Instagram: why growing your following is the wrong aim

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It’s probably the most requested thing; 90% of my mentoring clients come to me with an aim to grow their following, and it’s easy to see why: followers are the ultimate capital in this strange cyber world we inhabit, the secret to unlocking your online dreams and making awesome, and often surprising stuff happen. Who doesn’t want that?

You’ll get no judgement from me! My New Year’s resolution two years ago was to reach 1000 followers, and setting myself that challenge led to the improvement in my efforts and eventually my Instagram and my whole life! Aiming high is always good in my book – but aiming for followers means putting your focus on the wrong target.

Instagram is a visual sharing platform, and the number one guaranteed way to be successful there is to take beautiful pictures. That’s it!

Sure, there are some people who post decidedly average pictures and still do well – Celebrities, bikini girls a plethora of bloggers and youtubers. But in every case, these users have made their mark elsewhere and carried it over. One way or another you have to put the work in, and if you’ve identified Instagram as your target for growth, then you need to be pouring all red hot creativity into creating the very best imagery you can.

This is the reason I always encourage people to share only their best. You’re not BeyoncΓ© (unless you are, in which case, hi!) and you still need to introduce yourself and tell people what you’re about. Make sure every picture you share does this to the best of your ability, and follower and engagement growth will automatically follow.

You can do everything else wrong, but if your pictures are great, you’ll grow.

Or to put it the their way – no amount of hashtagging and strategies will make up for below-average snaps.

So how can you take better pictures?

  • Practice. Daily sharing means daily feedback, and regular challenges to your creativity.
  • Get inspired. Really study the images you love – what is the light source? Where is the photographer stood? What is the composition?
  • Know your camera. Truly, it’s not what you’ve got but what you do with it that counts. Smartphone shots are great for Instagram – but learn how to do it like a pro! If you’re using an iPhone, check out my quick fire guide here.
  • Study composition. Even if you’ve no natural eye for it, you can learn the rules and take better pictures. On Instagram, composition often counts over everything else!
  • Reflect on your own work. What images do you hate to look back on, and which do you love? Why?
  • Get really, really familiar with your editing app. Youtube tutorials can be a great place to start. (Sidenote: any interest in me doing a vid on how I edit in VSCOcam? Just wondering…)

What’s helped you be a better Instagram photographer? Are there things you’d like me to cover in future posts?

  • Thanks again for the great tips. I have lost my photography drive at the moment, I think its because I see all these beautiful photos and know I have no way f creating anything as good myself so I don’t bother.

    • Argh, I hate that feeling Kizzy! Don’t let it win! It’s so hard when everyone seems to be putting out a super-high standard online, all the time – it feels like we’re behind before we even start! But remember you’re judging yourself way more harshly than you judge others – just listen to the praise from others you respect, and keep working at it! x

  • Kate Bilby

    Yes please to the VSCO app video, I just can’t get my head round it, which is frustrating given I can actually use photoshop and GIMP

    • ha! I actually feel quite soothed to hear that, as I found it such a stupidly steep learning curve! I’m on the case. πŸ™‚

  • VSCO is a life saver. It makes all my meh photos into good ones!

    • hahah YES! I’m basically just conning the whole world with the help of VSCocam here… ?

  • Debra Battersby

    A video would be fab! x

  • Great tips! Thanks so much! And I’d LOVE to see a video on the VSCO app. I have NO IDEA how to use it and get so confused when I open it up!

    • Thanks Allie! Ok, I will have a go. It really is SO confusing at first, I totally understand! I still get lost in it sometimes…

  • I posted a picture today. Then read your article. Thought: was it really one of my best? Decided: no. So deleted it. And yes to the vsco video.

    • Ah, I’m pleased to have given you food for thought Helen! I think we know our best work when we really reflect. That’s not to say there isn’t room for sharing other things too, but it all starts with being honest with ourselves! x

  • Medusa Dollmaker

    This post talks about realistic goals and quality IG galleries wich I find its key to achieve great things! Yes to the VsCo video

    • Thanks Medusa! I’m on the case πŸ™‚

  • phoebefordreid

    VSCO video – yes, please!!!

  • Beth

    But what about your comment “don’t shatter the illusion” – a parting comment to a visitor who was going to blog about you? That immediately made me think that all I see on here much be carefully staged! I much prefer to see words and pictures of “Real |Life”.

    • Is this in response to the above post? I’m a little confused.

      The comment you’re referring to was a joke, of course. If you remember that post in its entirety, you’ll recall she said there *was* no illusion at all, which is why it was funny. Not my wittiest, I’ll grant you, but then I didn’t expected it to be immortalised online!

      Perhaps the problem is, as you say, that you made an “immediate” judgement about somebody you really don’t know. I’ve written extensively about the shitty parts of life, where I draw the line between privacy and online, even the reasons I don’t photograph my washing up. I’d say I’m pretty transparent about real life, tbh.

      I much prefer to see comments from people who are logical, friendly and fair, but sadly “Real | Life” doesn’t always cater to our whims like that, does it? Oh well. C’est la vie. x

  • it’s a bit baffling, isn’t it? I’m on the case πŸ™‚

  • Alexandre

    VSCO video tutorial! πŸ˜‰

  • Ingrid – Let’s talk evergreen

    Hi! Thanks for this! I love it. Followers who are there are important, but not the amount. Btw do you also happen to use Priime? I absolutely love it over VSCO.

  • Juliana Bermingham

    What are your favourite VSCO filters? I’m new to your blog – it’s fantastic! x

  • Anna Day

    Hi, Sarah, thanks so much for this πŸ™‚ Could you possibly do a tutorial on composition? The IG photos that are quintessential IG photos… just random bumpf that’s been beautifully placed on a table top and it looks stunning. I’ve tried to do it a few times and it looked absurd. Just really, truly ridiculous. Like I’d smeared lipstick all over it. It would be so very helpful cos there doesn’t seem to be anything about this online.