At present over in the Flickr Central forum at Flickr (almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world) there is a debate going on between those who look at Flickr as a “numbers game,” and those who find the “numbers game,” a distasteful and unfortunate side effect of popularity on Flickr.
I’ve been using Flickr for about a year now and during this time one constant I’ve seen is regular bickering amongst Flickr members about this topic. I suppose any time you put a bunch of people in a room somewhere there will always be those who get more attention and those who get less attention. Inevitably, just as it is amongst the various online conversations regarding A,B, and C list bloggers and the popularity inequity there, you will have those in communities like Flickr who, whether for valid reasons or not, jealously regard their peers who might be seeming to get more than their fair share of attention. By the way, do a Google search in quotes for “a list blogger” “b list blogger” and “c list blogger” and you get 46,300, 2,350, and 354 results respectively. We certainly are obsessed with popularity — despite our denials to others and even ourselves. Particularly attacked for popularity on Flickr are female photographers who engage in provocative self portraiture. You can read more on this at the Flickr Central thread, “Tired of all the Self Picture Whoring.”
Of course admitting that we are obsessed with popularity is a somewhat unpopular thing to say in the first place as we all are fond of saying things, like, sure “I get lots of traffic, views, comments, favs, mentions on blogebrity, etc., but it’s not my motivation, my motives are pure.”
Despite our denial of participating in the popularity contest ourselves, the game marches on. So this rather lengthy introduction to top tips for getting attention on Flickr hopefully will be read before I begin to get my first critical attacks for promoting yet even more popularity on Flickr.
I would remind those who find these tips distasteful that getting attention is indeed pretty much built into Flickr. Caterina Fake one of the founders of Flickr recently wrote on her blog, “What is more thrilling than an entire hall of expectant eyes, what more overwhelming than applause surging up to us? What, lastly, equals the enchantment sparked off by the delighted attention we receive from those who profoundly delight ourselves? – Attention by other people is the most irresistible of drugs. To receive it outshines receiving any other kind of income. This is why glory surpasses power and why wealth is overshadowed by prominence.”
At present my photostream on Flickr has been viewed over 400,000 times. While Flickr provides no rank of their photographers this would probably put me in the top 1% of photographers viewed on Flickr. Certainly others have been viewed more but I’ve received more than my fair share of attention over the course of the past year. Hopefully these tips below will provide you some ideas on how you can better promote your work on Flickr.
So on with the tips.
1. Take great pictures. Ok, first and foremost, quality does matter. If you want people to look at your stuff, make your stuff worth looking at. Practice your craft as a photographer, buy good equipment (and lenses count more than anything), actually read your owners manual and understand the basics of how your camera works (little things like ISO settings) — and don’t underestimate the power of Photoshop. Despite the purists who will tell you that Photoshop is whoring, don’t believe the hype. Virtually all my photos are Photoshopped and you can significantly enhance any photo by doing very simple post processing things like bumping up contrast and saturation and using the healing brush to blot out distractions in your work.
2. You get one shot a day. You have a single shot each day that matters. Choose it wisely. Don’t randomly upload your last 20 shots. Make sure that the last shot you upload is your best. The reason why this is the case is the concept of contacts on Flickr. Your contacts on Flickr have two ways that they can view their contact’s photos as they are uploaded. They can view one from each contact or five from each contact. If they choose one per contact they will only see the very last photo you uploaded. You can still upload five as some will see five but all will see one — the last one. Uploading more than five shots in a single upload all but relegates any beyond 5 to obscurity. If you upload more than 5 at a time make sure your last five are your best and your last one is the best of the best.
3. Interestingness. The single greatest tool for garnering attention on Flickr is to have your photos appear in the “Explore” section of Flickr’s interestingness stream. Interestingness is a secret sauce formula algorithm on Flickr whereby they post what their algorithm says are the 500 most interesting photos on Flickr each day to their Explore section. The higher the rank, the more people see it. Despite the top secretness formula of interestingness, it is really not that complicated to understand in broad terms. Your photos are deemed interesting when they have activity. When people tag your photos, comment on your photos, view your photos, leave notes on your photos, and especially when they favorite your photos you increase your interestingness rank.
If you want to see if any of your photos have made it to the top 500 for a given day you can check out Scout. Scout lets you put in your Flickr email and will show you any of your photos that have made interestingness. At present I’ve got 198. You can see them here. Type in your own Flickr email and you can see your own. Making interestingness is not so formidable as you might think. Flickr recently changed their algorithm and now uses a weighted average for photographers. Thus it is much harder for me to make interestingness than it might be for you. If I average 5 favs per photo then only my photos that greatly exceed 5 per photo will be included. If your average is one fav per photo though, a 5 fav photo by you very well will make it in.
