I heard one of the best ever Blogging Success Stories at the Social Media Tourism Symposium. Lauren
Bath sat on a panel with me about working with bloggers. I was there because of my travel blog Get In the Hot Spot but I loved Lauren's story about amassing over 250,000 followers on Instagram in two years than quitting her job as a chef to become a professional photographer.
I'm a sucker for any blogging success story but if you're in any doubt about the powers of social media to launch your career read on. I'm including Lauren's story here because Instagram is a visual form of micro-blogging based on people sharing photos and even if you don't want to become a professional photographer Instagram is a fun and useful part of your social media tool box. It's perfect for visual blogging niches like travel, food and style.
If you're after tips and tricks to grow your Instagram following then Lauren has oodles of them so of course I picked her brain and invited her to share her blogging success story with us an interview.
Hi Lauren, thank you for joining us on Successful Blogging. Please introduce yourself for those who might not know you yet:
Let’s get personal! Where do you live? Do you have a family? What's your idea of the perfect day?
I live in Main Beach on the Gold Coast with my mum, my partner and my mum's partner. It's an unusual arrangement that works exceedingly well. It started as a favour for six months and now we're coming up to three years.
My partner is amazing and completely supportive of my work. He's probably the reason why I decided to push myself into business and take such a big risk changing careers. My idea of a perfect day would include equal parts photography and spending time with my family.
Tell us About Your Instagram Experiences
How long ago did you get on Instagram and why?
I downloaded Instagram after reading a blog post that said Instagram is more fun than Facebook. As a total Facebook addict when I had to see what the fuss was about.
I downloaded the Instagram app in August 2011 and uploaded a few silly pics before getting involved in a community and learning about liking, commenting and hash tagging. Armed with just my iPhone and the great camera app “Hipstamatic” I soon found myself going out on mini photo expeditions and getting hooked on Instagram. Before this I had never taken a creative photo in my life.
So what do you take photos of? Who enjoys them?
Since I live on the Gold Coast, and close to the beach, it only made sense that I spend time photographing our famous beaches. Whereas originally I used my iPhone only I upgraded to a DSLR in November 2011 and started to learn how to use it. Sunrises became a special time for me and I developed a very beachy stream of waves, sun, shells, seagulls and all things “beach”. This style attracts almost everyone! Who doesn't want to see the beach?
I also started to enjoy portrait photography and slip in a few shots on my Instagram feed as well as various other photographic experiments – macro, nightscapes, water drops and animals. Having a very consistent stream but with lots of room for new styles has really allowed me to evolve as a photographer and take my Instagram followers with me.
Let's get to the Instagram Tips and Tricks
How often do you upload new photos to Instagram and how many followers do you have now including your other social media accounts?
I upload between 3 and 5 shots on Instagram every single day. I don't want to flood people's home stream but I like to keep up consistency and momentum.
I now have 257,000 Instagram followers and just over 6,000 fans on my Facebook Page, although I assume that they are all on my Instagram as well.
What are your three tips for gaining followers on Instagram?
I get asked this all the time and there is no easy answer. People need to stop worrying about having followers and being popular and just use the app how it's meant to be used – as a social media platform.
I legitimately like looking at photos and spent my first days and weeks on Instagram looking at pics, liking pics and commenting. I also like meeting people so I started building relationships and friendships on Instagram. This led to good advice from great photographers which improved my own photography.
One of my earliest insta-friends taught me so much! Advice that he gave me 2 years ago still applies today. So really the tips are 1) Be social 2) Don't ask for shoutouts and 3) Good pics help.
I've heard you mention forums. What are Instagram forums? How do people find them and use them?
Forums are like challenges or competitions. A lot of the big groups post forums. For example @joshjohnson and @gang_family . You discover them as you go along and on people's recommendations.
What about using hashtags on Instagram? Please can you tell us a few recommended ones?
These are some old ones I used to use :
#nikon #dslr #instacanvas #ic #photooftheday #igersgoldcoast #igersbrisbane #instagramhub #jj #instafamous #instamood #gmy #all_shots #gang_family #igersoftheday #statigram #seeaustralia #australia #nature #beach #water #sand #shell #flower #skyporn #sunrise #beautiful #rainforest
What are the best times to share photos on Instagram?
