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Choosing the right platform through which to promote your photography or finesse your visual story is but one of many challenging decisions facing the modern photographer.  Head On partner PDN Magazine talks to Instagram Editorial Director Pamela Chen about the power of Instagram to photography, as a platform for exposure and experimentation


PDN: What criteria do you use to choose which Instagram accounts to highlight on the @Instagram account or blog?

PC: We look for inspiration and authenticity within the Instagram community. We are drawn to individuals who open a window into their own creative lives and share their journey as it unfolds. The most exemplary community members don’t just share their images, but also contextualize their experiences through storytelling, and engage with their followers in conversation to expand their impact beyond the initial visual communication.

PDN: What, to you, makes for an interesting Instagram feed? Are there things that are common to users who have built large followings on Instagram?

PC: The best way to understand that is to follow the @Instagram account. Every day you’ll see the things our team is surfacing that we find fascinating. What’s appealing isn’t large numbers of followers, it’s work that is unique and sincere. It’s especially interesting when people experiment with integrating Instagram at the start of their creative process. When your feed is a living portfolio that grows and evolves as your eye does, your followers then have a chance to become invested your projects. How you curate here is just as much a part of your story as what the single images are.

PDN: Would you explain a bit more about what you mean by “creative process” in the context of Instagram?

PC: By creative process, I mean the process by which all photographers perpetually hone their personal way of seeing. At National Geographic magazine, the editors go on that journey with the photographers through their entire take, frame by frame. You try something, then you try something else. Eventually you settle in with what feels best for you, in order to tell the story you are trying to tell. Instagram has a part to play in that process too, in that by sharing your creative process on the platform, you are connecting with fellow artists and inspiring your audience to care about your vision as it evolves.

PDN: You mention Instagram being a rabbit hole of creativity; do you have any advice for photographers who are interested in getting the attention of the editorial staff?

It’s not an exact science. When we feature a community member on our channels, we always ask them who they follow on Instagram. Then you end up on the feeds of who they are following, who they in turn are discovering, and you’re suddenly down that rabbit hole. Also, the Explore tab is driven by engagement, so when photographers spark engagement from their audience, it expands the reach of their work. We use this powerful discovery tool just as everyone else. So it’s most meaningful and effective to focus on engaging with your personal audience: your friends, peers, fans, and the community of interest that grows around your work.

PDN: Some in the professional photography community have worried that Instagram, and the rise in influence of hobbyist photographers, is making an already challenging industry even more difficult for professionals. What do you think of those concerns?

PC: Our industry has changed so much, and so quickly. Instagram is a place where a staggering number of people are cultivating a deeper appreciation for storytelling. Photographers can find themselves in the company of so many people who are paying attention to photography, and within this massive community there’s a new world of opportunity and challenge. Instagram is a place where you can build your own audience, present your creative growth to editors in real time, and discover others who are part of this evolving conversation.

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Image detail: Gary Ramage