This feature was written for Photography Monthly magazine in 2007.
Bring your pictures to life
by Garry Cook
For everything that is great about the digital revolution, it is all too easy to take photos and forget about them.
If you’ve got thousands of photographs on your hard-drive which no-one has ever seen, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
In the old days we would get your prints from the chemist and bore our family to death before stuffing them into a draw. Now, your pictures lie dormant on your hard drive gathering digital dust. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Along with new technology comes new ways of bringing your pictures to life.
If you want to resuscitate your snaps and see them waltzing around cyberspace then undoubtedly the best place to start is Flickr (www.flickr.com), the feel-good photo community where photographs take on a life of their own. Flickr is the most popular photo site in Britain and a staggering one million pictures are uploaded every day worldwide.
It has everything going for it: It’s easy to use, fun, friendly – and highly addictive. Flickr works on two levels. Firstly, like most photo hosting sites it is a decent archive for your images. You can hide or make them available from the public as you wish.
But it is as a gallery that Flickr impresses most. Watching one of your shots grow – following how many times it is viewed – is a strangely thrilling experience. If you’ve ever sold something on eBay and been caught up in the delight of watching the bidding increase, you’ll know how much of a buzz this is.*
But the beauty of the site is the ability of other users to leave comment, with mean-spirited notes are virtually non-existent. Comments can range from ‘love your pic’ to more technique-based discussion.
Flickr is a mish-mash of photography skills, from the amateur to the highly professional. You can lose hours rambling round the site. My favourite contributor is an Icelandic woman called Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir.
Often using herself as a model, Rebekka’s unique style has won her a cult following on the site – to the point where she has had over 2,700,000 views and 16,000 people have added her to their contact list since she joined in 2005.
She originally used the site to display her drawings, but after catching the photography bug her pictures led to her being asked to do various commissions, most notably a promotional shoot for Toyota’s ground-breaking Prius car.
She said: “I liked the way Flickr was set up, and when I began browsing other people’s pages my interest in photography was sparked. “The fact that thousands of people worldwide know who I am is the strangest thing for me. I never expected that to happen, ever, and I’m still amazed by it.
“Out of curiosity, I tried entering my full name into Google the other day, and was stunned to see page after page after page of links to blogs and websites all over the place mentioning me, in languages ranging from Portuguese to German to Chinese.
“Flickr has become a part of my life and I’m very grateful to have discovered it, and for all the doors it has opened for me.” There are many curators who believe that entire exhibitions will eventually be uploaded to sites like Flickr, giving the maximum audience possible to some of the best photographs in the world. On a site like Flickr you’re not going to receive thousands of hits straight away.
What comments you get, and how many people view your pictures, can be affected greatly by how you tag them and what groups you put them in.
Tags are self-explanatory. You tag a photo ‘dog’ and someone will find it when they do a search under that word. But you can also add your photographs to groups - collections of pictures started by fellow users that can be on any subject (and there are some very weird ones).
If you do manage to find a subject which does not have its own group (and you'll be hard pushed to do that) just start your own. It’s easy and will add another dimension to your photography.
These ways of discovering photographs also create a kind of popularity contest for your images, and you’ll be amazed when you realise that your favourite landscape of Bamburgh Castle at dawn has been gazumped in the ‘favourited’ stakes by a shot of a disused Texaco garage. Flickr is often used as a resource for people hunting pictures.
The site employs staggered copyright system, the level of which you choose, but anyone wanting to use a picture for, say, a blog will usually send you a message and ask permission. Politeness rules on this site. NME photographer Guy Eppel uploads his images of pop and rock stars to the site.
He said: “I do worry about people stealing images, but as long as it’s for their own personal use, people can download mine as far as I’m concerned. However in a community you just hope that everyone gets along and is civil to one another, therefore doing the correct thing.
“I get to put my work out to a wider audience than rather just to the people who specifically know of me. It’s a good way of sharing ones work with your peers and I get inspiration in other areas of photography outside of my genre.”
The ease of Flickr means it has a huge audience of browsers as well as uploaders. Ultimately this means that if you tag and put your photos into the appropriate groups they will be seen and commented on.
Signing up for Flickr is free and you can upload 100mb worth of pictures a month (for a small fee uploads are unlimited). Most other services have a similar subscription set-ups.
Elsewhere, on Geograph (www.geograph.org.uk) you can submit pictures which represent every square kilometre of the British Isles. Much of Britain has already been filled, but there’s still plenty of spaces left. If you fill an empty square first, your picture ‘owns’ it. Subsequent pictures are known as ‘supplementals.’
Woophy (www.woophy.com) runs along similar lines as Geograph but on a global scale. As you can probably imagine, there’s a long way to go before this grid is complete.
Smugmug (www.smugmug.com) is similar to Flickr in that you can leave comments – you can also rate photos – while fotki (www.fotki.com) has tried to adopt the Flickr ethos (and look).
Zoomr (www.zoomr.com) is a fledgling photo sharing site with the added bonus of geo-tags (something subsequently picked up by Flickr). Geo-tags allow your photographs to be referenced to a map location of where they were taken. There are other innovations on zooomr like the merging of sound to photography of Zooomrtation, but that’s something you’ll have to discover for yourself.
Another site which might come in handy is Slide (www.slide.com) which allows the creation of slide shows of your pictures which can be added to websites or blogs. It is easy to get bogged down in the myriad of websites and applications which can enhance your digital photographs, but the main advice is: Dive in!
Try one of these sites and you’ll soon find yourself picking up other tricks along the way. Like everything digital, baffling techniques soon become simple exercises once you’ve poked around the program for half an hour. And these sites are worth it - they could save your digital life.
As well as Rebekka (www.flickr.com/photos/rebba/) and Guy (www.flickr.com/photos/guyeppel/), other great photographers to look out for on Flickr are San Francisco-based Merkley who specialises in (sometimes) nude pictures of women.
There are some great landscapes from London-based Andrew Houser (www.flickr.com/photos/houser/) and Mystery Me from Durham also has some eye-catching photographs.
Daniel Webb from Dunfermline (www.flickr.com/photos/dhansak79/) has some interesting landscapes while Brazil’s Paula Anddrade (www.flickr.com/people/paulapcda/) produces some great shots with models. But the main advice is explore – you never know what you’ll find.
* Examples shown here of my own images on flickr. Interestingly, my most popular images are of dogs and scantily clad men and women.
All images © Copyright Garry Cook