How Photo Editors Use Instagram to Discover Photographers
February 19, 2018
For a cover story last year in The FADER, Tyler Mitchell photographed Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert on location in Hawaii. The magazine’s photo director Emily Keegin says she prefers looking at photographers’ Instagram feeds over their websites. Instagram is “currently the only way I spot new photographers,” she says.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Aeriel Brown first spotted Brad Ogbonna’s work on Instagram, and was reminded of him when he popped up again on The FADER’s Instagram. She hired him for a job photographing lawyer Douglas Wigdor for a story in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Photo editor Kathryn Cook-Pellegrin hired Robin Hammond for an upcoming collaboration with the ICRC about the strength of women in war. Cook-Pellegrin says Hammond’s style “clearly fits [the] Insta format.”
Prajit Ravindran came to the attention of Sandra Salvas at the Utah Office of Tourism because he was “consistently tagging us in his images,” she says. Impressed by his dark-sky photos, she has featured his work in the office’s own Instagram posts and filmed a profile of him.
When PDN asked photo editors how Instagram helps them discover photographers, many mentioned the phrase “rabbit hole”: Browsing posts by a photographer leads them to the photographers they follow and to the photographers who follow them and on and on. Some said Instagram has introduced them to new approaches or storytelling styles, while others search more purposefully to find photographers in specific locations or to track down images of certain subjects. In describing their methods, many offered advice for photographers eager for their work to get noticed and licensed.
Photo director, The Fader
“With photographers starting out, I don’t think a professional website tells me much. I can often get a better sense of how a photographer thinks by scrolling through her mass of Instagram posts,” says Keegin, who adds that Instagram is “currently the only way I spot new photographers” and “a great way to stay up to date on photographers’ projects and new work.” Among the photographers she has found through Instagram are Tyler Mitchell, Renell Medrano, Maya Fuhr, Elizabeth Wirija and Campbell Addy.
“Post images you love. Don’t overthink it. If it excites you, it will find an audience,” she says. Her other piece of advice: “No dumb filters.”
Deputy Photo Director, Bloomberg Businessweek
“It’s not enough to just post photos. You definitely have to add hashtags. You have to tell a little story about the images. And, you have to follow editors you like and like their photos too (and comment occasionally),” says Brown. “In general, I find that the photographers I really like and the editors I really respect are usually looking at and interacting with other photographers I tend to like.” In addition to following photographers and magazines, she also follows “a lot of stylists, set designers, makeup artist and hair stylists” and through them has discovered photographers.
One of the “loads of photographers” she’s found while browsing is Brad Ogbonna. “When a shoot came up a few weeks later, I was reminded of him again because his work had popped up on The Fader’s Instagram earlier. Because he was fresh in my mind, I proposed him for a shoot with Douglas Wigdor—a lawyer who is representing a group of people in a suit against Fox for racial discrimination.” Sacha Maric “is another very clear example of someone who I found on Instagram—when he was still living in Denmark—and ended up working with quite a bit.” Other Instagram discoveries include KangHee Kim, Yael Malka and Sergiy Barchuk.
“My general mode of operating when I see someone on Instagram is to look at their feed first and then follow it up by looking at their website. I definitely don’t think that the two are interchangeable: Even if you have a great feed, you still need a website (preferably one that lists where you are located).”
Photo Editor at Utah Office of Tourism
Salvas found dark-sky photographer Prajit Ravindran with the handle @irockutah because “he was consistently tagging us in his images,” and showed that he was visiting “some of the most remote parts of the state to capture the stars.” She explains, “Utah is home of quite a few certified Dark Sky Parks, so star gazing is a big push for us. And from an image standpoint, it performs really well on social media. We ended up filming a profile on him in one of our state parks and I continue to use his images throughout our site and social platforms.”
Photo Editor and Art Researcher for Harper’s and Oxford American
“I regularly search hashtags and geotags for my work as a picture researcher and photo editor, and I do pay attention to Instagram’s suggestions for who to follow,” Coppelman says. Through browsing, she discovered and began following Arash Rad, a street photographer in Iran. Though Coppelman hasn’t yet hired Rad, she says, “I’ll definitely consider him when something comes up for Iran.”
Photo Editor, International Committee of the Red Cross
Cook-Pellegrin follows Native (@nativphotograph), Everyday Africa (@everydayafrica), Women Photograph (@womenphotograph), Blink (@blinkdotla) and other feeds, and uses geotags and hashtags “to know where people are and what they’re working on.” She says Instagram helps her look for photographers and also stories that “we would like to tell, or a way of storytelling we wanted to tap into.” She says she needs photographers who capture a sense of place and provide context. “Yes, the ICRC focuses on assisting victims of war and violence. And we need images that show this. But those kinds of images make even more sense when they’re contextualized and when you can show an audience what life is like on a daily basis for the larger community or region.” She cites Fati Abubakar, who is based in Nigeria, and Yagazie Emezi, a Nigeria-born photographer who did a portrait project on women and body image in Liberia, as examples of Instagram discoveries she hopes to work with soon.
Recently, ICRC has assigned work to Robin Hammond whose style “clearly fits [the] Insta format” and Andrew Quilty, who is based in Kabul, and who “covers exactly the themes we do and he is extremely active on Insta with daily life photos.”
Cook-Pellegrin says she also looks for single images to license “when we see people working on themes we need but maybe can’t assign in the moment, or when events happen fast and we don’t have time to organize an assignment.”
Senior Photo Editor, Bloomberg Pursuits
“I love the idea of discovering new talent directly on Instagram,” says Mamanna, who says she discovered Ashley Armitage and Shawn Theodore through Instagram. “Anything that shows me more of who you are as a photographer is always going to be a good thing. I love seeing a photographer’s personal esthetic mixed in with their assignments. I feel like it gives me a more fleshed-out impression of their overall talent and vision.” She saves images for future reference using the Instagram “collections” feature. In addition to following photographers she’s worked with or hopes to work with, she follows magazines, museums and galleries, including Refinery29, The Photographers Gallery and the Studio Museum of Harlem. But, she notes, “I am quick to unfollow. I will often unfollow if people post too much, although with the algorithm, I suspect that people who post a lot aren’t always cluttering the feed.” She also culls the list of feeds she follows when it gets to 800: “800 is a completely arbitrary number that I’ve decided upon, but as soon as I get close, I go through my list and if people haven’t posted at all or they pop up on the ‘Explore’ page anyway, I’ll unfollow.”