An estimated 72% of Instagram users have bought a product they saw on the app. Consider, for a moment, what that means for photographers. Using Instagram to your advantage could directly increase your stock sales and benefit your business overall, provided you do it correctly.
“Instagram is an incredible platform for photographers to showcase their work,” Offset Artist Andrea van der Spuy (@andreavdspuy) says “I have had great results from having a consistent Instagram feed—not only on my stock portfolio but for my freelance photography business as well. I very often have new clients who contact me directly through Instagram.”
Kit Oates(@kitoates) has had similar success. “I have had a few sales [through Instagram] , including a couple of high profile people/accounts,” he tells us. “One now uses my picture as their profile picture. They pop up occasionally, and it’s amusing to see.” We interviewed a group of talented photographers from the Offset collection to see how they advertise their stock portfolios on Instagram, and, more generally, how they make the app work for them. Read on for some of their best tips.
1. Craft the Perfect Bio
Your bio is the first thing everyone, including a potential buyer or client, will see, and it’s an ideal spot to show off your credentials. Offset Artists Abigail Fahey (@abigailfaheyphotography) and Darina Kopcok (@gastrostoria) recommend adding something along the lines of “Offset Artist” or “Shutterstock Contributor” front and center.
Similarly, the Novi Sad-based photographer Visnja Sesum (@visnja_milic_photography) tags @offsetimages directly in her bio. “I am proud to mention Offset on all my social platforms, as I consider it to be a very important part of my resume,” she tells us.
It might seem like a small step, but it won’t go unnoticed. If you want to take it a step further, you can even change the link in your bio to your stock portfolio and let everyone know that that’s where they can purchase the images that catch their eye.
2. Use the Right Hashtags
“I would say using hashtags correctly will vastly improve your chances of being discovered,” Fahey tells us. Sesum agrees, writing, “I put a lot of hashtags [related to] photography and the subject of the photograph in my posts.” In addition to including the hashtags that are most applicable to your work (#travelgram, #portraitperfection, #wildlifelovers, etc.), try stock-specific tags.
“I always hashtag my images with #OffsetArtist if they have been submitted for stock,” Kopcok explains. Sesum does the same. That particular hashtag currently has about 30,000 posts—a great number since it’s big enough for lots of people to follow but small enough that you won’t get lost in a sea of images. With over 20,000 posts, #ShutterstockContributor is another handy one.
3. Curate, Curate, Curate!
You’ve heard it before, but a critical eye is crucial to any great Instagram feed. “Instagram should be viewed as your number one digital portfolio,” Oates tells us. “Make sure it’s looking perfect all the time; only post your best work.”
In other words, your feed should look like a virtual gallery—a window into your wider portfolio. As Kopcok puts it, “Treat it like a highlight reel of your best work.” The San Francisco photographer Leigh Beisch (@leighbeisch) adds, “Paying attention to how your ‘grid’ looks is important. Don’t post things that make your grid look too cluttered or degrade the look of the page.” Sesum also goes the extra mile by making sure the different color palettes and moods of her images all tell a cohesive story.
In addition to researching hashtags, van der Spuy also puts the effort into how her feed looks as a whole. “I have folders on my phone (in my photos as well as in Instagram) where I store images that I capture on the fly or think might work well on my feed, then I dig into those when I start planning out my posts and Stories,” she tells us. “I am mad about design and beautiful layouts. When I plan my feed, I love to design it a little bit by seeing which images work well together. Everybody loves a visually beautiful feed.”
When a great photo gets accepted into your stock portfolio, make sure to tell people about it. “I keep mentions of stock to specific images, as I find buyers are more interested in certain images that stand out,” Oates continues. Provide your followers with easy, actionable, and concise information, and strike while the iron is hot. Kopcok tells us, “From time to time, I post an image that has been recently accepted with a blurb like ‘Fresh on Offset’ with the ID number.”
4. Incorporate Slideshows
If you’ve added a whole set of images to your portfolio, think about posting a slideshow with the very best image right in the front. “I also find multi-image posting is a great way to show a selection of images you have just added to your portfolio, without compromising the overall look of your Instagram feed,” Oates says. “Give people the option to take a deeper dive into a photo series. Potential clients will appreciate it.”
5. Share Behind-the-Scenes Moments
Instagram isn’t just about the final photos, especially if you want to promote projects in progress, including the pictures you’re shooting for stock. “I find there’s a lot of interest in what the behind-the-scenes life of a photographer is like, so I try to share things like the occasional snapshot of me shooting, photoshoot setups, etc,” Offset Artist Anna Petrow (@annapetrow) tells us.
“People love to see how you create your images,” the Denmark-based photographer Diana Lovring (@diana_lovring) adds. “This way, you show your authentic self, and, at the same time, you showcase your work.” In van der Spuy’s view, authenticity is a key ingredient. “Just be yourself,” she suggests. “People love feeling like you are relatable and human.”
You don’t have to compromise the polished look of your feed in order to give people a taste of your process. “People really like to see behind-the-scenes shots, but this shouldn’t dominate your feed,” Kopcok warns. “Have most of your images be of your work, while a small percentage of shots can be a peek behind the curtain.”
