Finn Beales lives alongside a mountain in Wales with his partner, 4 ducks, 3 horses, 5 chickens a dog and 2 small children. This isn't the most likely place to find opportunity as a photographer. However, Finn proves that thanks to the Internet, opportunity can be found anywhere.
Here is his story:
Q: When did you join Instagram and what intrigued you about it?
A: I downloaded the app pretty soon after it was released, posted a couple of pictures and forgot about it. About a year later (October 2011) a colleague at work mentioned he was switching from Blackberry to iPhone so he could start using Instagram and I thought I’d check it out again. My pictures were there just the same, but in the intervening period the user base had swollen to create the community that makes the app what it is today. I posted a couple more pics with hashtags attached and the likes started popping up on my screen. Intrigued I explored some more… discovered many of the people I follow today and was hooked from then on.
Q: You currently have over 322,000 followers on Instagram. What do you attribute this following to?
A: I maintain a fairly consistent feed centered around my work, my travels and the great outdoors in general. I’ve been told my style of imagery is cinematic and contemplative. I spend hours thinking about our place in this world and I guess this comes across in the type of imagery I produce. Perhaps it’s this theme that resonates with my followers.
Q: When you joined Instagram, did you anticipate you'd grow the following that you have?
A: I certainly realized it was possible but didn’t anticipate growing such a following myself. I’d dabbled with Twitter and other networks but never really found my voice. With Instagram it came fairly naturally.
Q: How have Instagram and The Internet as a whole allowed you to grow and enhance your business?
A: I live on the side of a mountain in rural Wales where we cut our own wood for heating and the nearest town has a population of 1,500 people. Technology and the Internet has allowed me to work alongside some internationally talented artists/photographers, from a relatively remote corner of the world. I actually think my location helps, it's a point of difference, but developing a career as a photographer out here would have been near impossible before the Internet. I'm very grateful for it.
Q: What level of your success would you attribute to the tools, platforms and outlets The Internet provides?
A: The Internet has given me a channel through which I can distribute personal work and to my delight people have responded positively to it. I’ve always been a creative person and would be making things had I access to these tools or not, but I feel lucky to now have the opportunity to apply my creativity to commercial work. These opportunities are unlikely to have arisen (considering my physical location) without the Internet.
Q: What's the biggest mistake you think photographers and other artists make when using Instagram or other social media sites?
A: Publishing substandard work that doesn’t marry with the rest of the feed. Users make a split second decision when it comes to hitting that follow button. The decision is highly influenced by the impact the first 9 thumbnail images make… keep the quality high and the frequency of posts low as opposed to the other way around.
Q: Do you post your pictures on other photo sharing/hosting sites besides Instagram? If so, how have those sites compared in terms of providing visibility to your work and exposure to your brand?
A: I publish to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Tumblr has great power in terms of the re-blog feature. If an image resonates with followers it can very, very quickly go viral across the network. Whether this helps a brand or not is open to question though. Often a picture re-blogged by a user will end up in a grid of other images on their own wall and image attribution is obscured.
Facebook and Twitter are more of a ‘social’ network for me. I use both platforms to converse with users and post links relating to photography in general. My Instagram feed is far more curated and more of a portfolio.
Q: Photographers on Instagram monetize their following in different ways. Have you monetized your following on Instagram? If so, what have you done and how has your audience reacted to this sponsored content?
A: I wouldn’t say monetizing my following is the right term. I’m a working photographer and Instagram is simply a tool in my toolbox same as my DSLR or Hasselblad. It certainly helps me get a foot in the door with a brand when they see my presence online though. I am taken more seriously and if a campaign fits with my feed I am happy to share behind the scenes images from the location of a shoot. This obviously helps expose a brand to an audience they would otherwise be unable to reach.
I have never received negative feedback from branded work. I work hard to keep things natural and in tune with my own feed and only work with brands that allow me to produce the type of content I might normally post.
Q: Has your "social footprint" helped you gain new clientele?
A: Definitely. My work has been exposed to many other photographers, art directors, commissioning editors via Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. I have received commissions as a result of sharing personal work across these networks and towards the end of last year I signed to the photo agency Tinker Street* in New York City; a connection made as a result of work seen via Instagram.
Q: What's the best advice you would give to photographers and other artists using the Internet and social platforms to boost their business?
1.) Only share your best images; you will always be judged by your worst photo.
2.) Keep your feed (and therefore your voice) consistent; people like to know who they’re dealing with.
3.) Try and create a point of difference; there are a lot of people doing it these days.
4.) Maintain a friendly, positive approach and engage with others; you won’t make friends/followers otherwise.
5.) Stay humble.