Social networking for photographers: walking the tightrope

Alfie Goodrich: photo by Tim Fisher

The web is here to stay and that’s a good thing, because it’s damn useful. But as a freelance photographer, how do you use the web to promote yourself and your work sensibly without coming across as pushy, self-obsessed, cocky little shit? It’s a tightrope some days…..

[photo above by Tim Fisher]

I’d like to think that, the majority of the time, my postings about my work are useful to someone out there. I know they are useful to me – getting my name out there and getting work in the door – but there is a point where all this self-promotion can get to being self-obsession. The moment I ever start believing my own hype is a moment I don’t want to get to.

I always make a conscious effort to explain a photo I post: how I took it, some of the back-story of why I came to be there taking it, etc etc. I teach photography as well, so if there is some wider educational slant I can put on a blog post then I always try to do that.

I don’t have an agent. Well, that’s not entirely true: I do have someone who represents me and a selection of my work on the gallery and print front. But apart from that, my agent is me – working in partnership with the World WideWeb.

I spent twelve years in the music business: nine years as PR Director for a label. The whole twelve years was basically spent promoting musicians and their music. Learning to promote myself after being the guy who promoted other people has been a new experience and it’s been tricky at times to get the balance right.

I was always more the type of person to hide my own light under a bushell. Trouble is, as a freelance photographer you can’t do that. If no one knows about you, doesn’t hear anything from you… you may as well not exist.

Teaching photography gives me a good perspective from which to promote my own work: here is something I did, here’s a little of how I did it or what I was thinking about when I did it.. in the hope it may help you in your photography.

It’s good to give something.

The line between confidence and arrogance is razor-thin sometimes. Easy to seem, to other people, like you have crossed it.

Here’s a few things I try to remember when promoting myself:

  1. This is not masturbation: the audience needs to get something out of this as well as me.
  2. Try to educate but don’t preach: simple ways to stick to this rule are to avoid saying things like ‘don’t do this’, ‘never do that’, ‘always do this’. Sounding like I have discovered THE ONLY way to do something is undoubtedly going to get up someone’s nose. It gets up mine. We each have experiences to share and advice to offer. Someone sees my photo. If they like it then my explaining how I did it will seem, naturally, like it might be good advice to follow. No need to ram your advice down people’s throats.
  3. Be myself
  4. Be as original as I can
  5. Keep the posts over the course of each month as varied as possible
  6. Give credit where credit is due: don’t act like I thought of everything first. If someone has helped me arrive at an idea, I want to make sure people know what part that person played in it all.
  7. Don’t take myself too serioiusly


I bought my first domain names in about 1997. This Japanorama domain has been in my possession since 2002, being first used as signpost that pointed to a selection of the images I had shot in Japan. In 2007, I started this site proper.

My own sites were my first forays into the world of ‘self-publishing’ and self-promotion. It’s been an interesting decade or more and things have changed, grown and developed to a point where, now, I get upwards of 90% of my work from people finding me online.

For me, social networking began with Flickr on September 10th, 2006.. when I bought a Pro Account for the first time. I’m not sure the term social networking was even around then. In terms of sharing work, being part of a community, commenting, group galleries.. Flickr was out there at the head of a very much smaller pack of networks.

Lightstalkers, SmugMug, PhotoShelter… I joined, dallied with and tested out.

Through Flickr I made a good amount of online photography friends. I’ve made some ‘real’ friends there too. The hardcore of people I first met ‘offline’ in Japan comes from Flickr and one other social network: Asoboo – a Japan-centric network that I was a member of for the first two years of living here.

It was Facebook that tempted me off of Asoboo.. more and more of the people I knew online and offline were heading there. 

I like Facebook for the connections it allows me to keep and make. There’s a lot of reasons I hate it. Love-hate.. powerful thing that.

MOST IMPORTANT POINT AS REGARDS MY PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE: I don’t need a gallery everywhere. Some places are just places from where I can very effectively point people to my gallery. In the old days I didn’t open a gallery in every town in the UK. I found a gallery that wanted my work and I put posters and flyers up in places – the pub, the library, cafes, on my front lawn – to promote my show.

