a very specific part of my website. Now I can advertise my photography on a network that is specifically set up for my business model. You had me at the new logo design Instagram.


It is clear to me that Instagram now wants to directly compete with SnapChat with their release of Stories. Stories are slideshows that include a series photos and videos. There are some specific rules to a Story though. You cannot like a Story. You cannot add a public comment to a specific story although, private comments are allowed. And finally, the Story disappears after 24 hours. Stories do not show up in your grid or in your feed, so it becomes a way to highlight just about anything, even a concept that is potentially out of your Instagram brand.

The sky is potentially the limit from a marketing perspective though, because in 24 hours, you as the viewer miss out. People always respond to deadlines, so stay tuned to our Instagram, we have some pretty cool ideas in the works for our future Story posts.


Finally! A week ago, Instagram added the ability to pinch and zoom in on a photo. Now you have the ability to see how good a person’s photo is or check out a minute detail that was hard to make out previously.

Another Social Media Platform

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 and vision as a photographer. Many of my friends on Instagram only post privately to their accounts and only their closest friends get to see their work. I also follow photographers who have hundreds of thousands of followers and let everyone know where they are headed on any given day.

From a business perspective, we have recently analyzed my social media presence and have decided to concentrate on the accounts that best support my business and marketing plans. We actually have the most followers on Google+, but Google+ is a ghost town now. We have decided to put more energy into the social media networks that are working for me and my brand. More so with Instagram than any of the others at this point.


Consider some of the things that I have discovered by posting my work on Instagram. I do it every weekday. Now with the analytics feature of their business account, I am varying those post times every week. 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. Studies show that if these 30 hashtags correspond perfectly to a photo, those photos get a huge uptick in likes. And finally, I push my photos to other social media networks because not everyone is following me on Instagram. Although, I wish everyone would just come on over to Instagram, the water is the perfect temperature for a photographer.


I tend to work very differently than many photographers out there. We have a marketing plan in place that highlights exactly where I want my posts and photos to go. I know what drives a consistent flow of traffic to my online business. Analytics show that I have lower rankings than some of my direct competitors. I also know that I have a much lower bounce rate than many of them. This means that my followers are finding more value with the content that I am posting.

Obviously, if you are not a photographer or have very little interest sharing photos, then Instagram probably isn’t for you. Maybe one of the other social platforms out there works better for you. For me, Instagram is quickly becoming the only social media platform that I have interest in using. I believe, for this reason alone, my Instagram account has grown significantly.


Instagram for Photographers - Follow Jay - Social Media Platform Logo

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