Need a quick lighting how-to, camera review, client contract tip, or some creative inspiration? Turning to social media is not a bad idea.
Photography pros who create content for social media networks including YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and others offer an abundance of image-making and business-running know-how that any photographer can benefit from, explains Caroline Helfgott, PPA’s influencer relations coordinator.
Working as a content creator on social media is a thriving niche. As of 2021, 50 million people worldwide considered themselves creators, some as side-gig content creators and others as professional influencer marketers, according to a report by Hootsuite, a social media management platform. While online influencers have been around for a decade, the pool expanded significantly during the pandemic. The Hootsuite report predicts that 72% of marketers will tap social media talent this year, spending a total of $15 billion.
The question is which creators to follow for quality educational content targeted at photography pros. We’ve compiled a group—from travel, portrait, and fashion photographers to passionate gear reviewers—who will entertain as well as enlighten you.
Follow for: Tips on lighting and color grading, behind-the-scenes videos, breakdowns on how she makes images, and creative inspiration.
How she got here: Lindsay Adler wrote a book on social media and online marketing, for which she interviewed successful photographers with significant online reach. By studying their best practices and learning how they gathered audiences through sharing and reciprocation, she built her own social media brand. Though she focuses mostly on fashion and beauty photography, she likes that being an educator and content creator allows her to dabble in any genre of photography.
Go-to camera and lens: Canon EOS R5 with Canon RF 24-105mm F/4 lens.
Equipment she’s most excited about: The Westcott Optical Spot by Lindsay Adler light she helped design. “I use this tool all the time, whether shooting a commercial jewelry campaign, celebrity fashion editorial, or creative portraiture,” she says. “It gives a level of control that is not possible with other modifiers. I can put tight slices of light onto my subjects or a texture of light onto the background.”
Top business tip: “Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Find your voice, your strengths, where you thrive, and then work to attract clients that resonate with what you offer.” She recommends looking into the Japanese concept of ikigai.
Top lighting tip: Yes, soft light is easier, but it’s limiting, she says. “Learn to embrace and control hard light if you want to open up creative possibilities.”
Unexpected items in her pack: The Stretch Glass from her Lensbaby Omni kit, which she uses to obscure the lens for creative in-camera effects. “And I always keep Mac red lipstick and a black eyeliner in my bag in case I have to look put together in a hurry,” she says.
Favorite music to play while working: “On set we usually listen to Goldfrapp, The xx, or The Weeknd, depending on the vibes we need.”
Most proud of: “To have a life I love. That sounds cliché, but I believe so many people don’t get to live for their passions or feel rewarded by their careers. Every day I pour my life and energies into creating and sharing as well as collaborating with other artists I respect.”
Follow for: Lessons on how he creates photos from start to finish—composition to post-processing.
Go-to camera and lens: Two Sony Alpha 1s with the Zeiss Batis and Zeiss Loxia lenses.
Technology he’s most excited about: The new Color Grading and Masking tools as well as the Learn and Discover features for Adobe Lightroom.
Mantra: “Photography is an art, and art is an emotion that’s unique to every photographer. Never allow the opinions of others to determine the outcome of what you produce. Capture images based on what you feel.”
Most proud of: Working with Zeiss, Sony, and Adobe, having his images featured in stores across the country and on the 2021 Lightroom splash screen, and being an Adobe Max speaker. “But the most rewarding has been the thousands who’ve shared that I’ve inspired them to become artists as well.”
Song that pumps him up: “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande
Favorite artist: Bob Ross. “Bob was a calm, patient artist and stressed during each painting that you could follow along with him, but you could always end up someplace different from him, and that’s what makes the art unique. … That’s what I encourage in others, too.”
Instagram: @helloemilie (1.3 million followers)
Follow for: Photos of the natural world that evoke nostalgia and wonder.
How she got here: Emilie Ristevski remembers setting up her Instagram account having no idea where it would lead nor any intentions about making it a profession. “I was young, and it all happened fast but somewhat seamlessly,” she says. “I simply loved creating and sharing stories, and with lots of time, energy, and dedication, I’m grateful to be able to keep creating for over 10 years now.”
