How three Canadian photographers use social media to grow their businesses
Story by Jessica Lee
Photography by Patrick Di Fruscia, Ken Kaminesky and Paul Zizka
On a photography trip last April to Myanmar, Canadian photographers Ken Kaminesky and Patrick Di Fruscia had their 15-hour flight at Cathay Pacific bumped from economy to business class. But this wasn’t luck. With a combined following of over two million fans spread out on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram, Di Fruscia and Kaminesky are two of the most influential photographers on social media. In return for moving the two up to business class, Cathay Pacific asked for social media posts from both of them, which they happily created.
Exchanging exposure for perks and products is not new. Celebrities are often handed free products from companies in hopes they will influence their fans to purchase the product as well. YouTube stars and popular bloggers are often given free products to review. More and more companies are starting to recognize the power of social influencers online. On the rise in the midst of this phenomenon is a new type of photographer: the brand representative and social influencer who can inspire and drive sales through his loyal fan base.
Social media is not just a place for sharing your work with the world. Using social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram or LinkedIn can help photographers connect with big companies, find markets for their photography, meet other photographers and propel careers forward in other ways.
Kaminesky — a travel photographer with an average of 188,000 followers spread out over Facebook and Twitter, and over 600,000 Google + followers — started his photography career in the early ‘90s as a faceless fashion photographer for a modeling agency, shooting with film. The photography business has evolved tremendously since then. With the invention of digital SLRs, anyone with a budget can pick up a decent quality camera and start shooting, which saturated the market. Professional photographers now have to be more strategic to stay in business.
Previously, he says, “I could be incognito; I could shoot, send in my images to the agency, get a cheque every month and I’m happy.” In the mid ‘90s, he transitioned to stock photography, shooting for Jupiterimages.
In 2008, Jupiterimages was bought out by Getty Images and everyone was fired. Photographers had their contracts cut short. Assignments were cancelled and stock work was not being sold. Suddenly Kaminesky was on his own.
Kaminesky first started his photography blog in 2009 and from there he built his social media accounts to lead back to it.
Two National Geographic covers, appearances in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star and a variety of high-profile travel publications later and he credits many of his opportunities to his visibility on the Internet. He recently landed sponsorships with Microsoft, Fujifilm and Canadian clothing company, Arc’teryx, and National Geographic editors found his work after doing a Google image search.
While Google hasn’t officially confirmed social media shares influences page or image rankings directly, the number of views an image has will make the image rank higher in a relevant search. There are algorithms that weed out low-quality images and present searchers with what they are most likely looking for.
Photographers can put their work out on the Internet through many different outlets and if the public likes it for whatever reason, they will share it with their social network. More than ever now, the masses have a say in which photographers to pay attention to and which photographs rise to the top.
“That’s the beauty of social media. You do things that get other people to do your marketing work for you. Because you’re either doing something inspirational or you’re doing something they would love to do themselves, but they can’t do,” says Kaminesky.
However before expecting any results, photographers have to first create high-quality work to inspire people to share their images.
Patrick Di Fruscia
Landscape photographer Patrick Di Fruscia has been shooting since 2000. He was introduced to photography when his previous employer, a sports nutrition company, asked him to shoot products so the company wouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a product photographer. After dabbling in many different types of photography, Di Fruscia made the switch to landscapes as it was his favourite. He’s not a beginner photographer and is no stranger to social media. He recently landed a Canon partnership that resulted in a gallery display of his photography in a busy downtown Montreal area. He says the partnership is due at least somewhat to his massive social media clout. As of publication of this article, he has 374,000 Facebook followers and 1.8 million Google+ followers.
While Facebook or Instagram didn’t exist back in the early 2000s, there were other community sites Di Fruscia used to display his photography such as Usefilm.com, photo.net and Photozig.
He remembers being an avid contributor to Photozig: “They had little hearts and when people liked the picture, they would put a little heart, and you would count your hearts. ‘I got 10 hearts and I want 20,’ and then you get 20, so the whole social media aspect started way back then, even before the major platforms.”
From there, Di Fruscia slowly built his community of fans who followed him on Google+ and Facebook. He was an early adopter of both social media sites and credits starting social media at the right time to why he has such a large audience now.
When he first started sharing his photography on Google+ in 2007 the site was looking for good content to engage early users. As a result, the content editors of Google+ added him to the suggested users to follow list, which increased his fan base even more. Facebook added him to an early list of photographers interested users could follow.
