If there’s one thing a budding outdoor adventure photographer longs for, it’s a solid Instagram following. Getting more Instagram followers is a key indicator for success for a lot of us — the more people that see your work, the more knocks you’ll get on your door from potential clients, sponsorship opportunities, and commercial work.
And that’s the dream, isn’t it? To travel the world and get paid to take awesome pictures?
We recently chatted with photographer Michael Matti on how he grew his Instagram audience to 200k followers, and his answer was a wee bit surprising in this day and age of Instagram ads and promoted posts: he grew it 100% naturally.
Granted, his body of work is incredibly impressive. Just look at these images:
Like I said, impressive.
OK, OK, back to the topic at hand: getting more followers on Instagram.
After dissecting his thoughts about Instagram in our last interview, we found five key tips to growing your Instagram following like a pro and without dropping a ton of cash on ads, bots, or hiring a social media manager. Check them out below and tell us how you’re finding success on Instagram in the comments!
Think like a brand.
Thinking like a brand doesn’t have to mean dropping a grip on Instagram ads or hiring bots to do your liking for you. It’s all about the — ahem — lens you see your feed through. Make it consistent and tell a story. Michael says, “I was originally using Instagram like most people, just posting iPhone shots of my daily life. But then two years ago I started posting more professional images taken with my DSLR from my hikes and adventure.”
Once he started curating his feed into something he could be known for (his hikes and adventures), the growth started happening naturally because his followers knew exactly what to expect from him.
Focus on marketing.
If you’re not getting yourself out there and being professional, followers and clients may not want what you’re dishing out. “You can be the best photographer in the world but if you can’t sell yourself and your work then you’ll just end up with great images but no income.”
Realize the importance of networking.
It’s not all about posting great images, though. It’s about finding and gathering your tribe of people and getting to know your audience. “Connecting with people is such an important aspect of photography. It is how you get clients and keep those clients.”
I know a lot of photographers are introverts, but that’s the beauty of the Internet — you can start by getting to know your followers first, then your peers, and eventually (once you’re more comfortable), start initiating introductions to people that may be able to help you grow personally and professionally. It really is all about who you know.
Pitch yourself to get featured.
“I got a feature from Instagram that took me to 25K and from there it has just been consistent growth.” While not everyone will be lucky enough to get a feature on Instagram’s feed or blog, this tip does stress the importance of being seen. Pitch yourself to publications to get featured, use your newly-formed network to lend a hand with getting the word out about you, and always look for opportunities to share your work with others.
Don’t let Instagram overtake your life.
Getting to 200k followers isn’t easy, but growing your Instagram audience shouldn’t overtake your life, either. “I never anticipated it’d grow to where it is now and it’s not something I try to focus on too much. I’m more worried about putting out great content and inspiring others, and if I’m doing that, then the growth will probably happen naturally.”
Lesson here: put out the best work possible and the followers will, well — follow.
Here’s what to do now.
So how do you take these insights and put them into action? Here’s a four step plan:
- Be great at it. Michael’s leg up on his competition id the fact that he’s a great photographer. He’s been traveling for years and focusing on his craft for much longer. But even if you’ve only got a few weeks’ vacation built up and don’t have a ton of experience, you can learn everything from the basics of photography to advanced techniques from the pros to get started. One of my favorite classes to learn outdoor and adventure photography is The Outdoor Photography Experience from none other than “the man” himself, Chris Burkard. Another class that goes into shooting and post processing is Landscape Photography from Start to Finish with Matt Kloskowski. Both classes are top-notch and totally worth the $100 or so investment in your photography career.
- Decide on a theme. What do you want to be known for? Decide on a theme for your feed (night photography, aerial, hiking, adventuring, or whatever you choose) and stick to it. No more random musings of lunch or traffic. Give your followers a REASON to follow you.
- Compile your images. Find your Instagram-worthy images (save your absolute best stuff for your website), and put them all in a Dropbox folder for easy access.
- Establish a schedule. Whether you post once a day or twice a week, decide on a cadence and stick to it so your followers will come to expect to see you.
- Get to know your tribe. The more you connect with your followers and peers, the more people will talk about you. And the more people talk about you, the more followers you’ll gain.
Growing your Instagram isn’t an end goal, it’s only one element to getting your name out there and growing your personal photography brand. If you want to start being taken seriously as a photographer, you need to make it a business and think like a business.
That means you need a website, and you need a strong SEO presence as a photographer.