I bet the controversial title got you didn’t it! It’s all about the title! Though by the end of this article, you may think I’m on to something.

This was a really tough article to write. At the end of the day, what’s the point of working on and building your social media presence? What do you want to get out of it? If anything? Is it worth it?

As far as I’m concerned and where I am in my career, it’s about marketing myself. It’s about getting my work out there for people to see. And possibly, use my Instagram following as leverage to get jobs over more established photographers. But the second point, I don’t think is that important as we’ll see.

The Social Media Grind

There is a funny and frustrating conversation I have occasionally with a very successful photographer I know. My colleague/friend hates it. Absolutely hates it! The regular and constant postings. The pressure to build their social media following.

Hates it!

“You got to have a million followers on Social Media to be successful!”. I think that’s what many people, especially those trying to build a career right now. I hear it everywhere and all the time I’m on the web. “Here’s how you build you following!”. A new and hot Social Media app is out and you have to decide whether to invest your time into it. Maybe you got on the boat too late to make a million followers on one channel and looking to get in early on another.

I took a look at a variety of photographers and their Social Media success and researched to see if they are as successful as their Social Media following would suggest. In my opinion, I think the answer is clear.

The Social Medialite and Fake Professional Photographer

I belong to the Professional Photographers of America and they were promoting a photographer with a million followers on her YouTube channel. I found out that she had 500k followers on Instagram. They were promoting her to members to wanting to build their own social media following.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Yes. She had 500k followers on Instagram. She did largely beauty and portrait photography. I hate to say it, but her work wasn’t very good. In some instances, I thought it was quite horrible. 

Another kind of faker. Image: The National News

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I also looked to see who was following her. There was no one I follow in my business following her. Zero. Plus, she is Indian. From India. If you look at Indians who are pretty good at Social Media, the number of Instagrammers with over 100k followers isn’t as uncommon as you would think. If you look at Indian women showing off their bodies, they’ll have million+ followers. Pretty but not anything better than you can easily find in New York. Or any better in the world really. How many women outside of India have that kind of following? Not many.

Is this photographer getting work? Sure. Is she busy? Possibly. Is she getting the work I’d want to do for the rest of my life? Or ever? Not on your life. 

And the sad thing is: I bet anyone who signs up for the class didn't do a background check on the photographer. I'm betting my association didn't do a thorough check on her either. Which would be doubly sad. There can be an argument made: you can learn something from her! She must be doing something right!

Like money, there are many ways you can attain it. Question is: is the way to getting there the fastest and with the biggest following going to get you to your real goals?

The Perfect Professional Social Media Photographer

I remember Alexi Lubomirski when he had about 50k followers Instagram. That was 2 – 3 years ago. He’s now close to 400k followers. Which, is pretty damn awesome. Great for him!

So, what happened? How did he grow his Instagram following so well? He’s quite interesting…

First: He does fantastic work. He’s worked with Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and all the personalities you usually find in those magazines. Of course, he’s done a lot of work for big fashion brands.

Second: He’s hugely busy with his Instagram account. He must have an agency or employee who works on it all the time. There is no way he can be doing it himself. And the especially cool thing: his postings are very varied. Honestly, his style of profile is quite similar to mine. We both post a variety of things. It’s photography related. Most photographers post largely and only about their work….

The Luddite Photographer

Would you be surprised to know that many of the best and busiest photographers I know have small to even ZERO social media following? Yes. ZERO.

There are times when I’ll go through a men’s or women’s fashion magazine and will find a really good editorial in it. Magazines like the US and British versions of GQ and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll look up the photographer and their Instagram account. 2000 followers. 2800 followers. I kid you not. Do it yourself.

Probably the biggest surprise was a photographer who I’ve been following for years: European fashion photographer David Thompson. Other than his website, he has zero social media presence. Zero. I’ve looked everywhere. Twitter. Facebook. Nothing. And he's one of the busiest and best photographers I admire.

You know what's weird about this video? It's practically followed me through my whole photography career for one reason or another. It was pretty much the first video I've seen of a real, professional photographer whose career I would love to have and admire. You see too many fakers on Youtube.

If you're paying attention to the details of this video, you can learn a huge amount from it on a technical and professional basis. Professionally, I think it fine-tuned my processes a little. But on a technical basis, it's hugely beneficial. Watch all the little details.

Lastly, I love Phase One camera systems. The detail and image quality is second to none. Surely, you pay for that as they are some of the most expensive camera systems on the planet. I've played with them over the years at various functions. I look at an image that was taken with a camera two generations ago, and it's still the best quality I've ever seen. Folks, that was 7 years ago. How may computers of that time do you know could keep up with todays? Not many if any....

Low or Zero Social Media?

Two reasons. I think:

• Established photographers. Many of these folks were already established before social media was ‘a thing’. They have connections. They don’t need to market themselves. Especially in fashion. The fashion world is a small one. Everyone knows each other. Which then makes it especially hard to get into.

• Clients don’t care about your social media following. They care about the quality of your work and whether we’d be a good match for their work. Having a big social media following just means you know how to use and take advantage of it. It’s no indication of the quality of your work.

My Take on Social Media

While I think having a good Social Media presence is good, I think the importance of it is overrated as far as marketing yourself as a photographer. My research has proven that you don’t need to have 20k followers on Instagram to be in the big magazines. Not even 3000… So if you’re trying to build a career, should you spend time on Social Media? Yes. Absolutely. But….

Being a Creative and Focusing Your Efforts

The thing with Social Media, whether it be Instagram, Twitter, etc is…. They change. Or they may disappear altogether. Remember Flickr? Tumblr? America Online? Yahoo!? They are either gone or for the most part, irrelevant to growing your online presence.

So for me, I’ve decided several things:

• My Website. My website is mine. I can make it to whatever I want. I can make it as good as I want. I can write about whatever I want. I can add/remove whatever features I want. It’s not going anywhere.

This is my main focus.

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• Time. I took a course on social media and they recommended to post 3 – 4 times a week. And I did that for a while. Did it help? Sure. But considering the time it took to grow my numbers, I don’t think it’s very effective use of my time. These photographers with 300k, 500k+ followers. They are spending a tremendous amount of time on Social Media. Are they getting the quality and quantity of work they want?

Nope.

• The Blog. I actually enjoy writing my blog. There’s been a trend in the world of short, intense burst information, that people enjoy reading blogs again. It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s informative. Helpful. People get to know me. And I enjoy it!

• Being a Creative. I’ve decided instead of taking a methodical approach to Social Media, that I would take a much more fun and organic approach to it. Instead of posting several times a week with mediocre content, spend time on great and unique posting once a week. Or maybe every other week. Work should be fun!

What’s Next

I think I’m going to write a yearly blog article on the subject. I think it would be fun to reflect on what has happened since the writing of this article. But I’m going to give this a shot.

While work is work, you have a choice on how to approach it. It can be a grind, or you can make it worthwhile. I choose the latter. And always have.

Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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