Flickr: Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy — You Decide!

This isn’t a peeve with Flickr, it’s a peeve with certain Flickr users. Everyone is entitled to use Flickr how they see fit, which is why some upload photographs of trips or social gatherings so their friends and/or relatives can enjoy them, while others simply empty their whole hard-drive of photos to Flickr. There is nothing wrong with these practices.

Unless you’re a photographer trying to showcase your work.

I will often stumble upon photographers online who include their Flickr account address in their signature; being the inquisitive guy that I am I automatically click on the link to see what they have. Much too often I am greeted by a front page filled with 10 shots of the same subject framed from slightly different positions. But it gets worse, when I scroll down to the bottom of the page I see this:

You don't have 8,763 awesome photos
I immediately flee the page, never to return.

I don’t care who you are, there is now way you’ve taken 8,763 decent, let alone good pictures in your lifetime. If it took me only 1 second to look at each picture, I would still have to sit in front of my computer 2-1/2 hours to see the whole portfolio. I don’t have that kind of time nor stamina.

If your Flickr account contains a few dozen of your best shots, you’re fine (and this article isn’t for you); I’ll stay a while and enjoy your work, pausing every now and then to note my admiration for a particular image through a comment. I will then continue with my Life feeling enriched for having seen some good photography.

If your Flickr account contains every single frame you’ve ever shot, please, please, please heed my request: Create a set titled My Best Pics or something similar, and locate it at the top of the sets sidebar; inside you will place your best photographs. And no, you do not have 350 best photos, trust me. Just choose the very best, and if you can keep it under 25, you’re golden.

If you don’t know or can’t decide which are your best shots, you can use an automatic set generator such as that provided by Dopiaza. It’s easy to set up, letting you choose the number of pics to include and even which tags to look for (so you could have a set of your best B&W shots, for example, if you tag them ‘B&W’). The set regenerates automatically about once per day, choosing your most interesting photos based on how many times they’ve been viewed and favourited (is that even a word?).

“Don’t bury your best work amongst hundreds of drab shots; it deserves to be showcased!”

You spent a long time taking photographs, and maybe even longer processing them on the computer or scanning them. Don’t let all this time go to waste by burying your best work amongst hundreds of drab shots; it deserves to be showcased! If you can’t be bothered to highlight it for me, don’t expect me to spend hours digging it out. Be proud of it, and let everyone who visits your Flickr page know that — give your best images their own set. Not only will you get more exposure, but you’ll be giving your visitors 2-1/2 hours of their Life back. I, for one, will be eternally grateful to you.

28 Responses to “Flickr: Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy — You Decide!”

  1. And I wholeheartedly agre. It’s a waste of time. (By the way the tool you recommended works well and I found is easy to set up.)

    When I visited a friend’s place once, they said, we could put all our stuff on display, but we only put one thing out at a time, so we really get to enjoy it. On that day it was a lovely old brass bowl. I remember it maybe because it was the only thing there, and it made a great sound when struck. That was 30 years ago.

    Is feedback on feedback useful?
    Perhaps you could have a think around the topic of whether feedback for feedback is ncessary or useful. I am not sure: saying thanks for the feedback is waste of a trip for the original commenter who will get a notification that their feedback has been responded to — because web 2.0 encourages this (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    Does it create an overabundance again? We will have to spend time sorting through it? Photo sites seems to have a lot “that’s great comments” and I wonder if the real intent is that feedback will be reciprocated and added to a score somewhere somehow.

    I’m just not sure of the etiquette.

  2. Well written !!!
    I too run a mile when I come across a page with 10 or more frames of the same thing shot at different angles. This type of thing is no different to having to sit through a whole evening viewing 1342 vacation shots from someone who has just come back from their holidays (bored !).

    As for feedback on feedback as Stefan commented above… yeah it may not be so usefull. However I do reply with a “Thank you” when I do receive feedback, out of courtesy, on my work. BUT what I find somewhat annoying are feedbacks such as “This is awesome”, “I Love it” and so forth. Sometimes I get the impression that these feedbacks are only left so that you leave feedback on their work. Bit like feedback collecting. With these types of feedback, I reply a “Thank you”, do take time to look at their work but if I don’t find anything that I like I don’t leave feedback as this then would not be genuine.

