Instagram Reels for photographers
For many photographers, Instagram Reels present a frustrating challenge — the constantly changing algorithm, the bias towards paid content, and the pressure of comparison with other photographers and creators leave us all feeling lost. For many creators, Reels have become a massive driver of website traffic and a new way to engage with your social media audience.
We recently sat down with fellow photographer and founder of Social Templates Co., Angela Shae, to upskill our knowledge on all things Instagram Reels — why should photographers make Reels? Should we incorporate our professional images, and how to make a reel with photos? We asked about trending audio and what content makes good reel ideas for photographers. And we also got all the details about the photography-specific Instagram reel templates available on Social Templates and how they make Instagram Reels not just achievable, but easy.
Why should I care about creating photography Reels for my business?
All social media platforms have progressively moved towards video and away from photos. Across the board, photographers, brands, businesses, and content creators have seen the engagement on their photos dwindle while video content and Reels have taken off. It's easy to blame the algorithm, complaining that it's skewed to focus on video content because that's what Meta wants to push. But that's not quite the case.
The algorithm is human-centric — it doesn't actually prefer one content type over another. Instead, it studies the behavior of each person, looking at the kind of content they prefer to consume, and it will keep feeding them that same sort of content.
"People are saying "oh, Instagram isn't showing my photos anymore" or "I'm not seeing my friend's photos anymore" but that's because you and the people who used to consume your static photo content are spending time watching Reels instead."
It's you who dictates what you want to see. If you stopped watching Reels right now and made a point of scrolling past video content, only pausing to look at photos, the algorithm would start showing you more static images because that's the sort of content that it perceives as keeping you engaged and on the platform for longer.
"The algorithm adjusts to the person."
We're seeing the rise and rise of Reels. That tells us that people want easily digestible, engaging, video-centric content. If that's what the algorithm is pushing, it's because that's what people want to consume, which is why photographers should care about Reels.
Video never used to be part of the Instagram platform, and now that it is, that's how we're choosing to consume our media. It's faster, more digestible, and allows us to do multiple things simultaneously. So, if the engagement on your photos is dropping, it's because your clients and customers aren't looking at static images on Instagram anymore. They're watching videos instead.
Beyond the technical algorithm stuff, there's another reason to care about making Reels. A reel is more than just a way to be discovered; it's a way to help you connect with your dream clients — and them with you. Yes, Reels expose you to a broader audience through the better reach they receive on Instagram, but the type of people who see them is also important. Your Reels can showcase your work, your process, who you are as a person, and how you create your magic. It reveals more about who you are and your photography than a stand-alone image while still being in an easily digestible, consumable format. Instantly, your dream client can connect with you on a deeper level without ever having visited your profile or website.
Is photography dead on Instagram?
With AI becoming increasingly prevalent — in rare cases, even winning photo competitions — and a noticeable decline in engagement with static images on social media, it begs the question: Is photography dead?
"What people want to consume on social media is different to what people want to hang on their walls or pass down to their kids. People will always want photos of their own special memories. You can't capture a memory exactly as it was with AI, and authentic memories will never become obsolete."
At some point, photos may not be relevant anymore on social media. Video is not going anywhere. It will only become more central to what we consume online.
We must stop treating Instagram as a portfolio — social media has moved beyond simply a portfolio. Instead, we need to adjust to the trends and follow what we know people are eager to consume: Authentic, believable content that allows us to connect with the people we follow.
"I'm seeing a few photographers starting to film little behind-the-scenes snippets during a session or a wedding, so they have something real, raw, and authentic to give their client immediately."
Eventually, photos may become a curated version of a day, event, or wedding. They're the final edit; they're what you keep for generations because they're timeless. But in between that, photographers will be padding out their offering with these snippets of video that give context but also provide the clients with something they can see, share, and be excited about immediately. They're less polished, they're less beautiful, but they're still raw and relevant. And that's what we're going to be seeing dominate our feeds.
What should photographers share in their Reels?
"I so often hear photographers say "oh, it's so hard to create viral content" or "what goes viral is just luck sometimes." Both of these statements are true, but often, the viral content is not the same content that will bring you paying customers."
A photographer can make a really funny, engaging reel that will get them a million views and a ton of new followers in a day or two. But those viewers are just there for the entertaining reel. Most of them won't part with any actual money.
Compare that to a photographer who creates a reel featuring a wedding they shot in Napa. They use some intimate behind-the-scenes footage interspersed with the final images to show how they produced the overall look of some beautiful, cohesive photos. Other couples getting married in Napa will see that and say, "Oh, I loved the overall feel of that wedding reel; I want that for my wedding."
As far as outcomes go, you'll probably have fewer views because you're appealing to a small, specific audience. But it's an audience who's actually likely to book you.
"I think a lot of times photographers are getting hung up on the metrics and the views — it's a double-edged sword where you want your content to get seen by a lot of people, but what's the actual end goal here? Do you want a million views, or do you want paying clients?"
