Putting Photography Online, Part III: Should You Be Social?

Many photographers are wary of social sites like Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter because of the Terms of Service issue: whenever you post to these services, there’s a chance that your work may be stolen, shared improperly, or used without your permission. Despite the risks, some users are embracing these platforms as a way to build an audience and get people interested in their work. 

Instagram in particular has become a major visual platform over the past few years, with over 100 million active users. David Guttenfelter, Associated Press Chief Photographer in Asia, has over 120,000 followers. He began shooting pictures on his smartphone in 2010 while on a military embed in Afghanistan, and has seen direct benefits from using the service.

“I have been offered assignments because people saw my Instagram stuff from North Korea,” he says. “I don’t think they would have paid any attention to [my photography] if they hadn’t seen that work.”

Guttenfelder's instagram account has become a valuable marketing and branding tool.

Guttenfelder’s instagram account is a way for potential clients to find his work.

Guttenfelder’s Instagram work went from being a personal hobby, to a valuable marketing tool. Especially for a young photojournalist just starting out, he says, it can be a valuable way to get your name out there and pique the interest of clients. His iPhone pictures, he says, “point to the other work that I do; they generate interest in all of my photography, and in me as a photographer and the stories that I want to cover.”

Photographer Ramin Talaie likes another aspect of social photo apps. “If you use the sites properly, it’s part of the creative process, that helps with your growth and your creative juices,” he says. Moreover, sites like Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram encourage feedback and critiques from the community of users, which can be helpful.

Other photographers have a different take. “I am a working photographer and for me it’s a lot of time to work these sharing platforms, to work them well,” says Nina Berman. Updating a feed regularly enough to generate interest takes energy she’d rather invest in other projects. She isn’t sure what the big picture goal should be with social apps, either.

“What do you want from your followers? What does it mean to have your picture liked? Are they just a passive audience, or are you trying to activate them some other way?” she wonders. While she’s decided Instagram is not for her, she can appreciate how others use it as a way to communicate and as a marketing tool. To that end, she suggests young photographers be discerning with the pictures they put up.

“It’s important to curate your social media, whether it’s visual or words,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend if one wants to be a professional photographer that one mixes their pictures of their personal life with pictures of their work, and I think young journalists don’t get this.”

Guttenfelder also recommends being prudent and selective with the work you put up, but for a different reason: Terms of Service and sharing issues. His Instagram feed, he says, is more of a personal project. “It’s not meant to be my living; it’s meant to point to the work that is my professional living,” he says. “I wouldn’t give away my other photography. I wouldn’t put it out there.”

In the end, it’s about striking a balance between being prudent with your rights – and time – and sharing your work to promote your photography and find a creative outlet. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and it’s ultimately a personal decision for each photographer. If you do decide to go ahead and be social with your work, remember: post frequently, curate your feed, and be wary of posting pictures you’re hoping to publish or sell.

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