    Oh and thanks about the tip about Dopiaza ! I didn’t know about this ! I may try it out !


    • Thanks for your, ummm, feedback, Stefan and Kappii 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my little rant.

      To be honest, I am not sure what the correct etiquette is on sites like Flickr. I tend to act like Kappii most of the time and only reciprocate with comments when I actually see a photo I like. As for the type of comment, I’m never sure what people are after. Flickr is a storage site, rather than an exhibition online gallery, so I doubt people uploading their pictures really want to know what I think of their composition or choice of focal length. Nonetheless, when I see a photo I like, I try to explain what it is I like about it. I imagine this goes unappreciated, but at least it makes me feel better.

      Of course, sometimes the only thing one can say is awesome shot! 😀

  3. Mis, this is always good advice, flickr or not–put your best foot forward. If the photographer can’t be bothered to edit their own work, why should I? Editing (specifically, choosing the ‘selects’) is as essential a part of the process as any. I’m not going to knock flickr as it provides great tools for creating and organizing sets but certainly many flickr-ites badly dilute the quality of their portfolio by dumping their entire camera contents up there for the world to see. Sets and collections allow for this but I don’t think any of the photostream ‘front pages’ are really ideal as all of them include the page-by-page-by-page access to all pictures as a central feature.

  4. Mis, this is again a very well written article.

    Your first paragraph is very humurous and it reflects my personal experience. Flickr is really a social bookmarking exercise and I found the place like a gangland war competiting for the title “who has the highest numbers of comments”

    Again, you remind me about organising all the rubbish photographs on my flickr site… It has been left untouched for quite a few months now

  5. There is so much truth in this….I made the same mistake with mine, which is why I killed it. When I could not find my own images in my own account, it was time to go. I am working on another one at the moment and should have it done in the next few months! Lol

  6. I think the premise is that Flickr is a portfolio, but I never saw it that way, even less so once it became part of Yahoo with Yahoo photo albums merging with it.

    Of course, many people also break stuff down into sets which you can then send a direct link to. Generally a set is specific and thus better sorted.

    Personally, Flickr isn’t so much a portfolio as it is an online photo album/photo repository. Some people do use them as portfolios, but others as albums or online storage for eventual linking. For me it’s a little of both. If I’m with people they generally want lots of photos, sometimes the difference between 1 pose and another is a big deal. If you’ve ever seen a bride look at 200 virtually identical wedding photos and select 1 specific one, it’s often the weirdest reasoning why she chose that particular photo! Same thing with family portraits, yep, everyone is the same in each photo, but for some reason one photo usually stands out among the others.

    If I’m shooting sunsets, it’s the good one or a single out take, not the entire collection of out takes that go up.

    That said, I don’t know why people empty entire cards and load them all to flickr. I’ve been a member for over 2 years, and it took me almost 5 months to reach my free 200 photo limit and that was considering I have gigs of photos archived, it took me 18 more to almost reach 1000 photos. I should be putting my 1000th up this month. That works out to 50 photos a month.

    Personally, I think if you’re doing a portfolio, build your own site. It looks more professional, and you can limit the photos to the selects of the selects. Otherwise, look at Flickr for what it is, a social photo album!

    • Justin, like I said, I don’t have a problem with Flickr, or with people using it as a repository/backup for their photos. My small issue is with photographers who obviously want other photographers to take a look at their Flickr account (or otherwise they wouldn’t have their Flickr address in the signature on forums) but then expect viewers to wade through thousands of photos.

      If you (not you particularly, Justin) use Flickr for storage and a place to have linkable photos to post on forums, or even a place to keep sets of parties and whatnot to send friends, that’s completely fine. I just respectfully ask you not to include Flickr in your signature or profile as if it were your portfolio.

