Flickr is no ghost town

People like to say flip things like “Flickr is dead,” or “Flickr is a ghost town,” just like they’ve been saying “Apple is dead” for decades. It’s true that Facebook and Instagram sucked up a lot of Flickr’s mojo as the dominant image sharing platform a while back, but there are still hundreds of thousands of photographers posting to Flickr daily. Interaction on image threads can be lively, there’s an interest group for every photography niche you can think of, and users are 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). I personally am getting more engagement on Flickr than I am on Instagram these days!

Scientia, pulchritudo, lux

Flickr dominated the online photo sharing scene for around 15 years. But as Facebook’s popularity rose, it became the world’s dominant photo sharing platform, eclipsing Flickr’s numbers (which were already astounding). After a 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

If you’re considering getting back into Flickr, there are three big questions to answer:

Here’s my take on these questions:

Made For Photographers, by Photographers

So why not just use Facebook and Instagram and call it a day? Here are some of the reasons I think FB/Instagram are not ideal ways to show your work, and why I think Flickr is the best photography platform available. Some of these points apply equally to Facebook and Instagram, since FB owns IG:

My brother-in-law’s shed

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. Platform-wise, Flickr is photography paradise.

Hidden shack at Kappa’a

About That Ghost Town

So what about audience? Is anyone there? I don’t have access to Flickr’s internal traffic stats, but I can share some of my experience.

Flickr is a ghost town?

Since 2006, my images have accumulated close to two million views. But around half of that traffic has happened since the start of the pandemic, when I began to take photography seriously and to post 2x daily — that’s around a million views in 18 months. My first 13 years on Flickr were just occasional/random use, but once I made photography into a daily discipline, the Flickr audience was absolutely there!

Conveyor, abandoned quarry

Some of my images do better on Flickr, some do better on Instagram (which is puzzler I can never figure out), but overall, my per-image views average out to roughly the same. However, Flickr Explore changes the game completely. Explore is the service’s themed “front page” where they feature best images from across the site, and the collection changes daily. I find that my images get Explored around once every three weeks, and when they do, things blow up. While each of my images typically gets ~300–600 views, an Explored image will get ~6,000 views in 24 hours. Since Instagram doesn’t have an Explore feature, total Flickr view counts end up being far higher (for me) than they are on IG. And being Explored is fun (album of my Explored images here).

Kauai Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe

The point is that while naysayers love to throw the “ghost town” phrase around, tens of thousands of us are happily posting and appreciating on the service every day. No, Flickr is not a household world these days, but it is still fantastic from a “technology and features” point of view, and the activity is still lively, so long as you actively engage (post regularly, and leave actual comments on other people’s photos).

Who Are You Trying to Reach?

Believe it or not, there was a time before Facebook and Instagram, and pretty much all photo sharing online happened on Flickr — It was the defacto image posting and sharing destination on the internet. What seems to have happened in the meantime is that while the general population moved to Facebook and Instagram, photographers (who have much higher expectations from what an imaging service can do or should do) stuck around. As a result, what I see today is that most active Flickr users are other photographers, not the general population.

Tracks, Crockett

You probably don’t want to limit your audience to just other photographers — you want to reach the general population, so you’re probably going to have to do both. It’s not hard — I post to both services 3x a day and it takes just a few minutes. But there is something nice about having an audience of other photographers, who are seeing your work in high resolution. They appreciate what it takes to make an image, and can offer a sort of commentary you don’t usually get on IG.

Ti leaves, Kauai afternoon

There are other alternatives out there , like SmugMug, 500px, ViewBug, etc. They are all in the same boat, having audiences consisting mostly of other photographers, rather than the casual viewing public. Given how much Flickr does and how well it does it, I have trouble seeing the appeal of the “alternative alternatives.” But maybe that’s just me.

Under the Pier at Hanalei, when a couple conveniently swam into the frame

As tempting as it often is to just ditch Instagram completely, I’ve found that I enjoy and value both audiences in different ways. Of course, it would be awesome if the general population returned to Flickr, but I can’t solve that one.

Downsides

As with anything, there are a couple of downsides to using Flickr.

It is ad-free, but not cost-free. Either you pay $50/year for unlimited storage, or your storage is limited to your most-recent 1,000 photos. I think that’s totally fair, and worth it, but you may not agree.

Light painting during the Perseids meteor shower

Unlike Instagram, Flickr was born on the web, not on a phone. They do have a mobile app, and it’s quite good, but there are some aspects of the service that can only be used on the web. Still, 90% of my Flickr usage is through the mobile app on iPadOS — it’s very functional, just not perfect. Given how actively SmugMug has been working on Flickr, I expect an update to the mobile app in the future (hopefully soon, but that’s just me being hopeful).

Shady Oak Lake (III)

As with any social media, there is plenty of garbage on the service. And as with any social media, you’ll seldom see it if you put time into curating a good set of photographers to follow, and don’t go wandering off into the nether-regions. If you’re looking for a good set of photographers to follow initially, I maintain a list of Flickr Besties for just this purpose — totally subjective, by no means exhaustive, and a work in progress — just a possible starting point for new Flickr users.

At the end of the day, there’s only one way to ensure that Flickr is not a ghost town — use it !

A couple of weeks ago, the Photo Geek Weekly podcast made Flickr their photography “pick of the week.” Nothing earth-shaking about that, but it struck me that I’m not the only who still considers Flickr both excellent and relevant. All of this makes me wonder why so many photographers I meet aren’t using Flickr. Are you on Flickr? And if not, why not?

Tower of Power

I’m shacker on Flickr and would love to follow you if you’re there too — just leave a Flickr comment letting me know you saw this article.

COVID-19 shopper at Trader Joe’s

Djangonaut at Energy Solutions, Oakland. Dad. Geocacher. Treehugger.