In the age of social media, refusing to make an Instagram account for your photography brand is a very poor marketing choice. No one wants to do business with someone who isn’t plugged in. You probably already have an account for that very reason, but you might not be using it to add even more revenue to your business. Don't worry, I reserved my Instagram name way before I started using it. The important thing is to start now.
So, how do photographers make money on Instagram? To make money on Instagram, you have to have a very popular account. You must have a minimum of a few thousand followers, and you need to be engaging your audience consistently with quality content. If your account is successful, brands may be interested in sponsoring your posts.
There are a few things that you will need to know to make your account successful, however. These need to be mastered before you will be able to get paid for your posts.
Before actually making money from your Instagram account, you're going to need to have a solid account in the first place. The best way to promote yourself on Instagram is by branding yourself in a way that is recognizable.
This way, followers will mention your name, growing your audience by sheer word of mouth. To create this brand, though, you will need to fill your feed with a few essential things.
When it comes to Instagram, content is king. To increase your following, you’re going to have to post good content and a lot of it. Content does not just come in the form of regular feed posts, however. You shouldn’t be limiting yourself to your feed because it’s easy.
There are quite a few ways to create content on Instagram for a photographer. Besides feed posts, the second most popular form of content comes in the form of Instagram stories. One of the easiest and most fun stories for a photographer to make is the “before and after editing” story. These stories very often get followers excited about your content.
If you really enjoying editing, you can also make custom filters. The only way to do this at the writing of this article is using Adobe Lightroom, but more photo apps are sure to follow suit. Selling your preset filters is a great way to make a little money without doing much extra because you are just using the edits that you already use for your photos. And your following will be happy to emulate you!
One of the most important things to do if you want to create a following on Instagram is to post consistently. This can mean something different for different people. For some people, this is once a week, and for others, it’s three times a day. It all depends on what you feel most comfortable with.
The reason why consistency is so key here is that it ensures your followers that they will continue to see your posts. If they followed you in the first place, they probably did because they enjoyed your content. Why wouldn’t they want more of it?
The general rule when figuring out your post schedule is to ask yourself how much you can reasonably give as well as how much quality you might be sacrificing in the process. Sometimes quantity does get in the way of quality, so be aware of how far you are pushing yourself.
- Have “photoshoot days” – Use weekends or holidays to take a lot of photos to edit and store up.
- Use a planning app – Photo planning apps allow you to make sure that your feed is cohesive before you post anything. It is also a great way to keep all of those previously taken photos in order.
- Get creative – It’s easy to get burned out while doing the same thing over and over. Change up your scenery, events, or perspective to get inspired.
Quantity is very important in the world of social media, but it doesn’t do much without quality. People come for the quality and stay for the quantity, but they will leave if the quality declines. That is why you have to plan out your feed.
As silly as it may sound, curating an Instagram feed really is an art. Looking at a beautiful, cohesive feed is satisfying. Especially as a photographer, the more curated your feed looks, the more professional you are seen. As an artist who touts having an eye for aesthetics, the whole of your photos should speak for itself just as much as each individual photo does.
Thankfully, if photography is already your job or you're finding your way as a photographer, you should be alright. Being a photographer, you should have hundreds of photos from jobs edited and ready to go. All you have to do is lay them out so that they look nice together. Just make sure that you have the approval of the subjects before posting them!
Something important that you may have never thought about is having a niche. Many photographers use the term as a blanket. They don’t really have an answer to the question of “Well, what do you photograph?” While taking pictures of everything from nature to brides to architecture sounds like a good idea, it’s not going to get you the following that you need.
Finding your niche, or that one subject that you're just very good at shooting is the best way to gain a strong following. It doesn’t have to be narrow, though. Instead of taking pictures of flowers, try being a nature photographer in general. Instead of taking pictures of books, focus more on libraries and library culture.
Once you have a niche, your following will come. They will not only be people who appreciate your art but people who connect to it on a deeper level as well. While there are hundreds of other talented photographers on Instagram, they will feel as though your content was made just for them. That is what is going to propel you forward and keep your following.
Now that you understand how to become recognizable on Instagram, you can start finding more ways to get paid. Unlike other platforms like YouTube, Instagram does not pay you directly for creating and producing content. So, you are tasked with getting that money from other places.
We already discussed how to get some extra money from selling something like presets, but a much more important and impactful way to get money from Instagram is going to be sponsorship. Sponsorships are usually given to influencers specifically, but Instagram actually ends up blurring the lines between photographer and influencer a lot.
Many Instagram photographers became influencers over time by putting themselves in their work more. I mean that literally, by the way. Posting more photos of yourself at the same quality as your other photos will bring a relatability and connection to your account that can be beneficial in a number of ways. But how do you get started?
How Do Photographers Get Sponsors on Instagram?
Instagram marketing is actually fairly simple to learn, and as soon as you master it the platform will feel so much less complicated.
- Hashtags: The most obvious way to market yourself on Instagram is through the use of hashtags. Make sure to add at least four or five relevant hashtags to each post. This is going to bring in users who are interested in your work to you, which is definitely a plus.
- Location: A lesser-known marketing tool to use on Instagram is adding a location to every photo. It makes sense. If a person is looking for nice pictures of an area that they want to visit, or an event that they want to go to they will go to the location and scroll through the photos. If your photo shows up in that area, you may have just gained a new follower.
