Top Guns: 4 of the Most Popular Photographers on Social Media Share the Secrets to Their Success

Chase Jarvis began his photography career photographing skiers and snowboarders. © Chase Jarvis

Woody Allen is often credited with saying that 80 percent of success in life is showing up. For many photographers, that means showing up effectively in social media.

I recently talked with four pro shooters who were on a list of the top 100 photographers on the web. Compiled by XXLPIX, the list takes into account number of fans, social media resonance, and search results in ranking the most popular photographers. If you’d like to see the complete list, Google XXLPIX top 100. In the meantime, here’s what the members of our quartet say about their success.

The Long Game
Social media made it possible for Chase Jarvis to engage the photographic community.

In 2004 his focus was on telling the story of what it was like to be a pro photographer. “The industry was very close-doored,” he says. “I couldn’t get information from other photographers; it wasn’t a culture built on sharing. At the same time I saw the Internet changing and democratizing, and I thought, I’m going to get out in front of this.”

Sharing was his key to starting an exchange of even the most basic information. “What it was like to shoot this way, learn this technique, or mess this thing up. I gave people a look into what I called ‘the black box of photography.’ It was through sharing that I hoped to build community where I didn’t see community at the time.”

He didn’t realize it at the time, but what he was also doing was building a brand—“and all the people following me, learning from me, and sharing with me mattered to that brand.”

The marketing benefit came later. “It was the classic 10-year overnight success,” Jarvis says. “Social media is a series of channels—for distribution, for community building, for interaction and connectivity. Those channels don’t get you work; what they do is get your work, your personality, and what it’s like to work with you, out there. Are you someone who others want to connect with? Whether that’s an art director who’s going to be with you for two weeks in New Zealand, or a fan who’s inspired and wants to see what you’re building.

“If you contribute, and don’t expect to get anything in return, that’s the right approach. It’s not a one-for-one exchange. People make the mistake of putting something out there and then expecting to get a new friend or a new job. You have to play the long game. Social media means creating connections, exchanging information, and building community—you do that enough and before you know it you’ve got millions of people paying attention.”

Chase Jarvis is an award-winning photographer, a film and video director, and a creative entrepreneur. See how it all comes together at


For the Asking

Jim Harmer built his social media presence on personal appearances and photographic meetups. He’s still doing them, locally and worldwide. © Jim Harmer

Jim Harmer says that the first hundred followers is the easy part.

“Everybody knows a hundred people—start an Instagram account and you’ll get a hundred. But how do you get your first thousand?” Harmer regards a thousand as critical mass; the number will grow organically from that point. “People are talking to you, now there’s conversation happening, and you look important because you have a thousand people.”

He got a thousand by showing up. “I started doing things locally. I taught adult education classes in photography. It’d be 30 people a month, but 30 one month, and 30 the next, and 30 after that. I did that for a couple of years. I spoke at camera clubs and hosted meetups. Any photographer who wanted to shoot with me, I invited to meet up and we’d shoot. I grew to the first thousand through actual interaction with people—that was critical. And I’ve continued, because it’s been the grassroots of my business—those free meetups. Now we do China, and Iceland, and Ireland, and all over the United States.”

Wait, did he say “free”? “The meetups are totally free,” Harmer confirms. “They were then, they are now. They help create the content, to have interesting and beautiful photos to share with people. We also we have instruction and we release a podcast five days a week—that’s helped my presence grow, too.”

It’s grown to a million followers, many of whom are now looking for something other than tips and techniques. “You can still come to the website and learn photography—you’re going to find what you need to know. But a lot of our followers—advanced, intermediate photographers—have got to where it’s not so much tips and techniques, it’s about getting inspired and trying new things. Once you have people’s interest, you gotta keep it, and that motivates me as well as those who follow me.”

His enthusiasm carries it all. “It’s fun spending your time trying to help people, to inspire them to take better pictures, and feel more confident in themselves.”

But if the meetups are free, what keeps the machine running? “The income comes from several different things,” Harmer says. “Advertising at the site is certainly one of them, another is our affiliation with Amazon, and we sell tutorials. When you have lots of people following you, you find there are lots of ways to make money.”

Jim Harmer’s photography is eclectic—sports, action, people, travel, and landscapes are on view at his photography site, The locale for tips, techniques, and inspiration is


Brand Awareness

Sue Bryce’s mission is her portrait photography and her efforts to teach other portrait photographers to achieve and maintain success. © Sue Bryce

When I asked Sue Bryce what factors put her on the top 100 list, I was a few words shy of the end of the question when she snapped out the answer: “Consistency.” Then, “I’m very visually rich, too—meaning there’s a lot of imagery for people to see.”

There’s more: “I’m a consistent poster, and I always try to post the five Es. I have this theory when I teach social media that it has to be educational, entertaining, with some form of engagement and emotional content, and it has to have enthusiasm because nobody comes back to social media that’s negative.”

If you haven’t guessed, Sue Bryce is a dynamo.

She was, though, a late starter on the social media scene. She didn’t have a Facebook page until 2009, but she picked up the pace and the essentials quickly. “I targeted the interesting and engaging, because if you don’t know what’s interesting and engaging, you might have trouble interesting and engaging people.”

She’s remarkably intuitive about reaching her audience. “Coming up with content for social media doesn’t take a lot of time,” she says. “I look at what’s interesting, and I post. Mostly it’s being sure that what I relate has relevance to my readers.”

What Bryce shows and tells via social media is inextricably bound to her brand, and she lets the marketing aspect happen naturally. “I know my audience. I know when they want to have a conversation and what they want to talk about.”

Social media communication is not a task for her; she loves it. “It’s certainly changed the visibility of a visual brand like mine. So I have no problem giving away my lighting setups, and I enjoy that I can share how I did something, or what I bought or made for a photo shoot. That’s why people come back—to find out what more there is for me to tell.”

Sue Bryce is first and foremost a portrait photographer; after that, an educator, lecturer, marketer, and business builder—all of which necessitates three websites:,, and


Pure Passion

Clark Little’s specialty is shorebreak photography; his aim is to put viewers right there with him as he does it. © Clark Little

Clark Little’s take on his position on the top 100 list is this: “I’m passionate about what I do, and put all my passion into my images. Living in paradise—Hawaii—having beautiful coconut trees, white sandy beaches, clear water, sunrises and sunsets that are absolutely gorgeous—I think people feel the vibe through the images.”

Little started posting to Instagram about five years ago—“kind of what I do in my daily life, and a lot of the pictures I’ve captured over the years. I love what I do, and I think people pick up on that, and it puts smiles on their faces.”

He loves the feedback he gets, but he doesn’t comment much on the photos other than maybe a location or a description of the conditions—“big or small or heavy or gnarly to get that shot.”

Social media helps with the marketing of his books, calendars, prints, and DVD. “We didn’t do anything in the beginning, back when I started,” he says, “but now we regularly put out promos so people can get a better idea of what I do. Social media has also sort of reignited the fire for me because I realized that sharing the photographs means I’m also able to share the experience of what it takes to make them.”

Little offers no workshops and no instruction. Shorebreak photography is dangerous; it’s best to appreciate, not participate. Just view and enjoy, and if you want to marvel at the audaciousness of the effort, that’s okay, too.

Clark Little is best known for shorebreak photography—up close and personal images of powerful waves captured at the instant they break on the shore, often with great beauty as well as great, and dangerous, power. Take a walk on the wild beach at