Instagram presents photographers with a hugely powerful platform to promote work, but it can also be an overwhelming environment — digital influencer Lauren Bath shares the tips that helped her become Australia’s first professional Instagrammer
Instagram is one of the most powerful players in the current social media landscape. With almost 100 million images shared every day, people all over the globe are enthusiastically posting snapshots of their lives. Photographers have also found plenty of opportunity to increase their profile using the image-driven platform. But only a very few have managed to unlock the true potential of Instagram: giving up their day job to create Instagram content for a living.
Australian photographer Lauren Bath is one such bold soul.
“My overwhelming feeling during that time was that I would forever live with regret if I didn’t at least explore the possibility of creating a different life for myself,” she says of the leap. “The pain and uncertainty of the decision to quit my job was outweighed by my fear of regret.”
For anyone else interested in facing their own fear of regret and taking the plunge to become a digital influencer, Lauren has some invaluable tips to share.
Embrace the phone
With being ‘glued to the phone’ as a defining characteristic of any committed social media addict, this one might seem a touch obvious, but Lauren is talking in terms of photography. Specifically, for those looking to learn photography, she describes the difference between learning on a smartphone versus a DSLR as being akin to learning to drive an automatic versus a manual car.
“Shooting on an iPhone gave me the opportunity to nail the fundamentals of composition without worrying about the technicalities of the camera, just as learning to drive in an automatic car allows you to learn to steer without worrying about gears,” she explains.
“Before I even picked up a camera, I had a pretty solid understanding of what makes a good photo, and I only added to that when I upgraded my equipment.”
It’s more important to get started with what you have on hand than putting it off until you have your dream kit assembled.
Find your style
It’s often said that content is king when it comes to media; Lauren takes that further in saying content is king for all elements of life.
“On social media, that content is just more visual and it needs to stand out amongst the saturation,” she explains. “I’ve been quite lucky in that I have a very clear idea of what I like, and I’m decisive with my image-taking and storytelling.
“I am unapologetically myself online.”
To those still looking to discover their own style, the photographer simply advises going out and playing around. See what others are doing and put your own twist on it, experiment with unfamiliar shooting styles, try new editing techniques, change up the gear you use, visit new places.
“Finally, trust yourself, don’t always measure your work by how many ‘likes’ you get on Instagram.”
Don’t follow blindly
Lauren likes the expression ‘all artists steal’ when it comes to finding inspiration — but make sure you draw the line between homage and outright theft.
“I see so many accounts on Instagram that completely lack originality and it makes me depressed for the photographers. Wouldn’t they rather just be who they are?”
That said, to be successful on Instagram it is important that you become part of the larger social media community. One of the best ways to do this is through using hashtags, which Lauren describes as “virtual photo albums”, collecting every image using a specific hashtag (#sunrise, for example).
“Each hashtag allows people to discover your work through browsing these hashtags, so it’s definitely in your best interest to use at least a handful of them if you’re hoping to have your work seen.”
Work the angles
Being a professional Instagrammer might be a dream job, but it’s still a job. And the work is much more difficult and involved than most people imagine.
With the concept of a ‘digital influencer’ still in its relative infancy, there’s no single, clear-cut path to success. Lauren has explored many different avenues throughout her career, including travel shoots, leading tours, creating influencer packages, shooting commercially, establishing conferences, creating online courses, and landing public speaking gigs, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes work.
“I pull income from a dozen different income streams and every day on the job is different and challenging and fun.”
A typical day, such as they exist, involves getting up in time for sunrise shoots, working with clients or tourism operators, travelling and shooting, taking notes, editing, creating Instagram stories, engaging with your various platforms, and tending to email and admin duties.
“Generally speaking, your days are long, 16-plus hours, and mentally draining at times. But the pros far outweigh the cons.”
Key to turning an enjoyable pastime into your business is knowing the ins and outs better than the average user. For Lauren, this means both an intricate understanding of tourism marketing, as well as a professional outlook in operating her brand.
“On a commercial job, I’m shooting to please my clients, and on an influencer job, I’m shooting to please myself and my audience,” she explains.
With the instant, unfiltered feedback social media offers, these ‘likes’-based platforms can have an overwhelming psychological effect. While it is important to tell your story well and earn healthy engagement numbers with your audience, Lauren cautions against using these metrics to compare yourself to others.
“I found this quote recently that resonates a lot with me: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Be your true self and be honest to your purpose, and be prepared to work exceptionally hard.”
She urges patience in growing an online presence, and work on authentically relating to those that engage with your work. But by the same token, be sure to seek balance in your life and know when it is necessary to unplug.
“Appreciate and love social media for what it is and be willing and able to switch off when you need quiet. It’s a difficult balance to strike but it is entirely possible.”
Photographers looking to learn more about the field of digital influencers can hear Lauren speak at this years Ilford ExpsourePro event, hosted by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. The two-day event kicks off on Sunday, June 23 at Wellington’s Shed 6 venue.
Head to exposurepro.co.nz for ticket info, and laurenbath.com to see more of Lauren’s work.