10 Signs That You’re Ready To Graduate from Flickr


Flickr might be a fun place to share your photography with the world, but it’s not a tool for business. If you’re starting to get serious with your images, and if you’re interested in the possibility of making money from your craft, then you may want to consider “graduating from Flickr.”

It is my personal belief that a photo website should be generating more than just comments. It should be generating revenue — or at least have the capability to.

“I knew it was time to upgrade from Flickr once I realized that many people, not just clients and friends, wanted to view, share, use and purchase images from the events I was attending and photographing,” said Taylor Davidson, a New York-based photographer and Flickr graduate.

“Handling requests from magazines, websites, PR agencies and the speakers themselves was simply too difficult with just Flickr, and I needed a solution with an e-commerce transaction platform to handle sales.”

Davidson said that shifting to PhotoShelter was an easy decision.

So, what are the signs that you may be ready to graduate from Flickr? Just for fun, I compiled a list of 10. If any of these points ring true to you, then congratulations, you’re ready to graduate to the next level.

10 Signs That You’re Ready To Graduate from Flickr

1) You share your login and password with clients to deliver files.

Don’t laugh. People actually do this, and it’s obviously not recommended. Beyond the security concerns, it just don’t look very professional. Think about the process you’re putting your clients through – because it says a lot about you.

2) You’re starting to worry that a client may get the wrong idea about you after reading your comments on that “College Girls Gone Wild” set.

Flickr is designed to be a fun photo sharing site for everyone, and like social media, it’s generally not a great idea to mix business with pleasure.

3) You’re not sure that having all your files renamed to something like “4459521835_68e07342be_o.jpg” is so convenient after all.

If you’ve followed the best-practices for archiving and storing your images, and have named your files as to make them easier to sort and find – all of that goes away when Flickr renames all of your images to something completely useless. And, if someone is interested in buying an image, tracking down the high-resolution image on your own hard drive will be a challenge if you don’t know the name of the file.

Also, having descriptive keywords in the names of your files is great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). When Flickr renames your files, you lose that benefit as well.

4) You have a hard drive full of images that have been watermarked specifically for Flickr.

As a way to prevent image theft, many people watermark their own images before they upload them to Flickr because there is no way to add watermarks within Flickr. This can be a time-consuming affair, causing you to maintain different versions of the same images on your own hard drive. Not very efficient.

5) You’re starting to think there may be better options than giving 70% or 80% of your sales to Getty.

That’s right, giving up 70% or 80% of the sale to Getty is your stock photography sales solution within Flickr. It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that this isn’t a favorable split, especially in the case when a customer found your images on their own, and Getty didn’t do anything. Your image sold itself, and Getty gets money for nothing.

6) You no longer think it’s funny to make people hunt around to contact you if/when they want to buy an image.

I’ve heard photo editors tell stories that sounded like they belonged in a  “Where’s Waldo” book when trying to contact a photographer from within Flickr. The site is designed to generate comments from other Flickr users, not revenue-generating business contacts for photographers.

7) You have TIFF, PSD, and raw files that you don’t know what to do with.

Flickr only supports JPEG images, so if you’ve been shooting raw images, or you have high-resolution TIFF files, or maybe layered Photoshop documents – Flickr can’t handle them.

8) You’re running out of those “professional” business cards with your flickr URL, and need to order another batch, even though nobody ever calls/emails you back.

Remember what I said in point #1 – looking professional. If your “pro” website is a Flickr URL, it doesn’t look very professional. If you’re wondering why clients aren’t taking you seriously, you may want to start there.

9) You changed your website to match Flickr because you can’t change Flickr to match your website.

You can’t customize Flickr, so you’re going to look like everyone else who uses the service. It might be a great community to get feedback from other photographers, but it’s not a great interface for your clients.

10) You want to make a profit from your prints and products, but you can’t.

Flickr doesn’t really want you to use the site to make money. It is meant to be a place for people to share images openly, and receive comments. They don’t want the site to turn into a commercial marketplace because if that were to happen, the whole nature and vibe of the community would change dramatically.

There are a lot of really great images in Flickr, and there are a lot of savvy photo buyers lurking about, looking for a deal, preying on people who don’t know any better. The majority of people using Flickr have no idea what an image is truly worth, and without any pricing support, structure or guidelines, end up giving away their images for very little money.

