Welcome to Eat Sleep Instagram , our weekly series of conversations with photographers behind the most drool-worthy Instagram accounts about how they’re navigating the digital age, deliciously.
This week, Taste Talks photographer Mackenzie Anne Smith caught up with dreamy New York-based photographer Liz Clayman , who told us about meeting her best friend on Instagram, not playing the Instagram game, and how to make clients love you forever.
Taste Talks: How do you get work from Instagram?
Liz Clayman: You know, no one can ever tell me where they find my work. Sometimes they’ll say, “oh, we saw you on Edible Manhattan’s Instagram, they re-grammed you.” But I’ll get calls or e-mails from art directors who will say that they saw me on Instagram and responded really well to my style so they checked out my website and think I’d be a great fit.
Barney’s restaurant Fred’s was doing some rebranding, they wanted to be more relevant to people under 50, so we shot all this social media stuff for them. That was the most fun, but there are a bunch of other clients I’ve gotten this way as well.
Taste Talks: Have you ever connected with anyone in a meaningful way through Instagram? What’s your favorite moment where that happened?
Liz Clayman: Absolutely. Rebekah Peppler and I had a lot of mutual friends in common, and were liking and commenting on each other’s posts all the time. I don’t remember how it happened, but in the Spring of 2014 it got to a point where one of us direct messaged there other one and was like, “drinks tomorrow?”
You know when you sit down with someone and you’re just immediately good friends? That’s what happened with us. After a few hours of cocktails, we decided that whoever got the next project to collaborate on, we would. So six or nine months later, I got a contract to shoot a cookbook called The Mediterranean Family Table . So we did a couple of intense months planning and shooting together for that cookbook, and ended up traveling to India together this past February. We’ve just become true-life friends and intensive work partners—all through Instagram.
I’d never met a food stylist before, so I was completely fascinated with her job, and in person she was charming and hilarious. We’ve worked on a ton of projects since then.
TT: It’s been really amazing to watch you work together; I feel like there’s a lot of teamwork happening there.
LC: It’s really fun to meet someone who is on the same solar plane as you and that you’re not fucking around, you’re really going to get there. She brought her 3,000 followers into my network, and I brought my 3,000 followers into her network, and we are climbing that ladder alternating rungs with each other. It’s been really fun.
TT : Do you think you’ve had to work really hard to get your following, or has it been organic? What’s your method?
LC: I’m pretty laid-back about it, it’s been pretty organic. I’m a chronic documenter; I’ve been making pictures since I was seven years old, so its amazing to me that people other than myself are interested in my photographs. I don’t play the Instagram game like I should. I went to this media event the other day, and this girl beside me was like, “oh, you know about the hashtag hack, right?” and I didn’t — apparently you can put 30 hashtags in your comments and then Instagram will cut you off, so you go back in after five minutes to edit your captions to put 60 hashtags in total. But that takes a lot of brainpower, and ass-kissing, and time, and I don’t care, I usually hashtag #vscocam or #miyammogram (my cat’s Instagram). If I’m at an event with 70 people who all have Instagram, I’m not that person tagging 70 people. I’m just not.
I enjoy Instagram because I was getting embarrassed of how much I was flooding my Facebook with photos of my cat, but she really is the most beautiful cat who has to be photographed! So I was like, here is this obscure photo-sharing app that I can flood with photos of her. I ended up deleting so many photos from the early days of my Instagram; there were so many filters.
TT: It was pretty incredible in the early days, that you could just change the whole look of a photo with one click. Do you have personal goals about when and why you’re posting?
LC: I don’t set rules for myself. I have friends who will only post once a day, even if they’re traveling in India let’s say. I probably wouldn’t post something from two days ago; but I shot something later last night and it was too similar to what I’d posted that morning so I just posted it a couple minutes ago, without #latergram or anything. So no, no rules—because I don’t like to break them for myself later. Then there’s no guilt, or hemming and hawing.
I used to say “never after 9 p.m.” but then I realized there was a sweet spot around 10 p.m. where everyone is not in bed but not at work, they’re not at dinner, they’re just on Instagram. My boyfriend has a lot of West Coast followers, so he’ll post things being aware of that time zone.
TT : Have you jumped on the Snapchat train?
LC: Nope, I feel like I want to do one thing and do it well. I feel like I’d be distracted, and Instagram is already a big time suck, in a good way—but I already spend so much time looking at this little device. But Food52 just came out with an awesome app ( (Not)Recipes ), so I’ve been doing this as well. But I don’t get the same dopamine flowing from the likes, but it’s inspired me to cook things I wouldn’t have cooked before.
TT: Does anyone ever give you a hard time for stepping away to take a photo during a dinner?
LC: If anything, I’ll get crap if the lighting is good, but my friends are reaching their hands in and are like “why aren’t you taking this photo?!” We were at a mall in Flushing that was all lit with neon light, and they were like, “why don’t you like these dumplings?” and I was just like, “it’s not going to translate well.” So if anything, they expect me to do it all the time. There is this pressure, but it’s kind of nice to just be in the moment and talk with people.
TT: Do you have any advice on building a good following?
LC: I find that some of the most appreciated Instagrams are from when you are working with a client and you Instagram a gorgeous behind-the-scenes shot that just builds the hype of their restaurant, or their cookbook, or their pasta brand. If you can build great content on the way to building the hero shot, that is invaluable. And a lot of photographers charge for that as well, because Instagram is a valuable asset that can be billed for. Creating content in a less formal way, nine times out of 10, the brand will reblog you. It’s building that network by being a thoughtful contributor.
At this point, we’re always joking that everyone wants it to be “authentic,” that’s the shitty buzzword right now, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to live more authentically online and those behind-the-scenes shots are one of the ways. When Rebecca and I were shooting for Ronzoni , the most amazing shot was shot with my iPhone, and it was just a beam of sunlight coming through a bot of lasagna noodles going into the water, and the steam is coming up. The PR person loved that shot, and it wasn’t on the shot list, it wasn’t planned, and I couldn’t have manufactured that beam of light.