  7. I am a believer of metadata/tagging to find my pictures later, both on Flickr and on my home computer. If I tag before uploading to Flickr, my tags will show there too. For privacy reasons I have a script using exiftool that can strip out people’s full names before uploading publicly visible pics to Flickr but I attempt to tag pictures with people’s names. Unfortunately tagging is rather labor intensive so I put a premium on tools that make it easier for me. Lightroom is the best I’ve used for this yet but there’s still some room for improvement.

    Of the photo sites I frequent, would probably offer the most ‘professional-seeming’ portfolio even if the tools available are among the worst. I haven’t done it myself but smugmug seems to be a little more oriented towards more serious portfolio builders but Justin is right–building your own site offers the most control (and also the most work/responsibility).

    Hope everybody has a safe & happy New Year’s celebration!

  8. Mis, for what it’s worth I guess one could provide the link to the ‘selects’ or ‘portfolio’ Flickr set in your signature/profile.

  9. ‘Tis all too true, Mr Mis… 8000 pics of tourist snappage tends to make my eyes droopy…

    Having said that, after reading this I now feel strangely compelled to take thirteen pics of the same subject from different angles and slap ’em up on my site for next month’s set… 🙂

    I rarely look at Flickr these days, TBH… And I agree with Justin and Andrew that building your own site is the way to go, although I’m really not a fan of static, cobweb-covered, update-shy portfolios… Keep ’em fresh folks…

  10. Paul, I actually think you could pull off 13 interesting shots of the same subject, but most of us aren’t that talented.

    I suppose I’ll have to look forward to your December update now 😉

  11. I think you misunderstand Flickr.

    It is a photo blog. Everything is date-stamped and only the last shots posted show up where anyone will see them. This means that one needs to keep the images fresh.

    I have posted 1000 photos in one year. I can easily see myself posting 8000 in “a lifetime”. Are they all crap? Are there a dozen variations on the same shot? Do I post each and every vacation snap I take? No, no, and no.

    I took 20,000 shots so the ratio of what I post is about 1 in 20. Of course I will leave it to others to determine if any are worth viewing.

    For those who dismiss Flickr I say you’re dismissing many of the most vital amateur photogs out there today. Certainly I get great joy from what I find there.

  12. I don’t quite think anyone here is misunderstanding Flikr. The thing is some use it as their online gallery (which is cool !), but promoting your photos in a gallery full of frames of the same thing is boring, I’m sorry it just is ! And having to scroll through 8000 images of practically the same thing again is boring !
    As for crap photos, well, everyone sees things different. What may be crap to one person may be great to another. But viewing 10 or more of the same “crap” or “uncrap” photos on the same page is boring ! This also leaves the impression that the next 500 pages will be the same… Boring !

    Look, Flikr is great but I think if you’re trying to promote yourself as a serious photographer, professional or amateur, then please don’t provide a link to your gallery showing everything that has ever hit your cameras sensor. As a lot people will not have the patience to look through every image, further more, they probably will not want to return to your gallery as they already know what to expect !

  13. Robin, Kappii pretty much said exactly what I think. I have a Flickr account and understand how it works. I’m not asking anyone to change the way they use Flickr. I’m only asking photographers to stop including their Flickr account in forum signatures and online profiles unless they’re making it easy for other photographers to find their best work. Seriously, even if your account consists of only your best work, and you have 1,000 photos, I’ll probably only look at the front page. However, if you have a Top 10 or Top 25 set, I’ll go in there, and if I like what I see, I may go exploring in your account later on when I have more time to see if I can find other images I like.

  14. I am specifically defending those people who might have 8000 images, since that is one of the examples that was chosen in the article as a misuse of Flickr. Though I too would never view that many shots at once, the time-based posting system means that I very might view a good number of them over the eight years (or whatever) that it took the poster to upload them. Even after the fact, I might end up looking through any given portion of the 8000 as a result of a targeted search.

    If all your article meant to say was “don’t post lots of the same crap” then there was no need to target Flickr users at all. Besides, that amounts to a truism, which is not very interesting.

    “I’m only asking photographers to stop including their Flickr account in forum signatures and online profiles unless they’re making it easy for other photographers to find their best work.”

    Well, what you see as good and what other people see as good will be totally different. I have no interest in producing a “Top 10”. I dislike this form of reductionist thinking. So I will be one of those photographers using Flickr in a way that displeases you. C’est la vie.

