Don’t Make the Critical Facebook and Instagram Photography Mistake

I have a good friend that uses Facebook as his photography business’s digital platform. I have multiple friends that use Instagram as their portfolio. This also goes for, yes to a lesser degree, using Behance, Tumbler, Model Mayhem, Imgur, and Flickr as a portfolio destination.

The primary issue for all these websites is that you do not own or control them. You are loaning your work to them and must abide by their rules and regulations. And future business model.


Both Instagram and Facebook recently went down for hours. This meant that beyond not being able to look at photos of your friends’ kids, if your photography world counted on either of these sites, your business and portfolio went down too. It’s like you did not exist. This was painful for millions of businesses, many of which only use Facebook as their business information website. I’d imagine that millions of dollars of sales were lost that day.

While this event was a Facebook server issue, are you sure that Facebook and Instagram, as we know them today, will be here in their current formats forever?

Forever, as in the place that you want to show your work – forever?

Remember Myspace?

For a few years, Myspace was the ultimate destination for musicians to share their work and build reputations. From 2005 to 2008 it was the largest social media site.

A screenshot of Myspace co-founder Tom Anderson’s page in the early days of the social network.

Popular musicians like Arctic Monkeys and Calvin Harris made their names on Myspace. Unfortunately trusting Myspace turned out to be a rather bad idea. From a Myspace press release:

As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologize for the inconvenience.

“Inconvenience.” Really?

At that time, CNN reported that “Andy Baio, a tech expert and former chief technology officer of crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, warned that the music of up to up 14 million artists may have been lost.”

14 million. Really?

Own Your Work

Other than morality issues, I am sure that having your work on Facebook and Instagram is a good idea. Each platform reaches zillions and, in the case of Instagram, is known as a photography destination. Plus, you get the dopamine hit from all those cherished ‘likes.’

However, trusting these third-party platforms as your primary and forever marketing resource is a BAD idea.

I’ll state the obvious. Add your own website to your marketing mix. Yes, I know that this is obvious. However, in the case of Instagram, too many photographers trust it as their little photo universe. They may have a real website, but because they view updating as a pain in the rear, they do not keep it updated. Updating is in the eye of the beholder. Do you really have to show every photograph you take? Editing is a good thing.

A side note related to marketing: both of these sites are trending older. If reaching the under-35 crowd is important, you might be missing a sizable audience.

Your Partners

There is another problem about ownership that I’ll admit probably will not be an issue. But, then again, who knows?

Instagram and Facebook clearly say that they do not own your images. However, their terms and conditions state that users grant them a “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use their content”. This means that you are effectively in a “partnership” with Mark Zuckerberg as it relates to image ownership.

Is this a big problem today? Probably not. But tomorrow? Who knows? Remember the Myspace debacle.

Own You

I am sure that a great number of serious photographers have their own branded websites. Right?

If not, I suggest going out and reserving your own URL, which you should do even if you will not build your own destination. Just own you. And then build your website. You can use tools like Squarespace or Wix or even WordPress.

The bottom line is that you do not have to build out a major website. Just make sure that you’ve got your very own branded destination if the stuff hits the fan. Because… it probably will.

Some hard-working photography websites are very deep and some deliver a simple look. Regardless, they should be viewed as critical elements in building and owning a photographer’s personal brand.

About the author: Peter Levitan began life as a professional photographer in San Francisco. He moved into a global advertising and Internet start-up career. Peter photographs people around the world using a portable studio. This is his excuse to travel and meet people.

Image credits: Header and camera illustrations licensed from Depositphotos.