- Communities: Another way to market yourself on Instagram is to join a community of photographers. If you find a community on Instagram of larger photography accounts, you're much more likely to be invited to group giveaways and events where you will be tagged in posts on a larger account. At these events, you may be able to take photographs of people and places that Instagram users are interested in, so it’s a win-win!
We’re already discussed a lot of ways to gain a following on this post. But I think it’s important to be aware of how much possible sponsors care about your follower count. More than most things, sponsors will be looking at how many followers you have. They not only use follower counts as an evaluation for if they will want to work with you, but they also use it as a gauge for how much money they will pay.
The rates for promotional posts on Instagram vary based on a lot of different factors—usually decided by the sponsoring company. For the most part, however, there is a going rate. Very often, companies will give Instagram influencers anywhere from $10 to $1,000 per 1,000 followers. This is going to depend on the company and how much quality they expect from you.
One of the most important things to remember when trying to gain followers for the purpose of getting sponsored, however, is never to buy your followers. It may not have even crossed your mind that that was a possibility, but it is actually a pretty popular way to look more like an influencer without actually influencing anyone. While this may seem like a good idea, it will not work for one very important reason.
The only thing that is more important to a company than the number of followers that you have is the amount of account engagement. Likes on posts need to be a good percentage of your following. There need to be a lot of comments and DMs. Stories with polls or questions need to have answers every time one is posted.
Engagement isn’t just a bunch of pointless numbers and graphs. It shows companies how much you are actually influencing people with your work. Engagement is a good way to quantify how much your followers care about your art. If you are high in followers but low in engagement, this is going to be a red flag for a majority of companies looking to sponsor.
There are a few things that you can do to make sure that your engagement is kept high. Replying to comments is always a good thing. It makes your followers feel like they know you and can relate to you. Posting those polls in your story is also a good way to get people engaged. This works the same way as asking people a question in the caption of your photos, which is another great way to keep people engaged.
- Reply to followers – The more engaged you are with them, the more engaged they will be with you. Make your followers feel like your friends by talking to them!
- Ask for inspiration – Instead of keeping your photography process to yourself, ask your audience what they want to see from you. Including your followers will make them more excited to see what comes next.
When looking at how to make money using Instagram, the most important thing to ask yourself is: Can I sustain this?
Some Instagram users will go all in, excited about the process only to not get high engagement or a boost in followers after a couple of weeks and give up. As frustrating as it is, Instagram is like any other skill. It takes time.
Nothing is easy—not even Instagram. Keeping that quality and consistency is important even in the times when it seems like it’s not doing anything. The thing about something like Instagram is that it isn't an exact science. Sometimes you have to tinker with it for a while for it to finally work.
But, if you’re consistent and genuine, you are bound to become successful on the platform. It will take a lot of time and energy, though, so be aware of that before committing to it or putting a lot of stock in it.
If you're going into Instagram to make it your career, or even make it a large part of your career, you’re going to have to make it a priority. As mentioned previously, using Instagram as a means to make money is time and energy-consuming. A majority of Instagram users who have gained millions of followers did so over the course of years, not days.
Especially if you don’t have any particularly famous friends or colleagues to boost you up, it will be a long road to success. That doesn't mean that it’s going to be miserable or even that difficult. It just means that it’s going to take a while, which requires patience.
If you are willing to be patient and to make your Instagram page a priority in your life, success will come to you. It isn’t an impossible thing that only a handful of people are capable of. Like everything else in life, though, it does take focus.
Something that you may not have considered when thinking about marketing yourself on Instagram is the ability to be creative. As a photographer, you are an artist. Your following will come to you because they see something in your art and want to see it again and again. Eventually, though, that same thing can become boring.
The best way to avoid becoming a one-hit-wonder of viral photographers is always to push yourself creatively. If you take pictures of nature, try getting underwater shots while scuba diving. If you take wedding photos, ask the bride and groom if you can stand behind the officiant for a more personal shot.
There are so many ways to get creative with your art; you just have to go out and find them. If you get stuck, you can always use the engagement tip and ask your following what they would be interested in seeing! This way, you’re producing some interesting new content and satisfying any wishes of the people who are, essentially, putting that money in your pocket.
Use an External Platform as a Portfolio
To expand your photography business, even more, you’re going to want to have an external platform to show your work. This should definitely include a website where you can create a portfolio for your work, but you might also want to create a YouTube channel or additional media to give even more to your followers.
With an external platform, you also have a way to continue your following if for some reason, your Instagram account falls through. This is a very extreme circumstance, of course, but it’s still a good backup plan to have, just in case.
Even in non-extreme cases, using a platform you don't own can bring in some inherent risks. Diversify and backup your work in a few key areas.
- Start a YouTube channel – Having a channel where you post videos about your experience as a photographer is a great way to bring your followers behind the scenes of your work.
- Start a blog – If recording yourself isn’t your thing, writing about your experience can be just as interesting to your followers.
The Bottom Line
By taking this path, you essentially become an influencer. This term is one people love to hate since it paints a picture of a young content creator that people love to hate as well. Regardless of what you want to be called or how you are described, brands will look at your reach in the same manner.
Having an Instagram for your brand is necessary but using Instagram as a part of your brand is a step up. Understanding analytics and how to utilize promotion tools is going to be the key to putting yourself ahead of other talented photographers like you.
That knowledge can only take you so far, however. More important than analytics and follower count combined is having the passion that it takes to work hard for it. If you don’t have a passion for your art and sharing it with the world, using Instagram as a working part of your career may not be the right thing for you. If you are passionate and see this as a strategic platform to grow your audience, however, your work will take you very, very far.