Confession: I'm a reluctant self-promoter and social media photographer. Those are not good personal traits to have as a photographer, I know. I do these things with just a little more enthusiasm than kicking and screaming, largely because I have an aversion to self-promotion. I've been in the photo business long enough (almost 20 years!) that when I began social media didn't exist, and good work would speak for itself and rise to the top. Not so much anymore.
Which is not to say that good work doesn't stand out. It does...sometimes. But not enough to just sit back and wait for the phone to ring and watch the checks roll in. Photographers now need to be constantly putting their work out there and promoting themselves to potential clients. There are so many photographers now that even the best work can get lost in the noise. That was true even before social media. Add Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Snapchat and it's enough noise to give any photo buyer or creative director a headache. And for photographers, especially reluctant self-promoters, it's challenging to stay on top of it all.
But social media is an opportunity I can't ignore, so I dutifully post my work. I focus my energy mainly on Instagram and Facebook. With it's clean photo-centric design, Instagram is the best platform for sharing photos. I was slow to get on board with both Facebook and Instagram, so I was behind the ball. Had I jumped in sooner, I would have a bigger social media presence. I've been playing catch up. As I write this post I currently have 41k Instagram followers and 1k Facebook followers. It's pretty obvious how much easier it is to connect with followers on Instagram. A few years ago, Facebook changed it's sharing algorithm which made it harder to build a following and get attention, at least without paying for advertising. Instagram has also made changes from it's original algorithm that also makes it harder to build a following, but it's still much easier than Facebook.
As an established commercial photographer, I think social media has limited use for me. But as an editorial and landscape photographer, having a social media presence has helped me bring in work and sell prints. But Instagram has changed the business model for photographers entering the business. If you build a big enough following (greater than 100k), you'll likely be lucky enough to get paid to drop some company's name in your post. That's a big deal for photographers who were smart enough to jump into Instagram early and get a big following, or for those who are adept enough to work the platform to still attract large numbers of new followers. And with Instagram's analytics, photographers can show potential clients how big an impression they are making to help set their rates.
Where do we go from here? From my conversations with photo editors, Facebook has outlived it's usefulness. The editors I've talked to are more likely to use Instagram to search for images or photographers. That's all I needed to hear to change my focus to Instagram. But Instagram has a fraction of the active users of Facebook. This can be looked at in a couple of ways. First, it's still growing and has a lot of room to continue to grow. That means potential for more followers. Second, it's a more targeted audience. While Facebook is about sharing photos, it's just as much about sharing stories, or having discussions, or messaging. Instagram is all about the photos. And that's where I want to be focusing my energy...on a growing platform that's the go-to for photo editors and that's designed to be all about the photos.
We’ve all seen lists of gear that photographers use when shooting. It’s a myriad of lenses, filters, camera bodies and lighting equipment that can be mind boggling. Smartphones are now an essential piece of gear for photography. And I’m not talking about using your phone to shoot photos. I’m talking about all the apps that I regularly use when I’m shooting. Many of these have replaced old hardware and put it all in one portable device. Below is a list of my favorite apps. FYI I’m using an Android phone (I managed to achieve escape velocity from planet Apple) but all of these apps are also available for iPhone.
1. Easy Release – Model Releases are important to get the most out of every photo I shoot. Easy Release has been around for a few years and is accepted by stock agencies. Forget paper model releases, this is the way to go. The model, photographer, and a witness all sign the release on the phone. It can add a photo of the model in the release then email a PDF to the photographer and the model. It’s so easy that I’ve done model releases in the tent at the end of a day of shooting in the alpine. It just makes getting a model release so much easier. Android version here.
2. DOF calculator – This app will give you precise depth of field information for the camera, focal length, and aperture you are using in a quick look up table. Android version here.
3. Smart Compass – When shooting landscape photos, I need to know where the sun will rise and set to anticipate the light. Android page here.
4. Angry Birds Star Wars – just kidding. This one is for my kids. Really.
5. Dolphin browser – I like this better than the native browser app for Android. It has tabs and I like the swipe motion to bring up favorites. As an outdoor photographer, accessing weather information when I’m shooting is essential. Android version here.
6. Avalanche Forecast – I haven’t used this one in the field yet since it just came out for Android. But this will be a very useful tool when I shoot in the backcountry…which should be very soon. The app aggregates avalanche forecast information from all avalanche centers in the US and Canada. Check it before you head into the backcountry, then it will cache the information when you lose your data service. Android and iPhone.
7. Instagram – of course. No explanation necessary. Android version here.
8. Photo Editor – I rarely will edit anything on my phone, but if I do, this is what I use. Android version here.
9. Sundroid – Great for landscape photography. It will give sunrise/set and moonrise/set information for any location in the world on any date. I use this all the time. Android version here.
10. Tide Chart – Again for shooting landscape images, it will give tide information for any number of locations and date. Android version here.
11. Swiftkey – This isn’t a photo app but will increase your productivity if you use your phone to email or text a ton. It’s a keyboard app (not available for iPhone!) that not only predicts the current word you are typing but will suggest the next word you want. It learns your typing patterns and words you use a lot and it’s an incredible time saver. It also has swipe option. Android version here.
12. Aurora Buddy – Do you want to photograph the northern lights? Then it helps to know when the Aurora Borealis will be making an appearence! This app will tell you how likely it is to appear in the Northern sky. Android page here.
13. Google Earth – A great tool for trip planning. The smartphone version isn’t the full version of a desktop but still is great to have handy. Android version here.