4. Fav lots of photos. Be very liberal with your favs. I’ve got over 13,000 now myself — and believe it or not I genuinely love them all. If you see a photo you like on Flickr, fav it. Don’t be shy. It’s as easy as clicking on the little star above someone’s photo. Favs mean more to other
Flickr users than comments or tags or notes or anything. Numbers of favs is more than just recognition, it counts most towards interestingness and allows them possible access to many prestigious groups at Flickr like 10 favs and 100 views or top f 25 fav minimum, or even the “100 Club” (100 favs or more, ohhhhhhhhh, ahhhhhh) Don’t be disingenuous, but if you like a photo, by all means, let the photographer know by faving it. By faving their photos you will find that many will click on your link and check your stuff out. If they like it, they may fav yours as well.
5. When you post counts. It used to really, really count, but less now that the interestingness algorithm has changed. Flickr basically begins posting top interesting shots from each day as the day gets going. I don’t know the specific time, but the earlier you post your shot each day, the more traction it can build for consideration for the interestingness stream. If you have the choice between posting a photo at 11:59 at night (with virtually no time left to make that day’s interestingness stream) or 12:01, choose 12:01.
6. Blog your photos. If you have a blog, post your best photos to it occasionally through Flickr. It doesn’t consume any bandwidth as Flickr is hosting the shot and when people click on the photo it takes them to your Flickr stream. Although non Flickr users hardly ever fav or comment on photos, the views help you and sometimes they do actually. If you don’t mind people having high res copies of your photos, let them know that they can download these from Flickr. And encourage your blogger friends to blog your photos too. If you are at an event and take a photo of a blogger on Flickr send them the link. They will appreciate it, most likely fav the shot and blog it themselves, and if it’s a good shot, email the link to tons of their friends.
7. Tell everyone you know about Flickr. Tell your friends, your family, your co-workers, heck, even complete strangers. Get them hooked (and many will get hooked). You will of course be made a friend and find them faving and commenting on your photos all the time.
8. Post your photo to lots of groups and participate in some of the game groups on Flickr. Don’t spam the groups, but if you have a photo of a bridge, put it in the bridge group. If you took a photo of San Francisco, put it in the San Francisco group. You can search the groups on Flickr and you will find that almost everything you could photograph already has a group to include your photo in. While labor intensive it will give your photography more visibility. If you can’t find a group for one of your photos then make up a new group yourself for it. There are also a number of game groups on Flickr. These are groups where you comment and vote on others photographs and they comment on yours. I participated in these groups before interestingness mattered — by including your photo in a group where it will by nature of the game get lots of views, tags and comments you will increase the potential for that photo to make interestingness. My favorite group is deleteme uncensored where photos are voted on by the group members. 10 save votes and your photo is included in a special lightbox. 10 delete votes and your photo is voted out of the pool.
9. Make everyone who makes you a contact a contact back. Don’t be shy about making everyone who makes you a contact back. It’s not just polite, but it makes sure that as they are seeing your work, you are seeing theirs. Flickr still has a mechanism where you can distinguish between contacts and familiy/friends and filter out only your family/friends when you want. It doesn’t hurt making them a contact and it’s the least you can do to let them know you appreciate them making you one.
10. Tag your photos religiously. Flickr allows users to search by tags (and especially to then rank their search by interestingness). If people search for “San Francisco” right now on Flickr my photo will come up as the top most interesting photo. If I had not tagged this photo “San Francisco” (and remember it’s “San Francisco” or sanfrancisco not San Francisco or you may end up with the top shot for both “san” and “francisco” respectively) then people would not see it when doing searches for our beautiful City of St. Francis. Especially if you have a top ranked interestingness photo tag the heck out of it. Is it a photo of a “snake”? Is it at the “zoo”? Is it at the “San Francisco Zoo”? That’s in “San Francisco”? That also happens to be a “boa constrictor”? That also looks just like “Paris Hilton” (just kidding about that last one). If you can tag it, do. It will increase the visibility of your photo in Flickr search (which will most likely be spread to broader visibility in Yahoo! Image Search down the line).
Above all, have fun on Flickr. Never take it too seriously. Don’t confuse popularity for artistic talent and resist the temptation to tear those more popular than you down. Just because someone gets more views, favs, etc. than you don’t be bitter. If someone attacks you or gets worked up by your work or opinions ignore it. Water off a duck’s back. _Rebekka, a very sexy Icelandic woman, is perhaps the most popular photographer on Flickr at the present time and probably attacked more than anyone I’ve seen. In addition to some unbelievable shots of Iceland she does some really amazing self portraiture work as well. Technically she is outstanding. Still, she (and others who post similar style self portraiture) are frequently called out for this work. Whether under the guise of some sort of feminist sentiment or artistic Puritanism, for whatever reason people object. If you don’t like the art fine, but it only sounds like bitterness when people complain about the attention that women who take self portraits on Flickr get. Best not to judge others or make comments about them “needing” attention, etc. And if you are a photographer and artist never apologize for your art. So bonus tip number 11. If you are a sexy woman and your thing is self portraiture work, by all means, you go girl.
Oh and as a disclaimer, all of my thoughts on how interestingness works are just my own. I have no inside information and as I’ve said, the “secret sauce” formula is just that. I very well could be wrong about some of interestingness’ constructs.