If you’ve taken a photograph at any point since 2004, chances are you have heard of Flickr. Whether shot by professional or amateur, advanced or novice, more than 6 billion photos have taken up residence on Flickr, the Web’s most popular image hosting community. As in any community, no matter virtual or real-world, one of the chief goals of its members is to be active, productive participants in the community; accordingly, there are certain strategies — some of which may not be so obvious — that one can employ as a means to increase his or her visibility as a photographer in this bustling online community.
First Things First
Flickr offers users two account options — Free or Pro. With anything bearing the “free” label there are limitations, but you may find these limitations quite reasonable and perfectly suited to your needs. Free accounts are allotted 300 MB worth of images and 2 videos per month. Additionally, your viewable photostream is limited to the 200 most recent images; any other photos that you uploaded previously will remain on the site and you will have access to an active link for those photos, but you will not be able to see them. So, at the very least, you have a backup of your photos. Free users can also place images in a maximum of 10 group pools (more about groups later).
For a yearly fee of $24.95USD, Pro users enjoy unlimited uploads, bandwidth, and storage; you’ll also get access to view count and referral statistics and the freedom to post your photos in up to 60 group pools.
So, you’re amped to get started on Flickr and garner the type of attention that will translate into international notoriety. Well, that is not likely to happen; but in all your excitement, it is important to remember that selectivity and moderation are your friends. Don’t flood your photostream with your entire photo collection all at once, especially if you’re a free user. Regardless of your account type, though, put some careful thought into choosing your very best images and post those — preferably one per day. This gives other users a chance to devote some worthwhile attention to your work, as opposed to you posting a dozen shots in one sitting. Believe me when I say most people aren’t going to go through all of your shots; they will look at the first couple and then go browse elsewhere. It is a tedious and overwhelming task to look at picture after uninspiring picture of someone’s pet snake taking a nap. Simply, put your best work first.
Tag it and Title it
Use tags. A good number of your photos are going to be discovered by other users searching for specific subjects. So be accurate and descriptive with your tags, and include location information. Apply the same principle when it comes to titles; each of your uploads should bear a meaningful name. When people see something like “IMG_DSC001” they are probably going to move along to greener pastures where users care enough about their work to provide short, but useful titles.
After all, one of Flickr’s prominent functions is that of a social network. And social networks only work as such if the members, well…socialize. If you want comments and “favorites” on your photos, be sure to comment on and favorite others’ photos. When someone marks you as a contact, return the favor. There’s a little thing called reciprocity, and it’s like magic! Even when you don’t have anything new to upload, leave comments for your contacts’ new uploads. It’s all about establishing and maintaining a dialogue of sorts.
A Few Good Groups
Arguably, groups are what keep the Flickr community afloat. Acting as essentially a public photo gallery, groups provide a space for members to submit their work to a moderated pool of photographs. Some groups are highly curated and revolve around very specific themes (macro photography, self-portraits, or sunsets, for instance), and most groups have a short set of rules to follow (adhering to daily posting limits, making sure submissions stay within the group theme, and meeting comment requirements are three of the most common). Participating in a group will likely be the means by which you initiate the majority of your contacts on Flickr, as you will have the opportunity to interact more closely with members who share your interest in a specific photographic theme. But don’t go on a joining spree. In all honesty, there is no shortage of groups that are a total waste of time, groups where anything you submit fades into oblivion, never viewed, never commented on. Forgotten. Joining and participating in a group does take at least a little bit of time and effort, so make sure the groups you join are worthy in your estimation.
They Get Around
I think one of Flickr’s most valuable features is that it allows you to connect to and share your work via other social platforms. By using the Sharing & Extending feature, you can set up Flickr to quickly and easily share photos with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress. This provides you with yet another means of publicity for your treasured photographs, while adding no more than two or three mouse clicks to your workload. Just think…all your beautiful photos being viewed across multiple social networks, and all linking back to your Flickr photostream as the source. You could be in for potentially hundreds of views on your Flickr page.
But why all this fuss over views, anyway?
A Recipe for Success?
Users who aspire to the ultimate level of recognition within the Flickr community will certainly become aware of something called Explore. Explore is a daily stream (viewed by thousands of people) of the top 500 photos as selected by Flickr’s “interestingness” algorithm. The actual math that comprises this algorithm is kept a highly guarded secret by Flickr’s engineers. Since it seems nobody knows how Explore even works, that raises the question, “How do you make it into Explore?”
Well, the three main ingredients to the interestingness recipe are favorites, comments, and views — in that order. The more you get of each — particularly favorites and comments — in a relatively short time frame, the more likely you are to have your photo included in Explore. Being included in Explore can lead to an explosion of new contacts. Now, if this all sounds a bit convoluted, it sort of is. It’s a catch 22: you want views, and being in Explore will bring those desired views, but in order to make it into Explore in the first place…you need views.
Most groups you join will have discussions available for members to participate in. This is valuable because sometimes these boards are goldmines for everything from tech support to creative inspiration, and you have yet another opportunity to network or make friends.
Flickr also integrates with Snapfish to provide prints, posters, photo cards, photo books, calendars, and a few other imaging services that can be accessed using photos directly from you account.
Flickr first introduced its mobile app for iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch) in 2009. It went nowhere fast. Three years later, the app has been completely redesigned and is now much closer to what people have been clamoring for all along. The user interface has been drastically improved and allows full access to Groups and easy sharing to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. There is also an assortment of editing options. You can now truly enjoy Flickr anywhere you go.
I’ve been a regular Flickr user since 2009 and the most rewarding aspect of the experience has been the opportunity to interact with other photography enthusiasts from all over the world. I’ve never cared a whole lot about the statistics. Sure, it’s nice to log on and see that your work has been viewed/favorited/commented on by someone other than your mom, but I really have no interest in participating in any kind of popularity contest. I’ve seen many, many Flickr members complain that an inordinate number of photos found in Explore are pure rubbish, that popular but mediocre photos make it while excellent photos go overlooked. I agree. But I don’t care. Out of the approximately 300 images I have posted to Flickr, an astounding 25 of them have made it into Explore. It’s great to have photos show up in Explore, but that’s not what I’m on Flickr for. I’ve got some great contacts from the Philippines, England, Australia, France, and India. Personally, I find more value in that.
Of course, if your main goal is traffic-centered then, by all means, play the numbers game. Photography is meant to be seen. But the group awards, favorites, and random appearances in Explore are just nice bonuses. My primary recommendation would be to prioritize the “human element” of your Flickr experience: share your photos for the sake of sharing; make friends; learn something new; have fun.