Photography is a great communication tool that enables us to say a lot without necessarily "saying" anything. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed capturing moments through the lens of a camera. I always had mine with me while growing up and my mom can attest to the huge bills she paid to develop my films. I am a fan of beauty and art in all forms but for some reason photography holds a very dear place in my heart.
There are only few things I enjoy more than looking through an old album of photos. The memories are so vivid that one is immediately transported back into that exact moment. What I also like about looking at photographs is that they emit a feeling and that such feeling is captured by the person who took the picture but interpreted by whoever looks at it. With the onset of mobile technology my love for photography has only increased as now it is easier than ever to be able to express one's views with the aid of a camera.
I still remember the time when I first heard about Instagram. It seemed to be just another ordinary iPhone photo manipulation app that offered filters to enhance mobile photos. Boy, was I wrong! Since then Instagram has become one of the leading social networks in the world and as such it has established a language of its own. Instagramers are usually people who love photography and visual arts and who until now didn't necessarily have a forum to share their "masterpieces" with the rest of the world as the majority of them are not professional photographers. In other words, Instagram allows anyone who has a passion for photography to instantly share their captures with other who may have similar interests.
Much like Twitter, Instagram categorizes content via hashtags. Hashtags are words that have a # sign proceeding them and that act as filters to sort through the vast content available online. An example of this would be the hashtag #instamood to categorize a picture displaying one's current mood or emotional status. In this post I will share with you some of the tips/tools that have helped me to build an engaged online community on Instagram and hashtags have definitely played a big role in achieving that.
I am by no means an Instagram celebrity or claim to know all about it. I'm just a normal guy who loves social media and who likes sharing beautiful pictures and finding/commenting on the pictures taken by others. So with that out of the way let's get right to the tips:
- Post original content - one of my biggest pet peeves is when someone goes online to Google a picture of the boy band they like or the artist they admire and then they go to Instagram and post that exact same picture without changing it or making it their own. This to me denotes plain laziness and as such I see it as a reason to unfollow someone. Please note that once in a while you will find something on the street or online that you'd like to share - if this is the case apply some filters or use one of the many photo manipulation apps out there to make it unique. Sharing others' content is ok as long as you give credit where it's due and you don't overdue it. There's nothing worse than an Instagram profile showing only pictures that can be found online.
- Focus your pictures - when looking at Instagram profiles you will notice that some people tend to upload photos even when they are extremely blurry or out of focus. Since Instagram is a photography social network I would encourage you to only upload content that is high quality.
- Do not overpost - every picture you post represents who you are to the Instagram community. Posting a picture every two hours simply to gain followers will probably only do the opposite. There is no exact science for how many pictures you should upload in a day. Follow your instincts. If it captures a feeling or emotion you'd like to share (i.e., it serves a purpose) and the picture is of good quality - go ahead an share it. The point here is that you probably shouldn't have as many pictures in your Instagram profile as you do in your camera roll.
- Don't ask for people to follow you - asking for others to follow you just gives them one impression: desperation. Others will choose to follow you because they like your pictures and/or comments. Blatantly asking for followers takes away from your credibility as a photographer.
- Change it up - Instagram provides some great tools to enhance the pictures we take with our mobiles phones or cameras. However, there are hundred of other applications out there that provide effects to produce a truly outstanding picture to be shared. Here are some examples. Rather than sharing multiple pictures of the same event one can combine them into a single shot with the use of an application known as Diptic. If you enjoy sharing quotes on Instagram you could download Tweegram - an app created specifically to display words in an artistic manner. Another one of my favourites is Camera+ - a photo enhancement app that will allow you to use an even larger number of filters, crop photos, and add custom frames/borders.
- Find your niche - do you happen to collect miniature polar bears? do you bake cupcakes? Make sure your Instagram gallery displays your passions. If you use hashtags appropriately users with similar interests will like your pictures and comment on them. The more specific the niche - the higher the chances of capturing an engaged audience. Some of my niches include: Hello Kitty, Vinyl Toys, Kawaii (cute in Japanese) and Gay.
- Have fun - yes, I'm making Instagram sound like a science but at the end of the day you should have fun taking pictures of things you love and sharing them with those around you. Don't be scared to experiment and to get inspired by what others are posting. If you enjoy what you are posting and truly believe in it chances are others will too.
- #Tag #Tag #Tag - Instagram allows you to tag each of your photos with 30 hashtags. A great way to come up with relevant tags is to download an application called TagsForLikes. This app gives you relevant hashtags based on different categories such as: food, guys, girls, nature, animals, etc. One you upload a picture tag your photo by copying/pasting the tags from TagsForLikes onto your picture's comments section. You will be amazed at how many more followers you'll get by simply hashtagging. Also, it wasn't until recently that I realized that even though Instagram only allows you to use 30 tags at a time it doesn't care if you use 30 tags, delete them, and then retag again. This is particularly useful for photos that pertain to many different categories. Once you have gotten all the likes from the first set of tags simply delete them, find new ones, and retag.
- Be engaged - Instagram is not only a platform to share visual content, it is also a great way to meet others who share similar interests. Use the explore button to find pictures tagged under a category you enjoy and like them. If something truly catches your eye then let that user know. The more you like and comment on the pictures of others the more they will reciprocate. IF you have the time try to like approximately 100 photos a day. This will grow your followers immensely.
- Follow others and let others follow you - the biggest mistake someone can make when opening an Instagram account is to set their profile to private. Don't get me wrong, if your goal is to only share your pictures with your immediate friends and family then by all means make them private. If however your goal is to engage others and to grow your audience, making a private profile will only push others away. By the same token, following others will only get you more followers. There is a method I discovered on YouTube that I wouldn't necessarily recommend but I'll share it anyways. What you need to do is open the explore tab on Instagram and then search for accounts that include the words "shoutout" - once you find an account that actively promotes other Instagram users you would then go through its followers and start randomly following those people. After two days or so you can then unfollow those who you just followed. Your follower count will grow almost immediately. The reason I don't recomment doing this is because of two reasons: time consumption and misleading others.
If you have any other tips for fellow Instagramers please share them in the comments below. I hope you found this article useful. If you'd like to follow me on Instagram you may find my gallery by clicking here or on the widget below.
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