Any time of the day. Instagram is worldwide so there is always people awake and ready to see your upload.
The Journey From Amateur to Professional Photographer Through Instagram
So originally you were a chef and just started Instagram for fun but now you're a professional photographer. Can you tell us a bit about that evolution? How long did it take?
Yes I was a chef for my whole life until I started Instagram but once I started taking shots it became quite clear that I had some raw talent and my affinity for social media really helped me to improve and grow. You learn very quickly what works visually and what doesn't when you put your images online.
From when I got my camera to when the first opportunities came rolling in was just over a year. My success on Instagram led to my pictures being “discovered” by various people.
Tourism Australia was first and featured an album of my work on their Facebook page in early 2012. Small American companies started approaching me to feature their products on my Instagram page which I did a couple of times just for fun. Hamilton Island and Tourism ACT approached me in late 2012 for my first travel jobs, both all expenses paid but no payment.
That’s brilliant. What other good things have come to you from Instagram?
Early this year I became certain that more opportunities would come along and that I wouldn't be able to take them due to work commitments, it was then that I decided to quit my job and focus on social media photography. The very day that I gave my notice I was emailed by three separate companies for big jobs. It was definitely a big sign that I was on the right track.
How exactly do you earn money from Instagram, social media and your photography?
This is where you have to be careful. I'm very aware that people follow me because they like my photography. I never wanted to be a sell out or endorse brands, post images that I didn't take or do shout outs. If I went down this road I could be making good money
for doing nothing but I would lose Instagram followers that have become friends.
On the other hand, quitting my job to make way for opportunities meant that I needed an income. I started to tentatively broach the subject of payment when organisations approached me to take part in family or media trips. I didn't over-quote and I always include all content for social media use and sometimes joint copyright options.
So technically I am being paid for my photography but the attractiveness of my social media popularity is getting me the work. Nobody dictates to me what I take photos of or what I post, I maintain 100% creative control over my photography and my Instagram account.
Can you explain how a sponsored campaign works on Instagram and what kind of payment you get for that?
Well I can't talk for others but for me I charge a base rate to travel away from home and that rate includes posting whatever images I like with all content available to the client. I'm also very happy to talk social and teach operators and organisations all my secrets!
I don't like to talk about my rates in interviews. They are very fair and I've had amazing feedback from everyone that I've worked with. This includes almost every State Tourism Organisation in Australia, Tourism Australia and various Regional Tourism Organisations and Operators.
I'm often asked if I still do free work and the answer is yes. I love social media, I love travel and exciting content. When I'm between travel I often go out with local operators to give them a social helping hand.
Have you got any sponsors and if so how did they connect with you and how does the arrangement work? Do you get paid or do you promote them in return for equipment?
My main sponsor is Nikon Australia and it's not really a sponsorship, more of a friendship. I shoot Nikon and chose Nikon myself. When Nikon Australia got wind of the impact I was making on social media they contacted me to see if I would be interested in borrowing some equipment. Basically just so that I have the opportunity to work with better cameras and lenses. It's not a formal arrangement and I've loved Nikon from the start, even before our arrangement.
I also have sponsorship from Lee Filters. Again, I was using Lee filters anyway and I approached them because I needed a new set for my wide-angle lens and I believe them to be the best. They've happily provided me with some filters and if anyone asks, I tell them the truth that I use Lee Filters.
Finally Aquatech loans me waterproof housing. This came about through my contact at Nikon Australia but I'm about to get a housing for a second time through my own negotiations. It's all good PR for the companies and I get to use the best gear on the market.
Now you're starting to work with brands and travel destinations too. What kind of thing do they typically want you to do?
One of the biggest things that destinations want is social content! I hear this all the time, getting enough content is an issue. I think that a lot of organisations just get excited to work with me because of my passion for Social Media.
For people who have worked in destination marketing for many years it's great for them to work with a fresh and enthusiastic mind. I don't work with many brands except those listed that sponsor me. It's not that I wouldn't do it, it just has to interest me photographically.
How do you think brands can get the most value from working for you?
