Flickr and You, Part 3: Case Study - Sara Lando

This is the third part of a four-part series. It begins here

In each of the final two parts in the Flickr series, we'll be looking at a photographer who is also a Strobist reader and using them as an example to explore some specific ways they could be better use Flickr to reach the people who may be interested in their work.

Milan-based, up-and-coming photographer Sara Lando is quickly developing into a one-woman force of nature. If you don't recognize the name from the Flickr Strobist group, she may be better known to you as rent-a-moose, one of a half-dozen or so people in our group who choose the moose as their mascot for a Flickr name.

Sara publishes several websites - including one under the Moose Rental identity. She also blogs in both English and Italian.

As if that's not enough, Sara has just published a book via, entitled "Faceless." She is getting noticed in the photo world, too. Her work is part of this display at VisualContest07.

With all of these irons in the fire, the goal I would suggest for her would be to use Flickr to unify her different exposure venues. But, more important, to better use metadata on Flickr to introduce more of the right kinds of people to her work. By "right kinds of people," I mean the people that will either buy the rights to reproduce her pre-existing work, of commission her to create new images.

There are two steps to this process.

1. Use tags to funnel people to her work.

2. Use her Flickr profile to establish her strengths to prospective clients.

Funnel is a Verb

Let's back up for a moment.

Flickr has millions and millions of photos in its library. Many of them are very high-quality images - certainly worthy of sales and/or publication. It is inevitable that some sort of monetization scheme will develop around them. There is too much at stake for Flickr (which is owned by Yahoo) not to do it.

But how will people search for these images, and what determines which pictures they will find? More than anything else, the pictures that appear will be determined by proper tag selection and "interestingness."

To illustrate a point, let's look at this photo from Sara's stream as an example. When I choose the photo on Sunday afternoon, it had 517 page views, and the following six tags:


All appropriate tags, of course. But would they lead a photo researcher to Sara's work? Probably not.

To improve Sara's position in Flickr's search results, I would suggest adding the following tags. The parenthetical comments are my reasons for adding a given tag. Note that quotes are used for multi-word tags.

"Sara Lando" (Don't ever want to forget that one)
"Lando" (In case researcher could not remember, or misspelled, Sara's first name.)
Milan (Sara's location - very important for local assignment work.)
Italy (See above)
Portraiture (Sara's specialty)
Portrait (See above)
People (variant on the portrait theme)
Sofa (Content previously tagged above, expressed differently.)
Stripes (Theme)
Animals (Content)
Self-portrait (Theme)
Woman (Content)
Masks (Do not limit yourself to singular nouns.)
Brunette (Theme)
Identity (Conceptual theme)
"Conceptual Photography" (Genre)
Chicken (Mask-related content - you never know.)
Pink (Theme)
"Sun Dress" (Content)
Dress (Content)
"Pink Dress" (Content)

Starting to get the idea? Structuring your tags to respond to varied - or specific - and complex - or simple - searches help people to find your photos. Leave bread crumbs so they can find you.

And it is critical to have your name as a tag in your photos. This allows people to branch out laterally to see other images in your file.

So, given all of these terms, who is going to come out on top of the searches?

Well, that depends on how the researcher organize the results. You can choose "most relevant," which will return (on a quality basis) a pile of unranked crap. Which is why a professional would not be using those parameters.

They would more likely rather see the results ranked by "interestingness," a nebulous term that partially depends on how many times the photo has been viewed. Flickr very smartly uses you - its members - to help create a hierarchical ranking for its photos.

Which is why how many times a photo has been viewed matters greatly. And that, as you can probably now guess, is why I linked to the Sara's photo rather than just display it. By looking at it, you gave Sara a "view," which moved her up in her search results.

You want to funnel people to a selection of your best photos by whatever means possible to improve your placement in the search results. This may mean linking to them on your website, if you have one. Or submitting your best photos to as many appropriate groups as possible.

If Sara had a more sophisticated tag structure on the photo, this exposure could work for her in a big way. Appearing in a search result means someone is one click away from learning about Sara and seeing her photo stream.

If you do not believe me, consider this. How many photos do you think have been tagged as "Mountain Dew" in Flickr?

Thousands, actually. Yet click here to do a search on Mountain Dew and see who comes up on the front page. It's yours truly, with my beverage of choice.

Is that the best photo on Flickr of a Mountain Dew can? Certainly not.

But the exposure and page views that it has previously gotten means that it gets displayed on page one of the search results.

Bear in mind that you do not have to generate huge page views with all of your photos. But you do want to concentrate page views on a few of your best photos. This makes it easy for people to find your photos, which will lead profile to your profile and Flickr stream and contact info. You can see why you would especially want to carefully and completely tag your most-viewed photos.

