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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