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  • Writer's picturePatrice Gagnon

How to Increase Your Engagement on Instagram Tips for Photographers

Updated: Apr 25

To increase your engagement on Instagram as a photographer you need to become a better photographer, engage with the community, use hashtags, use location tags, post at the right time, and much more.

This guide was written to show you all the ways you can grow your engagement on Instagram the right way.

Instagram can sometimes feel impossible. It seems that some days your photos will do really well and then for months you’ll be stuck in a rut with no increase to your engagement.

Being one of the biggest social media platforms online, as much as we may hate it at times, we just can’t ignore the power of Instagram as photographers.

Now before I dive in to the article I would like to talk about expectations of engagement. You may be coming here today wanting a 10%-20% engagement rate and unless you’ve got a very small account that just won’t happen.

The average engagement rate is 1%-3% with 3% being considered a very good engagement rate for larger accounts. If you have anything above that then you should feel good about your engagement and this article won’t be for you.

If your engagement rate is under 3% then you might want to keep reading. I myself have been in a similar situation before on my account. My account was very old, and I had long periods when I didn’t use it which hurt my engagement as my content was no longer being served to my followers. My engagement rate was a pitiful 1.2%.

As a photographer it can be very hard on your morale to see such low engagement, but using the tips I’m about to share I managed to increase my engagement up to a healthy 3.6% in about six months’ time.

Here are the 17 best ways to increase your Instagram engagement rate:

1. Become a Better Photographer

2. Shoot in Better Locations

3. Use Hashtags

4. Engage with Your Followers

5. Interact with Active People

6. Take Up Space with Your Photos

7. Post at the Right Time

8. Use Call-to-Actions

9. Reply to Your Comments

10. Post More Often

11. Post Less Often

12. Use Instagram Stories

13. Use Location Tags

14. Post Some Personal Pictures

15. Create a Giveaway

16. Use Engagement Pods

17. Get Rid of Your Ghost Followers

Become a Better Photographer

Toronto skyline photograph
This is an image I took last summer in Toronto after watching tutorials on skyline photography.

Shooting better content is essential to getting engagement on Instagram. I don’t care how many tricks you try, you must create something that people will love.

When my engagement was down, the first thing I did was try to find ways to get more engagement. That was my first mistake because it just didn’t work. I had to look at my pictures and be honest with myself. I decided to try new things like long exposure photography, lightroom tutorials, joining photography Facebook groups, getting inspiration from the explore page, etc. I’m still not the best, but I’ve become a lot better than I was before and I am happy that I took the time to work on my photography.

Here’s why you should prioritize this before any other tips. The way the algorithm works, it tracks engagement yes, but it also tracks how long users stay on your content, or if they engage in other ways such as saving your pictures or visiting your profile. They will even track screenshots. This means that even if you manage to push enough engagement to trick the algorithm into thinking that it’s a good picture, when your picture gets served to more users, they will just skip it or move on quickly which will indicate that it’s not good enough for the general public. That means you’ll just be making the same mundane content over and over again and it will never break out because it’s just not as good as it could be.

If you have some great shots on the other hand, when your content gets pushed to top hashtags and the explore page, there is a stronger likelihood that it will stay there because it will stand out from the rest.

Another reason why you should focus on your craft first, is that Instagram won’t be here forever, there are tons of other places where people will look at your content and if you’re really good you will always stand out and be on top.

Shoot in Better Locations

Montreal Horse Carriage during snowstorm
I took the metro in my city to shoot the Old Town during a snowstorm.

Another essential tip to getting more engagement on Instagram is going somewhere that looks nice.

I don’t care how good you are, your backyard is not the best place to shoot amazing pictures. And that park you post every other picture, there’s just not that many angles you can take, we’ve seen it, move on.

Finding a good place can seem expensive and daunting but it really is not. Every place in the world has some great spots for photography, you just need to find them.

Here are some tips for finding great photography spots in your area:

1. Google “Best Photography Spots in (Where You Live)”

2. Go on Instagram and search using the Places tab. Type in your city or the area you want to go.

3. Use Google Maps Street View or Google Earth. Take 1-2 hours exploring your city on the app to try and find cool spots that no one knows exist.

Use Hashtags

Instagram Hashtags
Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Posting a picture without hashtags is like opening a business without advertising. How else are people supposed to know about your great content?

Plus, with the new follow hashtag feature, people who follow the hashtags you use will have your content directly in their feed if you make it to the top posts. That’s a good opportunity for more engagement.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Duh Patrice! But what hashtags should I use, give me the best ones!”