Fortunately, it is easy to retroactively add tags to your photos. And because of the interestingness thing, re-tag your most-viewed photos before the others. Always go for the low-hanging fruit first.

Your Profile, Your Doorstep

Okay, now that you have gotten them to your Flickr page, what's next?

You want to establish your name and your availablility to shoot photos for other people. Beyond that, you should highlight your strengths and the qualities that separate you from other shooters.

In Sara's case, her intimate portraits and her whimsical illustrative style make her a strong candidate for many kinds of editorial and advertising assignments. Her unique style is her greatest asset. But just as important is her Milan location.

Why Milan? No reason, actually. She could be anyplace and her location would still be an asset.

Now obviously, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a photographer in a fashion center like Milan. And I am sure that there is fierce competition for local assignments in that market. But that is not what Sara should be going for at this point.

Her goal should be to be as many out-of-town companies' person in Milan as possible. Because then, she is not competing with all of the locals. She is competing with the out-of-town photographers who will be adding travel-related fees to do a job in Milan.

Advantage: Lando.

Hopefully, you are starting to at least see why you should have geographic terms in your tags. With proper use of tags, Sara instantly vaults ahead of every Milan-based photog on Flickr who does not use geographically based tagging.

She may want to consider "geotagging," too. This is just a graphical representation of the word-based version.

Back to the profile.

At the time of this printing, Sara's profile offers two fact about her: She is female, and taken. Other than breaking hearts all over Flickr, the profile accomplishes very little.

Consider this alternative:

My name is Sara Lando. I am a Milan-based photographer specializing in people and conceptual illustration.

I was recently chosen as an exhibitor in VisualContest07. You can learn more about me on my other sites, either in English, or Italian.

I can be reached at (contact info.)

Then, directly under that, I would place the same text in Italian.

(UPDATE: While photographers are clearly hooking up with clients on Flickr - including the widely publicized Toyota campaign - it is technically against the current TOS. The wording of the TOS seems to be more tuned to yard sales and the World's Oldest Profession.

So, while you can clearly identitfy yourself as a pro, you may wish to not be explicit about availability and pricing in your profile or captions.)

Sara might choose to include or exclude some of her websites. The blogs were used as an example.

But the important thing is that in a brief summary she establishes herself as a professional who is available for assignment or stock. She demonstrates that she is bilingual - a very important asset for foreign clients, with English being the new Esperanto of the internet. She points to objective and positive assessment of her work. Finally, she provides contact info.

By simply restructuring her tags and profile, she has jumped to the head of the Flickr class for potential clients looking for a Milan-based photographer.

Next: Part 4 - Case Study: John Dohrn


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific site with a wealth of information. I am late to the party so I have a lot of archives to read. Just ordered some gear to get my flash off camera and am excited to get started. Thank you for this site. BTW...Mtn Dew is bad for your teeth (this is a professional opinion)

April 29, 2007 9:13 PM  
Blogger David said...

That's why I always make it a point to take them out before I imbibe...

April 29, 2007 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Hint! Hint!

April 29, 2007 9:57 PM  
Blogger Kenneth said...

I wonder how many people are going to have new tags and profiles tonight? ;)

April 29, 2007 10:16 PM  
Blogger Haskins said...

Whats the announcement!

April 29, 2007 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Michael Sarver said...

Off to tag my photos in the organizer....

David, I really appreciate this series so far. It's been great to sit back and think about the future of the photo community that we all love while also looking at how we can better prepare for the future of Flickr.

Much thanks!

April 29, 2007 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Brock said...


What are you thoughts about "tagging spam"? People that say, have a picture of a cow in a cornfield and among the tags it contains are things like, "sex" and "nude" and "mountain dew."

None of those tags are relevant (ok, you can make a case for "nude" I suppose...) but is there any downside to loading up your pictures with non-relevant tags?

April 30, 2007 1:50 AM  
Anonymous jmxphoto said...

I think interestingness is more complex than just views. I'm sure views play a part but my guesstimation is that it's some ratio of faves and comments to views. When I view my images by interestingness some of the top 10 images have less than a 100 views where my most viewed image has about 5800 views and is ranked 16th. I don't really know the formula but I think faves and comments are a big part of it.

April 30, 2007 2:45 AM  
Anonymous Cham said...

Were you a marketing guru before you became a photographer? If the people in my department could think this way for themselves I would have a lot less work to do lol...

April 30, 2007 5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Flickr Community Guidelines say this:
Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account.

Hmmm, doesn't this mean that we aren't supposed to offer our services on Flickr?

