When Devon Valentin-Minnis, a 28-year-old Connecticut native, launched Nine Five Photography in 2013, social-media marketing was his primary means of drumming up awareness and new business. Since photographing weddings means dressing to the nines, it wasn't long before his menswear and fashion posts started to gain attention, particularly on Instagram.

"I began to change the way I was engaging with my target audience in order to get my current and potential followers to see my posts," he says. As his Instagram following grew, so did his influence. This opened up new doors, bringing in more money for his business and more value to his personal brand. Devon is becoming a social influencer, working with brands like SprezzaBox, Lavazza, and others to promote menswear, fashion, and lifestyle products in some of his photos.

Devon shared a few of the tips and tricks he has used to grow his following, attract the attention of brands, and become a social influencer.

1. Kick the camera envy.

Many people get concerned that they lack the proper equipment to create high quality images, but thanks to the technology we all carry around in our pockets, you no longer need a DSLR to create professional-looking photos for your social profiles. Though he uses a professional camera for work, Devon says that 90 percent of his Instagram posts are shot with his iPhone. "It's always with me and it's the fastest way for me to take a picture of something I want to share," he says. So if you don't have a camera, don't worry. You can create quality images simply by using the filters and editing tools built into Instagram, as well as those available on apps like VSCO.

2. Tag, tag, tag.

"Hashtags are the bread and butter of Instagram!" Devon says. "If you're not using them, then you better start." Hashtags are the main way that users who don't follow you will find you, either by searching for topics in the search bar or by clicking the tag on another user's post. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, and Devon says he uses all of them to make his posts as discoverable as possible. Look to similar profiles and photos for tag suggestions, or click a tag to see similar tags at the top of your search results screen.

3. Be intentional about backgrounds.

"The posts on my Instagram feed have a lot of white space," Devon says. But you don't have to invest in a marble coffee table or set up a professional studio in your home to create this look. "I just buy white poster boards from the dollar store," he says. You can use all kinds of readily available supplies--flooring samples from a hardware store, bed sheets, wrapping paper, or a rug-- to create a consistent and pleasing backdrop for your photos.

4. Define your visual voice.

To create a quality feed, Devon says visual "consistency is key." For him, that means a focus on white space and a consistent color palette, but your visual style might be an emphasis on a certain subject, photos taken from a certain perspective, or something else entirely. "I look at an Instagram feed like a photo wall in your house," Devon says. "A well put together feed that's seamless and consistent will be more visually appealing than one that is not."

5. Look for the light.

Though a professional photographer often uses flashes and reflectors in an indoor studio, natural light makes for some of the best photos. Indoor lighting can create unnatural coloring in photos, and directional lights can create some unflattering or distracting shadows. To solve for this, Devon says, shoot in the daylight and don't be afraid to move around. Taking your subject--human or otherwise--near the window or moving outside will make for a brighter and more natural looking photo.

6. Set a rhythm.

Instagram isn't just about the quality of your individual posts--the frequency with which you reliably share content is also important. "If you are interested in growing a following, I would recommend following a post schedule," Devon says. Some users suggest posting multiple times daily, others post a few times a week, and some hold to weekly themes (#throwbackthursday anyone?). Ultimately, Devon says, you should stick with whatever frequency allows you to consistently produce quality images.

7. Just keep shooting.

Despite the perfectly curated feed that many of the top Instagrammers have, few get it right the first time. The key is to take plenty of shots so you can choose the one with the best focus, framing, light, perspective, and distance. "I take a ton of shots, and I will keep taking shots until I am content," Devon says. "And if the photo doesn't feel right or look how I envisioned it in my head, then I won't post it."

Published on: Aug 22, 2016