Here’s a secret, the best hashtags change all the time and they won’t work for everyone either. The best ways to use hashtags is to do your own research and find the best ones for your account. You also need to make sure that you don’t always use the same ones because Instagram will punish that behavior and limit the amount of people that find you through the hashtags.

So how do you perform hashtag research? Let me tell you:

1. Go on the Explore Page because that is where you will find the most successful content, these people know what they are doing

2. Find a picture that looks like what you want to post or usually post

3. Find the hashtags they used for the photo, it will either be in the caption or hidden as a comment

4. Screenshot and type them in notepad. I know, it’s super-tedious! If you do it on the computer you can just copy-paste the hashtags and send them to yourself on Facebook messenger, super easy and barely an inconvenience

5. Put those exact hashtags in your next post

6. Look at your insights, how much reach did you get with those hashtags, write it down somewhere. Something good would be 50% but aim for 99%. When you find good hashtags try to use them once every six days. Keep a top 6 and try new ones occasionally until you find hashtag sets that work consistently for you.

An important consideration for hashtags is to avoid using big ones like #love, #photo, etc. These large hashtags are used millions of times every single day which means that not only is competition fierce, but the photos that make it to top posts only stay there for a few seconds.

Another good trick for hashtags is to use local hashtags. If you’re taking a picture of the cn tower then use hashtags like #cntower, #toronto, etc. These hashtags are localized and work great if you post landmarks or other well-known spots.

The best place to put your hashtag would be either in the caption or in the comments. There really is no difference where you put your hashtags. Just make sure you don’t use more than 30 as this is the limit. And yes, I would use all 30 hashtags as it maximizes your discovery.

Engage with Your Followers

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

There’s this great thing called reciprocity. When you engage with someone’s content, then they are likely to engage with your content in return. Especially your followers! They already know who you are and when you give them some love they’ll be so happy they might go on your profile and like 30 of your pictures.

I cannot tell you how powerful this is. Before you post, always make it a habit of engaging with a few of your followers. I always like to engage with the followers that engage with me as well.

The first step is to like and comment on the followers that like and comment on my pictures. Then I like to spend some time checking out the people that like my pictures and spend some time liking some of their pictures too.

This is a great way to get more engagement on your photos but also to create some relationships with people. I actually recognize some of my best followers now and I sometimes even wonder what’s going on when they aren’t commenting or liking my pictures, so I go to their account and give them some love.

You can’t take the people who follow you for granted, you must show your appreciation sometimes.

Interact with Active People

Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash

This point builds on my last point. Instagram is a social network and to get engagement you must engage yourself.

Now, you can engage with random people blindly or you can have a clear strategy of how to engage with the right people that will be the most likely to engage back with you:

1. Go on the Explore Page

2. Find content that is similar to yours

3. Go to the comment section

4. Start engaging with the people who comment on the pictures, that means liking and commenting on their stuff, maybe even give them a follow if you like their work

The best time to do this would be immediately after you post your picture. This way new people will find your content and engage which will show Instagram that your content is good and that it should be shown to more people. It will be like an engagement domino effect.

The reason you want to focus on people who comment on pictures like yours is because it guarantees two things: the first being that they like this type of content and two that they are highly engaged on social media and open to supporting other people. This means that they have a higher probability of reciprocating your engagement.

No one said this would be easy, and unless you’re a big-time photographer, you must reach out to people to get some recognition.

Take Up Space with Your Photos

Vertical Instagram Photo. Las Vegas Sunset.
This is an image that I shot vertically. It was perfect for Instagram.

This is an often-overlooked way to get more engagement on Instagram. It is so simple and can really push your engagement to the next level. You should really always aim to maximize your real estate on Instagram.

To get more engagement with your photos, you can try cropping your them at a 4x5 vertical frame. This way when people scroll through their feed and stumble on your picture, it will be taking up almost the entire space on their phone. This means that they are more likely to stop scrolling and to look at your content which means positive signals to the algorithm and more engagement for you.

Now, do I use this all the time? No. I still post horizontal pictures often because that’s just the best version of the picture. But if I can use a 4x5 frame, I will because I know it’s better for my page.

Post at the Right Time

Post on Instagram at the right time
Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

This is important especially with the way the algorithm works now. As Instagram has stated, they have a mix of both chronological and tailored feed which means that they will show you the most recent content that you might like. Most photos that will appear on your feed are usually no more than 4 hours old unless it is an account that Instagram knows you really like.

