The Flickr Phenomenon

I am an amateur photographer in the real sense of the word. Although I worked in a commercial photography studio for a while, I found taking shots that other people wanted me to take (for money) unsatisfying compared with the pleasure of capturing images that appealed to me personally on an emotional or intellectual level. In the studio, almost everything is controlled and the objective is to convert an idea to film (or pixels, nowadays). In candid photography, on the other hand, opportunities present themselves unexpectedly and I find that very exciting.

So, since my studio days, I have indulged myself by only taking photographs that resonate with me in some way; that literally beg me to take them. I rarely take photographs that could be described as “dramatic” and I often can’t say why a particular subject appeals to me because the appeal is subliminal. But at the time it did appeal to me; and through the photograph I took, it continues to.

I first created a Flickr account a number of years ago because I found it a convenient way of sharing photos with family overseas. It wasn’t until late last year that I even thought about posting photos to “groups” (i.e. sharing my photos with strangers). That experience has been somewhat disappointing. My beloved photos, which mean so much to me, rarely rate a response from the millions of others who browse the Flickr libraries each day; while some others’ photos, in which I see little or no merit at all, provoke tens and even hundreds of comments, most of which are complementary!

I don’t get it. Are my photographs that bad after all? Does it mean that I am a poor judge of quality in photographs? That I wouldn’t know a good photograph if I saw one? Or is there some other dynamic at play in Flickr-world that I don’t understand? Is popularity based on something other than the pure aesthetic of the image?

In my forays into Flickr I have discovered many outstanding photographs and some brilliant photographers who consistently exhibit work of the highest quality and have a deserved following ready to congratulate them on every posting. So, I picked one at random and reviewed her work from her earliest submissions. I noted two things: first of all, the quality of her work has improved markedly since those early days; secondly, her early efforts, like mine, stimulated very little interest. But now, every posting is inundated with compliments. Recently, I suspect as a social experiment, she posted a picture of herself, in black and white, standing on her head, wearing jeans and a jumper (with nothing else in the frame). This image had generated 77 comments (all positive) last time I looked and had collected quite a number of awards. The photographer’s name is Jai Yung and I commend her to you because I think she is really, really good. And if the headstand photo was indeed an experiment in behavioural psychology, I applaud her for it because that appeals to me too.

So what is the answer? How does one get noticed on Flickr? How does one establish a following that will applaud even your most mundane shots? In the final analysis, I still take my photographs for my own pleasure and popularity is not my primary goal; but I am intrigued by this mystery.

To view my best on Flickr, please click here

XpatScot - View my most interesting photos on Flickriver


6 thoughts on “Flickr

  1. This popularity thing on flickr has me puzzled too. Of course I can easily chalk up the lack of responses to my images to my lack of expertise in photography.

    It does seem that images are not responded to by their intrinsic value alone, but some respond more to the poster, meaning the photographer. There are some charming flickrites that post to my mind seriously flawed images and get lots of praises for them.

    In fact isn’t it challenging to comment when the image does not appeal. Not commenting seems just as offensive to me, as being overly critical or neglecting to be honest!

    I am not willing to chit-chat and respond to every response with another polite response of my own as I see some do. I am willing to look at every image my flickr friends post – in due time, which is more then most will do. Few take the time to go back on my photo stream. So no matter how much I may like the third or fourth image posted, it will not get much attention. Approaching my 3 year anniversary on flickr, I am a bit in a conundrum about it all and I am considering changes.

    I am certain you will experience an increase of flickr friends and an ever growing appreciation of your unique images. Meanwhile I appreciate your expressing these kinds of thoughts, the first I ever read on these matters. Sincerely, om.

  2. Well what strikes me about Flickr is that it is most assuredly a social network as it is a photographic site.

    I know a number of excellent photographers who get very few comments, because they do not comment on photos of other Flickr members.

    And I can understand the reasoning here. It does take up some significant time to keep up with one’s contacts, but if one’s contacts do not have some reciprocity, then it appears to be human nature to disregard unresponsive contacts.

    • Rick,

      I’ve come to the same conclusions myself. That blog piece was written not long after I had started using Flickr for more than just sharing family photographs with friends and family overseas.

      In a way, it is good that Flickr is flexibile enough to cater for a range of needs: from the people who simply want to build a network of friends based on a common interest in photograph, to the people who are serious amateurs who are looking for feedback to help them improve their skills. And I’ve tried a variety of modus operandi on Flickr because, as you said, you can invest a whole lot of time and sometimes it feels like the return on investment is not there.

      Eventually, I think it is important to figure out two things (a) what you want to get out of Flickr, and (b) what you are prepared to invest to achieve that outcome. I’m not sure that I have the balance right yet but I keep tinkering with things trying to make it work for me.

      On the plus side, I’ve made a good number of friends through Flickr in this past year or so and that has initiated some valuable exchanges of views and points of view and I do feel that my photography has improved overall (equalising the spikes and troughs along the way) so I’m reasonably happy with what Flickr has given me and enabled me to do.

      Thanks again for your comments, Keith

  3. A wonderful subject, one I have puzzled over and thought about often, almost to the point of obsession. I think tit-for-tat is the way Flickr works. Those who comment, get comments; those who merely post powerful pictures but don’t invest time commenting on others’ pictures (whether they deserve comment or not) get no responses. Those who post streams of boring “pretty” pictures and also comment frequently get hundreds of useless comments like “Great shot!” or “Good capture!”

    There are a few groups, such as Never Professional and Match Point, that specialize in discussions that foster constructive criticism, but most of what passes on Flickr is shallow, empty, and meaningless. That said, I am deeply grateful for the chance to enjoy some spectacular photographs with a click of the mouse, grateful for a few virtual friendships and a few face-to-face contacts with people I would never have met but through Flickr, and grateful for those who do write thoughtfully and share their journeys as friends and as developing photographers, even if we never meet face to face. Like you, I keep working to develop a balance that feels right to me.

    Much of what you say about yourself, about photography, and about being a writer could be my own words. I will follow your blogs and Flickr pictures with real interest.

  4. Until now, I’d not really pondered the Flickr movement. Is it like a Swiss timepiece? That depends. If what you guys say is true, then it is sort of a tool for reinforcing positive behaviors, i.e., comments, and sharing our photographic accomplishments. Give and take, then by its very nature lends itself to more uploads, various comments, and a personal feeling of community and enterprising. has mentioned in a few articles that Flickr outranks Facebook where photo views, groups, forums, and thumbnail organization are concerned, but there is not a study I know of that demonstrates either social media site is a consistent source for gaining any type of entrepreneurial revenue.

    Except for a few people who say both sites are simply like SEO (search engine optimization) tools, which allow them to create a name online that can more easily be found by Google’s web crawlers.

    In its most basic form, such sites like Flickr are there for people to feel connected through similar interests and shared ideas.

    I have yet to really put to practice the requirements for becoming fully interactive on Flickr, but the good thing is that like other networking sites, it ties into all the activities we engage in online. And that may be what you are referring to in this blog, the concept of social capital.

    • Thank you for your comment. I wrote this piece when I was very much a Freshman on Flickr. Moreover, at that time, I had no experience with social networking on any platform so I didn’t know what to expect from Flickr; I just jumped in.

      Two years later, I can say that the experience has been mixed; and you can read a more recent appraisal here:

      But the bottom line is that I’ve just renewed my Pro Account on Flickr for another year (year 3) because I still believe that Flickr is the best single source of quality and innovative photography that I’ve found on the web; and social networking benefits notwithstanding, having access to such a vast pool of contemporary photography and talented photographers is worthwhile in its own right.

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