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3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio

18 min read

Instagram can be a powerful portfolio – IF you know how to use it. Three real photographers tell us how they learn, engage, and sell with Instagram! (Featuring: ELIZABETH BLANK, LAJOY COX, and DAN ALMASY)

Show of hands:

How many of you have watched a free webinar about how to get more Instagram likes? Which of you has paid $15 or $20 for an online Instagram class? And who here has shelled out $$$$ for a social media course “guaranteed” to attract followers?

If you’re sitting there with your hands still in your lap – well, I can’t see you anyway. (But I’m guessing you at least twitched a finger.)

Let’s be honest: many of these classes are a big, fat waste of your time and money. Some of them are GREAT, however. They present tried-and-true marketing methods that will draw likes and followers.

Here’s the problem:

Whether you have 50 followers or five million, numbers don’t mean a thing if they don’t translate into real, live clients.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Instagram Followers Don't Matter. You Need Real, Live Clients!

Instagram: Uncomplicated

I talked to three thriving photographers here in ShootProof’s home city of Atlanta, Georgia, who told us: Instagram success doesn’t have to be that complicated.

And no: these photographers aren’t photo industry “rockstars.” They’re real, hard-working photographers just like you. And they’ve built healthy, sustainable businesses through their powerful Instagram portfolios.

I’ll let them tell you how they’ve done it…

“Can You Actually Get Clients Through Instagram?”

The first thing I wanted to know was whether these photographers are actually getting clients because of Instagram. Are people actually contacting them (through Instagram, email, phone, etc.), and saying:

“I found you on Instagram, and I’d like to work with you.”

Meet LaJoy Cox

Weddings & Portraits

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: LaJoy Cox on Instagram
LAJOY COX photographed by @ms_visualsandphotos

LAJOY COX: I book ALL of my clients through Instagram! Most brides who find my work on Instagram visit my website next. Then they’ll email me and tell me they found me on Instagram! They’ll tell me how long they’ve been following me, and how strongly they connect with my work.

“Because Instagram is so different from a website, I can post more images and include fun things my website doesn’t show.”

HOMEWORK: Edit the Past

Because Instagram makes it easy to share a variety of visual content, it’s super-important that everything you share is targeted to your ideal client! Revisit your past year (or two) of Instagram posts, and delete anything that’s weighing down your feed.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Wedding Photographer
Photographs by LAJOY COX

ANNE: Have you noticed a difference between your “Instagram clients” and the clients who didn’t find you through Instagram?

LAJOY: There is a huge range of potential clients on Instagram. When I’m contacted via Instagram, I go through the same process I would follow if someone contacted me via email. No matter where they come from, I have to make sure they are a good fit for me, and I am the right photographer for them.

Meet Dan Almasy

Commercial Portraits

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Dan Almasy on Instagram
DAN ALMASY photographed by @zarias

DAN ALMASY: I’ve had everyone from models and actors, to artists and musicians, and even corporate clients reach out to me through Instagram to make photos for them.

“Most of my clients are artists of some type, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I’ve photographed all different kinds of people, but I really enjoy working with others who are also creative. I feel it helps us to all spur each other on to make more and better art. It’s also a great way to connect and stay tethered to the community.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Double Exposure of Two Women
Photographs by DAN ALMASY

ANNE: Do you have any tips or tricks for helping these creative types find you on Instagram?

DAN: Utilizing some of the great tools that Instagram has put in place for businesses is really important. Paying attention to the analytics, making good use of hashtags, and also tagging accounts that compliment or support the kind of work you do are good practices.

“Find accounts that feature the kinds of work you like and/or do, and tag them. You could get featured, which will help expose you further to your target audience!”

PRO TIP: Getting Featured

Many Instagram accounts won’t feature images with a watermark – including ShootProof – because it creates brand confusion. We’re not telling you not to watermark. Just be aware of this possibility.

Meet Elizabeth Blank

Underwater Children’s Photography

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Elizabeth Blank on Instagram

ELIZABETH BLANK: I definitely have clients who find me through Instagram! I post hashtags targeted for my area and the services I offer, such as: #atlantafamilyphotographer or #underwaterphotographer.