Flickr is not an evil place. I like Flickr, I think it’s fun, and there are a tremendous amount of inspirational images there. I just don’t think it’s a “professional tool”, and photographers who are trying to take that next step should consider a system that is more business-savvy.

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There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Mike Olbinski at 2:17 pm

    This article may be spot on, but I have to say, I’ve had two people contact me through Flickr to license photos based on the fact they go there to search for images to use in advertising and web. So…it’s not just about sharing and comments. People do find your stuff and contact you about the photos. If anything, it’s just putting your work out in another place for people to see.

  2. Mike Sweeney at 2:19 pm

    So true.. I went the route of Flickr, Flickr on cards, fighting with multiple versions and so on. I went with a real site last year and never looked back. I do still use Flickr but only for personal and not officially for business. I’ve even stopped sharing the Flickr page on my website and my biz Facebook page. Nice post

  3. jaycaruso.myopenid.com at 2:26 pm

    Good post. As a Photoshelter customer I can definitely say that people need to look beyond Flickr when expanding their business. With Photoshelter I get galleries to use to deliver client images, print fulfillment and digital sales all in one package. It’s great.

  4. David at 3:36 pm

    Also, having descriptive keywords in the names of your files is great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). When Flickr renames your files, you lose that benefit as well. This is going to sound like a nitpick, but Flickr supports IPTC tags, so there is never a reason to use the filename for SEO reason. I get hits every day from search engines from the tags that are entered on my pictures.

  5. Ultraclay at 3:50 pm

    I don’t really see why it needs to be either/or. My photoshelter site is great as a portfolio site and the e-commerce functions are very useful, but even with all the lessons of SEO, it’s not going to bring me the solid following, community or broad-based audience that Flickr is. That’s not a flaw, it’s just a function of the two different tools. And given that the price of Flickr for a year is less than my monthly fee for Photoshelter, the price to keep my Flickr account up is negligible.

  6. Jan at 4:06 pm

    Of course it’s not a matter of having flickr OR another website, most people have both. Flickr ranks very high in google images, so it definitely is a professional tool from a SEO standpoint. People have found my photos through flickr and bought licenses from me, so that pro account has paid for itself easily.

  7. Grover Sanschagrin at 4:09 pm

    I agree it’s a useful component – just like Facebook and Twitter – to marketing yourself and your work. My point is that it shouldn’t be your only website – to the point where you’re putting your Flickr URL on a business cards.

  8. Taylor Davidson at 6:44 pm

    Exactly, it’s not a question of using either/or, but in using each in the appropriate manner. I get clients from both Flickr and my Photoshelter site, but for delivering images and showing my professional work, Photoshelter is the way to go. Glad I switched.

  9. Ian Murray at 4:06 am

    Easy to send low re watermarked pics from Photoshelter to Flickr, with Picscout icon that should divert potential buyers back to Photoshelter. That’s the theory anyway – though I’m not actually making any money from this and I think Photoshelter are being slightly disingenuous to constantly hint that much money is being made from stock photos sales to ‘walk in ‘ clients as a result of SEO on Google.

  10. steph at 5:59 pm

    Great points. I agree that if you really want to monetize your professional photography, a real website as an adjunct to Flickr is the only way to go. [Link to the website from your Flickr pages too, as long as it’s not linking directly to a “buy this” page, which is against Flickr rules, of course…] But speaking of professionalism, I spotted a big typo/error: “Beyond the security concerns, it just don’t look very professional.” That should be: “doesn’t look professional.” 😉

  11. Cloke at 11:56 am

    While I agree with the points in the article, Flickr shouldn’t be completely dismissed as it is still looked at by editors. I have been contacted by editors from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Esquire regarding licensing images of mine found on Flickr.

  12. John Smith at 6:27 am

    Flickr is not an evil place. I like Flickr, I think it’s fun, and there are a tremendous amount of inspirational images there. So…it’s not just about sharing and comments. People do find your stuff and contact you about the photos. If anything, it’s just putting your work out in another place for people to see.

