90% of your Instagram followers do not like your photos.

Go to your Instagram page. Take the last 20 images and average out the number of “likes”. Divide that number by the number of followers you have. That number will probably be somewhere around 0.10. That’s the average percentage of people who “like” your photos. About 10%. Doesn’t matter if you’re a famous photographer or a well known photographic organization. Doesn’t matter if you have 400 followers or 400,000.

After all that time chasing “likes” and followers, about 90% of your followers won’t “like” your photos. Now, it may be that they truly don’t like your stuff; it’s not compelling enough to even garner a simple double tap on the screen. But more than likely it’s because they didn’t even see your photograph because they too are chasing “likes” and followers. They too think more is better. They follow a ton of people in the hopes that those people will blindly follow them back. And your one in 2,000 photos on that person’s IG feed is going to get lost!

These people want to look at the number at the top of their IG page and see that it is greater than their friend’s and acquaintances because, you know… winning! They console themselves that the photo they posted earlier today has 150 “likes”, 25 more than the picture they posted yesterday. Yet the reality is the vast majority of their followers won’t “like”, won’t see their photographs.

My point in pointing this out is to give you a different way to think about social media and followers and likers and all that stuff. For me it comes down to quality over quantity. The vast majority of people I follow are people whose work or art I admire, and am genuinely interested in watching it evolve. I would hope people follow me for the same reasons. I don’t follow someone simply because they followed me. I don’t do “like-for-likes”. I appreciate it when I see someone new has decided to follow me. But I will still take the time to look at their page and see if it’s something I’m interested in before I click “follow.” And often I don’t. Sometimes those people continue to follow me and many times they take back their follow. Which is fine because they weren’t really interested in my stuff in the first place.

Yes, we all have friends and family we follow because they’re friends and family. I do like to keep up with all the nieces and nephews! But for me Instagram is mostly for the art, for the photographs. It’s my own personally curated gallery. A place where I can view interesting, powerful, and unique photography. It’s not a competition for “likes”.

What I’m getting at here is don’t waste your energy chasing those numbers. Because they really don’t mean anything. Or, I should say, they don’t quite mean what we once thought they meant. Follow who you want. “Like” what you genuinely like. Post photographs that mean something to you, that are true to your artistic spirit. The followers will come. You’ll still only see “likes” from about 10% of them, but they’ll be more meaningful.

5 tips for becoming a better photographer

national gallery of art, washington dc, photography tips,

-know your camera inside and out-

Whatever camera you have — SLR, mirrorless, point & shoot, iPhone — what matters most is that you know it! Know its every quirk. Know how the flash system works. Know what all the dials are for. Know every page of the menu system. When you pick up the camera you should not have to think. It has to be second nature. One of the best ways to achieve that comfort level is to get out and shoot as much and as often as possible. But have it down pat before your first big assignment! Don’t want to be fooling around with buttons, dials and menus while the bride and groom impatiently stand by!

-R-E-S-P-E-C-T-

I don’t think photographers should strictly avoid shooting homeless people or the indigent or the mentally disabled. However, I hope photographers would first ask themselves, “Why?” Why am I photographing that guy sleeping on a bench? That lady in the tattered, dirty clothing? The young man talking erratically to himself? Show some respect. Think before you shoot.

-step outside your comfort zone-

Are you a portrait photographer? A wedding photographer? Have you ever tried street photography or nature photography? You should! Exploring different styles is nerve wracking and exhilarating at the same time. It also gives you an informed appreciation for the work of others. And it affects the way you shoot your everyday work. Much of what you learn from one genre can be applied to another. Expand your horizons.

-become an avid reader-

Fiction and nonfiction. Learning how the world works and seeing the world through the eyes of others is vital for a well rounded life. Reading lets us step outside our bubble, literally and figuratively. Ultimately, this helps photographers approach their subject with more empathy, creativity, and thoughtfulness.

-avoid cliches-

Give the obvious a wide berth. Someone jumping over a puddle? A cactus in foreground with snow-peaked mountain in background? An old nun walking past a poster of a scantily clad woman? If you think you’ve seen it a million times before, do yourself (and the rest of us!) a favor, don’t click the shutter.