“By using hashtags in an intentional way, I’m inviting potential clients to become familiar with me via Instagram.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Underwater Child Photography

ANNE: Can you describe the quality of the clients you book via Instagram?

ELIZABETH: As the focus of my business has evolved, I’ve seen exactly how valuable Instagram is. Instagram has singlehandedly connected me to brands and companies looking to hire underwater photographers.

“I recently wrapped an awesome project for a national resort and waterpark, and the brand marketing manager found my work on Instagram.”

Suffice it to say, the clients I’ve worked with via Instagram have absolutely been my ideal clients!

Does It Matter What & When You Post?

Before you read how our pros responded, know this: your unique content calendar will develop dependent on:

  • the location(s) of your clientele
  • your photography genre(s)
  • how much time you, personally, wish to dedicate to Instagram

LAJOY: I only post to Instagram once a day – usually in the evening so I can reach my west coast followers as well as my east coast crowd. A wedding usually fills six to nine blocks (six to nine days, two to three rows). I post my portrait sessions in three blocks – three days, one row. If possible, I make sure my row groupings contain images with the same color scheme and lighting type.

“In the end, though, I decide if a photo is right by the feeling that the image gives me.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: LaJoy Cox Instagram Feed
A Snapshot of LAJOY COX’s Instagram Feed

To keep my followers from getting bored, I never post two different weddings next to each other. My specialty is wedding photography, but I love photographing models and lifestyle, too. By blending weddings, portraits, engagements, lifestyle family shoots, and detail images, my feed appeals to a much larger audience.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Bridesmaids Laughing
Photograph by LAJOY COX

DAN: I would love to post every single day, but I don’t always have that much content.

“Instead of sticking to a schedule of any sort, I focus on new work that I’m excited about.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Dan Almasy Instagram Feed
A Snapshot of DAN ALMASY’s Instagram Feed

When I have something to share, the first thing I’ll do is look at my grid and see what will fit in terms of color, pattern, texture, and composition. I alternate my posts with a strict portrait-abstract-portrait format to keep my grid as interesting and varied as I can.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Studio Portraits
Photographs by DAN ALMASY

ELIZABETH: The frequency of my Instagram posts could be described as an “ebb and flow.” Some weeks, I post every day. Other weeks, I’m lucky to get one post up. I don’t recommend this approach to others actively looking to engage with the Instagram community, but this approach has worked for me and my business.

“I’ve learned not to stress too much about my frequency of Instagram posts when other areas of my business are super busy and need my attention.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Elizabeth Blank Instagram Feed
A Snapshot of ELIZABETH BLANK’s Instagram Feed

If I’ve captured an image that truly speaks to me as an artist, then it will wind up on Instagram at some point. I try to post some images immediately after taking them, but I also have no problem posting an image from last week, last month or even last year!

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Underwater Photography Atlanta

What Does Instagram Have To Do With Your Brand?

Your brand extends far beyond your logo or your website. Your brand is exemplified in the presets you apply, the values you hold dear, the gifts you send to clients, the customer service you provide, the way you dress and carry yourself… you get the idea.

Instagram is the perfect place to communicate your brand in a current, conversational way!

LAJOY: I aim to post images that are bright, vibrant, and show the personalities of my models or clients, because that’s the brand I want to communicate. Magazine features, and photographs of myself and my associate photographers are also an important part of my brand.

“Before I rebranded to my current business name, no one even knew I’m a woman! Now when I post, I make sure I’m communicating myself and my brand fully.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Groom and Bride Portraits
Photographs by LAJOY COX

DAN: When I really started focusing and curating my Instagram feed a few years ago, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to represent my aesthetic, and stay true to visuals I enjoyed and felt good about. And that turned into the feed I have now.

“Now, instead of me trying to bend to fit my client’s aesthetic, my clients seek me out specifically for what I do. This is the importance of having a defined style and showing the kind of work you want to do – not just what you think other people want to see.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Commercial Photographer
Photographs by DAN ALMASY

ELIZABETH: When you scroll through my Instagram feed, I think it’s easy to pinpoint my style right away: clean, classic, and warm.