It’s not wise to spread myself too thin. Sure, I may have a presence on lots of networks but in some it’s just a basic one: a signpost. I’ve reigned in a lot of the things I used to do. Time is short and needs to be used as efficiently as possible. That means having a few networks that really work for me and just having a basic profile and links to my sites on some of the other networks.

Time for some bullet-points.. then I can talk in a little more detail about each social network I use….

1. CREATING A CENTRAL ONLINE HOME FOR YOUR WORK IS IMPORTANT: I’m still not quite there with this as I have several websites of my own; Japanorama, my blog and my portfolio. Because my career spans shooting and teaching, there need to be at least two sites. I’m perpetually thinking about the roles for my portfolio site and my blog. Right now they both seem to work in tandem so I am not messing with that.

But let’s just imagine I am only a shooter… and that I need a home for my work.

It’s crucial that my main site is 100% under my control: my domain, hosted preferably somewhere that allows me full control over the front and back-ends of my website. As for the best mechanisms for building one’s photography site, that’s for another post perhaps. I choose to run all of mine on the WordPress platform. I have no trouble in recommending this. It’s flexible in coding and design, enough to run a simple portfolio site or something more like a magazine.

Once you have this central hub for your work, you can start using the wider web to bring people to see it.

You can spend time to make it look exactly how you want it to look. Every online content-hosting mechanism has parameters, obviously, but your own website built with something like WordPress offers you the most flexibility to make your photography mothership look and work exactly how you want it to. And although every webhost has terms and conditions they are not terms that in any way alter ownership or authorise third-party distribution, your content remains totally yours and totally under your control.

2. NOW YOU’VE BUILT IT, HOW WILL THEY KNOW IT’S THERE? First of all it’s very important to make sure that the first ‘people’ who turn up to your website are the ‘searchbots’; the little automated programs from Google, Yahoo and the like, which pay you a visit, sniff around and then run back home to mum to tell her all about you.

Wordpress, again, has some excellent tools for optimising your site for the search-engines. Again, there’s a ‘Wordpress for Photographers’ post coming next week. Suffice for now to say that you can do a lot of great stuff with wordpress to make sure you have a site that will be found.

Before we get to ‘social networking’, here are a couple of other ways of getting people to your page….

a. Links: if you are writing about something, mentioning someone.. make that mention of a name or a product a link. Links in pages are one of the ways you can encourage people to give you links back to your site. Plus they help your site’s SEO [search engine optimization] ranking.

b. Social network buttons: these are available, typically, as a plugin for wordpress and many themes you can get for wordpress come with social buttons. These allow people to ‘like’, ‘+1’, ‘digg’, ‘stumble’ and share your page in a multitude of ways. Making a share this easy for a visitor is important. More people will press a ‘like this page on FB’ button than will copy and paste your URL into a status update on their own social network. Getting lots of links on lots of people’s networks helps SEO ranking.

3. WHICH OF THE SOCIAL NETWORKS DO I USE TO DRIVE TRAFFIC TO MY SITE & HOW? Let’s assume first of all that you have no social networks set up. Probably unlikely to be the case as everyone seems to be online somewhere. But, if you were about to start social networking, which networks would be best?

a. Facebook: for me, is like gossiping over the garden fence with my friends. In that garden I get to meet new friends, through the ones I already have. Whilst I talk about work and link to my photography work from Facebook, it is not a place I post my photos and it’s not somewhere I regard as a tool of work. It’s the garden fence, it’s the pub. I talk about my work in real pubs [when I get out to them]. Facebook is like that for me. But that’s me as an individual. Plenty of people, including me [although it doesn’t get used so much] have a separate  ‘business page’ on Facebook, for the work side of them as a person or for their business if that has a name of its own.

I use Facebook to post links to articles or photos on my websites. I don’t post my work TO Facebook. I use it to keep people posted about what I am up to, just in case they might be interested.