The photographer, Offset Artist, and art store owner Leslee Mitchell (@lesleemitchell) also recommends posting pictures of yourself. “Photos of you sprinkled throughout your feed are a must,” she says. “People love to see and learn about the artist. Showing more of you is a guarantee to build your following.” You don’t have to include your face if you don’t want to, she adds. Any fun shots of you at work will do!
6. Don’t Forget Stories
Speaking of backstage moments, Stories are the perfect platform for these kinds of shots. “As a food photographer, I joke about how often I’m standing on tables to get the shot—whenever that’s happening, I try to remember to get someone to snag an iPhone shot to share on Instagram Stories,” Petrow elaborates. “I rarely have the time to share final edits from every shoot on my Instagram, but it’s quite easy to remember to share a quick iPhone snapshot while out working.”
Fahey adds, “Including and referencing your portfolio on Shutterstock on your Stories will help too.” If you’d like, you can even go ahead and tag @shutterstock, @offsetimages, @shutterstockcontributors, @ShutterstockNow, or another appropriate account while you’re on assignment.
“Very often, I mention Offset when publishing Stories with BTS from shoots,” Sesum continues. “[I’ll write something] like ‘Soon on Offset by Shutterstock.’ Or, when publishing newly accepted work, I mention ‘Fresh on Offset by Shutterstock.’” She makes her Stories especially engaging by regularly sharing her best tips and tricks with her followers.
7. Turn Your Captions to Your Advantage
Like Stories, your captions are one area where you can give your followers some insight into who you are. “The best tip I have for Instagram is to consistently post undeniably good content,” Mitchell says. “Equally as important is a well thought out caption. Don’t be afraid to show your personality in what you write in your captions. Be funny. Make your followers laugh. Be the bright spot in someone’s day with what you post and with what you say.”
Kopcok has noticed similar results when she puts in a little extra effort to fine-tune her captions. “Viewers are more likely to give an image more time if there is a well-written caption to go along with it,” she tells us. “Look at it as an opportunity to connect with your audience. Take time to write something relevant and check for spelling and punctuation errors. This can be a little story behind the shot, or it can give some information about how you shot it. Think about who your desired audience is on Instagram, and craft your captions to target them.”
If you’re giving your followers a glimpse into your life and work as a stock photographer, don’t forget to incorporate those hashtags. You can even change the link in your bio to a specific set of images in your portfolio to encourage people to check them out; just be sure to add “link in bio” to your caption.
8. Think About Switching to a Business Account
For those who want to take it to the next level, Ashleigh Amoroso (@ashamor, @ashamorskitchen) recommends a business account over a personal one. This simple switch can help you keep better track of your audience.
“Pay attention to the feedback you’re getting on Instagram,” Amoroso continues. “[With a business account] , you can really dive into the metrics and see what people are liking, bookmarking, sending, etc. What images are receiving the most attention? What’s similar about those images? Take note of that information and keep creating images for stock with those guidelines in mind. The more images you can create that are modern, up-to-date, trendy, and beautiful, the easier it will be to sell them.”
Having a business account, among other requirements, will also enable you to add links to your Stories. That way, you can add an easy “Swipe Up” option that takes people directly to your stock portfolio (or a specific set of images) if they’re interested in purchasing what they see on the feed. Another perk? If you have a business account, you will have more access and functions available within some scheduling apps, like Iconosquare.
It’s a good idea to use one of these apps whether or not you decide to have a business profile, as it will encourage you to stay consistent. “There are few apps that help you schedule your posts through whole week or month and sort your photos to see what your feed is going to look like,” Sesum tells us. “This is very helpful and saves time!”
9. Post Seasonal Content
This rule holds true for your stock portfolio, and it certainly holds true for Instagram as well. It’s something we heard about from photographers again and again. “Being relevant is so key on social media,” Beisch says. “Knowing what the trends are and what people are into is important. Seasons, moods, holidays, style trends, and moments seem to be things that social media audiences respond to.”
For example, think about incorporating elements of autumn leaves for fall, cozy drinks for winter, flowers for spring, or beach scenes for summer. Think ahead.
“Keep track of big holidays and events,” Sesum, who recently posted some stunning heart-shaped confections on her feed for Valentine’s Day, advises. Mitchell agrees, adding, “Keep your posts relevant to the world around us, meaning if it’s March, post St. Patrick’s Day content. If you don’t have any St. Patrick’s Day content, create some.”
In general, Lovring says that keeping your content on Instagram consistent with your stock portfolio can be a good way to see what works well. If, for example, a photo performs well on Instagram, it might be a best-seller in stock; alternatively, if a photo sells like hotcakes in stock, it might be a hit on Instagram as well.
Most of all, have fun with the process, and learn from your successes and disappointments alike. Instagram has no hard and fast rules, so use it as your playground and your laboratory. “Use Instagram to collaborate and to shoot something new,” Oates suggests. “Stock is changing so fast, and brands are looking to see that you are shooting new and interesting work, so they will check your Instagram to see what you are working on.”