PHLEARN MagazineThe Photographer’s Complete Guide to Instagram Marketing

The Photographer’s Complete Guide to Instagram Marketing

Instagram is one of the most popular social networks worldwide, especially among young adults. The photo sharing app was born in 2010, purchased by Facebook in 2012, and has grown to over a billion users who log into their accounts every day.

Although the app began as a place for users to share their photographs, brands quickly learned that it was a platform that could be used to market effectively. Today, there are over 25 million business profiles on Instagram. If you’re thinking of promoting your business on Instagram, here are a few statistics according to Hootsuite:

  • 80 percent of users follow at least one brand
  • 60 percent of users have discovered a product on the platform
  • 75 percent of users take an action like visiting a brand’s website after looking at a brand’s post

All this is to say that Instagram means business!

Who Is on Instagram?

While Americans across the board use Instagram, according Sprout Social, 18 to 29-year-olds are the primary users. The Pew Research Center indicates that adults 50+ are the smallest group of adopters and are more likely to be found on Facebook and YouTube. So, despite being one of the most adopted social media networks in the world, as a business tool it might be more useful to brands that are looking to attract an audience in the under 50 range.

Using Instagram with a Business Account

While you may already be using Instagram for a personal account, the platform has rolled out business accounts that give users deeper insights into their account statistics. To create an Instagram business account, you will need to download the app with your smartphone and then sign up with your business email address.

Creating Your Business Account

While Instagram does give you the option to create an account with your Facebook profile, that will create an account based on that personal profile. You can always switch a personal account over later but it’s better to start your business account fresh with a clear purpose and strategy. When opening the app, you will be given the option to sign up for a new account:

Next, you will be prompted to create your username and password. For your username, use your business name or something close to it if that username is already taken.

You can also change your username later if need be:

Next, you will be invited to import your contacts and to link your Facebook account to find people to follow.

My recommendation is to skip this step for now, and work on getting your bio completed before you start connecting to others on Instagram. Don’t worry, you can always come back to this step later.

Choosing Your Bio Photo

Your bio photo on Instagram is going to represent your business. As with Facebook, go with an image of your logo or an image that is associated with your business. A professional headshot is fine if you market yourself as the face of your business.

You’ll be given the option to import a photo from Facebook, but this will pull from your personal Facebook profile. So skip that option and just upload a logo or professional headshot from your smartphone by choosing Choose from Library.

Optimizing Your Bio

You have 150 characters in your bio to let users know who you are, what your business is about and what is in it for them. You can use relevant hashtags in your bio as well as direct users to your website or to sign up for your lead magnet using a clickable URL of your choice:

Here’s an example of a well optimized Instagram bio for Marie Forleo that utilizes keywords, hashtags, an offer for relevant prospects, and a little personality!

Your bio will evolve over time as you have different offers to promote, so for future edits, click on the Edit Profile button on your profile. Here, you will be able to change your photo, name, username, bio, and URL.

Converting to an Instagram Business Profile

Once you have set up your profile, and are ready to start posting for your brand, you will want to convert your account to a Business Profile. You’ll need to go into your settings, which can be found in the upper right-hand of the app with the three stacked lines menu, and then click on Settings at the bottom of the next screen.

Within Settings, you’ll find the option to convert your account. Doing so gives you demographic data on your followers, insights into how your posts are performing, and the ability to create promotions from your posts. You can also add a contact button to your profile to encourage users to get in touch with you.

In order to run a Business Profile on Instagram, you will need to link it to a Facebook Business Page. If you choose not to connect a Facebook Business Page, Instagram will generate an unowned Facebook Page that people can search for and check in to. For SEO and brand cohesion purposes, you don’t want people interacting with a Facebook Page associated with your business that you don’t own. So while setting up your Business Profile, make sure to connect to your Facebook Business Page. If you don’t have one, use our guide here.

Types of Instagram Posts

Though Instagram originally began as an image sharing platform, users can now also share video content, image carousels and Stories. While images are still the most common type of post, experimenting with other kinds of content can be a great way to see what your audience engages with the most.

Image Sizes

There are three images sizes that you can utilize on Instagram. By default, images are cropped to a 1080px by 1080px square. However, you can choose to use a horizontal or a portrait orientation. When you’re considering images for your Instagram gallery, keep these orientations in mind:

  • A square image is cropped to 1080px in width by 1080px in height
  • A vertical image will be cropped to 1080px in width by 1350px in height
  • A horizontal image will be cropped to 1080px in width by 566px in height

Video Specs

As with images, Instagram supports three types of in-feed video sizes. You can upload square videos, horizontal or vertical. Square videos require a minimum resolution of 600 x 600px. Landscape videos need to be 600 x 315px at a minimum, and vertical videos need to be 600 x 750px minimum. The maximum video length for in-feed videos is 60 seconds, and Instagram recommends a .mp4 or .mov file type.

Carousel Specs

A carousel allows you to upload between two and 10 pieces of content in the same post. This format is a great way to share an image with behind-the-scenes content, show a step-by-step guide, or to showcase more related content. Images and videos in a carousel will all be cropped to a square, so be aware of your compositions when using this format!


