Flickr and You, Part 2: The World's Window on You

This is the second installment in a four-part series on Flickr and the future of commercial photography. Part one is here.

In many ways, Flickr has leveled the playing field between professional and amateur photographers. Today's article will feature ways to better present yourself and help photo buyers find you if you are still a babe in the woods.

All of the photos in this post are by Strobist readers. Please click on them to find out more info, or see more interesting work in the Strobist Flickr Faves Gallery.

Flickr Now vs. Flickr Soon

It would be a mistake to think of Flickr as a static environment. Presently, it is the center of gravity for still photography when it comes to user-generated content. There is much debate in the industry about how Flickr will evolve, but almost no one is questioning the fact that its next iteration will involve the monetization of that content. As we talked about in part one, buyers are already hooking up with content - and photographers. It won't be long before Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!, yields to the temptation of collecting transactional fees on that market.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on the business model that they introduce. Flickr has built something of great value - a community of motivated photographers who generates gobs of new content every day. Hopefully the company will take the long view, and build something that will be a benefit for photographers as well as the suits.

Done well, the result could be a huge, current relevant and dynamic photo library that instantly changes the landscape of the commercial photography scene. Done poorly, it could devolve into yet another predatory model that takes advantage of the fact that many photographers will all but give their photos away in exchange for the thrill of being published.

However they choose to do it, there will almost certainly be an "opt-in" ability. So you probably won't have to play if you do not want to. But given the quality of work being produced by the readers of this site, there are many dollars - and perhaps more than a few careers - at stake. So some pre-planning is warranted for those who are interested in a different sort of future on Flickr.

The important thing for photographers who are interesting in being a part of the new paradigm is to begin to position themselves in such a way as to be as visible as possible in both the present and future models.

A Few Words About Money

We have talked about the predatory pricing models before, and there will be plenty of time to discuss that later if and when changes roll out in Flickr. But this series is more about understanding - and positioning youself for - the changes that are on the horizon, be it on Flickr or anyplace else.

Long story short, please don't sleep with the first picture editor that tells you how great your photos are (and if you just let them slip by for free this time there is lots of work in store for you in the future.) That said, there is great value to be had for transitional "pro-ams" in exposure. But only if it works for you and points many, many people to your stuff. And you still have to be careful about that slippery slope thing.

For the True North compass point on these kinds of issues, there is no better source than John Harrington's photo biz blog. He wrote the book on the subject. Literally.

John's book and blog are aimed at the full-time, professional types. I would submit that the guidelines for you, as a (likely) transitional amateur-to-pro, selling a shot of your cute little kid to Parenting Magazine are a little more flexible. But if you are thinking of becoming a full-blown pro, you will want to use John's info as a compass point. It is good info.

See and Be Seen

So, since you are already on Flickr, you have a seat on the train. Right?

Not so fast there, Bucko. What you probably have is a dumping ground for all of your favorite photos from the last year, a spiffy Flickr name and not much else. While this is great for the photo water-cooler side of Flickr, it won't work very well for what we are talking about today. Not to worry, though. It is a fairly easy thing to reinvent yourself on Flickr, no matter what photos your sordid past might contain.

First, it makes a lot of sense to upgrade to a pro account. I am not selling them, and I do not benefit in any way if you upgrade. But where else can you get the word "pro" attached to your photos for USD $25 a year?

Okay, I'm being flippant. But the benefits of a "pro" membership on Flickr are a steal for the price. You get unlimited storage, uploads, bandwidth, sets, permanent archiving of hi-res pix, etc.

(You get the feeling they are trying to encourage people to build a hi-res archive, or what?)

Also, not that the "pro" thingie by your name makes you a pro. But not having it relegates you to the psychological B Stack in comparison.

Here's a thought: You might want to maintain a personal, free account for the unedited fun stuff and buy a pro account for your Serious Photographer side. After all you don't want stuff like this popping up when the Director of Photography at Wired Magazine is searching through your images.

I'm just saying.

And you will want to upgrade the language you use on that profile, too. These will likely be the first words potential client read about you. We'll be talking about that in more detail Parts 3 and 4 of this series.

Use care in choosing your screen name, too. You will want to try to snag "Your Name," or "Your Name Photographer," or something to that effect. Okay, if your name is John Smith, you are probably already screwed. But make sure your name reinforces your name and/or what you do. For instance, "John Smith Food Shots" is probably available.

The important thing is to present your profile page to be informative and reasonably professional. While I might buy usage rights to a cool, pre-existing photo from a goofball, I would probably not send a photo assignment to one.

As a side note, if you are totally clueless about the art of the photographer's portfolio, an excellent resource is Photo Portfolio Success, by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer John Kaplan. It has supplanted the classic book, "The Perfect Portfolio," by Henrietta Brackman, which is a dated (but still useful) resource.

Help Them Find You: Captions and Metadata

Clearly, your photos will be your strongest selling point. But now that your profile is up-to-snuff and you have deleted the self-timered photo of yourself demonstrating advanced beer bong technique, you will want to make your text-based info work harder for you, too.

We will be talking in more detail on this in the final two articles in this series, but the point is that you want to (a) lead people to your photos, and (b) connote your professionalism when they get there.

Good captions are incredibly valuable to photo researchers. They can describe what is being shown, give geographic info, note whether a person is model released, give specific contact info for the photographer - just about anything.


One for ma BOYZ!!! Skeeter grindin some rails at the mall just before the cops came!"


