Finding one is fairly easy, well, it’s not bad if you can’t find what you need on the traditional stock sites and you’ve run out or ideas where to look or, and this happens too, you’re sick of seeing the same handful of images for a package you run every single year and want something different this time, then suddenly when you type in your keywords there’s thousands of hits and of course most of them are garbage but usually not too far in there’s something workable.

So, you grab it and put it in your folder and it eventually ends up on the server and possibly in a layout and then on the wall where the editor approves it then it’s taken down the hall where the big chief says he loves that image and then back on your desk where suddenly you’re staring at it thinking where the hell did I get this image.

So you go on the server and look at the file name which is usually something innocuous like myfavioritephoto.jpg and then look at the meta data and there’s usually none and this is where your nightmare can begin because once you actually locate the image on flickr again the person who shot it may not even have an email (I only made that mistake once) and if they do it’s possible they loaded the image 4 years ago and never put another one up (a bad sign) but if the email is there you fire one off stressing the urgency and I usually include the siize of the publication and the price as extra motivation because we’re usually on deadline once the big chief has approved something.

The story ends one of 4 ways. 1. You never hear back. 2. You hear back but the file they send you isn’t big enough or doesn’t look good on the proof. 3. The fact checkers discover that it’s not the correct location. 4. They get back to you with the right size file and the caption is correct and everything is cool.

I’ve had all 4 happen so I know the odds are about equal and this is why Flickr will forever remain a last resort for photo editors.

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  1. Flickr or not, the fact is you still have to use photographers who know what they’re doing. In the cases where I’ve used stuff, I haven’t run into one of your four problems. I’m not just arguing this just to argue it – I just think its in the details of the gathering. #1 – I’m not a fan of FPO. Before I assume I can place an image, I make sure our photo editors have checked that we’re able to actually use the photo, for size or facts, etc. #2 – If I’ve found something on Flickr, I typically will only ask about the photo if the photographer has an outside website for their photography. I think my main point is that other than stock, these same issues can come up with nearly any other photographer I’ve worked with. There’s always that chance, you know what I mean? But again, that’s why I hate FPO’s.

  2. Yeah, I’ll agree, there are better techniques for gathering and forcing the odds in your favor. Unfortunately I’m usually in the position where I’m throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks when I’m scouring flickr and google for images. An awful place to be.

  3. The difficulties you describe (and I can relate 100%) makes me smile and laugh when I think about the new Getty/Flickr relationship. All that time spent searching, contacting, and every once in awhile succeeding in landing a salable (in potential AND quality) image.

  4. I’ve been on both sides of your hypothetical:

    1. I’m a photographer who has sold and licensed hundreds of images found by magazines, ad agencies and web sites on flickr.

    It’s rare that a photograph that someone like you would find useful would be shot by someone who uploads one photograph to flickr and then abandons their account. Images that are well tagged and out there are generally made by people who are semi-serious about their participation in flickr. Whether or not they have a stock response for commercial use, you can generally get a reply from folks who are active within 24 hours.

    The issues that have come up recently with flickr’s API being insecure are simply bumps in the road. User generated content driving the social internet and folks taking (good) advantage of this from the outside to find fresh content is a model that will smooth out and no doubt improve over time. What people who toss it all for the sake of control don’t realize is that without having tagged images up on the internet, how would anyone see the images? And, flickr’s social networking tools amplifies that power by an order of magnitude.

    2. I’ve found photographs I want to blog (correctly with link back and attribution), asked permission, gotten near instant notification back that it’s okay (in 99.9 % of the cases). flickr makes this process much easier than it would be with a traditional photoblog because of its indexing system and all the social tools. And, when I blog your image, you get traffic (from my blog and click throughs) that you’d have never had otherwise.

    The tension is manifold:

    Control and copyright
    Protection against real theft (not just seeming abuse)
    Sorting out the serious from the not so serious photographers
    Some people resenting other people displaying their work (without proper citation)

    Not to say that a great image can’t come from a rank amateur with a P&S camera, many do and I’ve blogged many. But, those people may not make your job procuring photographs easy as your post states. However, for the most part, the folks who are deeply involved in both photography and flickr will get back to you quickly and make deals to get their work out there.

