Entering photography was tough 10 or 15 years ago. From the costs of the cameras and equipment up to the print publication, photography wasn’t simply accessible to the average person. However, with the emergence of smartphones and social media, especially with the photo-sharing social network Instagram, photographic work can now reach a much larger audience.
With a user base reaching 1 billion active users (as of June 2018), Instagram is a huge platform for professional photographers where they can show their work to the world. Even just amateurs and photography enthusiasts are taking advantage of what is virtually a free photo exhibit. With this in mind, lots of Instagram users out there (also known as Instagrammers) are also using this platform to make money.
You might say, “But I’m no Kim Kardashian! I’m not popular nor mainstream! I’m just an ordinary butt-ugly guy who loves shooting breath-taking photos and posting them on Instagram. How can I make money off that?”
How Much Money Can a Photographer Make Through Instagram?
Before we go on further, just how much money can a photographer make through Instagram?
According to Business Insider, depending on the number of followers and their engagement, a single sponsored Instagram post can net between $500 to $1500 for an account with a little over 100,000 followers.
For those with a smaller following, the figure varies. Tribe, which is a tech company providing an online marketplace for brands looking for popular Instagram accounts has shared these figures in relation to the number of followers:
So whether you’re a seasoned professional photographer or an enthusiast who do photography as a hobby and wants to make a living out the photos and selfies that you’re shooting from your smartphone, I’m gonna show you the ways you can make money as a photographer in Instagram and how you can attract more followers.
How to Make Money as a Photographer on Instagram?
1. Selling Your Photographs
Yes, this can actually work on Instagram because your photos are limited to 1080px by 1080px on the social media platform. And if your photos are truly captivating and inspirational, people would want the high-resolution versions of those.
Daniel Arnold, a Brooklyn-based photographer made $15,000 in one day selling his collection of photographs he took while walking the streets with an iPhone. And this was 2014 when he only had his email to send his stock pictures.
Now you can post your photographs on Instagram and use mediums in which you can upload and sell your stock photos like Twenty20, 500px, and Foap. Depending on the platform and size of the photo, you can sell each photo for $5 to $10. And because the people buying your photographs are not buying the rights to your photos, you can sell the same photo over and over again.
You can also sell your photos as prints on another product using services such as Printful and Teelaunch which lets you put your photos on phone cases, posters, pillows, and more.
Another method you can try is to post some of your photos on Instagram to tease your followers and put a link to your Patreon account where they can pay a fee to become a “patron” in order to view your entire collection. The fee for being a patron starts at $5 and will vary depending on the levels of membership and the amount of gated content that you’ll provide.
Are you a professional photographer offering services on special occasions like weddings or anniversaries?
Instagram is your best pick for boosting your photography business. Finding prospective clients can be hard but you can leverage Instagram to promote your business and spread the word to your local area.
Post your best shots that you got from covering events and make sure to use the right hashtags and geotags (more on that later) so clients in your local area or the vicinity where you do your photo coverage will definitely notice you and will consider booking with you.
This is the next step and the most important one in making six-figure income through the social media platform. With the staggering amount of users browsing Instagram every day, it’s no wonder that brands are seeing Instagram as a powerful advertising tool.
Investing in Instagram marketing actually guarantees more sales compared to traditional advertising on TV or in print. That’s where you come in.
Basically, an influencer is anyone who’s built a large following and an online reputation by creating great content and sharing them on different social networking mediums like Youtube and Instagram, thus having the reach and influence.
Brands are struggling to do this so they partner with influencers instead to spread awareness about their products. The thing is, you don’t need to have a massive amount of followers in order to land sponsorship from a brand and become an influencer.
Remember, having hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers doesn’t always equate to more money from being an influencer (because 100,000 fake followers won’t amount to much). It’s your followers’ loyalty and engagement (the number of likes, comments, and shares) to your content that counts.
Neil Patel says: “If you have 1000 followers who are engaged, the potential to make money is there. The sweet spot is between 3000 to 5000 followers so you would want to build up to this amount before you engage in influencing.”
According to Business Insider, the influencer industry could be set to explode. It was worth $1 billion in 2017 but could soar as high as $10 billion by 2020. Also, 80% of influencers prefer Instagram for brand collaboration, so no wonder there are 8 million business profiles on the social media platform.
However, once you acquire a large number of engaged followers, the amount that you can earn can rack up real quick. Top influencers can actually charge brands $500 to $30,000 per post.
Once your reputation as a photographer on Instagram has grown big enough, the bigger and more popular brands will likely find you. But you can also reach out to them directly by enlisting yourself on influencer marketplaces like Shoutcart, Tribe, Fohr Card, or Grapevine.
However, as a photographer, you have to be careful of finding the balance between posting your content and sponsored posts. People follow you because they are interested and want to keep seeing your quality content. You’ll most likely turn off prospective followers if they only start to see sponsored posts.
4. Affiliate Marketing on Instagram
This is very similar to being an influencer, however, the Instagrammer is more focused on making sales for the brands in exchange for a commission rather than just spreading awareness for the brand. This can be done by adding a tracked link to the bio section of your profile or in the caption of each post.
There are marketplaces that offer affiliate programs like Amazon and ClickBank, so consider visiting these sites if you’re interested.
All of these money-making methods on Instagram are good and all, but they’d all be in vain if you don’t have a good photo-shooting device and a good amount of followers.
The DSLR vs. Smartphone Debate: What Device Should You Use to Take Photos?
However, no matter how good your smartphone camera is, it is still significantly inferior to the quality of images a DSLR or mirrorless camera can produce. With DSLRs, you can manipulate aperture, depth of field, focus, and even change your lenses depending on the situation.
