Social Media Strategy: Music Photographer Angela Owens on Building Image Albums that Build Audience

March 11, 2019

By David Walker

As a photographer of punk and hardcore rock bands, Angela Owens engages her 66,000 Instagram followers by consistently posting 6- to 10-image albums of high-energy stage performances. “I try to post once a day,” says Owens, who holds a day job as a Wall Street Journal photo editor. She shoots band performances at night and on weekends, mostly in and around New York City.

“I use Instagram as my portfolio,” she says, explaining that her feed is exclusively her music photography, carefully curated, and her only form of self-promotion, besides an occasional Twitter post. Although her Instagram feed includes commissioned portraits of bands, images showing magazine covers and spreads of her published work, the right-swipe slideshows of musicians in action are what keep the attention of her Instagram followers.

© Angela Owens

An image by Angela Owens from the music video shoot for TURNSTILE’s song “Bomb / I Don’t Wanna Be Blind.” © Angela Owens

Owens shoots punk performances with a clean, bold style that takes viewers into the action. She crops tightly on lead singers giving their all to a microphone, and backs up to show band members wailing on their instruments or doing acrobatic moves, then mixes it up with images of screaming fans. With the aid of flash, background lighting and well-chosen angles, Owens makes tight compositions against uncluttered backgrounds. Her shooting style and editing choices are dictated to a degree by the platform: because most followers are looking at her work on their phones, “the pictures have to be striking at a smaller size,” she says.

Owens favors the Instagram albums feature “because I can show a wider variety of work, and it’s more engaging. If you post one photo, people swipe by it, and they’re gone. But if you post an album, they stay for a while.” She occasionally uses the Instagram Stories feature to show behind-the-scenes video and outtakes from bigger projects.   

© Angela Owens

Angela Owens’ series of images from a performance by Krimewatch.

Owens spends from 15 minutes to an hour each day preparing her posts, and uses Buffer to schedule and manage them. “I plan the night before,” she says. Her selections are guided by what she’s learned about her followers. “My audience is looking for a less commercial experience. If it feels like I’m trying to sell them something, or promoting something too hard, that’s a big turn-off to the people that are coming to me for photos of punk and hardcore bands.”

She also watches her analytics. “I look to see what my best posts are, and try to see how I can achieve that all the time, which isn’t possible. But I do look at what people want to see,” she says

Owens has found that album posts that begin with a striking, tightly cropped image “tend to do pretty well.” For that reason, her albums often start with a tight shot of a band’s lead singer, or a medium-tight shot with a little bit of the audience or another band member for context. She follows that with shots of each individual band member, and wider shots showing the full band in performance. She makes her selections with attention to the musicians’ gestures and the geometry of their bodies and instruments. “I look for the best moments from the show, especially moments that show engagement with the crowd or the most energy,” she says, and posts them in square format.

© Angela Owens

An image from a PowerTrip concert. Owens says, “I look for the best moments from the show, especially moments that show engagement with the crowd or the most energy.”

As a photo editor, Owens has picked up Instagram strategies from other photographers—particularly what not to do. “I think about what I like to see when I’m scrolling through” other photographers’ feeds, she says. “I don’t like to see a ton of hashtags. When people hashtag almost everything in their captions, that makes it hard to read. I think [followers] want something simpler. Get straight to the point: here are the photos, here’s what you’re looking at.”

Another annoyance “is posting too much, like posting [many] times a day and clogging up my feed. Once or twice a day is what most people want to see.”

Because Owens uses her Instagram as her portfolio, and because she has so many strangers following her, she avoids posting anything personal. “I think people like to get a sense of who’s behind the camera, so I give followers a sense of who I am, but it’s not my deeply personal life,” Owens says. Instead, it might be a behind-the-scenes video from a performance, which she posts to Instagram Stories.

Owens believes it is also important to respond to followers who post comments and questions. Followers ask for everything from tips on how to get started in photography to how to find recordings by a particular band. “If someone is taking the time to post a comment or ask a question, I want to acknowledge them,” Owens says. She can’t answer everyone, but tries to answer all but silly questions, and concludes, “Most of my following comes from working hard and being nice to people.”  

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