    • @Richard,
      I am a photographer new to online stock photography sales. I have a flickr presence and would like a few helpful hints about making my photos more marketable. For instance, I use a 20 megapixel camera which provides me with a big RAW file. I process it, then drop it down to a jpg of 100 resolution with 8 inches on the longest side for upload to flickr. Should I be doing this? – or should I upload the largest file possible? Should I change my rights assignment from rights reserved to one of the creative commons licenses (which one?)

      Any advice on these type matters would be helpful!
      Melanie Smith
      Shelby, NC

  5. Amen.

    Between these disciplines:
    1. Portrait
    2. Lifestyle
    3. Action Sports

    The Action sports photogs (skate photographers!) have brought back the keyworded, fact checked and high resolution goods with overwhelming accuracy from Flickr in my experience.

    Skate and action sports photogs in general are a resourceful bunch. Looks like only the most resourcefully devoted online media specialists will find their way to the top of the flickr pile.

    ..or it will be the crapshoot final throw for photo editors the haystack will become a pile of dull needles.. making the sharp ones that much harder to find.

  6. I have a suggestion for Flickr users — one that I hestitate to give, since it makes me money, and hardly anyone else seems to be doing it. Include a link to your images on a stock photography agency like Alamy or Photoshelter on Flickr, either in your profile or in the text description of the photo you uploaded. Then, if a researcher likes a picture or a picture series, they can just cruise on over to the stock agency and get it there. Less hassle for them. And for those that do want the hassle of dealing direct with the photographer, the link to the stock agencies is generally a clue that the photographer is used to dealing with clients and is likely to result in outcome number 4, rather than than 1, 2, or 3.

  7. I am intrigued by this conversation… I would say that 99.9% of the requests I get through Flickr to use my images offer no monetary compensation whatsoever. Even still, I am responsive to those requests (although I don’t always grant them). I would be very happy –and pleasantly surprised– if someone actually offered to PAY me to use one of my images. And you can believe I would respond promptly — with a good quality, high res file. (And because I am fairly meticulous about tagging my photos, there probably wouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises upon fact-checking.) I also have a link to my PhotoShelter images on my Flickr profile page, although I have no idea if anyone ever gets to my PhotoShelter ‘site’ by way of Flickr.

    Ryan M, I’ll take your suggestion about linking images to PhotoShelter on the image itself (not just on my profile page), although what I post to Flickr and what I submit to stock are not one and the same.

  8. I too upload different things to photoshelter and flickr. I dont post anything to flickr that I place any value on due to the ease people can freely get hold of (nick) my stuff from flickr.

  9. I’m an Art Director for a NYC based magazine and have found many photographers through flickr. Also, I have used illustrations found on flickr for various editorial features.

    I have also been lucky enough to develop a working relationship with some photographers through flickr who I then have commissioned for work.

  10. Interesting.
    I’d have thought from the tone of past discussions around here that no one ever looked at flickr for images.

  11. I used to be a picture editor too and sometimes I did use flickr to find some pictures. usually it’s a location photo or somehow geographically related picture isn’t.

    Nowadays I’m back to freelance photography and I take great care to leave a clue how to reach me, so I’m building a “long tail”. It works! Tomorrow I have a ob for a client from Texas which is somewhere on the other side of the planet, looking from my Slovenian perspective :-)


  12. I just started using Flickr more.

    @chip you can always watermark stuff before uploading to prevent getting ripped off.

    I’m curious–do the PEs and art buyers browsing Flickr just search–or do they browse groups too? Some of the best work I’ve seen on Flickr are in the photo pools of various groups I frequent and submit to.

  13. I have to agree with Cynthia Wood, I get offers regularly but most don’t want to pay or only want to pay a very small amount like $5. I also had to quit tagging most of my photos do to commerical companies using API’s to get out of paying for photos.

