Instagram, despite its flaws, is still the most popular photography platform out there today. In this article, I will give some tips on how to grow your instagram photography account in 2019 and beyond.
First, I’d like to dispel a few myths. Today, there is no shortcut to growing your account. If you look for tricks or shortcuts, one of two things will happen – either you fail and get penalized by the algorithm for trying, OR, you succeed in growing your follower numbers, but end up with an account with terrible engagement that is ultimately worthless.
Below, I will list a few old marketing methods that should be avoided.
Things that don’t work
These are groups where you join with the intention of increasing each others engagement by commenting and liking each others photos. Sounds great in theory, and in fact if you discovered this neat little hack in 2014-2016, you might have gotten a nice inflated account out of it. These days though, 99% of them are useless. The algorithm has caught up to them and can detect this activity. Users have grown more savvy as well, and engagement group comments are tacky and obvious.
The biggest problem with engagement groups is that users who join them are usually already struggling with engagement. Most of the time the reason that they’re struggling with engagement is simply because their content is nothing special at best. Getting fake engagement from such users is almost never worth the time and effort it takes to participate in these groups. And yes, it does take a significant chunk of time and effort to use them – time that is either usually wasted, ruins your reputation, and at worst leads to a shadow ban.
There are some exceptions though. Theoretically, if you managed to join an elite engagement group with actual high profile famous people and big accounts, this could still work. Good luck finding one in the photography niche though – it’s a bit of a catch22 – those that naturally have great engagement and legitimate big accounts rarely bother to join these groups. And in order for them to work, the niche HAS to be targeted – you can’t just join a meme engagement group with a photography account and expect results.
So basically unless you find an exclusive elite engagement group somewhere, they are a waste of time at best and can lead to penalties at worst.
Another outdated method even worse than engagement groups – using a bot to follow and then unfollow people. It’s a risky method that can get your account permanently banned, and easily ruin your reputation. At best, it will result in mediocre numbers. Instagram will notice something is up when you work up to following 7500 people, then gradually unfollow all of them – after which you’ll lose 40% of your gained followers, which is an unnatural and obvious signal to the algorithm just begging to devalue your account. Even those who don’t unfollow you will be lower quality followers in general, because a big chunk of users who only followed you to “return the favor” are not going to consistently like your pictures most of the time – at least not in the same percentage than genuine followers.
To make things worse, most common Instagram bots can be detected by the software, so it’s always a risky endeavor trying them out. in 2019 in the photography niche, bots are best avoided.
Just like bots, Instagram can ban you or penalize your simply for using one of the numerous apps available that follow/unfollow people or even give you stats. This is probably due to their anti-bot systems getting confused. In any case, avoid these apps and uninstall any if you have them on your phone.
Spamming comments on others pages
“Hello, I’m only 15 years old but I just started a mediocre photography page! Please follow me!” -is not a smart thing to spam on every half-famous instagrammers comments section, whether you’re doing this manually or automatically. Not only will nobody follow you, people will actively dislike you, often blocking or reporting you.
Things that do work
Now that I’ve badmouthed several outdated and somewhat questionable methods, let’s talk about what actually works for growing a genuine, highly engaging Instagram following as a photographer.
Getting on Explore
The key to Instagram growth will be the explore page. There are other methods that can supplement your account growth, but the Explore page is what’s going to make or break it.
So how do you get on Explore?
The engagement groups had the right idea. You must post high quality content that gets engagement from similar, wide-reaching accounts in the form of likes, comments and saves. Once someone likes your post, a part of their followers will see your photo on their explore pages.
The only way to achieve this naturally is to make sure your content, your actual photography, is high quality and somewhat unique. Once you reach a certain level, people will take note and you should start growing naturally.
It helps to communicate with people in your niche by creating genuine connections. Respond to people who leave comments on your photos, leave comments yourself, and don’t ignore your DMs.
Now once you figure out that the explore page is key, there are a few ways you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Let’s talk about how to structure your posts.
How to post optimally
If your photos are great, you should eventually start growing no matter what. But in order to grow at the optimal rate, there are some basic guidelines you can follow as far as posting and post formatting goes.
You might have noticed that most people post their photos in 4×5 format, vertically. This is so that your posts take up the maximum amount of space and are less likely to be skipped over. This alone boosts your engagement by a little bit, especially compared to posting 16x9s. This is why a lot of people add white borders to their horizontal images – that and it looks nice according to some people. However, the recent update to dark mode kinda made white borders look weird for dark mode users – read more on my thoughts on this in my recent blog post.
The more you post, the more chances you have to hit the explore page and the more followers you will gain. This is a balancing act between frequency and quality. I also talk about this in more detail my recent blog post. Personally, I only post a few times per week despite it being sub-optimal for ideal growth, simply because I feel like I would be dropping my standars too much if I had to post daily or even multiple times per day. However, if you have the content saved up and ready to go, posting often can boost your reach.
Feature Pages and Hashtags
Personally, I feel like feature pages are overrated and get too much attention when it comes to aspiring Instagrammers who wish to grow their account. Once you get a couple of big features, you start realizing this. You will be lucky to get 100 followers out of a 100-200k page featuring you once. However, these do help, especially in the beginning – it’s not always about the quantity of followers you gain, but the quality. By getting features on high engagement, respected feature pages, you might catch the eyes of other great photographers and help you connect with them. And the occasional follower boost is always nice, considering all you have to do is pick a few relevant hashtags and copy-paste them onto your post.
It’s better to select your hashtags manually, as it’s pretty much something you only have to do once. Find high quality feature pages that are ultra-targeted to your content type, make a list, and then use those tags whenever you post. There should be a few variations. Never use more than 30 per post, personally I use something between 15 and 25 depending on the post. And that is all the time I dedicate to features.
Another way you can supplement your account growth is by converting users outside of instagram to follow your page. This can be other social media sites, your website, or social sharing sites such as Reddit. This method is like any other type of marketing and a big topic to entirely cover here, but the basic gist of it is that whenever you share your work online, you should also mention your Instagram or other social medias. Sometimes if your photos go viral, it can lead to a nice follower boost. Also don’t allow news sites or blogs to use your content at least without mentioning your Instagram username – at minimum.
I’m working on writing more about this topic at some point in the future. Subscribe to my email list to stay up to date. I’ve included a sign up form at the end of this article.
Instagram isn’t everything
Finally, I’d like to point out that IG isn’t the only social network out there. If you plan to build a brand around your photography, don’t just build an Instagram, focus on other platforms as well. It’s never wise to put all your eggs in one basket. Personally, I am also active on Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr and even Reddit. Obviously, I also have this blog. So even if my Instagram gets shadowbanned or hacked, I won’t be left empty handed.
This should cover most of the basics of growing an Instagram account as a photographer. To stay updated and receive additional tips on the subject, you can also sign up for my email list below. As a bonus, you’ll also receive my Lightroom presets for free. Sign up below: