In Defense of Flickr

People like to say flip things like “Flickr is dead” just like they’ve been saying “Apple is dead” for decades. It’s true that Flickr’s heyday has passed, but there are still hundreds of thousands (millions?) of photographers posting there daily. Interaction is lively, there’s an interest group for every photography niche you can think of, and users are really supportive with the compliments and CC. Flickr still has upwards of 75 million accounts, and can receive up to 25 million photo uploads on a good day (stats).

Scientia, pulchritudo, lux

Flickr dominated the online photo sharing scene for around 15 years. But as Facebook’s popularity rose, FB became the world’s dominant photo sharing platform, eclipsing Flickr’s numbers (which were already astounding). After a recent brush with financial ruin, Flickr was purchased by SmugMug, and they’ve been great stewards of the platform so far, with improvements being released on the regular.

Sunset at Berkeley Marina

Somewhere in there, along came Instagram to soak up much of the remaining photographic juice in the room. Everyone is on it, so you’d be nuts not to use it, right? I use it too.

So why not just use Facebook and Instagram and call it a day? A bunch of reasons!:

  • Instagram images are tiny postage stamp versions of the images you’ve put so much work into. It’s almost an insult to your photos to display them so small with no full-size web option. But we all do it because we have to (and it’s fun).
  • Instagram has hashtags, but no real “groups” – no organized photo communities.
  • Facebook does full-screen, but they still compress and rewrite your images on upload, even if you enable the HD mobile setting.
  • Not everyone is on Facebook. Millions of people won’t use it for either personal or political reasons (I’m sure we’ve all seen numerous friends leave the platform in the past couple of years). People without FB accounts simply can’t see your work here. Out of bounds. Walled gardens have their place, but I don’t want my photos in one.
  • What if you decide to leave Facebook in a couple of years? What happens to all the work you posted here? Or will the fact that your photos are on FB prevent you from leaving the service even if you want to for other reasons? You’re “locked in.” Putting your images on Flickr instead means your images are decoupled from your social network, which gives you freedom.
  • Both Facebook and Instagram strip out all of your EXIF data, while Flickr does not. I really enjoy studying the EXIF data for other people’s images, or reminding myself of settings that were used on my own.
  • Only Flickr provides full and detailed statistics — not just of likes, but for all views, since the beginning of time (just realized my account is coming up on one million total views since I started there in 2005, wow!)

On Flickr, your images are available in super high resolution, with a wide variety of copyright options. There’s a huge number of interest groups, and detailed statistics. The challenge of getting an image into “Explore” (Flickr’s homepage featuring the best images on the service, changing constantly) is ongoing, and so rewarding when it happens. Discovering great new photographers daily is inspirational. Flickr is photo paradise to this day, IMHO.

Protester returning home, El Cerrito

All of which makes me wonder why so many photographers I meet aren’t using it. It seems like the best of all the options (yes there are other options, but they don’t compete with Flickr IMO, except maybe SmugMug (I’m curious about the features and community there too, honestly – promising).

Tower of Power

Are you on Flickr? And if not, why not?

FWIW #1: I usually post the same image to Instagram and Flickr at the same time, but only share the URL of the Flickr version, since it’s high-res. I only post images on Facebook occasionally, and just for the audience of my friends, rather than for the photo community.

FWIW #2: No I’m not a Flickr employee! Just a long-time user who never fell out of love.

FWIW #3: I’m shacker on Flickr and would love to follow you if you’re there too.

COVID-19 shopper at Trader Joe’s

Honest Photography

Almost no one posts images straight out of the camera (SOOC) — there’s always work to do, improvements to be made. But how far can you go before crossing an ethical line?

As our photo editing tools grow artificial intelligence, and tricks that used to be difficult become progressively easier to pull off, photography forums continue to erupt in debates over what kinds of edits cross the line from acceptable and unacceptable? How far can you before an image becomes untrue? I just posted this in the /photography subreddit, on a topic titled “No It’s Not Cheating“:

There is only one question that matters as far as I’m concerned (but several ways to ask it): Is this an honest photograph? And by that I mean “Is the viewer being intentionally deceived?

If you convert to b/w, the viewer is not deceived. If you add a frame the viewer is not deceived. If you focus stack, the viewer is not deceived. If you modify saturation or contrast, the viewer is not deceived.

On the other hand, If you remove a blemish from a human face the viewer IS deceived. If you replace out the sky, the viewer IS deceived. If you change skin tone in such a way as to misrepresent, or “heal” out a passing airplane, the viewer IS deceived.

The difference between acceptable and unacceptable editing is easy when looked at this way. Does this photograph still tell the truth, or does it now tell a lie? Am I attempting to deceive or not? For me, this makes it easy to tell the difference.

I’m shacker on Flickr and Instagram if you want to follow along.

Bird in a Bush

The “doldrums” describes the area around the equator where wind sometimes doesn’t blow for weeks, and sailors get stuck, motionless, for long periods of time. Was just thinking about how being on lockdown is kind of like getting stuck in the doldrums. At least we can still get out to exercise, and we have entertainment, but the motion of life is pretty much on hold and out of our hands. Imagine what it was like to be a sailor stuck in the doldrums at any point in the past millennium, just staring out to sea, making up head games to pass the time. We’ve got it good. Maybe it’s time to write a new shanty.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of photography, and a lot of messing with photo tools and apps, just exploring and experimenting. Yesterday I spotted this little bird in a bush while out walking the dog, and later did this treatment of it in BeCasso.

Sync’ing Photos Between Computer and Phone (etc.)

Here are a few questions that come up over and over on photo forums. To me, these all amount to the same question. Or, at least they all have the same answer:

  • How can I post photos from my DSLR to Instagram (how to get DSLR images onto my phone?)
  • I have a computer, a phone, and a tablet. How can I transfer images between them?
  • If I delete or edit a photo on one device, how can I get those changes over to my other device?
  • “What do you all use for storage? An external hard drive?”

They’re good questions, and every new photographer has come up against them at some point. What surprises me is how many seasoned photographers still don’t have a good answer to them — surprising because I consider them a totally solved problem.

It’s 2020. All of your photos should live happily together in one library. That library should live in the cloud, so that when you add to or delete from or edit an image on one of your devices, that change is reflected on all of your devices. When you add an image from your DSLR to your photo collection, it should appear on your phone a few seconds later, ready to post to Instagram or whatever. You shouldn’t have to think about it – it should just work.

Equally important: No one should be having to keep photos in a bare folder somewhere, then drag them into Photoshop or Lightroom or whatever. All (pretty much all?) editing should happen directly in your Digital Asset Manager (DAM) – the tool you use to organize your photos into albums, and give them titles and descriptions and tags, to do all of your editing, organizing, sifting, sorting, importing and exporting to and from.

As far as I can tell, the best-integrated solution for this “one shared backing store” workflow is iCloud Photo Library from Apple. It works inside the Photos apps for MacOS and iOS, but changes the storage arrangement so that “master” copy of each image lives in the cloud, not on your hard drive (of course you must download the full-resolution master image to edit them, but that is a seamless process.

This makes some people feel nervous. We’re so used to controlling and backing up our own hard drives, it can be hard to hand over control. But think about it for a minute: How susceptible is your hard drive to fire, theft, or flood? How religious are you about backing it up? If you’re backing up off-site, what are you paying for that service? Do you really trust your little $100 hard drive and your own habits more than you trust a company holding the fate of hundreds of thousands of photographers’ work in their hands? If they made a mistake that bad, they’d be out of business. You can bet their backups are taken many times a day and distributed around the globe. And if you delete something by accident, you have a 30-day rolling Trash Can to fall back on. Seriously, I feel way safer with my photos in Apple’s hands than I did before.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, it’s hard to overstate just how liberating it is to have all of your synchronization issues just go away one day. The questions at the top of the page are just no longer questions. Use it for a few days and you’ll never want to go back.

$10/month, or $15/month for your whole family, is chicken scratch — you can hardly buy lunch for $10 these days. Great how-to guide here.

I jumped into iCloud Photo Library the day it was released and it solved all of the multi-camera / multi-computer problems I’d been banging my head against for years.

Other Options?

If you’re worried that the Photos app won’t be good enough to replace Lightroom, you might want to have another look at the the advanced editing tools in Photos — they’re extremely good! (I’d be curious to know whether there’s still anything you can do in Lightroom that you can’t do in the free Photos app?). Plus Photos supports plugins — I run Skylum Luminar not as a standalone app, but as a plugin for the Photos app. It’s mind-blowing what Luminar can do.

I believe that Windows users can also use iCloud Photo Library, but the integration workflow is a little less elegant. If you use Photo Library on Windows, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you just feel super-married to Lightroom, the good news is that they now offer a cloud storage option as well, but I have no idea whether or how well it integrates with the Photos collection on your iOS or Android phone (if you know, let us know?)

Bottom line for me: Life is too short to be messing around with some of the convoluted workarounds people come up with to post their DSLR images on Instagram, or to deal with any of the other questions up top. You shouldn’t have to think about it – it should just work!

The Sky Is a Lie

The first image below is real – I shot it on the Bay Trail, riding through Pt. Isabelle into the fog last weekend. The rest of these are total lies – I made them from the original in about five seconds each. Most images you see in the world are retouched in some way, but the community of Luminar users has rightly erupted into controversy over the “AI Sky Replacement” feature in Luminar 4, which was just released. Already there’s a growing marketplace of “sky packs” you can purchase as plugins. The line between retouching and total fabrication of truth gets more blurry every year. We’ve always had Photoshop, but what changes is the access and the ease of photo and video manipulation tools. It used to take real skill to lie with photos; now it’s effortless.

Crappy Mobile Photo Uploads to Facebook is the Default

Just discovered that if you upload a photo to Facebook from your phone, then upload the exact same image to the same post from desktop, the quality difference is huge. FB compresses the crap out of phone uploads.

Here’s proof — I uploaded these images from phone, didn’t give it much thought. Then later that day viewed the post on desktop/web and realized they looked like crap. My normal workflow is to do all posting from desktop, so I don’t typically see this effect, but this time, it was dramatic. I then added the same images to the post from desktop and arranged them side-by-side for easy comparison. FB doesn’t just compress a little from the phone, they compress like crazy.

Enough to get a feller running back to Flickr… but then I thought this must be an option or a setting. Went digging and sure enough… On the phone, go into Settings | Videos and Photos | Upload HD  to force the mobile app to upload your actual photos rather than compressed versions.

 

Notes on Organizing Digital Image Collections

I’ve spent the past few months going through and organizing my entire iPhoto -> Photos.app collection. It’s been a tedious but wonderful process. I’ve come to a few conclusions:

Snoopy mud flats

  • Everyone is sitting on tens of thousands of digital images.
  • No one can find a damn thing in that giant pile.
  • If you can’t find it five or ten years from now you may as well have not taken it in the first place.
  • The time to deal with your images is the day you shot them.
  • Delete the duds. Bad exposure. Out of focus. Not the best of the set. Delete delete delete. Delete heaps and you’ll still have more keepers than you’ll ever be able to enjoy. Don’t be a hoarder.
  • For the keepers, the key is findability.
    • Image titles. Album titles. Faces. Keywords. Doesn’t matter. Just make sure one or more keyword exists for search.
    • When adding titles, imagine a future version of yourself searching for this image.
  • Be disciplined. The longer you wait, the more daunting the task.
  • Chip away. Do it now.