How to get TikTok famous (from a photographer with 11 million followers)

Alex Stemplewski
(Image credit: Alex Stemplewski)

Learn how to get TikTok famous with photographer Alex Stemplewski!

How many times have you looked at your Instagram page and thought "I wish I'd started this sooner"? A healthy social media following not only allows you to reach a wide audience with your photography, it also opens up opportunities that you might otherwise have never encountered.

• Read more: 20 famous photographers you should follow on Instagram

Even just a couple of years ago Instagram provided a fairly healthy organic reach, giving you a fair chance of gaining followers as long as you were using the right hashtag and engagement strategies. However, in 2020 onwards it's a different story, with even larger Instagram accounts complaining about their lack of reach and their difficulty to maintain consistent growth. 

• Read more: TikTok lightsBest camera for TikTok

But what if you could reset everything and start again? Luckily, you can – but on a different platform. Since its emergence at the tail end of last year, TikTok has admittedly been the butt of some jokes, with many dismissing it as just a platform for teenagers who like to make cringey dance videos. It's easy to forget that early adopters of Instagram faced similar snarky jokes ten years ago.

However, as photographer Alex Stemplewski explains below, TikTok offers a unique opportunity for content creators that shouldn't be overlooked. We caught up with Alex to ask him how he found TikTok success – and how you can too.


3 Photographers Shoot 1 Model... who did it best? Model is @charlyjordan , Photographers in order: Alex (girl) @liquidverve , Jon @jon.snip , then me

♬ Dreams (feat. Lanie Gardner) - David Guetta & MORTEN

@alex.stemp explains how to get TikTok famous

Why did you create a TikTok account?

I created a TikTok account after hearing famous entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk make several videos about it on YouTube. He explained the concept of 'organic reach', which is the degree to which a social media platform will show your content to people. What's special about TikTok is that it offers insane organic reach, to the degree where your very first video on TikTok can be seen by millions.

What was the first TikTok that blew up for you – and why do you think it was successful?

The first TikTok that was super successful for me was in collaboration with another TikTok photographer called Derrek Harris (@derrik.harris). The video showed Derrik and I cold-approaching a stranger in San Francisco and asking her to model for us. His video hit over 1M views and mine got around 600k.

Can you talk us through how you plan and shoot a TikTok?

As a photographer with a very specific niche of photographing strangers, here is a walkthrough of how I create my TikToks within this genre. 

I think what separates my work from other people's is that I incorporate a lot of props and storylines in my TikTok videos. I utilize props such as smoke bombs and glitter in my photoshoots to make them stand out and create a 'wow' effect that helps them go viral.

I also incorporate storytelling elements in the actual TikTok video production. A simple storyline example would be:

Beginning – I approach a stranger and ask her to model for me.
Middle – She's unsure that she would be good at it and doesn't feel very confident, but I convince her to do the photoshoot.
End – The photos look great, she's smiling and her confidence in herself has increased.

I don't really plan my TikToks or photoshoots aside from selecting the props that I sued. With my niche of cold-approaching strangers for photoshoots, planning is a bit of a moot effort. I'm completely stepping into the unknown when I go to the city to photograph strangers. I don't know who I'll meet, where I'll meet them, or what photos I'll take.


I asked her to model ##foryou and she said No! ##TheNoGirl @yo_girl_ruth (video footage filmed by @brentography )

♬ The Box - Roddy Ricch

What posting strategies do you use to make sure your videos do well?

The most important thing to consider when you post a video is that quality trumps quantity on TikTok. Think of it as garbage in = garbage out when it comes to results. If you don't go the extra mile in creating your videos and attempting to craft a masterpiece with each one, then you'll be relying on luck for your video to perform well. 

My personal posting strategy is to post about once every other day. This allows me ample time to create quality TikToks, as opposed to creating something that's rushed. Quality is everything.

Why should photographers join TikTok?

Photographers need to join TikTok before it's too late. There is absolutely no social media platform in existence right now that would allow a photographer to build an online presence and a name for themselves as fast as TikTok allows. I've only been doing photography for a year and I was able to quit my 9-to-5 job just three months after joining TikTok.

The organic reach on the platform allows those that are hungry for it to rapidly gain a following. I gained 3 million followers within my first three months, and then gained close to 8 million within the first six months. This growth is absolutely impossible on Instagram, YouTube or any other platform.

TikTok allows a video to be seen by millions of people. Think of it as a free way to advertise yourself and your brand to the world. Every time I have a video go viral, I wake up with multiple emails and messages enquiring about collaborations and offering me business opportunities.


Anyone else miss when going out on dates was a thing 😢 Full videos on my Y o u T u b é, Iink in my bio!

♬ Graduation - benny blanco & Juice WRLD

What should someone joining TikTok now do to make sure their videos are successful?

Right now it's more important than ever to create highly engaging quality content that stands out. The TikTok platform has started to become saturated with creators, which makes going viral more difficult – and this will only become worse. 

It's not too late to gain a massive following on TikTok right now, but creators should feel a sense of urgency to start making content while the window of opportunity for massive growth is still there. In order to do so, you'll have to create content that is up to par with what is going viral and trending on the platform right now. 

Observe and study viral videos on TikTok to set the bar for yourself – and then exceed that bar tenfold if you want to go viral consistently.

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Louise Carey

With over a decade of photographic experience, Louise arms Digital Camera World with a wealth of knowledge on photographic technique and know-how – something at which she is so adept that she's delivered workshops for the likes of ITV and Sue Ryder. Louise also brings years of experience as both a web and print journalist, having served as features editor for Practical Photography magazine and contributing photography tutorials and camera analysis to titles including Digital Camera Magazine and  Digital Photographer. Louise currently shoots with the Fujifilm X-T200 and the Nikon D800, capturing self-portraits and still life images, and is DCW's ecommerce editor, meaning that she knows good camera, lens and laptop deals when she sees them.