You need to understand one thing, whenever people search something they tend to use some filters to search images. These will normally be the hashtags that will help you reach your potential customers. But you need to remember that, you are not the only one who will using a hashtag and posting on the same niche. So, when there are more than one photo under the same niche or the same hashtag, the search engine will show the most popular one. And in case of Instagram, the popularity is decided on the number of likes. So, more likes you have, more chances are there that your photo will be shown on the result.
This will in turn help you reach new customers and if your quality is good you might be able to get the new followers and likes as well. So, this will work as a circle.