“Consistency in editing makes it much easier curate a feed of images that compliment one another.”

The tones of my images – whether it be an underwater photo or a picture taken at Disney World – complement each other regardless of the subject.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Children's Photographer Underwater

I used to co-mingle my personal and business photographs, but I quickly realized these two approaches needed separate accounts. I think it can be confusing for potential clients to see a snapshot of your child getting their first haircut next to a beautiful, intentional, carefully-edited portrait from a client session. I separated the two accounts early on and have never looked back.

“By having an account focused solely on showcasing my professional images, I’ve created a cohesive brand representing the kinds of high-caliber images my clients can expect when they book a session with me.”

How Do You Keep Control of Your Social Spaces?

Social media is both a blessing and a curse. If you haven’t already experienced this reality firsthand, give it time; you will.

Anyone who spends much time in online communities knows: you have to set boundaries if you’re going to keep control of your brand and maintain your sanity.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Take Control of Your Social Media

An insightful, experienced social media maven once told me, “Nobody s#*ts in my sandbox.” And as crass as that sounds, when it comes to managing your social media spaces – where, truly, any cat in the neighborhood can wander through and contaminate the place – it’s best to keep a firm lid on things.

LAJOY: I do not engage in gossip, and I do not allow people on my page to bash anyone else.

“It’s important to me to keep my page positive so my clients feel good about being featured there.”

I comment and post on other pages in the same manner, showing my personality but staying respectful of each person who could be following me.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio
Photographs by LAJOY COX

DAN: I try and keep it professional and friendly. My feed doesn’t really showcase anything from my personal life, but I do post a lot of personal things to my Instagram story, and I have lots of conversations and interactions with followers that way. I also comment and interact with others’ stories often. It’s my way of separating my work and personal life in the same space, if that makes sense.

“In my feed itself, I always make a point to thank folks for commenting, and I answer questions as soon as I can.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Music Photographer
Photographs by DAN ALMASY | Hair: @ashlenncreehair | Makeup: @alliewheelerhair

ELIZABETH: While Instagram is an incredible tool for networking and a wonderful way to connect with other photographers and potential clients, it is not my top priority when it comes to running a successful business.

“Social media can become all consuming if you let it, and I have had to set boundaries to prevent it from taking on a life of its own.”

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Kids Photographer Underwater

I try to abide by the Golden Rule on Instagram, and treat people the way I’d like to be treated.

“Unkind opinions about others in the industry, and mean, unsupportive words do not have a place in my tiny corner of the Instagram world.”

Reframe Your Idea of Instagram Success

Generally speaking, what is success to YOU? Once you know what your success looks like, you can stop using others’ dreams as the framework for your own.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Mirror Selfie
Self-portrait by LAJOY COX

Homework: Define Your Success

Set a timer for five minutes. Without overthinking or over-analyzing, write down anything and everything that makes you feel fulfilled in your life as a photographer. Examples include:

  • earning a living doing what I love
  • spending more time with friends and family
  • creating photos with kick@$$ clients

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Editorial Photographer
Photograph by DAN ALMASY

Instagram Is Working For You When…

Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to define success on your own terms, ask yourself:

How is Instagram contributing to my goals and values?

If the answer is, “It’s not,” then it doesn’t matter how many bajillion followers you have.

So forget the followers.

Let’s get you truly Insta-awesome.

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Headshots Photographer
Photographs by DAN ALMASY

Who Inspires YOU?

Here’s who inspires our featured pros…

LaJoy follows@janawilliamsphotos_ , @stanlophotography, and @elizajanephoto
Dan follows (“way too many people,” including:) @janove, @temaelkedial, and @aspictures
Elizabeth follows @graymalin, @amivitale, and @maliworkman

Share your Instagram inspiration in the comments below!

3 Simple Approaches To A Powerful Instagram Portfolio: Atlanta Underwater Photographer


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