How to get 136,000 followers on Instagram, from a photographer who did
Seven tips from Nir Leshem on how to maximize the social media site for followers and likes.
Nir Leshem isn’t a professional photographer, but his Instagram feed is one of the most popular on the social network. Hailing from the coastal city of Haifa in Israel, he’s a self-proclaimed tech geek. Educated at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, he now works for a technical firm in Trondheim, Norway.
He was always interested in photography, but before Instagram, he didn’t have any way to show off his work. “I had loads of photos, but I never did anything with them,” he told From the Grapevine.
When Instagram came out in 2010, he was one of the first to embrace it. “It was very appealing because you could instantly get feedback on whatever you’re doing,” Leshem recalled. Five years later, more than 136,000 people follow Lesham’s Instagram feed at @nirl. (He follows a mere 261 other accounts.) Below, he offers our readers seven tips on how to maximize the medium for followers and likes:
1. Nothing beats a good sunset picture
If you want to get a lot of followers quickly, shoot amazing sunsets and sunrises – anything with an obvious “wow” factor. Leshem says he became known early on for great landscapes, and while he’s become interested in street photography lately, he’s still a sun chaser. “Nothing beats a good sunset picture in terms of a lot of people saying, ‘Wow.’”
2. You have to like your own pictures
Don’t post images just because you think the community will like them. “If I don’t like a picture, I don’t post it. I follow the social rules – that you don’t ‘like’ your own picture – but I really do. If someone is trying to impress, or they’re not really connected to what they’re doing, it’s going to show."
3. The best camera is the one you have with you
If you’re really interested in learning more about photography, then you probably want to shoot with a "real" camera with manual operations. But at the end of the day, if the camera isn’t on you, it doesn’t matter. Leshem had an iPhone 3 when he first started with Instagram, and while he also carries a compact Fuji with him most of the time, the images he posts may have been shot with either. “The cameras on the phones still don’t beat a real camera in terms of certain things, but still, you can do some amazing work with the iPhone. I’m switching between my iPhone and my Fuji regularly. I just use whatever is the most convenient,” he says.
4. Be authentic, don’t sell
When brands first started trying to figure out how to leverage Instagram, Leshem was approached by Purina to shoot and post images of dogs. The images didn’t do very well, and Leshem wasn’t proud of the work, so he eventually turned them down. The same goes for what and how you post, and how you write your captions. “Don’t quote songs or poems, just tell people what you see. Concentrate on the picture. Post the mood, but don’t overdo it.”
5. Interact with others
When Leshem first joined Instagram, there were only a few hundred people using it. He enjoyed the instant feedback, but he also enjoyed exploring other people’s feeds. “The creativity that I was exposed to blew me away. It’s amazing to look at your feed and say, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?’” Genuinely expressing appreciation for others’ work and asking them authentic questions about their technique or process will get them to notice you back. Likewise, responding to questions or comments your followers post on your work will keep them engaged.
6. Use hashtags carefully
Many people think that you should use a lot of hashtags on your images, but Leshem says it’s more about quality than quantity. Use only the hashtags that interest you and that you would use to search images; otherwise, it just becomes a type of spam. “The original intent was to indicate something special or unique in the picture. Today the use of hashtags has become chaotic,” Leshem explains.
7. Take a zillion pictures, post one
Like most people, Leshem started with Instagram by posting silly things that caught his eye or punctuated his day. But now, he really seeks out the images he posts. As he gained more followers, he became more aware of what he was shooting and posting, consciously trying each time to outdo his previous image. “You do not want to walk with me on the street, because I stop every five seconds to take photos,” he says. Now, he takes hundreds of photos each day, but at most, he posts only one. “I like to follow people who post once a day, something very smart. Those are the best."
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