Tips, tricks, and advice convert well into popular content, and it's a great way to show you are an expert and build trust. If your audience finds it helpful and saves it for later, they're also more likely to revisit you when booking a photographer.
Reels offering advice within specific niches are also popular — this could include tips and tricks your clients might not know — stuff people want to save and refer to later. For example, if you're a wedding photographer, "What to wear to your engagement session" would be fantastic, saveable content. You can flex a bit as a photographer and a creative, showing your experience with what works well in photos and what looks terrible. But it's also the sort of content newly engaged couples are likely to be looking at before deciding on a wedding photographer. It's the perfect way to ensure they consider your work. It might not be the sort of content that will get you millions of views, but the views you get will come from people who are so much more likely to become clients.
"Other reel ideas could include things like "how to keep your kids happy and engaged during a family photo session," or saveable lists like "my five favorite wedding venues in New York" or "wedding photos you don't want to forget" are always popular."
Lists and saveable content can be more time-consuming to create, so if you're short on time, whip out your phone during a session, snap some behind-the-scenes footage, and mix it with the final images when you're done editing them. That's the easiest way to get started. Then, during winter or your quiet season, take the time to sit down and create saveable content while you have some extra time. But don't tell yourself you don't have time — start with content that's easy and achievable for you, and build on that.
"Many photographers think taking out their phone during a session is unprofessional. They'll hide their phone and only shoot on their professional camera. Instead of hiding your phone, make it part of your process. You can smooth this transition from camera to phone by saying: "I’m going to catch some behind-the-scenes video for Instagram and tag you in it when I post tonight."
Most clients are entirely fine with you using your phone as an additional tool. We're not talking about your phone becoming your primary camera — it's just little snippets here and there. You'll catch some great little moments that your clients will appreciate later — especially when they get that content the same day and can share it on Instagram immediately.
"When it comes to Reels, I'm hearing a lot of photographers saying "this music is too repetitive, everyone is using it, I want to use something different. But the 'sameness' is the whole point of using trending audio."
Think of trending audio tracks like a design brief — everyone is taking the same music or theme and putting their spin on it. It makes it relatable for people outside the photography industry, and it's always interesting to see how people interpret different pieces of music.
Can photographers use their professional photos in their Reels?
Photographers can, and absolutely should, use their professional photos in their Reels. You can create a reel from 100% professional photos or intersperse them with phone and video footage.
"I'm a big believer in behind-the-scenes footage mixed with final photos."
Behind-the-scenes video footage gives a sense of authenticity to the images. It almost acts as proof that you didn't have to take 10,000 frames to get that shot, that it hasn't been over-manipulated, or even that it isn't AI.
"We're longing for the authenticity that was lost when all our feeds became super curated."
Not every reel has to incorporate video footage. It's ok to create compilations of your favorite shots — e.g., "my favorite detail shots of 2023," or "the most beautiful bouquets I've shot this year," or "my favorite elopement spots" and just include a whole lot of stunning shots from intimate elopements. Or you could create a reel as a sneak peek of a wedding you just shot. But don't forget to add some text to give the viewer context to the photos they're looking at. As the viewer is swiping, they don't know what's going to be up next, so using some text at the start of the reel lets them know what they're watching.
"One of the most impactful ways to use professional images in Reels is to make sure everything syncs to the music you choose. There's nothing worse than seeing a trending song used by a photographer and the images just cycle through like a basic school grade slideshow, completely unrelated to the beat and tempo — it starts to feel like something anyone could have created."
Save time creating Reels with Instagram reel templates
There's no doubt that Instagram Reels are a great way to connect with potential clients. However, creating them can feel incredibly daunting and be very time-consuming.
"So many of us photographers are perfectionists, so we can't bring ourselves to publish something that doesn't feel perfect, or if our images don't hit the song's beat when they change. But that's such a fiddly, time-consuming job. Sadly, this means that many of us don't publish Reels because of this — and we're missing out."
A pre-made template is a great way to speed up the process and reduce some of the creative brain power required (because you might as well save that for your photography). Angela knows the struggle of working as a photographer and trying to promote yourself on social media, which is why she founded Social Templates Co. — a library of Instagram reel templates created specifically for busy photographers.
Creating a reel using her templates takes just minutes. Signing up gives you access to a private Instagram account that holds all the reel templates, and getting started with a new reel is as easy as picking a template you like. The next step is to select the photos and videos you'd like to use — each template comes with recommendations on how many pictures and videos to include. The reel will then be auto-generated for you, and the audio will be perfectly beat-matched. You just need to add a caption, cover photo, and post it. The whole process is done directly from your phone with no outside app necessary.
“We've had photographers tell us that sometimes it literally takes them SECONDS (not even minutes) to create a reel.”
If you've ever wished that someone would create your Reels for you, then this is the perfect chance to do just that. Social Templates Co offers a free trial to help you get started and see how easy it is.