They also produce RAW pictures that have much more detail than JPEGs and are much more capable of producing good shots under low lighting. So if you have the funds to invest on a DSLR camera, please do so.
However, the technology behind DSLR camera sensors is also improving massively. This means even if the smartphone camera improves to a point of taking the same quality of pictures that a DSLRs can shoot today, the camera sensor technology of a DSLR or a mirrorless camera would have improved relatively so the former will always be inferior to the latter.
That’s not to say that smartphones are not capable of producing high-quality professional shots. If you’re not willing to spend some money on a DSLR camera, your smartphone camera should be sufficient when it comes to the quality of the images.
However, don’t just use any smartphone camera. An average person can discern the difference between a beautiful, well-composed photograph and a grainy, pixelated picture of your flower pot in your backyard.
Though the latest flagships of iPhone or Samsung might seem pricey, there are much more affordable high-quality shooters out there like the OnePlus 6 and Huawei Honor 10.
The first step is to attract loyal and engaged followers. Sure you can use hacks and tricks to build your follower count to a value that might look attractive to brands. That doesn’t mean anything if you have very few likes, comments, and shares on your content. So here are the tips on how to build your follower count:
1. Create a Proper Profile
Put on a really good profile image that looks professional. Or a good photo of your main subject matter that defines your photography niche. Use a “logo” that is easy to memorize and remember. Put on a description that will draw the attention of prospective followers. Provide a link back to your other social media channels, website or blog.
Your niche will define your particular brand of photography. Your followers will expect you to maintain a particular subject matter when you post your photos. It’s not wrong to delve into other niches but as much as possible concentrate on a specific type such as travel, landscapes, food, fashion, or a particular type of photography.
Be selective on the images that you’ll upload. Pick the most stunning and compelling images from your collection. It doesn’t matter what type of gimmick you’re gonna use to drive traffic to your Instagram profile. You’re not gonna do well if your photographs are not awesome.
Choose the ones that are relevant to your niche and you know are valuable to your followers. You don’t want to turn them off with irrelevant content.
You can post your personal photos like your day-to-day life, important life moments, or behind the scene shots but keep it to a minimum. Generally, follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your posts for your brand of photography while the remaining 20% for your personal and behind the scene posts.
5. Post Consistently but Do Not Overdo It
1 to 2 quality posts per day is much better than 5 “nothing special” posts. Keep your audience interested by posting regularly but not too much as to annoy them. Schedule your posts and stick to it. Generally, the best times to post on Instagram are in the morning at around 10 am and another one at night after dinner.
6. Use #Hashtags and Geotags
Once you tap the search bar on the Instagram app, you can search in different categories such as the Top posts, People, Tags, and Places. Hashtags always start with a # sign, and they’re a great way for others to easily find photos on Instagram with a specific theme or content.
If you can use hashtags cleverly, you can definitely attract new followers this way. The general rule is to keep your hashtags from 5 to 10 per post. You can add more, but it will look spammy and cheap.
Geotag is a link to the specific location of your post. If you enable “Add Location” to your Instagram settings, it will be added automatically, or you can add it manually. This way your posts will appear when another Instagrammer searches for a specific location on Places category.
So what’s a clever way of using hashtags so your posts can appear on top of searches more often?
For example, you took a beautiful photo of cherry blossom trees in Kyoto, Japan. Before you post your photo, make a little hashtag research first on Instagram. Searching for #cherryblossom reveals 5.3 million posts which means using this hashtag alone will not generate views for your photo.
The hashtag #cherryblossomtree has 70.1K posts, which is a lot smaller but still a large pool of posts. If you make your search a little more specific like say #kyotocherryblossoms or #kyotosakura, this will reveal a couple of hundred to a few thousand posts.
You would want to use a mixture of hugely popular hashtags and small ones to your posts to make sure you have a wide range of people seeing them.
Then finally, add a hashtag that is unique to your brand of photography like say #<your name or your brand’s name>photography.
Also, a word of advice: consider adding a #sponsored hashtag when you post sponsored content to respect your followers’ trust.
Especially if you’re using a smartphone. Ditch the Instagram filters and use app-specific filters to your photos before posting them. There are several filter apps out there but one of the more popular ones is VSCO. If you’re well-versed in using Adobe CC products like Lightroom, you can use that to make your photos look more amazing.
Captions are your chance to elicit an emotional response to your followers. This will keep your audience engaged and people will most likely follow you if you have compelling captions.
Try to do storytelling on your posts. If you’re doing wedding photography for an instance, you can write down a short story about how the groom proposed to her bride. Use open-ended questions to trigger a discussion from your followers in the comments section.
9. Get Your Followers Involved
Interact with them. Reply to their comments. A great technique that some Instagrammers use is to run a giveaway. Create a contest with the prize being a signed print of one of your best stock photographs or a product with a print of your images. This is a great way of attracting more followers.
10. Build a Relationship with Other Photographers
Find and follow other Instagrammers within your niche. Compliment their work. They will most likely respond and follow you back and this will also increase your exposure as well.
Follow these tips and most likely, you’ll build a good amount of following on Instagram. And this way, you’ll be more visible to other brands and they will likely collaborate with you to create sponsored posts so you can make money as a photographer on Instagram.
As with other money-generating businesses, success doesn’t come overnight unless you go viral which is very hard to do. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Patience is key. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get much traction from other people. Just stick to what you do best, slowly build your audience over time so you’ll eventually – and hopefully – make money.
And the most important thing is you gotta love what you do. Passion is what drives most people to success.
Nermin Grahovic is a photography enthusiast and photography blogger based in Europe. His images are fun, creative and exciting and his love for travel makes its way into most of his images. Some of his favorite photography genres are portraits, street, landscape, and industrial photography.
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