Go-to camera and lens: Sony Alpha 1 with Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM, Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM, or Sony FE 70-200 F2.8mm GM OSS lens.
Top business tip: “Always stay true to yourself, find your creative voice, and be patient. … Mishaps can often lead to valuable lessons and can even take a project somewhere even more exciting than originally planned.”
Top lighting tip: Educate yourself on all kinds of light, especially natural light and how it changes throughout the day. “Understanding how light and shadows interact together is one of the most important elements in my work.”
Best career advice she’s received: It’s OK to say no. In the beginning of her career, she said yes to every opportunity. She’s learned to be selective and take on only the projects that align with her passions and creative vision.
Mantra: Be mindful, live slowly, and stay wild.
Most proud of: Publishing her debut photography book, “Forever Wandering.”
On her wish list: Sony 135mm F1.8 GM lens for experimental portraits and wildlife photography.
Dream shooting location: Bolivia and Mongolia are high on the list, but right now she’s slowing down to road trip the outback of her homeland of Australia.
Happiest at work when … “I am surrounded by nature and have had time to let my mind wander within our natural world.”
Follow for: Equipment reviews as well as street photography sessions and short film projects.
How he got here: When he began pursuing photography and videography, Zach Mayfield learned everything from YouTubers and eventually fell in love with the idea of making a living by bringing his own video ideas to life. “I love the repetition and constant refinement of my craft that YouTube offers with each idea I upload.”
Go-to camera and lens: Sony Alpha 7 III with Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art lens. “But when I want to spice things up, I put the Helios 44-2 vintage lens on my Sony, and I absolutely love the swirly bokeh and wild flares.”
Favorite content creators: Philip Bloom for camera reviews and NakeyJakey and Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan for laughs.
Music that pumps him up: Anything by Logic. “The man doesn’t release bad albums.”
Favorite artist: NakeyJakey. “He doesn’t post that often but when he does, it makes my entire day. His goofy humor, insane video editing, and his music all connect with me on a deep level. He’s a person who isn’t afraid to be his entire self in front of people, and that’s something I strive for.”
Follow for: Lighting tutorials, equipment reviews, and photography fundamentals on YouTube and completed images and behind-the-scenes on Instagram.
How he got here: “I thought I was going to find new clients on Instagram, but one day I realized most of my followers were photographers, so I started posting with them in mind.”
Go-to camera and lens: Canon EOS R5 with Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens.
Technology he’s most excited about: “My new Mac Studio because it’s speeding up my workflow.”
Top business tip: Build relationships with clients; that way, they’re more likely to hire you again and recommend you.
Favorite Instagram accounts: @ASPictures, @iso1200magazine, @flash_mates.
What he’s reading: “Cinematic Portraits: How to Create Classic Hollywood Photography,” by Pete Wright. “Really enjoying his advice on posing because it’s more proactive, and I tend to be reactive.”
Unexpected items in his pack: Socks for padding his equipment.
Can’t live without during a photo shoot: Gaffer tape, foam boards, and Kirkland Signature sparkling water.
Most proud of: “My tenacity. I’m always striving to learn more and improve my skills.”
Follow for: Video and photography tutorials as well as tips on starting and running a creative business.
How she got here: Lizzie Peirce and her husband run a video production company, and she noticed there weren’t as many women as men in the YouTube photography and videography space. “I decided that if I wanted to see that change happen then maybe I should step forward,” she says. “My goal was if I could help at least one person start their own creative business, then I would feel that my effort was a success. Fast forward three years later, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I wake up feeling like I’m making a difference.”
Go-to camera and lens: Sony a7 IV with Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM full-frame standard prime G Master lens.
Technology she’s most excited about: Godox strobe.
Top photography tip: Add movement. “We can get caught up in photographing a still moment, but adding movement really makes the photo come to life.”
Top business tip: Client communication is more important than you think. “If your client doesn’t like you or didn’t enjoy working with you, they won’t hire you again.” Establish expectations up front, and go out of your way to make sure the experience is seamless.
Mantra: If she can do it, I can do it.
Most proud of: A short documentary called “Has the Pandemic Ruined Our Creativity?” about the effects of loneliness on creativity. “It was a beast and a huge challenge for us, but I loved every second of creating it.”
