People on Flickr tend to be an easy audience for an artist to engage with because, by definition, they’re already interested in photography and that often spills over to an interest in other visual areas. People on Flickr usually LIKE looking at other people’s photos and they’re used to doing it.
Ah, a sympathetic audience – the battle is already half won!
You can engage people even further by posting strong shots of your work – use unusual angles, take macro picks, shoot your work in interesting lighting conditions and post research photos that show what inspires your art. Flickr people have a tendency towards visual literacy and they’ll respond well to good photography. We all know that it can be hard to take good descriptive photos of your work – the sort of photos that you need for applying for exhibitions. However, I’ve found that taking more atmospheric shots, especially close-ups, is a lot easier and it tends to be those sort of shots that people on Flickr respond to because they’re more photographically interesting.
Flickr is a powerful social network and this is why I recommend it over other photo hosting services. Flickr currently has 4,000,000 users and almost a billion photos hosted on the site. That might sound daunting – with those numbers, who on earth is ever going to see your work? Well, thankfully, Flickr is set up in such a way that it’s easy to share your work and make connections with sympathetic people.
There are lots of ways to be more visible on Flickr but basically you need to reach out and participate in the community. You can do this by:
- Adding people as contacts
- Joining Flickr groups
- Commenting on individual photos
- Marking other people’s photos as favourites
If you do some or all of these things, then other people will usually start looking at your photos.
Making contacts is an excellent way to start creating a little network of like-minded people on Flickr. It’s a very informal process; you don’t need to already know someone beforehand, it’s fine to add someone simply because you like their photos. Very often people will add you back but it’s not obligatory, so don’t be offended if they don’t. If someone is listed as a contact then you’ll see their photos on your front page. If they add you back, then any new work you put up will automatically appear on their page, either on their front page or their contacts page. If you’re regularly posting photos then all your contacts are getting regular little updates on your art and being reminded about your work in a very gentle and non-invasive way.
So where can you find some people that you like?
Well, it’s likely that some of your existing friends are already on Flickr, if they are, then add them as contacts. You can also send invites to friends and family who aren’t already there. That should give you a bit of a start in creating a network but if you want to find a wider range of people with similar interests to yourself, then the best way is to join some Flickr groups.
Groups are one of the fundamental building blocks of the community side of Flickr. Most groups are a combination of discussion and photos: you can post your images to a place where they’ll be seen by hundreds of other people but you can also take part in the discussions, which are a good way to meet individuals.
There are groups on just every subject under the sun and most of them are open membership so you join with the click of a button, very occasionally you’ll have to ask a moderator to join.
Consider joining some of the art groups: Artists And Their Art is my favourite because I like their discussions but there are masses of others. You might not like a lot of the work that gets posted to the general art groups, I certainly don’t, but there are interesting artists active in some of the discussions. Also, posting photos to a group isn’t like being in an exhibition, where you’re often judged by the company you keep, it’s far more like putting a promotional postcard up in a huge display. Of course, you should still use your discretion – if you hate everything that’s posted to a group and the discussions don’t appeal, then it might be better to walk on by.
Does your work use a particular technique, image, theme, style or colour? Then there’s probably already a group on Flickr that covers it and if there isn’t, you can always start one. I’m on a wide range of Flickr groups (61 to date – it’s easy to get a little bit carried away!), from the more obviously arty ones to more unusual ones like wabi sabi suki, Coiled Knotted Twisted and Keys Keyholes Locks. Obviously it’s impossible to keep up with a huge range of groups: I have a couple that I’m more involved with and just randomly dip in and out of the rest.
When posting images to groups, obey the rules; many groups limit the number of images you can post in a day and off-topic images are likely to be deleted by the mods. Even if a group has unlimited posting, don’t post huge clumps of your work to a single group all at once because it drowns out everyone else’s work. However, picking an image that you like and posting it to more than one group is completely fine. Personally I try to pick a wide variety of applicable groups for individual images so that I’m reaching a wider potential audience. I also do this so that I don’t bore people. The same people often belong to all the groups about a single subject, therefore, to make things a bit more interesting for those people, I post different images from the same series to each of the related groups.
You can find groups by using the search tool on your Flickr page, you can search for groups, people, locations or through your own or everyone else’s photos. The Flickr search engines works by searching for tags, which is why you should be using them on your own photos, otherwise you’re effectively invisible to the search tool and consequently to other users.
It’s perfectly acceptable to comment on someone’s photo even when you don’t know them. There’s no need to feel shy, just dive in. The person will see that you’ve added a comment and the comment will usually be publicly available on that photo for others to read. Adding comments usually encourages people to come over and have a look at your work.
Obviously nasty comments are very unprofessional and aren’t going to make you any friends: as my father likes to say; “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” Just ignore the stuff you don’t like, there’s no requirement to comment on every single thing you see (you couldn’t anyway, it would be a full time job!)
Constructive criticism might be fine, especially if you’ve already connected with the person and know that they’re open to it but the culture of commenting on Flickr is generally positive and you should bear this in mind. If you want brutally honest responses on your own work, then you’ll probably need to explicitly ask for it in the text of the photo. If you happen to get a troll who hates your work and is just being abusive in comments, you can block them. It’s never happened to me but if you’re making more controversial work then it could be an issue.
When someone has left a comment on my work, I try to drop them a quick ‘thank you’ via FlickrMail, especially if they’re a new commenter. I like the FlickrMail tool because it means that as well as taking part in the big group discussions, you can have personal side conversations with people. It helps to break up the vastness of Flickr and make it a lot less overwhelming.
This is the Flickr tool that I use least but it can be useful. It’s basically an extension of commenting: you mark other people’s individual photos as favourites and they’re then stored on a favourites page on your own page.
Where I have found favourites to be helpful is in finding new people: I’ve often found interesting new artists by going to the page of someone whose work I like and browsing through their favourites and contacts pages.
The Culture Of Flickr
I hope it’s clear by now that Flickr doesn’t need to be a dauntingly huge place where you’re destined to be invisible but can be a place where, with a little effort, you and your work can be seen and respected.
You shouldn’t go into it cynically though – regarding the other members of Flickr as just another marketing opportunity won’t go over well. It’s rude, disrespectful and contrary to the ethos of the place. Flickr isn’t just a huge potential audience for your work; it’s a community and you’ll be a member of that community. Respect the other members and respond to them with openness and generosity.
Flickr is about sharing and being generous with your time, energy and creative thoughts can reap big rewards there. Every time you make someone into a contact, comment on or favourite one of their photos or write something interesting in a discussion, people are likely to come and see who you are – they’ll read your profile and have a quick look at your work. If you’re lucky (and you’ve made it easy for them), they might also go on to visit your other websites or act as an advocate for your work by blogging about you.
Sorry about the length of this one, there didn’t seem to be a good place to cut it in half and there was a lot to say. We’re nearly done with Flickr posts now though.
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