  14. Getty sucks!

  15. I’ve always thought the biggest problem with microstock / flickr etc, is the issue of model releases. Editorial doesn’t really need them, but if you’re a company using a people pic for advertising, you need that release on file.

    Many of these crowdsourcing companies “require” you to have a release (you check a box on upload saying you have it) – but not actually file a copy of it with them.

    I’m not so sure I would count on the non-pro stock photographer to have that release available on demand, as its the advertiser who is held responsible for having that release should litigation come up.

  16. Seems that snapshot photography rules all these days. Put a crumpled can on the ground, snap a shot and walla, your a freakin star.

  17. I work both sides of this fence. In my role as a pro photographer, I have a small collection of images on flickr under user ‘enlightphoto’. It’s mostly been a ‘”just give it a whirl” type experiment. I’m fully versed in metadata, watermarks, and tags. I can’t say I’ve seen any great floods of pro photo-editors lurking about. Most seem to know better than waste too much time wading through the flotsam.

    Now, in my role as a photo-editor / researcher, I’ve searched flickr, and while I may find an image or three that sometimes fit the bill for a project, the hassle factors you describe are quite on target. It’s usually too much of a PITA to find someone versed in pro licensing, and can deliver the final hi quality hi res file on time and on specs.

    I will say though, that I still get images sourced from smaller stock agencies and individual pro photographers that have no metadata in the file. I usually have to allot a certain amount of time to put in my own sourcing metadata, at minimum, the URL of where I found the image. Doing that at the initial sourcing level has been known to save quite a few headaches down the approval highway.


  18. The Digital era is making it easier to produce a great shot – this scares the old school shooters!

    While “FLICKR” is mostly filled with rubbish, it can also produce as Craig would call them a STAR from time to time.

    The more people shooting (thanks to digital) the more stars are born.

    Flickr can be great if you know where to look

  19. It’s a pain in the arse buying a photo off Flickr.

    I wrote a bit about it over here.

  20. i don’t know how effective this is, but it lets you draw or upload an image to find a matching image on flickr:

    I’ve used it mostly in a goofing off sort of way. I drew vignettes to browse holga pictures once for like an HOUR. Some of them were actually pretty excellent, just needed to use a discerning eye to sort the wheat from the chaff.

  21. Quite an interesting discussion. I’ve had very fruitful experiences with photo editors and ad agencies who found my work through Flickr as a result of tagging and several of my photos being featured on Flickr Blog. Lori Fredrickson, who writes the “My Project” column for Popular Photography magazine, interviewed me about my photography for the October 2006 issue, and told me that she regularly checks the Flickr Blog for ideas. Crispin Porter + Bogusky found one of my photos through tagging on Flickr and paid $4,000 for a high-res digital file.

    I agree that Flickr does have its limitations, and that’s why I also have a separate website through Smugmug for my more serious clients.

    Photographers like myself are very interested in learning how to reach out to photo editors and make our work available. So thank you for the topic and discussion!

    -Deborah D. Lattimore

  22. Will be interesting to see how flickrs new partnership with getty will work out for photo editors and the like.

  23. I am a huge advocate of using Flickr for images. I’ve found amazing rock photos on there of obscure bands that places like getty just don’t send people out to shoot and it’s a great resource for smaller images that we use as thumbnails on charts and things like that. I’ve also found that if you create a relationship with the flickerites as I like to call them, they’ll come to you.

    I have groups where I post callouts for a few different projects that I work on and in turn, I’ve found a group of about 500 photographers who are now on a mailing list and have listed their locations which has proven to be a wonderful thing when I need a photographer in a tiny city in the midwest.

    My method? Screen grabs, into folders w/ the flickr name. You can find the photographers again very easily and send them a message or email them if they have it listed. My biggest problem is that if they don’t have a website, it’s almost impossible to get a hold of these people. Luckily everyone seems to get back pretty quickly and is always more than happy to let us use their images.

    I love Flickr!

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