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How to build your web presence as a photographer

Over the last two years, the art world has moved online, due in part to global lockdowns, the emergence of young collectors and the meteoric rise of crypto art.

While social media has always been an invaluable tool for photographers to connect with editors, publishers, and clients, online communities took on new significance, empowering artists to stay in touch and inspire one another across thousands of miles.

With this in mind, we asked some established photographers to share their evergreen advice for growing and maintaining a meaningful web presence in our digital age. While trends might come and go, these tips will remain relevant for years to come.

1. Keep it real

“I know this is going to sound super obvious, but it’s important to ask yourself, ‘Who do I like to follow?’” the photographer, writer, and filmmaker Neil Kramer suggests. “I’m sure the answer is not ‘someone who blatantly uses their social media feeds for self-promotion.’ Yes, we all follow other photographers because we deem them internet famous, but I mostly want to connect with others who enjoy sharing their images online.

“The quality of the work isn’t always the most important thing. I want to make connections. I enjoy leaving comments and sending DMs to others. I try to be kind to others and treat social media as being as close to real life as possible. These are real people behind their screens, sharing their words and images with me over the internet. Once I stopped treating my followers as ‘followers,’ my followers tripled.”

“Once I stopped treating my followers as ‘followers,’ my followers tripled.”

Photographer, writer, and filmmaker Neil Kramer
Day 361, from the series ‘Quarantine in Queens’ © Neil Kramer (@neilochka on Instagram)

2. Stay consistent

This was the most mentioned tip among the photographers we interviewed. When we say “be consistent,” we mean two things: yes, it helps to post regularly, but more than that, develop a consistent aesthetic and way of seeing the world.

“I think one of the most important aspects when developing an online presence and general visibility is consistency,” the New York City-based photographer Daniel Featherstone explains.

“This is by far the best way to differentiate from others. Keep your images narrowly focused with a definitive point of view and style.

“Instagram and other social media helped me maintain broad communication with brands and people who follow me. It’s helped me understand how people respond to certain images versus others. With that in mind, your displayed work will determine how people perceive you as a person and an artist, so it’s important to have integrity and truth rather than filling a quota.”

Crooked stick © Daniel Featherstone (@danielfeatherstonephoto on Instagram)

3. Curate your portfolio

While social media culture sometimes encourages that kind of “quota-filling” mindset, it’s important not to put quantity above quality. Sharing too many images on your website—or Instagram, for that matter—can feel overwhelming to visitors, so you want a tightly curated collection that works together to tell a story. If your niche is in street photography, for instance, focus your energy there, rather than including sessions from a recent wedding shoot. And update your pages frequently with only your most outstanding work.

4. Branch out

While it can be easy to get comfortable with one or two online platforms, it’s also helpful to keep an eye on where your clients and collectors are gravitating—and meet them there. “I’ve built my presence online by posting consistently to Facebook and Instagram for years, but more recently, I’ve been trying to build a presence on Twitter for the sake of releasing my work to the NFT world,” the Montauk-based artist Dalton Portella tells us. “Engage with your audience, and think long-term.”

Once you find your audience, you can narrow your focus to where they hang out, whether it’s Instagram (still popular among photo editors) or Twitter or Clubhouse (popular among crypto enthusiasts). On Instagram, you might also find that certain publications and blogs accept submissions using branded hashtags, and depending on your audience, those might be worth adding to your posts.

“While it can be easy to get comfortable with one or two online platforms, it’s also helpful to keep an eye on where your clients and collectors are gravitating—and meet them there.”

Wasteland © Dalton Portella (@dltnart on Instagram)

5. Forget the numbers

“It seems like the natural instinct is to try to game the algorithms, but I prefer to spend my time creating work and engaging with people rather than trying to keep up with how to hack the system for more likes and followers,” the street photographer Melissa Breyer admits. “I maintain that a following earned through authentic work and a genuine presence leads to better and more valuable engagement—and at the end of the day, good engagement is worth more than numbers.

“In my experience, the best way to build a following without jumping through the algorithm hoops is by finding one’s own artistic voice and presenting it in a well-honed way. Find your groove and refine/expand/explore as you evolve, but try not to chase the likes and followers. When people start to create work based on what they think will be popular, the work becomes shaped by external forces. It doesn’t feel genuine, and it suffers in longevity since it’s based on trending aesthetics.

“It took me a few years to figure this out; I kept trying to make work that wasn’t ‘me.’ Once I tuned out the noise and listened to my own creative voice, my work became more cohesive. I didn’t reinvent the wheel, but I figured out my style and vision. And while I may not have followers in the six figures, the following I have is wonderful and engaged, and I can’t ask for more than that.”

New York, New York 2015 © Melissa Breyer (@melbreyer on Instagram)

6. Find a real-world community

Connecting with peers and colleagues in person can translate to a supportive online community, so check out industry events, workshops or conferences, exhibitions, and more to find a group of people whose work resonates with you (and vice versa). Local events like photo walks or gallery shows can also be great for networking. Exchange contact info, and remember to reach out and show your support when they share something you love on social media.

7. Make it easy

As your home base, your website will showcase your best work and tell your story, but at a more basic level, it’ll help people find you. For that reason, you want to make any contact info immediately apparent and easy to find. Connect all your social media accounts to your website, and include links to your website on your social media.

Finally, consider SEO (search engine optimisation); by adding some well-placed keywords relating to your genre, niche, and location, you’ll help your website surface for the right audience. Blogs are also great for SEO and can help you connect with your audience by sharing the stories behind your pictures (and maybe some behind-the-scenes tips for future clients!).

Girl with Balloon © Fran Forman (@franforman on Instagram), from the series When Can We Travel Again

8. Support others

“I’ve built and revised my website many times over the past fifteen years, but I also rely on other means to gain exposure and recognition,” the award-winning photo-based artist Fran Forman says. “Despite my misgivings about social media, for example, I’ve built a following on Instagram, and I try to update my feed weekly. I also produce a newsletter about twice a year—more often if I’m feeling ambitious. I also offer presentations and classes (now over Zoom, of course) and support other artists whose work I admire.”

Whether you support the community through a regular newsletter or one-to-one mentoring, connecting with others can form the foundation of a strong and long-lasting presence—one that exists well behind the “likes.”

“…connecting with others can form the foundation of a strong and long-lasting presence—one that exists well behind the “likes.””

Visual artist Fran Forman

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.