The best way to find out when the best time to post is to head to your Insights and to look at the data:

1. Go to your “Insights”

2. Go to the “Audience” tab

3. Scroll to the bottom to the “Followers” section

4. Look at the hours, it will tell you when your followers are most active during the day

Posting at the time your followers are most active is a great way to get your content seen by your followers and drive engagement. My best time is around 12pm. That’s when I try to post all my pictures on Instagram because I know that most of my followers are online at that time.

Put a Call-To-Action in Your Caption

Instagram call to action
Photo by Adam Gong on Unsplash

Comments are powerful. Instagram loves comments and getting more comments will push your content to more people.

Actually, getting comments is the hard part. Most people only comment on their close friend’s posts because they feel comfortable commenting there. So how do you get your followers to feel comfortable commenting on your post?

Put a good call-to-action in your picture’s caption. A call-to-action is a phrase that invites the audience to do a specific action. Give them something to talk about, not only will it eliminate the need for them to think about something to say, it also gives them the okay to comment on your photos.

Here are good examples of call-to-action in your posts:

- Ask them something related to your picture, something like “Have any of you been to Nevada? I personally loved it, what did you think about it?”

- Ask them questions related to your niche, something like “I need inspiration for my next destination, what are some of the most beautiful places you’ve been” (I post travel pictures)

- Ask people to fill in the blank, something like “Fill in the blank, my favorite restaurant in the world is _____. Comment below let’s discover food together”

- Ask them to tag a friend, it’s a bit harder to get them to do this, but if it’s a really good picture you can try something like “Tag a person you want to go here with”

Reply to Your Comments

This tip builds on the last one. If people are commenting on your posts, then reply. I see this too many times, photographers with 30-40 comments on their pictures who never reply to any of the comments. It’s such a shame because they could be getting a ton more comments if they only took the time to reply to those people going out of their way to comment on their pictures.

Here’s my strategy. I don’t reply to every single comment ever because I sometimes miss them. But I make it a daily thing to reply to all the comments on my last post before posting my new post. This way I reply to most of my comments and I encourage my followers to comment on my new pictures as well.

This is one of those tips that you just can’t skip. It is essential that you reply to your comments because if you don’t then the people who comment on your pictures will eventually stop commenting. Don’t take your commenters for granted.

Post More Often

Post more often on Instagram
Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

This is another important tip to follow. Posting more often increases the frequency in which your followers see your pictures making them feel more comfortable liking and commenting on your content.

If you post once a month, then a lot of your followers will wonder where the heck you come from, especially if they followed you a long time ago. This will lead to unfollows and decreased engagement on your pictures. That is exactly what happened to me because I wasn’t posting on Instagram consistently.

The golden frequency of posting to Instagram is between once a day to once every three days.

Now, we don’t all have the luxury of traveling the world 24/7 and getting quality content ready everyday but there are some tricks to getting more content for your Instagram page:

1. Take a lot of different photos when you travel, don’t be afraid to click. Traveling for one week can create three months’ worth of content if you plan your trip in the right way.

2. Use your weekends to go out and do some fun stuff in your area, your family will love it and it will give you plenty of opportunities to get some great content.

3. Use old photos. If you haven’t posted a picture for a year then everybody has forgotten about it, don’t feel ashamed of posting some old shots, I’ve posted some of my most engaging content 2-3x over the years when I didn’t have anything else to post and it always does better than it did before.

Post Less Often

Now this is the opposite of what I just said but it needs to be said. I’ve seen it too many times before, people posting 2-3 of their pictures in the same day because they went somewhere cool and they’re overly eager to share it.

When you do this, one of two things happen:

1. You are competing against yourself. Instagram will rarely show your followers three of your pictures in a row. That means they will choose just one of your pictures and show that one to your followers meaning that you’ll be sharing the reach across your photos. This will drastically lower your engagement.It will bore your audience.

2. If you are posting similar pictures on three different posts on the same day, you’ll be annoying them. You’ll likely be unfollowed and then Instagram will see your posts as low quality. If you really want to post them use the carousel function on Instagram and post them together in one post.

No one wants to see that flower ten times with ten different angles, it was great the first time.

Use Instagram Stories

Using Instagram Stories
Photo by Martin Péchy on Unsplash

Instagram stories work on a totally different algorithm. Some people who see your posts don’t see your stories and vice-versa. That’s a great opportunity to bridge story viewers to your Instagram feed.