Let me do my own thing. I know my strengths and weaknesses photography wise and over social media. I work best when I'm not overloaded on trips, when I have access to the best locations to shoot and when I can just do my own thing.
I love your Instagram success story and am inspired by your creativity and work ethic. Have you got any tips about those things?
Well my work ethic hasn't changed, I've always been a good worker it's just that now I'm putting all of my energy and enthusiasm into my own business. The clichés about doing what you love are all true. If you truly love something and have a passion for it you will do it better. My entire journey from starting Instagram has honestly felt like fate. It works to all of my strengths and I truly love what I do.
What are your recommendations for budding photographers who want to make the jump from amateur to professional?
Another common question and easy to answer. Number one, shoot often. I usually shoot every day. And don't be shy. Take 200 shots of the same sunrise just to get the one perfect one.
Secondly, research technique and talk to other budding photographers. Immersing yourself in photography is the quickest way to learn. Equally important is gear. I literally cringe when I hear of people shooting weddings on kit lenses. A decent pro lens starts from $2000. They have better glass and wider apertures. Everything looks better shot through the right gear.
Can you tell us a bit more about the techie stuff. Do you take your photos on a cell phone or camera? If it's a camera what type and what accessories, lenses, tripods etc do you have?
I shoot on my camera but my iPhone training really helped me with composition. It's like learning to drive on an automatic then switching to a manual car. I now use a Nikon D800 which is perfect for landscapes. The amount of detail in the shots blows my mind.
I have four pro lenses. Two are mine and two are Nikon loaners. I'll soon be purchasing them though as it's time to give the loan gear back. They are the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 wide angle, Nikon 24-70 f2.8, Nikon 70-200 f2.8 and my favourite portrait lens the 85mm prime f1.4.
In time I will probably invest in something with a longer focal length and perhaps a full frame macro lens. I use Lee filters, Neutral density and graduated neutral density.
Tripod is usually a Manfrotto but I also have a Optex for travel. Sturdy but not bulky. Can't live without my remote, I use it when I'm on the tripod.
How do you physically upload photos from your camera to Instagram? For people who don't have any proper photographic equipment yet but want to take their photography more seriously and share it on Instagram what would you recommend to them?
There's a couple of ways. Firstly some Nikon came out with a wireless utility that allows you to upload images wirelessly from your camera to your phone. No wi-fi required. When I use the D800 I simply plug the SD card into my iPad with a camera connection kit and edit/ upload from there. If you don't have an iPad or a wireless utility then the best way is to edit on your desktop and simply email the photo to your mobile device.
Please share your best photography tip:
But I have so many!! The best is to shoot lots. Honestly, you will learn so much from playing with settings, trusting your eye and just being out there doing it.
Have you got any more Instagram tips or tricks?
Interact! Consider Instagram a Social Media site first. Be genuine, don't be desperate.
What about tips for navigating the world of social media which is still quite new to a lot of people?
Talk to people! I come across scared operators very often. People who have run their small business for years and all of a sudden they can't get a single booking off a print campaign.
My advice is to reach out. Talk to people who understand social. Your Regional Tourism Organisation might be a good start. Your sister, cousin, friend might love social media. Be careful what you post and maintain respect and integrity for yourself and / or your brand.
You've had incredible life and career changes over the last few years because of Instagram. What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Not few years, 2 years, this month. My dream is to have a sustainable life working in photograph
y and social media doing what I love.
I know you're setting up a blog right now. What's the aim with that?
To give people more information on what I do. People that want to know the ins and outs of my shoots and my travel. It's a long way off though I'm afraid, just too busy!
Finally where can people find out more about you Lauren? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Honestly, I'm an open book. Almost since day one I've listed my email address on my profile. People reach out to me daily with questions and to ask advice on any number of things.
Otherwise, follow me in Instagram to see what I see. I'm still pretty good at keeping up with questions on my accounts. Sometimes it's hard but I still try to give back more than I receive. That's what's gotten me to where I am.
Thank you so much Lauren for your time and generosity sharing your blogging success story and your Instagram tips and tricks. I am most definitely following you on Instagram and looking forward to seeing where this journey takes you.
Have you got any more Instagram tips and tricks to share? Or maybe you have another great blogging success story to tell us?