Can 21st Century Photographers Build Careers Without Social Media?

How can photographers break away from the Instagram game and still build a stable career? Igor Zirojević, a.k.a. Ziro, who spoke in Amazing Aerial’s latest masterclass, has a few tips.
community spotlight droning tips May 13, 2024
Photo of an Istrian town from above © Amazing Aerial / Photographer:  Igor Zirojević Ziro
Photo of an Istrian town from above. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Igor Zirojević Ziro

By Rebecca Duras

 

 

For many aspiring photographers, career progress is measured through one important number—their Instagram follower count. More and more creatives are turning to social media in the hopes that it will help them stand out. However, Igor Zirojević Ziro built a successful business without regular social media use—and advises other photographers to consider doing the same.

 

Ziro is from Pula, Croatia, a small industrial city with a well-connected arts scene. After finishing his degree in architecture in Ljubljana, he returned to Pula and began working as a graphic designer. In 1998, he founded his own visual communication studio, Stožer, which is now a top visual communications studio in Croatia. Besides his graphic design work, Ziro has found success with his photography commercially and artistically. He’s completed numerous projects, including a long-term collaboration with the Istrian tourism board, but also self-published several books and exhibited his work in dozens of gallery shows. 

 

Ziro did all this with a very limited social media presence. He has a Facebook where he shares news about his books or some recent photos, but not much else. “Instagram for me is for fun, it’s not for my job,” he says with a laugh in our masterclass interview.

 

 

Many photographers and other creatives nowadays feel trapped into using Instagram and other social media for their careers. Instagram seems inevitable—a way to gather your portfolio, network, and hopefully land on the “explore” page for an editor or client.

 

However, Ziro is not as convinced about social media’s ultimate usefulness when it comes to finding paid work. “I never got any jobs from social media,” he explains in conversation with Paul Prescott for the masterclass. “I think social media is not so important to getting a job. I think it’s very important to know the right people because direct contacts talk more than any presentation.” 

 

Amazing Aerial CEO Paul Prescott shares Ziro’s old-school mentality. “Being old-school means that we were brought up before the Internet era,” he says to Amazing Aerial Magazine. “We know how relationships were built before the Internet and we know how business was built before the Internet.” 

 

Ziro is able to make industrial features such as this one look beautiful in his photos. . © Amazing Aerial Agency / Igor Zirojevic Ziro

 

Both Ziro and Paul emphasize that social media doesn’t directly translate into paid work. “The only people that are earning money are these platforms, generating advertising revenue,” explains Paul.

 

Instead, Ziro found most of his work through old-fashioned, in-person networking. While social media can get a creative’s work in front of a larger audience, and Ziro uses his Facebook page in the same way, it is difficult to build in-depth relationships that lead to paid work digitally. Attending industry events, building relationships with others in the same field, and arranging calls with potential clients are all methods that have a higher likelihood of leading to paid work.

 

In a time when everyone is focusing on Instagram, the analog approach can actually help creatives stand out.  Part of the reason why Ziro is so proud of his books is that they represent a more tangible part of his artistic legacy than an Instagram feed could do. “You can have it online, you can give it to others, a digital presentation, it’s not the same,” he explains. While an Instagram feed is easy to scroll past, showing someone your work in a book leaves a more lasting impression. 

That’s not to say that social media can’t be beneficial for creatives. Many other Amazing Aerial team members have found contacts and paid work through social media, such as Matt Borowick, who was eventually published in National Geographic.

 

Social media also has different significance depending on the circumstances of a photographer. Photographers living in more remote places may have to rely on social media since most in-person industry events are inaccessible. However, even then there are ways to get around overreliance on social media. Ziro’s hometown of Pula is a fairly small city, which he admits may have held his career back at some points. On the other hand, he credits his hometown with inspiration, and he was still able to publish work in magazines and show his work in galleries even while living in a smaller place. 


Even Ziro admits that social media has its uses. He also uses social media to share his work, and explains that social media is good for discoverability and for showing people what you are working on. “My experience with social media is that it is helpful with receiving feedback on your posts and sparking debate,” he says in conversation with Amazing Aerial Magazine. Finding community through social media can be helpful for photographers to push their skills further.

 

 

However, social media can also be dangerous for budding photographers. Paul Prescott also warns photographers against relying too much on social media or placing too much value on their follower count. “It becomes a full-time job to build an Instagram account  and following and when you look at the financial metrics, you really wonder if it’s worthwhile,” he says. “Focusing too much on social media can really affect creatives. Spending too much time trying to please the crowds, and not spending enough time getting clients who are going to pay you for your work.” 

 

Ziro emphasizes that depending on a photographer’s career goals, social media may not be helpful at all. “Social media platforms are to me a superficial tool for presentation,” he says. “The way social media works doesn’t allow for the authentic presentation of serious authors that have ambitions towards gallery shows, museum exhibits, or print work.” He also cautions that not all photographers that go viral on social media are necessarily top authors, as taking good photos and knowing how to navigate social media are two different skills. “Spending time exclusively on social media often descends into banal self-promotion and focusing on posts that bring visibility, but aren’t necessarily high quality.” 

 

To make social media work for creatives, Paul recommends that photographers diversify their social media usage. More and more creatives are opting for a platform such as LInkedin when connecting directly with paying clients is more likely, and focusing on building relationships one-on-one with phone calls and video calls with potential clients. It is more profitable to get to know the needs of a few clients and tailor your work accordingly rather than trying to chase social media trends—and this method leaves you more free time to work creatively. 

 

Social media is a tool, but only one of many tools that photographers have at their disposal to build a successful business. As Ziro shows, building a business without social media is entirely possible. What’s important when using social media is that you don’t allow it to affect your craft or blind you to other opportunities to bring your work forward. Paul has one final piece of advice for photographers: “And never ignore that we are humans and we need personal human relationships. Eye-to-eye, face-to-face.” 

 

Ziro sums up his relationship with social media for Amazing Aerial Magazine succinctly, “I like social media because of their speedy communication but I don’t see them as a tool for my ‘career.’” Knowing what to expect out of social media as a creative is the key to managing your social media profiles, instead of letting them manage you.

 

For more business advice as well as tips on how to flourish creatively, check out our podcast interview with Ziro, or his exclusive masterclass.

 

 

 

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