    • Robin wrote:

      So I will be one of those photographers using Flickr in a way that displeases you. C’est la vie

      I think you’ve missed my point, Robin. I have no problem with anyone using Flickr as a remote backup facility, and if you want to back up thousands of photos, $25/year is a fantastic deal. No, I am informing those people out there with thousands of uploaded photos that if they want to promote their Flickr page as a portfolio (as many of them do) that they need to make some changes in order to attract viewers and get them to come back.

      No particular use of Flickr displeases me, what displeases me is being told “come see my photography at my online gallery” only to be confronted with a few thousand images in chronological order and be expected to wade through them. Imagine a mate of yours invited you over to his house to look at his photographs and when you got there he shoved you into a room full of dozens of boxes, each filled with photographs to the brim. Don’t you think you’d politely excuse yourself and jump out of the nearest window. Well that’s how I feel often when I follow people’s Flickr links and why I wrote this post. That’s all!

  15. I just looked at Flickr, for the first time in quite a while…

    On the page above, it proudly announced to me that “There were 5,076 uploads in the last minute.”… Not in the last year, month, week, or day. In a single minute…!

    On that basis, I’m quite happy to dismiss the site as what it is: a vast digital dumping ground for photographs… I also dislike the page layout and overall presentation on that site, which seems more geared towards the “social networking” aspects of the site than actually enhancing the experience of viewing the photographs.

    Whenever I pay a visit to Flickr I feel like I’ve walked into an endless warehouse, stuffed to the rafters with the ever-expanding photo albums of random strangers. The thought doesn’t appeal, I’m afraid. I want to walk into the online equivalent of a interesting little backstreet gallery, or perhaps just settle down on someone’s comfy HTML sofa and look at their pics over a decent cup of tea. That kind of thing.

    At the end of the day, there’s only so much time to look at photos. And there are a lot of photos out there… 🙂 So my feeling is that if the photographer doesn’t choose to put a little effort into showcasing his/her work in a convenient, approachable, satisfying (and hopefully distinctive, and memorable…) way, then I’ll simply go elsewhere and look at the work of someone who does.

    Robin, you say “For those who dismiss Flickr I say you’re dismissing many of the most vital amateur photogs out there today.” Well yeah. And yes, that’s my loss, I’m sure. But surely those photographers should ask themselves why…?

    BTW Robin, my comments about keeping things fresh were not aimed at Flickr… They were aimed at the various static portfolios that are dotted around the net. There’s simply little incentive to return to a site where the images never seem to be updated… I mean, would you be keen to frequent a real-life gallery where the pictures never change? Me neither…

  16. You just wrote: “what displeases me is being told “come see my photography at my online gallery” only to be confronted with a few thousand images in chronological order and be expected to wade through them.” That is exactly how I interpret your article so how have I missed your point?

    What you dislike is exactly what I do. I link to my Flickr account and do not have a Top 10 collection people can easily scan. I have over 1000 images, after only 10 months of posting. But this is not the same as your analogy of a random assortment of boxes, since my images are organised, tagged, and presented in temporal order.

    So what the article boils down to is the simple statement that you don’t want to look at images you don’t like. I really cannot see that it applies in any more specific a sense to Flickr or anywhere else.

    Paul, Mis: Maybe you can help me understand further by specifically critiquing my use of Flickr. Do I have too many similar images? Should I be more choosy in selecting them? Is the overall quality too poor?

    (Of course I use Flickr for different purposes: documenting events, family shots, holding images to be linked to elsewhere… it is not meant entirely as a portfolio.)

    • Robin wrote:

      Paul, Mis: Maybe you can help me understand further by specifically critiquing my use of Flickr.