Instagram Stories are photos and videos that appear at the top of the home screen and disappear after 24 hours. The content shared in Stories won’t appear in your followers’ feeds or on your profile grid. Their ephemeral nature makes them a great way to showcase a more casual and real-life side to your business.

To view someone’s story, either tap on their profile photo from the top of the home screen or from their profile. The story will then appear full-screen and you will be able to see all the photos and videos they have shared within the past 24 hours. Some users can also choose to highlight some of their stories on their profile.

Instagram Live

Like Facebook, Instagram has a live video function via Stories that allows you to stream real-time video. Live videos are great to do Q&As with your followers, to give glimpses of real-time events, or to do a reveal in your business! In order to start a live video, open the Instagram camera, swipe to the Live setting, and click Go Live.

Your followers who are on the app will receive a notification when you go live and can join your conversation by using the built-in chat feature. Followers who don’t join in on your live broadcast will be able to watch it for 24 hours afterwards and will be able to access the video at the top of the home screen along with other Stories.


Instagram TV is Instagram’s newest offering and is available to watch either in the Instagram App or the IGTV app. This is where creators are able to upload pre-recorded long-form vertical video. In order to create for IGTV, you will need to download the IGTV app, create a channel and then upload your content. Videos can run up to 10 minutes for non-verified accounts and up to an hour if your account is verified.

To see what other creators are posting on IGTV, click on the small TV icon in the top right of the Home screen:

Right now, IGTV content is only available via the apps and cannot be accessed via desktop.

What to Post to Instagram

As a creative business owner, you have the advantage of being able to create and share original content that shows off your unique brand and experience. As we discussed in our social media strategy article, changing up the kinds of posts you share can help keep your audience engaged. Here are some popular types of content to inspire you:

  1. Behind-the-scenes images
  2. Actionable tips or ideas
  3. Client stories or testimonials
  4. Posts that promote a cause
  5. Inspiring or motivational quotes
  6. Beautiful landscapes
  7. Humorous images or videos
  8. Timely images or news related content
  9. Ask questions
  10. Offers, promotions or giveaways

When to Post to Instagram

Multiple outlets have done studies to discover when the best time to post to Instagram is. And while the data will differ for your business based on your time zone and follower base, Sprout Social’s study indicates that early morning between Tuesday and Friday, and Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are global high points.

Instagram Analytics

When you switch to a Business Account, you gain access to some limited analytics, such as follower growth, impressions, reach, and engagement. Currently, Instagram doesn’t have in-depth analytics platform like Facebook does. However, with the growth of the platform, hopefully one will be forthcoming.

Once you have converted your profile to a business account and have garnered enough followers to begin collecting data, Instagram will give you limited information specific to you about the best times to post based on your followers. To find your insights from your profile, click on the three-lined menu in the top right-hand corner of your screen.

From here, under Audience, you will be able to access data on where your followers are from and what days and time of day your account receives the most engagement. You’ll also be able to drill into your top performing Content and get information on your account’s Activity as well.

More in-depth Instagram metrics are available in third-party apps. Iconosquare and Simply Measured are two that track additional metrics such as followers and engagement over time, the best post time based on previous performance, and your performance compared to competitors you select. Both platforms require a subscription, but they offer a free trial for you to test their offerings first.

Growing Your Following and Driving Business on Instagram

Like any digital marketing venture, growing your following on Instagram takes an investment of time and strategic effort. Once you have your profile built and optimized with a bio and a photo, begin to build out your gallery so that new followers can get an idea of what your brand is about. By posting between nine and 15 high quality photos, people can get a glimpse of your business and decide if they want to follow you.

Use your posts and your captions to educate, inspire and entice your followers. Engage with your followers by liking their content or commenting on their posts. Be genuine, not spammy and you will find that Instagram is a great platform to build community around your business.

If you have created a lead magnet for your business, use the link in your profile to direct visitors there. You can also use your posts to promote your lead magnet. Just be sure not to spam your followers with too many promotional posts.

Being Engaged

Instagram is all about genuine engagement. That’s why buying followers is one of the worst things you can do for your business on Instagram, or on any social media channel. The algorithms of social media platforms like Instagram look for a meaningful engagement between an account and its followers.

So buying followers to make your follower count go up can result in low engagement, which will hurt your account in the long run. Instead, spend some time developing a solid social media strategy for the platform. Once you have your idea client in mind, begin to research followers who fit that avatar. Follow them and engage genuinely with their content.

Determine Who Your Audience Is

If you’ve been following along with our series so far, you’re probably pretty sure who your ideal client is. However, if you haven’t had a chance to create your ideal client avatar, this is a good time to develop one. It’s important to keep your marketing efforts aligned across channels.

If you’re struggling, you can spend some time researching relevant hashtags in your industry to see how competitors speak to a relevant audience. Take note of the demographics of this audience and their pain points. You can also use your competitors as a part of your audience research.

Using Hashtags

Hashtags function as linked, searchable keywords on Instagram and are a great way to help your account be found. You can use up to 30 hashtags in a single post, and according to Simply Measured, posts with relevant hashtags get up to 12.6 percent more engagement. Not only can hashtags increase engagement, but they can help your posts reach your target audience and attract more followers.

