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How Photographers' Audiences Land Them Work: Steph Goralnick

By Conor Risch


Steph Goralnick Instagram
© Steph Goralnick
Steph Goralnick says posting images daily and interacting with commenters landed her on the Instagram "suggested user list," which caused her follower numbers to balloon.

Photographer and graphic designer Steph Goralnick’s Instagram notoriety, which has led to jobs from clients like Delta Air Lines, Evian and the Israel Ministry of Tourism, and which has also earned her a fair share of recent media attention, isn’t her first experience building an online audience for her photography. Goralnick’s Flickr stream, which she began in 2005 and still updates regularly, has earned her a substantial following on that platform—views for some of her photo sets number in the tens of thousands—as well as image licensing through Getty’s distribution deal with Flickr.

“Any photography job I’ve ever gotten has technically been a result of the exposure I’ve created for myself through social-media networks like Flickr and Instagram,” Goralnick says.

Flickr is actually a better tool than Instagram in many ways, Goralnick points out. It is “much more conducive” to engaging viewers in a story, the organizational tools are superior and the text-editing options allow the user to link to other pages on the Web, which means that “viewers are more likely to explore and become interested and dig beyond just the most recent image. The simple fact that images stored on Flickr are searchable forever means that older posts still have potential for a lifetime longer than three hours,” she adds.

But Instagram has Flickr beat in the most important way: “Instagram is where the audience is, and at the moment, that is what trumps everything else,” Goralnick notes.

Goralnick (@sgoralnick) says she hasn’t “actually done anything specific” to translate her Instagram following into promotional exposure for her business or jobs for clients. “I started using Instagram soon after it was released. I posted every day, snippets of my life that I thought would be interesting to my friends or the few strangers following along, [and] responded to people who happened to stop by.” (Goralnick says people have mentioned that they like her willingness to engage with commenters and “try and connect with people.”)

“By being diligent about all those things, I ended up on the suggested users list, which is the major factor that resulted in a large audience,” Goralnick says. “Being consistent and engaging is a great way to build an audience.”

Art buyers, photo editors and other potential clients have been drawn to photographers’ blogs, Flickr streams and, more recently, Tumblr and Instagram feeds because they offer an understanding of how a photographer sees and reflects the world around them, which has made these platforms valuable promotional tools. “Composing, creating and telling stories as part of your everyday life beyond your commissioned projects is [an ability that’s] valuable for any creative professional to show,” Goralnick says.

Social-media tools also offer photographers a chance to promote their more polished work, whether it’s personal or for a client. “Instagram is a great platform for sharing ‘behind-the-scenes’ images, which you can then use to point to a final project,” whether it’s a personal project or an assignment for a client.

Some brands that have approached Goralnick about Instagram projects have shown an appreciation for what she does creatively, while others are just looking for access to her audience. In the latter cases, “It’s clear that what the ad agency is really after is a number of impressions, and quality of images or creative storytelling is treated as being almost inconsequential,” Goralnick explains. “It feels like a force-fit, and I think audiences are sensitive to being ‘fed’ advertising.”

Agencies that have showed a “forward-thinking approach” by enlisting photographers as guest artists who “lend their talent to creating great content for [a brand’s] official Instagram streams” are taking a better approach, Goralnick says. She recently worked on a project with Evian water, shooting their limited-edition Diane von Furstenberg bottle in various locations for the brand’s Instagram account (@evianwater).

There are instances where Goralnick allows a brand to hire her to create something that she would share with the audience on her personal Instagram account. For her project for MKG client Delta Air Lines, for instance, she was given all access to a New York Rangers hockey game and carte blanche to create whatever images of the experience she liked (Delta is a sponsor of Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers play). She was also given a similar opportunity for a trip to Israel that was sponsored in part by the Ministry of Tourism. In these cases, “I feel that the images and viewpoint are still ‘mine,’ and would be interesting to followers,” Goralnick says.

“If it’s an assignment that involves doing something or going somewhere that I would not normally get the chance to experience or have access to, these would likely be images and stories that would be compelling to a broad audience. Simply promoting a brand or product or posting someone else’s message is not something I would use my own Instagram account for.”

Rates for Instagram-based projects are “generally low,” Goralnick says, as people are “still searching for creative ways to build a place for Instagram into an overall brand story.”

Goralnick says she’s prone to sharing her recent work with her audience, whether it’s personal or for a client, just as most photographers do through social media or on their personal blogs. But, she says, “I avoid agreeing to do that in a contract, since I want to be able to decide on a case-by-case basis whether I’d like to talk about it.”

Despite her notoriety as one of the platform’s popular users, Goralnick says she’s not actively pitching Instagram projects to potential clients. “I’ve been trying to take some time to consider the balance between using a space for personal posts as a space for promotion,” she says. “I think there’s a fine line between being a source for interesting content and completely alienating your audience. But after using it for a while, I have a lot of ideas for how it could work.”

Related Articles:

How Photographers' Audiences Land Them Work: Yvan Rodic
How Photographers' Audiences Land Them Work: Brian DiFeo

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