Early Instagram and Twitter adopters would have noticed similar lists featuring popular early users as well.
For Paul Zizka, a popular landscape photographer based in Banff, AB, his big break came in 2013 when Caters News Agency from the UK did a story about nighttime self-portraits he took in the Canadian Rockies. From there, the UK’s The Guardian picked up the story and his work spread worldwide on the Internet. It even spawned a number of emulators who copied the unconventional landscape “selfie.”
“It’s very short-lived. For two days, that’s what everybody’s talking about, but then everybody goes to the next story,” says Zizka about the attention.
“It’s a mystery why, but sometimes an image will just take off. Everybody will just share it all over the place and overnight you get a huge boost in the following, and of course that can lead to the more you have a following, the more likely an editor will see your work,” says Zizka. He averages 300-400 Facebook shares and about 1,000-5,000 “likes” for each post. Recently, he posted a 15 percent discount offer on his photography prints on his social media accounts and more than 100 fans ordered.
In addition to print sales, Zizka runs his photography business by giving photography workshops and shooting assignments for several publications.
Many of his editorial publishings also came from an editor seeing his work via the Internet. He has been published in Outdoor Photography Canada (Fall/Winter 2013 issue #27), Maclean’s, IMPACT Magazine, Alpinist, Huffington Post, Canadian Geographic, Islands, Fodors.com, Explore magazine and has even worked with Banff Lake Louise Tourism to create a collection of images to promote Banff National Park. Zizka is also sponsored by Canon.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to pinpoint where the interest came from,” he says. “Who was responsible for putting an image in front of the right person so that they would decide to use it?”
Besides using Facebook and Instagram as a promotional tool, Zizka also uses the amount of interaction such as Facebook “likes” or “shares” on certain images to gauge which photographs to include in his products such as calendars, knowing people are more likely to buy calendars with images they already like.
“There’s still a lot of times when I’m left a little bit speechless as to what does well and what doesn’t,” he says.
He cautions photographers not to become too swayed by social influence and says everyone needs to follow their own creative vision.
“You don’t want to start putting images out there just to get the clicks,” he says.
Another way Zizka uses the data tools on Facebook is to look at the demographics of his audience through the insights panel. While some of his current fans may be young and not have a huge disposable income right this moment, Zizka thinks perhaps 10 years down the road they will sign up for his workshops.
“Honestly if you asked me what my market was back then (before using social media analytics tools), I would have a hard time giving you an answer, whereas now I can see the types of people who interact a lot on social media and who I’ve been able to connect with,” he says.
Internet as a
For any photographer looking to get their work noticed, all three support using the Internet as a promotional tool to attract the public’s attention.
For beginners just starting to develop an Internet presence, he advises to focus on their voice when writing.
“Social media allows you to convey a certain voice. I think that’s so important because often it (promotion) is a solo effort. You’re putting yourself out there as a person and for me, I knew I wanted to be positive, outgoing and engaged. I didn’t want to sound desperate. I find there are a lot of people who sound like they’re just begging for attention all the time and I don’t think it looks good. I like to follow people who exude that confidence. They’re like, ‘Here’s my work, I hope it speaks for itself.’”
Di Fruscia echoes Zizka’s words about positivity. He describes his own followers as a community of people who connect with his positive thinking. With every photo he posts, he also adds an inspirational quote or writes a motivational note.
On handling his social media, he says, “It’s more of a feeling and more of the way people perceive when they see your work than actually just trying to pop out pretty pictures. It’s like this in any business, you know? You could have a good restaurant, but what makes people go back is how they feel when they go there, how you treat them. Good food is available everywhere, so why do you go there?”
Kaminesky advises to seek out what other great social media influencers are doing. For him, he noticed travel bloggers were excelling at social media, and from them he drew inspiration for how to deliver his own social media strategy.
“I saw that they (travel bloggers) were the ones who really understood. They were the ones who had community. They were the ones who were reaching out to their audiences. They were getting hundreds, if not thousands of comments on their blog posts.”
“If I had no social media, no blog exposure, even if I were still doing the same calibre of photography, it wouldn’t matter as much. I don’t think I could sustain this,” he says.
When asked about critics who imply his sponsorships are all because of popularity and not artistic or technical photography merit, he says, “Disliking someone’s work because they are popular is silly; liking someone’s work because they are popular is also silly.”
Besides, don’t the two National Geographic covers speak for themselves?
“Good images will always remain good images,” says Kaminesky. “Art is subjective.”