      Well, like I said, we each use Flickr however which way we want, and apart from not being able to specify what order you want your pictures to appear in, it’s pretty versatile. I’ve commented on your Flickr pics, so clearly I’ve thought it was worth my time to wade through your photos. However, I do have to hunt for your “Art” shots as they’re mixed in with everything else. Some of your “everything else” stuff is actually interesting, which is not the case for most people. One thing I would recommend is that you add an extra tag to your already numerous collection: one that specifies the purpose of the photo. For example “art”, “educational”, “family”… Or maybe just tag your artsy ones as, errr, “artsy” 🙂

      It’s just a suggestion that would make MY life easier, but who am I to tell you how to run your Flickr account? 😉

  17. Robin, I had to Google your Flickr photos, but I guess this is your page…?

    Sherkin Island 11

    Well, I had a quick look at that, but nothing in that first “Photostream” page really grabbed me, TBH. Anyway, so I clicked on “Collections”, then “Portfolio”, and was confronted by this:

    Now I’m sorry, but I have no interest whatsoever in ploughing through that lot. I can browse with the best of them, but given that you haven’t chosen to be more selective in your offerings, or highlight what you consider to be your most interesting work, where’s the incentive to wade through all your snaps?

    That’s the point.

  18. Thanks for those suggestions. I think you are correct in making them — no need for false modesty! I am always willing to adapt and learn, having changed my approach to online photo posting at least twice already. That explains my interest in this thread. I hope this dialogue has been useful to all concerned.

  19. Perhaps it is not a bad idea to point out one site that, in my opinion, represents completely opposite concept to Flickr (and similar sites) which Paul has labeled as “a vast digital dumping ground for photographs”, a statement I find extremely accurate.

    The site I am talking about is Onexposure:

    Have a look, you might find it a refreshing departure from the usual “show us all, we don’t care what that is” concept.

  20. Ivan, I too checked this out ! Great site !
    Another site which isn’t too bad, is smugmug. I use this for my gallery. You can be as social as you like (such as commenting, groups…) or you can choose to not participate at all and just have a gallery. The one thing that I do like about smugmug is that it allows you to customise with CSS, you can virtually do anything to your site and have the look that you want or suits your needs !

  21. Very interesting article Mis, esp. since I probably am a little guilty… yes, I use my flickr site in my profile and I first started out on flickr because I needed a way to share the images I took at a Land Rover meet. So I basically dumped hundreds of photos of the land rovers because a- the owners can find their landy and b- the club owner wanted to see them all to select for a magazine (only 4 were selected lol!).
    Anyways reading your article did remind me to clean up my site, but as this is my only photo sharing site I have, I have quite a bit up there, and its only going to get more! But I am with you about people who post the same image numerous of times, or the ones who constantly take photos of them at work, self-portraits etc… its too much. I’m trying to build a “portfolio” and flickr might not be the best way to do so right, but I do enjoy the social aspects of the site and its an easy site. Though I do try to dole out c&c and hope to get some on my photos, but that doesn’t happen. That’s why I link my pics to photo dot net’s pow thread or anyother!
    I was headed to a path of being more selective, and thanks to the article, I will continue that way.

  22. Ivan, yeah, I stumbled across that Onexposure site quite a while ago… I must confess that I never went back to it, despite the very high quality of much of the photography on display.

    Well, I remember being quite put off by the all the different levels of membership, which came across as a rather calculated “Pay us more to get more exposure…” deal to me. That’s not really my thing, TBH, although in visitor mode it was certainly a pleasure to browse through some of the work on there earlier today…

  23. In Robin’s defense, one thing he does right is to caption/title all his pictures (at least the ones I saw). If there’s any one thing that says to me ‘digital dumping ground’ its when you see 1500 pictures worth of DSC#### or IMG####.

    A common failure (in my opinion) of many flickr portfolios, essentially encouraged by flickr’s design & layout, is that more mundane postings like family snapshots are mixed in with art shots. The emphasis on the latest photos, or ‘photostream’, gives equal and unfocused priority to any image.

    Robin has a lot of good pictures in his stream, I can see that just by looking through the first few pages–he is certainly producing good stuff at a pretty good clip–but these higher quality (from an artistic perspective) images get diluted by stuff that is more documentary in nature (invented musical instruments set, Studio Recording 2008 set, etc.).

    This has been a good discussion for me–helping me think about my photo-sharing future. I honestly think there’s no ideal solution–having multiple sites for different purposes is probably best.

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