Dream shooting location: Sand dunes in Dubai.
She’s happiest at work when … “Editing photos with my cats sleeping on my desk and a good cup of coffee.”
Follow for: Tips, tricks, behind the scenes, before-and-after retouching, and her popular stranger photoshoot sessions on TikTok.
How she got here: Social media didn’t exist when Jessika Dabrowski was growing up, but “I went hard on MySpace,” she admits, “so, naturally, when Instagram came out, I was instantly hooked.” She loved the ability to share art with the world from her bedroom and joined TikTok in its early days when, “It was still mostly kids on there dancing,” she says. “Everybody laughed at me when I told them to join.” But the laugh was on them: One of her first stranger photoshoots, where she approaches a female stranger for a quick portrait session, got over 8 million views, “and the rest is history.”
Go-to camera and lens: Sony a7 III with Sigma 24-70mm lens, in a pink camera skin, to boot.
Top business tip: “There’s a million photographers out there, so make sure you stand out.” Some people criticize her work for being overedited, she says, but she strives for a mix of beauty and fantasy. Plus, because of her signature style of editing, “You can almost always pick out my photo when it’s next to another photographer’s.”
Top lighting tip: She’s a big fan of the Lume Cube Panel Go, which is small enough to fit in her pocket and therefore perfect for shooting on the go.
Most popular post: She did a stranger photoshoot at the Playlist Live event. A crowd formed and started filming because they assumed her subject was famous. “I got super nervous and cut the photoshoot short [at 16 images] and almost didn’t even post the video because I wasn’t in love with the photos.” Low on content due to the pandemic shutdown, she decided to share it. “1.4 million likes later, it’s by far my most engaged post.”
On her wish list: StellaPro Reflex hybrid LED/flash head because it’s the perfect portable light for video and still photography work, she says. Also, a few Prism Lens FX filters with the phone attachment “because it’s such a vibe.”
Work hack: Give praise and direction while making portraits. People react to what you say, so you get a variety of expressions.
Dream shooting location: “Too many to name,” she says. “But I’d love to just get a rail pass in Europe or a charter boat in the Caribbean and do a photo tour and see how many places I could shoot in a month!”
Follow for: Behind-the-scenes content on how he makes each shot.
Go-to camera and lens: Sony a7 IV with Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM lens.
Top technique tip: Draw out a subject’s eyes. You can use a reflector, a white wall, a white shirt, or even a white piece of paper. “Sometimes we creatives have to be resourceful!”
Top lighting tip: When possible, opt for natural light over studio lights.
Mantra: Get back up. “As a creative and entrepreneur in the social media space, critiques can hurt like a thousand knives. Learning to get back up has been the best way for me to move on to the next project.”
Unexpected gear: Toupee tape, which he uses to stick a lavalier microphone under his shirt when he needs to film something that’s far from the camera.
Three items he’d like to have on a deserted island: His phone, his solar-powered battery charger, and cheese. “I can’t live without cheese.”
Dream shooting location: Iceland.
Dream place to live: Lake Garda, Italy. “I love that place so much! The food is incredible, the people are amazing, and it’s one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever seen.”
Follow for: Travel and the outdoors—landscape photography, aerial drone work, time-lapse photography and cinematography, and travel, hiking, and climbing guides.
Career advice: When Kevin Eassa teaches photography workshops, participants ask him, “What do I do? What do I create? What makes money?” he says. “These are all horrible questions.” He encourages photographers to try everything at first and then narrow their focus to what they love. “It is such a simple concept, but for some reason it goes over most people’s heads and [they] deem it impossible,” he says. Eassa has no interest in being a wedding photographer; therefore, he doesn’t photograph weddings. “On the other hand, I want to continue to travel the world and climb mountains. That is exactly why I take photos and post videos of my traveling, making travel guides, hiking, and climbing mountains. That’s what I love, that’s what I want to be known for, and that’s where I want to get my jobs from. And in seven years, sure enough, that’s happened.” His clients are tourism boards, outdoor brands, travel resorts, and hotels. His advice: “Do what you love, create what you love, become good at it, and then just be patient.” The work will come to you.
Go-to camera and lens: Sony a7 III and Sony a7R III with Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM full-frame wide-angle Zoom G Master lens.
