I have a Word document with relevant hashtags for my Instagram content, which I add to periodically as I find more hashtags. I share on a number of different subjects, so I have multiple hashtag groupings. For example, the relevant hashtags for an image of a sunrise over Lake Michigan aren’t going to be the same as the relevant hashtags for an image of roasted vegetables. It’s a bit tedious to collect hashtags, but it’s well worth it.
I also keep saved groupings of hashtags on Later, which is the program I use to schedule my Instagram content. The screenshot above shows my saved hashtag groupings. Among other benefits, I love Later because I can set up my Instagram posts on my computer. The vast majority of the photos I post to Instagram are DSLR photos I post-process (edit) on my computer. I also hate typing on my phone, so the process of using Later to set up my Instagram content works well for me. A lot of Instagram users save hashtags in a notes app on their phone, which works well if you tend to post from your phone.
Again, collecting hashtags is a bit tedious, but it’s worth the effort. Maxing out your allowed 30 hashtags per Instagram posts greatly extends the reach of your content. When I got serious about using hashtags, I instantly doubled my Instagram reach and have continued to grow from there.
2) How do you get such bright, beautiful pictures? I feel like I live in a house of shadows and every pic I take has shadows. Do you use special cameras?
I do use a DSLR camera for the vast majority of pictures I post on Instagram. I cover my DSLR equipment in my resources area. I also have a post about how to take better pictures with your phone. In this post, I explain my best quick tips for improving your photography with any camera, including a phone camera.
I actually don’t share this tip in my phone photography post. But it’s another really simple, extremely affordable tip that you can use with any camera and that will brighten your images instantly. One of the most basic, most effective techniques to remove shadows in photos is to use a photo reflector. You can make your own photo reflector with a piece of foam board folded in the middle (as I did) or a piece of foam board covered in aluminum foil. For slightly more money (and more control over the tones in your images), you can also buy a set of photo reflectors (still very affordable). To see more examples of using photo reflectors, search DIY photo reflector on Pinterest.
The other way I eliminate shadows in my photos is to light them from both sides. Over six years of extensive shooting for my blogs and Etsy jewelry shop, I’ve tweaked the current setup for my artificial lighting to what you see here. In the pictured shot, I’m using my lightbox, but you can easily remove the lightbox and use the same lighting setup for larger shoots. Of course, you can still use a reflector with an artificial lighting setup. But for the type of styled shoots I do for this blog and my jewelry shop, generally, I don’t use it.
3) Are your pictures natural or staged? My daughter accuses me of staging, and I guess I do sometimes. Do you guys naturally have all those beautiful vignettes and trays, etc. just hanging out in your homes?
I do share natural pictures of events (i.e. concerts, festivals) and just pictures from around my house and my neighborhood that I would take, regardless of whether I had any social media accounts. But I also stage a lot of pictures for my blog, and I stage a select number of shots just for Instagram and other social media.
This image of homemade coconut pudding for coconut cream pie bars is a good example of a shot I staged purely for social media. Yes, it does seem a little silly and fake. But I was making coconut bars just because I wanted to make them, not because I wanted to have something to share on social media. And if I just took a quick picture in my kitchen with overhead lighting, it would look awful. So I took an extra minute to stage a shot with my artificial lighting and backdrop setup.
In the above examples:
- Natural. Jake and I walk to the beach at least once a week, more when the weather is warmer. I often take my camera with me. I would take it with me even if I didn’t have any social media accounts or this blog.
- Staged for social media. I thought the coffee nut M&Ms would make a good Instagram post. I didn’t buy them for a tutorial or any other specific blog post. Like the homemade coconut pudding, I didn’t want to post a low-light, yellow kitchen lighting picture of the M&Ms. So I staged a shot.
- Staged for the blog. I wrote a tutorial for the paper Christmas lights and staged a few shots of the finished item in my blog lighting and backdrop setup. I do include a couple of pictures of the lights hanging in my entryway. But the lighting isn’t as good in there, so I wanted a few additional shots.
4) And speaking of the trays and vignettes and all the other lovelies, how in the world do you keep up with dusting all of those items? I try to be pretty minimalistic just to avoid so much dusting!
I do have a few dedicated blog shoot backdrops, but I don’t have very many props. Most of the items I use are kitchen items for food shoots, which are items I already own. Over time, I may invest in a few more items, but I don’t want to deal with storing (and dusting!) a huge collection of props.
5) Finally, how in the world did you get all your followers?
I started March 2017 with 515 Instagram followers. My goal is to reach 1K by the end of 2017. It isn’t an impressive number, I know, but I work hard to keep increasing my following. For a long time, I simply shared as I had pictures to share. Over the past four months, I’ve worked consistently to make my Instagram account reflect my blog and the larger brand I’m trying to create for myself. This means I’m sharing photos of food, DIY, home decor, Wisconsin, cats, and photography-related items on a regular basis.
Typically, I schedule 1-2 posts per weekday and at most 1 post per weekend day. Sticking to a fairly consistent posting schedule and using Later to create my Instagram with lots of relevant hashtags has helped increase my reach and engagement and keep attracting new followers on a daily basis.
I also make an effort to visit at least one or two new-to-me Instagram users daily. I like 4-5 of their pictures and comment on at least one picture. I started experimenting with this strategy after reading this post from Natasha. So far, it’s worked pretty well. I find new people through favorite hashtags, comments on content similar to my own, and a select number of Instagram feature accounts. For example, I love theFindlab feed and often check out the photographers they feature.
Are there other common Instagram questions you’d like to see answered here?
Do you have any additional insight to add about the questions in this post?
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