MAY 29, 2006 -- LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA, USA -- Skateboarder John Smith, 19, (model released) of Long Beach, California (USA) performs a (whatever the name of the maneuver is) in Long Beach, California on May 29, 2006. Smith is riding a skateboard by (brand of skateboard). -- PHOTO BY PHIL PHLASHEM

This photo is available for publication. Please contact me via Flickr Mail or at

But how do they even get to your photo to begin with? By searching your metadata. Flickr calls them tags, but they are essentially words that describe your photos for search engines. Or don't, as the case may be.

This is the funnel that will help researchers get to your images. Tags can be a roadmap, a joke, or non-existant. Take a good, long look at your tags. Are you using them to your best advantage?

For our fictitious photo above, you might use the following:

(name of the technique)
(brand of skateboard)

This is just a starter list, but you get the idea how you can better position your photos to end up in searches. If you are going to be hitting the field in the commercial (or quasi-commercial) game on Flickr, learn to think like a picture researcher. Tag your photos in such a way as to lead them to you.

In the final two part of this series, I will be doing more detailed case studies on the specific changes two Strobist readers employ to better position themselves for selling photos and getting assignments via Flickr.

(And no, they do not know who they are yet.)

Next: Part Three - Case Study: Sara Lando


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Blogger R.T.G. said...

this is such a great series!! thank you many many times over for your insight and guidance.

April 23, 2007 2:53 PM  
Blogger carpeicthus said...

Great series, David. One caveat -- my screen name is as goofy as they come, and Wired News has already sent me on a number of assignments thanks to my Flickr account. Exception, rule proven. I couldn't give up the branding value by the time it mattered, even if it was a goofy brand.

April 23, 2007 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... doesn't seem to work?!

April 23, 2007 3:26 PM  
Blogger David said...

Phil Phlashem, aka Fill Flash 'em, was our fictitious photog in Lighting Boot Camp last summer...

April 23, 2007 3:28 PM  
Anonymous very1silent said...

I'm surprised you're not saying anything about contacts and community-building; getting a photo onto explore GREATLY increases the exposure of your photo, and getting there means building a community of people who comment on your photos and who mark some of them as favorites.

April 23, 2007 3:38 PM  
Blogger rolfe ross said...

found in the article:
"....You get unlimited storage, uploads, bandwidth, sets, permanent archiving of hi-res pix, etc."....i don't seem to know anything about the archiving of hi-res images on flickr...where is this feature...thanks...rolfe

April 23, 2007 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your predatory pricing link seems to require a google account????????????

April 23, 2007 4:07 PM  
Blogger David said...


In "all sizes" Flickr pro does not res you down to 2000 dots on the long side.


April 23, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the link. Fixed it.

April 23, 2007 4:19 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Superb article - an excellent read. Please feel free to post this and future blog posts to

April 23, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Jon Rouston said...

Superb series. Well done sir.

April 23, 2007 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Brock N Meeks said...


Very solid instruction and comments. And now that you've become the photographic counterpart to Oprah's bookclub (i.e.--a mention of any book on Oprah sends sales through the roof; any mention of a piece of gear, etc., on strobist sends it through the roof or makes it impossible to find) :) the reporter in me would LOVE to know how many pro accounts Flickr is suddenly going to get after reading this installment. :)

April 23, 2007 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A word about captions:

It's good practice to state if the image has been digitally manipulated. Not so important for advertising, but required for editorial uses.

April 23, 2007 6:05 PM  
Blogger Haskins said...

What an excellent series. I'm hooked!

April 23, 2007 7:09 PM  
Anonymous Fidel Mercado said...

Thanks for sharing David. Looking forward to part 3. Your article just pushed me over the edge to get a flickr pro account.

April 23, 2007 8:26 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

great series! this has opened my eyes to the greatness of flickr... i never even thought about it. thanks!

April 23, 2007 10:47 PM  
Blogger Susheel said...

I think you will find this post interesting...

April 24, 2007 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"By searching your metedata."

mmmm.... mete data :)

April 24, 2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger J.George said...

just a bit more on licensing photos and associated pitfalls comes from this blog on British EPUK:

April 24, 2007 11:57 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Great site and articles. I'd previously not considered using Flickr as it seemed tantamount to giving your photos away / phot sharing. I'm wondering how this can be rationalised with using it as a pro showcase? Does a contributor have to simply accept that low res versions of their images can and will be taken?

April 27, 2007 4:52 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

A great summary of the power of Flickr for photographers, as well as the risks and the competition.

Flickr, along with Google Images, could be even more valuable as a resource for editorial images. Flickr already has the Commons project, and Google teamed with Life and Getty Images to develop the Life Archive.


April 21, 2009 4:00 PM  
Blogger melinama said...

Wow, what fabulous writing and such a great resource for photographers. Your thoughts on tagging are valuable for anybody with web content. Thanks.

September 12, 2009 7:17 AM  
Blogger Roman said...

Thank you David.

Thanks to this set of posts I took the time to properly caption and tag some of my photos on flickr. I must admit at first it seemed like a lot of work but now I am thrilled to say, I sold my first image on flickr! I was contacted by the ad agency and we worked out a fair price for usage.

I am working on putting more work on flickr now.

Thanks again for sharing the knowledge. If you are ever in San Diego, Ca I would like to treat you to lunch(or dinner).

September 25, 2009 3:55 PM  

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