Shannon Wild gave up a comfortable existence in Australia to follow her dream to film and photograph wild animals. She now boasts 170,000 followers on Instagram, runs photography workshops and exhibitions and has 15 international awards for her work .
If you are reading this article looking for a quick fix to increase your Instagram follows, or to get your work published in National Geographic, Shannon has some advice for you – Stop! Wildlife photography is not going to be the job for you.
Building a following and gaining a reputation is hard work, often badly paid and highly competitive. But, if you know this is the only career that will satisfy you, then read her advice for ANFPE.
While social media will certainly get you exposure, most of Shannon’s work is from networking, which flowed into recommendations and other opportunities.
“The first year especially, I shot as much as possible and did as much free work as possible to build those networking relationships… I have met the most amazing and interesting people on this journey and I have to tell myself to put myself out there,” she said
Not everyone is naturally social and Shannon is the first to admit she struggled initially. But, while she could not see anybody for weeks, she knew that was never going to get her work.
“You need to get yourself involved in the industry in the first place to really start getting the work, because it is quite difficult to break into… I saw the rewards in the second year and, in the last three years, I have finally got to a position where I can say no to work. As a freelancer that’s the position you want to be in,” she said.
With social media, consistency is vital, particularly for Instagram. To get the big numbers, you need to treat it as part of your job.
“Social media is tough, and you can get quite jaded. But, it is one of the facets of my business. It is very important in my marketing and has resulted in some great work, recommendations, collaborations or sponsorships.
“Put in the effort and time and it perpetuates…The single biggest thing where I saw a turnaround in my social media response was by engaging with people. Not just posting but liking, commenting and following,” she advised.
Go to the hashtag that you are interested in and engage with other photos. Often, people reciprocate by looking at your page, so make sure your posts are relevant.
“They can see if you are consistently posting wildlife stuff and they will follow. Don’t have twenty pictures of your lunch and then a wildlife picture,” Shannon said.
One of the key things Shannon tells her students is to find their own signature style.
“If you are unsure and chopping and changing, people have no idea. It is not something you can rush. It took me a good seven years shooting to be in a comfortable position of technically understanding what I am doing and consciously making those decisions over-and-over,” she said.
Shannon worked hard for the first 10,000 follows but, after this it started to take on a natural flow.
“You can get to a point where you can step back and relax a little. It becomes not so much of a job and you enjoy it more as you are not trying to get so many followers,” she added.
Beware though, as since Instagram was purchased by Facebook its algorithms have changed and it is no longer chronological. This makes it far trickier when it comes to understanding when and what your followers are seeing, and she has noted that interaction has gone down.
Enjoy the process
In the rush to succeed, it is easy to forget the reason you wanted to do this in the first place.
“My personality is very type A – I need to be successful, yesterday. Then you reach that set milestone and you don’t even enjoy it. I give this advice knowing full well I need to take, but enjoy it because it goes so fleetingly,” Shannon advised.
“That first year-and-a-half in Africa, I was awestruck by everything. I moved here without ever having been here. I dreamed of Africa my whole life and I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but you can’t articulate how that will be until you are there. I always remind my workshop students that you have to really look through your viewfinder, enjoy the moment and experience – I am not going to miss the shot, but don’t completely miss the experience either,” she laughed.
With practice the technical side will become more intuitive, allowing you to appreciate the moment.
“When you first start you have a million-and-one things to think – wondering if it is the right setting, where it is, you are trying to track a moving animal, and it can be extremely overwhelming. Some people get so worked-up and frustrated and that takes the enjoyment out. You have to get out there and practice and push through and then it does actually become easier,” she said.
“I am making quick and rash decisions while filming, but I am still very much processing it, enjoying it and saying ‘oh my god’ while I see whatever unfolds. That is very much the reason you do it in the first place. If it gets to the point where you are not noticing it anymore then you would never keep it up,” she added.