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Photography on Instagram - How to beat the algorithm

Instagram has gone through many changes in its lifetime, often they are not well received at first but people eventually get used to it. Currently, however, there has been a huge backlash to their attempts to copy TikTok and force creators to make more video content. Some creators have embraced this very well while others have struggled to adapt. In this post, I'm going to talk about a few reel ideas you can use if you want to explore that avenue, as well as some tips and techniques to maintain your engagement while sticking to pure photos. This advice might not work for everyone and certainly won't work immediately but I have noticed a massive drop in my reach and engagement so these are the techniques I'm using to slowly build it back up.

Firstly I'll start with some reel ideas for photographers. For anyone who doesn't already know reels are short form videos similar to Tiktok. For people who have spent their whole time on the platform posting pictures, suddenly being expected to do video can seem like a daunting task but it doesn't have to be. Reels are often associated with lip syncs and dancing but there is so much more to them and they can be quite powerful for photographers to show their work to a much wider audience.

The first question you have to ask yourself is if you want to be in the video or not. Lots of photographers have found a lot of success doing talking head videos where they explain editing techniques, review gear and give tips and tricks. This is a highly effective way to succeed with reels as this sort of content is very 'saveable' (people will save the video to use later when they need the information you have provided).

If you don't want to be in the video another very effective technique is to simply sync a load of your photos to trending audio. This provides a beautiful carousel of your work that will be pushed out by the algorithm because of the song it is using. If you already film some video content, even if it is just some BTS shots then this can be very useful to provide an intro before cutting to the carousel of images. If you don't mind being on camera a bit then try getting a friend to film you taking a photo, this makes a great introduction and captures the viewer's attention before cutting to show off your work.

Another idea that works very well is a 'scene vs shot' type video. These are very easy to film, don't require you to be on camera or speak and are quick to edit. Simply film where you are on your phone, film your camera on the tripod or film zooming into your viewfinder. Then cut the video to the final image and sync it with some audio. A few creators wear body cams as they shoot so they are constantly getting footage of their camera as they take photos and then whenever they want to make this type of reel they have the introductory shot sorted and just need to cut to the final image.

One last reel idea to get you started is a before and after edit. To create this you just have to cut together your image from before and after editing, try using an app like cap cut to create a cool transition between the two. It's best to add text or a countdown to keep viewers attention before the transition and so they know what is going on. Sync this transition with a drop in some trending audio and you're all set.

Next, I'll talk about some things that can help you boost the engagement on your photos if you really don't want to touch reels. These tips are what I am using to increase my reach and slowly but surely get my engagement back up to where it was. One of the most important things to remember is Instagram is a social media platform, you can't just upload media and leave it, you also have to be social. What I mean is if you don't interact with other content it is very unlikely people will interact with yours. When the algorithm decides whether to show your content to people or not one of the deciding factors is your connection to the person it is showing your content to. Have they liked your photos before? Have you exchanged DMs? Do they view your story? Etc. All of these create a stronger bond between you and a potential viewer that tells Instagram that they might like to see your image. If you reply to someone's story saying their photo looks good and they reply saying thank you, congratulations you've just exchanged DMs and have strengthened the connection between your accounts making it more likely they will see your future content. If you like and comment on a few of their posts and they return the favour then again, they are more likely to see your future content. One thing to note is just posting 'nice shot' on hundreds of images will get you nowhere. You need to post valuable comments that are likely to start a conversation 'the lighting here is great, what strobe did you use' 'that's such a beautiful sunset where was this taken' etc. By engaging more with people you are likely to get more engagement back and from there, your posts will start to be seen by more and more people.

The next tip I have is to utilise stories, these are a great way to reach your followers and create engagement even if they're not seeing your posts. One of the problems with posts is that if people don’t engage with them, they stop seeing them, but if they don't see them then they can't engage and therefore never see them. With stories however they are an easier way to generate engagement with the people who do see them, if those people engage then your story is pushed out to more and more of your followers and people who don't see your posts then get an opportunity to interact with your work and build that connection. The way to do this is with interactive stickers. If you post a story with your latest picture and ‘new post’ over the top then people are unlikely to interact. But using the Poll, Question, Reaction slider etc you give the viewer a quick and easy way to engage with your account and in doing so build a stronger connection. In my experience, if I ask a question in the caption of an image on my feed, I might get one or two responses. If however, I post a story with a poll sticker that asks the same question I might get 10-20 responses. By making it easy people are more inclined to answer your question, the more people who answer, the more people who see the story and might also answer and so on. Once people have seen and interacted with a few of your stories there is then a much greater chance they will see your posts in their feed and if they do a better chance they will interact as they feel more connected to you and your work.

While every new Instagram update can be daunting at first and often causes your engagement to dip, this latest one has hit the photography community particularly hard. It is up to us as creators to decide if we want to go with the algorithm and change our styles to please it or stick with what we’re doing and accept we will get less engagement. As people adjust and the algorithm settles down in its new form we will figure out new ways to get the results we want out of the platform and in time this will just be the new normal. One final piece of advice for all creators is to help each other out, liking someone's content costs you nothing but means little to the algorithm. Saving someone's content on the other hand still costs you nothing but means loads to Instagram and gives people's work a real boost. If you have the time and like the work then leave a comment too, not only will this help the person you're commenting on but will most likely improve your engagement too. Remember this is a social media platform and it is important to be social!

In my day job I am a content creator and social media manager so if you find this kind of post valuable and would like me to post more about social media tips and tricks then let me know in the comments as I have a lot more I can share on the subject. I would love to hear your feedback on my posts so if you have a second leave a comment below and let me know what you think or if you have any ideas for what you want to see next dm me on Instagram, I’d love to talk to you!


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