Use hashtags as ways to categorize your posts as well as to get in front of your target audience that might be interested in that category. Spend some time researching your ideal client and the hashtags that they are most interested in. Look for popular hashtags and ones that fit your niche. Remember, just because a hashtag is popular on Instagram doesn’t guarantee that your post will be seen. If a hashtag has a lot of posts, yours can quickly get buried.

Instagram recently rolled out the ability to follow a hashtag, and that’s a great way for you to see if a category is relevant to your niche. To research a hashtag, either click it when you see it in someone’s caption or click on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the app. When using the magnifying glass icon, swipe the categories on top until you get to Tags. From here, type in the hashtag you’re interested in.

Using the example of newborn photography, I start by typing in “newborn”. From here, I can see some top hashtags and how many posts are categorized under each. I can also see what hashtags are followed by people that I follow:

When you click on a hashtag, you’ll have the ability to follow it. Then in the future, select posts will show up in your feed. This is a great way to keep tabs on the things that are important to your ideal client.

Scope Out the Competition

If your competitors are on Instagram, spend some time to see what they are posting and what seems to be working for their brand. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the kinds of posts they are using. For example, are videos working well for them or are image carousels? Do they combine images and videos into a single carousel post to give their followers a look behind the curtain? Are they creating very engaging Stories?

Take note of all of this and then ask yourself what you can do to improve upon it or what would be unique to your own brand. Also, take note of the hashtags that your competitors are using, how often they are posting and how quickly their follower count seems to be growing. If you notice that there are things that your competitors aren’t taking advantage of, see if you can use this to your advantage.

You can also see who follows your competitors and then engage with those people. You will want to make sure that you’re doing it in a genuine, non-spammy way. When you begin to follow new accounts, Instagram will begin to recommend new accounts for you to follow. Explore these accounts and see if they would be good fits for your product or service and then begin engaging with them as well.

Create a Social Media Calendar

As you develop your strategy for Instagram, you will want to create a social media calendar, and be consistent with your posting times. According to KISSmetrics, most brands post six times per week. While you don’t have to post that often, the most content you are able to post the faster your audience can grow.

There are plenty of apps out there to help you with your social media calendar. In a previous post, we discussed Hootsuite as a great option for most social networks. With a free account you can schedule up to 30 posts across multiple social networks.

However, with Instagram, one thing that many business owners tend to think about is how their entire galley looks, as well as how each individual image looks in the feed. While Hootsuite is an incredibly powerful tool, it isn’t a visual planner that caters to that overall view of your profile gallery.

There are many other apps out there that do offer the ability to visually curate your posts in advance. I love being able to do this because it helps me to use my Instagram profile as a portfolio with a very specific feel and aesthetic.

One of my favorite apps for this is Plann because they have a desktop and a smartphone that sync with one another. In their free plan, you can drag & drop to curate and schedule up to 30 posts in advance and make sure they all work well together. Their paid plans offer advanced analytics and the ability to see what’s working for your competition.

The downside to apps like Plann is that most of them are unable to auto-post for you. Instead, they have to send you a smartphone reminder to copy and paste your content into the Instagram app. While it’s not a huge amount of trouble, some people might prefer the ability to simply schedule their content and have it auto-post, which Instagram has enabled Hootsuite to do with Instagram Business Accounts. So, when developing your social media calendar, if you decide to use an app for Instagram scheduling, think about the pros and cons of each!

Develop & Maintain Your Aesthetic

Just like its parent company, Instagram has a very crowded and competitive feed. In order to stand out, it’s important to have a strong visual identity. As mentioned before, having a cohesive identity is also important for when users scope out your profile.

One way to create a consistent aesthetic is to pick a certain color palette or “feel” and stick to it. Another way is to pick a specific type of genre for your post. Posting content that is random creates a lack of harmony and makes your business look unprofessional.

Many photography business owners will opt to have multiple Instagram accounts in order to accommodate their various divisions and keep to a single aesthetic per account. For example, they will have one account for wedding photography and one account for newborn images. There is no true right or wrong here. At the end of the day, it comes down to who your ideal client is. If your business is multi-faceted and your ideal client is someone who will probably patronize all the facets, then look for ways to keep your content harmonized under a single umbrella account.

Wrapping It Up

As one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, Instagram will continue to grow and evolve as a marketing platform. It also has the power to help you reach new potential clients and to grow your photography business. By posting high-quality and high-value content, you can begin to build a community of followers who know, like and trust you and who want what your business offers. By keeping a testing and learning mindset, you will learn what works for your business and what type of content, captions, and hashtags help you to reach your goals.

For in-depth info on using other social media for your marketing efforts, check out these resources from PHLEARN:

Jen Kiaba

Jen Kiaba is an award-winning artist, educator and the author of Perfect Facebook Ads. As a former Director at Dragon360, a New York Digital Marketing Agency, she brings her background of working with both small businesses and Fortune 500’s to creative business owners looking to improve their digital presences and strategies. She also blogs about art marketing and licensing at jenkiaba.com

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