These Photographers Have 62 million Followers, what do they do that you don’t?

I set out to learn what the most popular photographers on social media had in common.  For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that it isn’t talent.  Any photographer with over 500K followers on social media is extremely talented. Also, number of followers isn’t an indication of talent, there are many photographers who don’t participate in social media who are as talented as those reviewed for this post.  So, if photography talent isn’t what makes a photographer, social media famous, then what does.  I analyzed 10 photographers, each of which had around 2 million plus followers to find out.

List of Most Popular Photographers on Social Media

At the time of the writing, these were the most popular photographers that I could find across the most popular social media sites for photographers, if I missed someone then please add them to the comments.

NameGenreTotal Followers
Brandon StantonStreet / Documentary26,321,079
Said Mhamad Wedding9,173,839
Jackson HarriesTravel / Adventure5,040,105
Murad Osmann Travel / Adventure4,858,015
Mario Testino Fashion3,887,540
Paul NicklenNature / Wildlife3,413,655
Chris Burkard Travel / Adventure3,178,214
Steve McCurry Street / Documentary2,894,784
Clark Little Travel / Adventure2,250,650
Jimmy Chin Travel / Adventure1,882,626
 Image by  Gerd Altmann

Image by Gerd Altmann

Where they post?

I looked at the top social sites and photography specific sites in my analysis, here are the combined follower numbers of all the photographers for each site:

Facebook - 29.6 Million followers
Instagram - 29.6 Million followers
Twitter - 3.3 Million followers
500px - 200K followers
Flickr - 135K followers

As expected, Facebook and Instagram had the highest number of followers for most photographers.  However, it is surprising how close they are given it is estimated that Facebook has three times as many active users as Instagram.  So, unsurprisingly Instagram is the place to get social media famous for a photographer with Facebook a close second. 

 Photo by  Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

Photo Genre?

I also looked to see what genre of photographer is most popular. I found that travel and adventure photography was the most prevalent with half the photographers shooting in this genre. However, after travel, the field was split almost evenly with other genres of photography.  One other item to note is that most of the photographers don’t stray far from their Genre when posting photos.  Although there may be the odd image that doesn’t seem to fit in, when looking at their social media feeds, it feels like one collection of work. 

# of Photographers in Top 10
Travel / Adventure = 5
Street / Documentary = 2
Wedding = 1
Fashion = 1
Nature / Wildlife = 1

Photo Descriptions

Although the photos are very different, one commonality is the descriptions that accompany them. The majority of these popular photographers wrote a story or blurb with each and every photo, often more than a paragraph. For Brandon Stanton, the top photographer on the list, these stories really define the photo. It is the story combined with his photography that defines the Humans of New York brand. Without these amazing stories it is possible his photos would go largely unseen.

You Don't Need to be a Pro

All of the photographers on the list are professional photographers who make a living from photography.  However, over half of those on the list ARE NOT FAMOUS FOR THEIR PROFESSIONAL WORK. They are popular on social media primarily because of their personal projects. In multiple cases there personal projects are what allowed them to make a living off photography.  So, you are better off posting what you love then what you get paid for to get social media famous as a photographer.

 Photo by  Carl Heyerdahl

Post Frequency

Another consistent theme is most popular photographers posted photos almost daily and 7 out of 10 of them have posted over 1000 images to their social accounts.  Anyone who has tried a 365 project knows how hard it is to post a photo a day, however, many of these photographers have been posting a photo a day for multiple years. 

Lastly, most of the photographers are cross posting photos on multiple platforms, often with the same description. Only a couple post the exact same content to each site while most have a core set of photos that go on each site, then there is other content added for specific sites.  For example, a photographers may post a photo a day to Instagram and Facebook but then also post additional links to their blog to their Facebook page.  

 Image by  Gerd Altmann

Image by Gerd Altmann

Automation Tools

Although it is difficult to reverse engineer their exact workflows. It appears as though about half of these photographers were using automation to help with the posting as opposed to uploading each photo to all the sites manually.  The two most common types of automation were auto-generating posts from Instagram, so when a photographer posted a photo to Instagram a Twitter or Facebook post would also be created.

In Conclusion

The top photographers on social media show that if you want to be a social media famous photographer, these are some tips to consider:

  • Post photos in one Genre, your stream needs to feel like a collection of work
  • Post photo daily or as often as possible, volume and frequency matter as much as quality.
  • Add descriptions and tags, followers want to here the story of your photos
  • Post to multiple sites and automate your workflow where possible.  If you need to choose only a couple of sites to focus on then Instagram and Facebook would be the best to start with

What have you found works well to increase your following on social media as a photographer, let me know in the comment section below.