From the Magazine Magazine

One of the best parts about photography is sharing your photos with others—and social media allows you to do this with ease. That’s why photographers flock to various platforms to share their work and form communities, from portrait to sports to wedding photographers. The nature and bird photography community is also thriving.

But effectively showing off your best photos involves more than simply hitting upload. There are algorithms that determine who sees your photos, aspect ratios that vary with each platform, and captions that require some thought. I’ve compiled some tips from my experience on Audubon’s social media team, as a Walker Social Media Fellow, to help you run your accounts.

Build a Community

Social media is all about connecting with others, so you should find ways to engage with your followers. Get to know them in the comments, and write an engaging caption that asks them questions. For example, post a photo of your spark bird and, in the caption, ask your followers to share a story about theirs. Some platforms give you the opportunity to engage with built-in tools—so post a poll on Instagram Stories, Facebook, or Twitter asking if your followers want to see more photographs of hummingbirds or shorebirds to start those interactions. (FYI: Engaging with your followers can also help you with the algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, which make sure your photos consistently end up on their feeds.)

Tell a Story With Your Captions

Whether you show your humor with a bird pun or share fun facts, be creative when writing your captions, since that’s where you can let your personality shine. Nature photographer Alice Sun does this by not only sharing interesting facts about the birds in her photos—like how Harlequin Ducks winter on rocky coasts and how they suffer from broken bones as they brave rough waters—but also by informing her audience about the environmental issues that impact them, such as addressing habitat development that puts birds like Short-eared Owls at risk. 

On the Instagram caption of these Harlequin ducks, Alice shared: "They are tough little birds, often found surfing in the roughest waters. In fact, these ducks actually suffer more broken bones than any other species." Alice Sun

Research Creative Hashtags

Hashtags are a great way for you to expand your reach, but it’s a good idea to do some research on them before you start tagging away. For Instagram, hashtags like #bird and #birdphotography with millions of posts may seem like obvious choices, but don’t stop there. Take time to find niche hashtags with posts in the thousands related to the bird. Let’s say you’re posting a photo of a Yellow-rumped Warbler you took during migration season in a forest. You’ll want to start with warbler-specific hashtags like #warblersofinstagram and #yellowrumpedwarbler, then add ones relating to migration like #warblermigration and #migratorybirds, and finally search hashtags about forests including #forestbirds.

Hashtags aren’t always about promoting yourself, so join community hashtags like #BirdTwitter to connect with fellow bird photographers. Or if you have a couple of blurry outtakes from a shoot, tag them with #WorstBirdPic on Twitter, started by @TheIneptBirder, to laugh with others about how you missed that shot. 

Don't Overedit Your Photos for Likes

We’ve all seen those oversaturated photos of birds that almost don’t look real. Though they seem to be the ones trending online, you don’t have to edit this way to gain attention. Instead, try making subtle edits that highlight the bird and its environment. For instance, Izzy Edwards, whose photo of a Great Gray Owl made the top 100 list in the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, sometimes uses black and white editing to add a flair to her photos without drawing attention away from the birds. 

Understand Aspect Ratios

Before you post a photo or video, check the platform’s cropping preferences to make sure a key part of your photo won’t be left out. For instance, Instagram allows three types of aspect ratios for photo posts: square posts with a 1:1 ratio, landscape posts with a 1.91:1 ratio, and portrait posts with a 4:5 ratio. But if you want to post the same photo on Twitter, you’re going to want to crop your photo to its preferred aspect ratio of 16:9.

There may be times when you crop a photo with your artistic preference that may not appeal to your audience. For example, Audubon’s social team noticed that wide-shot images focusing on the bird’s surroundings don’t always perform well on Instagram. Instead, people tend to engage with our photos of birds that are cropped to fill the frame, so see if this style works for you. 

Experiment With Different Platforms or Types of Content 

Although it’s typically best to pick one or two platforms to focus on building a following, that doesn’t mean you can’t try out new ones to see what works with your content. If you’re interested in adding a comedic side to your bird videography, join TikTok, where you can add songs to go with your videos and participate in popular trends. To show your followers a behind-the-scenes view, start an Instagram or Facebook Live the next time you’re waiting in your bird blind to capture that perfect shot.

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