I have to admit I’ve a soft spot for Flickr as I’ve been an avid user for a long time, in fact I signed up 10 years ago this month when it was only eight months old. Although my usage is not what it once was, I’ve made a lot of good friends through the Flickr community and it’s helped my photographic career. A nice little titbit that you might not know: Flickr was spun out of the online Game Neverending’s photo sharing feature. At the time consumer digital photography was really in its infancy and photo editing was not as easy as it now (Lightroom was still three years away). This meant the majority of content on Flickr was unedited digital images which could look a little flat colour wise, this meant that my highly saturated film photos really jumped out from their digital counterparts.
I started to get photography work from my presence on Flickr; in January 2005 Imogen Heap (who I has not heard of at the time) contacted me to shot artwork for her new album. She had seen an image I had shot of the Millennium Bridge and wanted me to retake it but with her in it. When we were together I took a headless portrait of her riding her bicycle which, while I really do like the image, I have to admit it’s a complete fluke as I was cycling along side her and I originally intended to get her head in shot.
The fact that her red coat is framed by the light stone wall is completely serendipitous. It gained a lot of attention when I first uploaded it and soon caught the eye of Flickr’s creative designer at the time, George Oats. She asked me if they could use it on the Flickr home page in rotation with other user’s images.
Once I had my image on the home page my following on Flickr sky-rocketed and I was getting job offers and licensing requests regularly. By 2008 I had written my first internationally published photographic how-to book Hot Shots. This came about because Lindy Dunlop who I swam with at the time was checking out my work on Flickr regularly. Unbeknown to me she was a sub-editor at a publisher, and she thought my photography would work well as a how-to book. Lindy and I ended up working on three books together.
Something I hear a lot is “Flickr is dead” and “no one uses it anymore”, I think those statements tend to over simplify the matter; sure I don’t have the same level of interaction as I once did but times have changed. What has to be remembered is that when Flickr started, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram did not even exist, and Facebook was only open to people in higher education institutions. It was only in September 2006 that Facebook allowed the general public to sign up, so for over two years Flickr was a lot of peoples’ first taste of social networking. People have far more choice with what they do online than they did ten years ago. My personal circumstances have also changed, being a father means I can’t spend the (sometimes) hours a day on the site as I once did. Now I will probably post once or twice and week and spend a few minutes looking through other people’s photos.
Even if I have not posted anything new to Flickr my account still gets between 20,000 and 30,000 page views a day, and that tells me that people are still using Flickr and that there is definitely still an audience there.
Flickr and the way people use it has fundamentally changed over the years, that is undeniable. Flickr groups are no longer popular, the type of interaction that happened in groups is far more likely happen on Facebook. The conversations that take place around photos used to really be engaging, now people tend to favourite an image and then move on. People are still having conversations around images, it’s just that these conversations have moved elsewhere.
I used to just post my images to Flickr, now I post to Instagram and Flickr, then I might also repost to Tumblr and, if it’s really good, to Facebook and Google+. If I am honest taking part in social media now feels like a chore, this is probably because I have a lot less leisure time.
I think Instagram is a great platform, it’s obviously gained critical mass when it comes to user numbers. Only yesterday Instagram announced they have more active users than Twitter, They are still about a billion shy of Facebook’s active user count though. Instagram took off because it came about when the majority of people in the western world were getting smart phones. Its down side is that photos have to be square (you can add black or white bars at the top and bottom but that really bugs me). That said Flickr does have an awesome mobile app that is well worth a download. I still think that Flickr photos have more longevity because of the ways you can search for them.
One of my more popular images of 2014 was this photo of a murmuration of starlings in front on Brighton’s West Pier. On Flickr it had about 66k views in the first week and it still gets views and favourites now. By contrast the same image on Instagram got a lot of love but after 24 hours activity ceased; it’s almost as if Instagram images have an expiry date. This makes Flickr an ideal place to archive images as it has more tools for adding meta data to images and making images searchable, whereas Instagram is more about posting in the moment.
I don’t often go looking that much anymore but occasionally I will stumble across Flickr users that I have never heard of before and am blown away by the quality of their work. This happened recently with 333Bracket who documents her life in exquisite detail and Westographer who documents the quirkiness of the suburbs of Melbourne and Victoria. They post photos regularly. There are also quite a few older accounts that still post amazing work that should be checked out: Alex Bamford for his moonlit work, Finn Hopson for his Sussex Landscapes, Ryan Schude for his incredible cinematic style, Sandro Bisaro for his cityscapes and Hodachrome for is film double exposures.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Flickr is not dead and it’s worth trying out or coming back to. Remember being a good photographer is more about the pictures you don’t show than the pictures you do. Be selective about what you post and be patient about building up a following. You can find me on Flickr as Lomokev and lot of other social networks: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+.