I personally don’t use stories every day because my life is boring, but when I travel and do fun things, I always make dozens of stories. It is high quality and Instagram pushes my stories to more of my followers. If someone looks at all your stories, Instagram will try showing them your content next because it thinks that they are interested in what you do. And if you are posting great pictures then followers will likely engage and see your content every day from there.

Another great way to use Instagram stories is to share your last picture. Start by clicking on your last picture and then click on the paper-plane icon. From there, click the + sign with add to story to share directly to your story. Then your followers will be able to see your new post in their story and click it to engage. Using a call-to-action is ideal here to encourage them to click on your post.

Use Location Tags

Location tags are an essential part of your posts. Now, we have to be realistic here, location tags won’t give your anywhere near the same reach as hashtags but using them always gives me an extra 50-100 impressions which can create more engagement. It’s so easy to do and takes about 9 seconds. I would try and make the location as specific as possible but if you can’t use the state or the country as the location tag.

Post Some Personal Pictures

As photographers our main concern is shooting amazing pictures that people will enjoy. We often forget that we are also the face of the business and a face is an important tool on social media. I don’t often post personal pictures but when I do, I find that it does as well or sometimes better than my regular posts. That’s because my followers get to put a face to my pictures which strengthens their bond to my page. It’s a great tool to drive more engagement because if your followers see you as a friend then they are more likely to engage.

Create a Giveaway

This is more of a marketing tactic, but it can drive more engagement to your page in general.

The way a giveaway works is that your followers will have to like, comment, and follow you in exchange for a participation. When you engage with someone on Instagram, you are telling the algorithm that you like this type of content. Therefore, if you create a good giveaway, your post will get abnormal engagement and it will be pushed to a lot more of your followers, some of who don’t see your content anymore. This is a great way to get their attention back as they are more likely to see your next few posts.

Creating an Instagram giveaway can be daunting. There are a few ways you can go about it:

1. Email brands offering them your audience in exchange for a sponsored contest (meaning that you will encourage your audience to follow their page with the contest and all they have to do is ship the prize to the winner)

2. Giveaway your own prize

3. Pool your money together with other photographers and create a loop giveaway where you all create a contest together and share each other’s followers by giving away a big prize

Engagement Pods

Engagement Pod
Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

When you participate in engagement pods you are entering black hat marketing territory.

The way engagement pods work is that you create a group with other photographers (or influencers) with a similar style to yours and who have a similar number of followers. When you post to Instagram you post a link inside the engagement group and everyone will like and comment on the post. This signals to Instagram that your post is good, and it pushes it to more followers. Another advantage is that in the explore page you will often see posts that accounts you follow have liked, which means that their followers might see your account in the explore page.

However, one major drawback of engagement pods is that it artificially inflates your engagement and can even alert the algorithm which will severely decrease your reach. I do not personally use engagement groups but here is a good way to use them safely:

Find ONE group of 12-15 other photographers or influencers with a similar style to yours. Having a smaller group will be safer and won’t artificially inflate your numbers. Make sure that all the accounts in the group are as big as yours or it won’t work as well as you would like. Do some trial and error until you find a group that works for you.

To find engagement groups I recommend either messaging other accounts on Instagram directly or joining some Instagram Influencer Facebook Groups and asking around there.

Get Rid of Your Ghost Followers

Ghost followers on Instagram
Photo by Martin Péchy on Unsplash

Another good way to increase your engagement is to get rid of your ghost followers.

A ghost follower is an account that follows you but doesn’t engage or is inactive. As a photographer, having these types of followers can be problematic because if they are not engaging it is telling the algorithm that your content might not be that great. This can significantly decrease your chances of making the explore page or the top posts on hashtags which is the best way to grow on Instagram.

Identifying and getting rid of ghost followers is no easy task. It will likely require a program to help you do this. I recommend something like Jarvee but there are a ton of others out there.

Here is my guide for helping you identify a ghost follower:

- Hasn’t posted in two years

- Follows more than 5000 other accounts

- Hasn’t engaged with any of your last 12 posts

I hope that you found my article useful. I am an Instagram photographer and you can find me here. If you have any questions regarding Instagram or how the algorithm works, I will always be happy to answer your questions below.

I’d love to know if you have more ways of increasing engagement on Instagram. Please leave a comment below as I am sure it will be helpful to other people searching the same subject.

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