Why don’t I post photos to Facebook? Firstly the quality is terrible. Even since Facebook improved the way photos are displayed it hasn’t really improved – much – the quality at which they are displayed. Sharpness is weird. Photos look oddly aliased and blocky. Not a good place to show off things one has put a lot of time into trying to look good.

Secondly, I don’t really like Facebook’s terms and conditions.

I use it to maintain a ‘drip-drip’ news bulletin of what’s going on with my life as a photographer:

‘On the train to Kyushu for a shoot… there for a few days, shooting for a Dutch client’

Being busy is one thing. Looking busy is also useful. Being a freelancer is all about keeping the ball in the air, perpetually.

b. Flickr: I have profile there for me and I put a selection of my photos there. I also have a Japanorama Group on Flickr, into which people post photos of their own. That group’s RSS feed goes straight into Twitter, for some extra circulation that keeps my name out there on Flickr and that showcases the photographer’s names and their photos. My Flickr profile, like all profile pages wherever they may be, has links back to my own websites.

c. 500PX: same as Flickr, except for the group aspect. Selected photos. Not my whole body of work.

d. Tumblr: this I use solely as an online scrapbook. Whilst doing my Design A’Level and subsequently through my three years of art college [and until I stopped buying so many magazines] I used to keep scrapbooks. I don’t have space in Japan to have loads of magazines and books. I read magazines in the shop usually, buying them only when I really feel it’s worth it. This again is largely a space reason. I have three kids, wife, my, my office and [currently] the mother-in-law all crammed into a typical Tokyo-sized flat. Someone, something, had to go… it was the piles of magazines and books. After trying various things, Tumblr became the tool of choice for collecting photos that inspire me. Pinterest is as good. But it came along after I found Tumblr. There is an ‘about me’ page on my tumblr, in case people want to find me and my work.

e. Google Plus: this is probably my most important social network, for work anyway. And that’s all it’s for, for the most part: work. Google Plus is ‘the office’ to the ‘garden fence’ of Facebook.

Biggest thing about Google Plus for me was about adopting early. G+ really took off for photographers. I’m lucky enough to have had 1.3million follow me on G+. That’s a decent footprint.

Google’s photo display is, IMHO, better than Facebook’s and I have slightly less inhibitions about putting my content on their network than I do filling up Mr. Zuckerberg’s website with my pretty photos. Plus, Facebook is for friends and through them I find new friends and friends of theirs find me. My content is not visible to the general public, only to my FB friends.

Most powerful aspect of Google Plus for me is that by making all of my posts there ‘public’, each of those posts goes directly into Google’s search database. 

To help this even more, I have a plugin in my wordpress websites called Google+Blog, created by a G+ friend of mine called Daniel Treadwell. Nice guy, awesome plugin… that allows me to post in G+ and pull those posts into my own websites as well, via a set of parameters and variables being able to choose what posts I pull in. This solved, for me, a long-standing issue with wanting to be able to post to my wordpress sites whilst on the move. In fact, this was the thing I was most excited about when I got my first iphone. Only to then find that the wordpress apps available for the phone were all crap. And, most crucially, that you can’t – on an iphone – upload files through the traditional ‘Browse your computer’ method, which is the way wordpress at that time worked to get your photos into the page. It may have changed now. But actually it doesn’t matter.

Having a plugin that pulls my G+ posts into my website allows me to post from home or the phone, via G+ directly.

  • The post on my G+ page gets listed on Google.
  • The post pulled in from my G+ page and put on my own website also gets listed on Google.
  • I only need to write a post once to get it in two places and have it listed twice on Google. Perfect.

And Google Plus has a vibrant, busy, disparate, benevolent-minded group of photographers and photography-lovers on it.

Add in the ‘hangout’ feature of Google Plus [basically live video conferencing for a group of people] and you have a powerful platform for getting your work out there, getting it seen and getting together a group of like-minded people to have a chat about something or ask you stuff.


About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

We also welcome submissions of photos and articles for this site, so please get in touch via our contact page. Thanks. © 2015 All Rights Reserved

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