  13. Paul Williams - Funkystock at 7:54 am

    Its a sad world when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Flickr but that’s one of the strange side effects of marketing photography nowadays. I find Flickr and Photobucket and the other social photography sites very disturbing. We have taken a very good look at all to evaluate their marketing value. I agree with all of what Grover has written and would like to add a few more thoughts I had in the middle of the night. Photography social networking is a very very dubious pastime for serious photographers. It is not a substitute for joining REAL organisations, unions and societies that promote photography. Flickr in particular highlights the cynical marketing that pervades all of social networking. Flickr’s rules do not allow any form of self promotion and they will remove anyone they decide is self promoting with no warning or reimbursement of any money paid to them. There is no mediator and in Yahoos usual high handed and out of touch manner that is that. And yet Flickr is happy to sell you a “Pro” account. Now as far as I know “Pro” is short for professional and if you are a professional why are you putting photos on Flickr if not to promote yourself, in which case you are breaking Flickr’s rules. It is obvious the the word “Pro” therefore is actually being used by Flickr as a marketing tool to massage amateur photographers egos and is not intended to be used by serious photographers to promote themselves and their work. Flickr have also added an even more cynical tie up with Getty where Flickr members photos can be sold by Getty. In return for which the member will receive a 20% commission which Getty say is normal stock industry rates. No its not stock industry commission rate, its Getty’s normal stock commission rates. Check out Alamy, Age, Photo library commission rates to see real industry rates. Who benefits from this? Not the owner of the photo but Getty and Flickr. The whole of photography social networking is about ego massaging. Members leaving banal “nice” comments about photos hoping the recipient will return the favour. These sites are about people playing at being photographers and because they have a Flickr “Pro” account and Getty will sell their photos for them then they have made it!! If one of my clients has an issue with a photo he does not pass “nice comments” so why is this the norm on Flickr etc. Constructive criticism is a way to help real photographers put that cutting edge into their photos. The fact that photography social networking sites are full of “nice comments” about rubbish photos is not beneficial to photography but only to Flickr who know they will not get upset members leaving and therefore loose revenue. From our analysis photography social networking has very little to do about promoting good photography and therefore its obvious good photographers should not have their work on them. Flickr is a playground for the kids and is definitely not for the big boys and girls. Now lets leave Flickr photo fairy land and get back to the real world. For a start buyers have not got the time to wade through billions of peoples personal photos unless they are looking for photos with an amateur feel to illustrate a specific article. The editor of Time Magazine famously announced that he had saved hundreds of dollars by buying a front cover photo from a microstock library. Great publicity stunt for Time but I notice he only did it once and we all know why!! Serious buyers are looking for exciting, interesting and creative photos to illustrate their magazines, web sites and promotional literature. At the moment they may not be able to afford top dollar and are punting around Flickr and microstock agencies in the hope of picking up a bargain but ultimately they will be exhausted by fruitless hour after fruitless hour ploughing through dull photography. Because Photoshelter is not a free service the photographers that use it have to be more serious about their intent and consider what photos they put onto their Photoshelter sites which makes it far more attractive to serious buyers. We have found the SEO on Photoshelter absolutely works and generates sales if used properly and we get good Google positioning on a lot of our key search words. It is very annoying to find Flickr on some of these Google front page searches and I think Photoshelter could do itself some good and help its members as follows. Fotosearch have done a great job and come top or near top on lots of a high percentage of Google photo searches. I think Photoshelter should and could compete with this. Photoshelter has Virtual Agencies which are a very useful but they are invite only and do not really promote Photoshelter as a community. Photoshelter could develop a list of common photo search categories that photographers could subscribe their photos to. i.e “photos of art deco” , “Photos of pots”. “Photos of puppies” “Photos of Italy” or “Photos of polar bears” ( I only choose these because they are the top 5 searches on Alamy in the last month). Photographers could then subscribe their photos to relevant search terms via an alphabetical check box list and Photoshelter could add these search terms pages to their sitemap.xml. If it works as it should Photoshelter would start to compete with Fotosearch and these pages would appear where real buyers are looking. Of course I’m sure the very clever programmers at Photoshelter can look at Fotoserach and find a much more eloquent way of doing this, but I really think it would be good to promote the Photoshelter photographers in this way and create some real world social networking that I understand. I’m sorry I know that’s far too much rambling from me but that’s what happens when you wake up in the middle of the night!! Don’t worry though I’m taking sleeping tablet from now on. Happy shooting. Paul Williams

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