Song that pumps him up: “It’s Only” (VIP remix) by Odesza.
On his wish list: The Sony Alpha 1 because it’s the best photo/video hybrid camera on the market, he says, and the Sony 200-600mm G lens for close-up climbing photography, wildlife photography, and macro photography.
Work hack: Keeping in good physical shape. “I run, hike, climb, lift weights, and walk every day. Taking care of my body and mind allows me to work at a very high frequency and output.”
Top lighting tip: Rely on Mother Nature.
Favorite Instagram accounts: @jimmychin, @shainblumphotography, @emmett_sparling.
Dream place to live: Banff, Canada. “I have road-tripped Banff and the Canadian Rockies three different summers, and it is just one of my favorite places in the entire world. I could never get enough of this place, and there’s no shortage of mountains to climb.”
Favorite artist: Jimmy Chin. He’s not just a well-known photographer but a world-class athlete and climber. “People these days buy a DSLR, chase Instagram photos, buy some presets, and suddenly they’re a professional,” he says. “What Jimmy does, you can’t fake that. It’s not about the edit, it’s about the adventure and location. The locations Jimmy photographs, only 0.00001% of humans have probably accessed due to the remote places he goes and climbs to. This is what I want.”
Follow for: Equipment reviews, tutorials and tips, industry news, and humorous sketches.
How she got here: A book she wrote with her husband, Tony, “Stunning Digital Photography,” was offered with free video tutorials, and they needed a place to host those videos. In 2012, YouTube was the only place hosting videos for free. “We realized that making free videos would be great marketing for our book, so we started posting photo tutorials regularly.”
Top technique tip: Learn about color theory. “People often get hung up on learning the technical aspects of photography and forget it’s a visual art,” she says. “Understanding something as rudimentary as color theory can influence your composition and brings more drama, visual interest, emotion, and mood to your photos.”
Top lighting tip: Learn how to control light. Use a sun/moon tracking app to plan your shoot around where the sun will be rising and setting. For portraits, learn how to diffuse natural light and use flash and strobes. If you need to practice, use a mannequin. “It’s weird, but it works.”
Favorite book: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, a must-read for artists who struggle with creative blocks and self-doubt.
Favorite artist: Gordon Parks. “He used his photography as his voice and used it to give other people a voice, too. His eye for storytelling and composition is incredible, and he just seemed to be an all-around talented and interesting person.”
She’s happiest at work when … “I’m taking photos of animals and nature.” Being outdoors melts my stress away and recenters me.”
Follow for: Travel and lifestyle content made with drones, GoPros, and a Sony mirrorless camera, and for tips on how to shoot unique perspectives and create viral content and reels.
Career advice: When Nick Hearn and his wife, Madison, were living in Chicago, she encouraged him to make photos of their daily adventures and share them on social media. “I fell in love with taking photos and editing,” he says. Soon, brands around the world—hotels, travel companies, tourism boards—took notice of his work, and his travel creator business was born. He advises other photographers looking to build a business or to become a content creator to take a similar tack. “Capture what you genuinely enjoy and build a niche around it,” he says. “Also, do your best to not get sucked into the game social media likes to play with numbers and followers. Remind yourself why you love photography in the first place and continue to pick up your lens for that reason alone.”
Most popular post: Reel of a palm tree next to the ocean in Maui, Hawaii, which has attracted more than 37 million views and is still being shared almost two years after being posted.
Most proud of: Having his photo chosen for the cover of Midwest Living’s summer 2022 edition. “This isn’t my first magazine cover, but it includes one of my favorite pictures with my wife and I, making it extra special. I enjoy print because, unlike digital, it is tangible and you can see your work in the palm of your hand.”
Unexpected items in his pack: Sand and seashells his wife collected on various beach photoshoots.
Work hack: For lifestyle couples’ photography, he puts his camera on a tripod in time-lapse mode to make things feel (and look) more natural.
Technology he’s most excited about: Skydio’s autonomous drone, which has 360-degree obstacle avoidance.
Dream place to live: Sarasota, Florida, where he and his wife live now. “I feel so fortunate to call this place home since I’m originally from the cold Midwest.”
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.
Tags: social media