Re: Tags
I absolutely disagree about adding a photographer's location as a tag. I would think that most searches on Flickr are for photos, as opposed to photographers. If I'm searching for photos of London, it would be useless and annoying to have photos of Prague show up in the search returns. Just because a London-based photographer took those Prague photos doesn't mean that I want to see them. I'm sure photo-researchers would feel the same way.

If/when Flickr decides to allow photographers to market their services, hopefully they will allow users to search for photographers by location (similar to the ASMP Find a Photographer database).

April 30, 2007 6:35 AM  
Blogger Iden Ford said...

Thanks Dave, you enlighten with your words and you also are working toward enlivening many of us.
Mountain Dew? Try Guiness, it's good for you!

April 30, 2007 7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tag spamming on Flickr is a huge problem, especially when tagging is only loosely related to a subject -- for instance, portrait photography having "Milan" as a location dillutes searching for photos of Milan.

Flickr is a huge web site, but it is not designed for self promotion, and self promotion in Flickr hurts the community, IMHO.

It's photo _sharing_.

April 30, 2007 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Tag spamming is bad, but that is very different than what he is talking about. I certainly do not think that tags that are relevant to the photographer or the photo could be considered as spam.

Flickr has chosen to allow up to 75 tags on each photo, so they do not see a problem with it either, apparently.

April 30, 2007 11:04 AM  
Blogger bmillios said...

Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account.

I would argue that there is a subtle difference between "selling through Flickr" (i.e. posting prices online) and "paid work results because of my association with Flickr" (because of the freebies I'm doing/posting, people contact me and that leads to free work).

Same idea - if I am shooting portraits for a charity event where I have donated my time - they're not going to like me posting prices, availability, etc. right there at the head of the line. However, if somebody comes up to me and has a private conversation about doing work outside, nobody is going to fault me for giving them a business card, and saying, "We should talk - here's my card, call me on Monday morning, we'll see what we can work out, ok?"

It's worth noting that Flickr hasn't terminated Rebekka's account - instead, they seem to be enjoying the increased publicity as a result of it. Positive publicity on the internet that attracts eyeballs - is usually a good thing.

April 30, 2007 11:25 AM  
Anonymous carlos said...

What? There's lighting stuff here too? Yowza!!!!

C'mon. What's the secret anouncement? You can trust us.....

April 30, 2007 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bmillios wrote:

It's worth noting that Flickr hasn't terminated Rebekka's account - instead, they seem to be enjoying the increased publicity as a result of it.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but from what I've read, Rebekka didn't blatantly offer her professional services on Flickr.

The Strobist post has since been edited. DH originally suggested that Flickrers state what types of services and assignments they are available for (or something along those lines).

So yes, there's nothing in Flickrs TOS that says buyers can't use their services to look for work or content providers. But that's different from Flickr members offering their services for commercial gain.

April 30, 2007 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan Heller has a (long) essay on keywording.

April 30, 2007 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't just tag in English, also add tags in your own language I'd say. An Italian looking for a photograph(er) in Milan will not search for Milan I'd think, they would search for Milano, etc.

May 01, 2007 5:08 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Interestingness is complicated indeed. No one (other than Flickr staff) knows quite how that ranking algorithm works, but it appears to be a complex balance of view counts (with high view counts not being favoured in the long run), faves, comments, and who those faves and comments come from. Adding photos to more than 10 groups has been confirmed by staff as lowering "interestingness" rankings, since it is perceived as attempting to game the system. And there's something as well about groups that require commenting of adjacent photos being interestingness-lowering.

There is also anecdotal evidence of NIPSA'ing (marking as Not In Public Search Areas) streams of people who appear to be crossing the line into commercial sales -- and that has been known to include putting your commercial sales website address in the descriptions of all your photos. Now, that may change, but for now it is better to tread more carefully and leave your work searchable.

May 01, 2007 12:56 PM  
Blogger Bruko said...

I feel like I won one of those one-to-one portfolio-reading sessions with amazing photographers that make you realize how much you are not doing and should :D

I need to go change my profile


May 01, 2007 1:47 PM  
Blogger KB said...

You can set a lot of those keywords automatically in Bridge and/or Photoshop -- Photoshop image keywords are also recognized by flickr when you upload, so they can be an automatic part of your PS workflow.

May 02, 2007 3:19 AM  
Blogger KB said...

One little fly in the ointment though -- while people like the ideea of using flickr to channel business their way FLICKR ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES IT.

Check out
for a recent (this week) example

May 02, 2007 5:09 PM  
Blogger Submit said...

Thanks for the insight on using Flickr with my catalogue photographs. Lately I have been trying to integrate better search terms into the photo titles as well as tags. Your article helped me clarify how and what the process looks like. Thanks!

April 21, 2009 10:46 AM  

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