Photo sharing is dead. Love live photo sharing.
Since the advent of the internet, sharing photos online for professional photographers has become increasing more accessible and essential, but with the explosion of sharing platforms, all offering different services, niches, subsets of users, and rights management, choosing where to share is so much more of a headache than ever before.
Photo sharing has changed hugely over the last few years, with the ubiquitous nature of photography and infinite vastness of the internet hungry for new content, there are completely different ways to share photos. Once the domain of carefully produced images on websites like Flickr, the most popular “photographers” today are not those who focus solely on the image itself but who can inject the most enviable lifestyle into their images. This is a massive shift for professional photographers.
What does enviable lifestyle really mean? Well, open Instagram, hit that discover tab, and you will recognise it instantly. What are the most popular images of the day, usually they are the extravagant travel photos, the exclusive brunches, the shirtless gym selfies, the #couplegoals. Depending on what type of photographer you are, these new parameters for popularity might be insurmountable.
People often ask me what sites they should use to share their photography. As a freelance photographer I do use social media and photo sharing sites to boost my online presence. Although I would certainly recommend signing up for them all, as every little exposure helps, you should only do the ones that feel right for you and give you good feelings to post there. If sharing on social media makes you feel down, question or work, or even your self-worth, then please don’t do it.
There used to be one photo sharing site to rule them all. Flickr was synonymous with photo sharing, news reports pulled photos from Flickr, Flickr images powered blogs and websites, and was the key to discovering new photographers in every genre. Flickr is probably the most well-known photo sharing site, and in 2013 as I was getting into photography, it had a huge audience and user base worldwide (87 million users). Having such a huge audience is a double-edged sword, the potential for your photo becoming a smash hit is increased significantly, however with so many photos being uploaded to the site every day, that photo is likely to get lost in the deluge (3.5 million photos per day).
The biggest thing Flickr had going for it was its strong community of photographers at all levels of ability, and its willingness to prominently feature all photos, not exclusively those from its most desirable contributors. Powerful search features such as groups, tags and geolocation made photos easily searchable, and gave new photographers the tools to get their photos out there.
However, today, Flickr is a shadow of its former self, a puzzling jumble of trying to be both a place for the typical smartphone user to back up their phone photos to the cloud and whilst still attempting to provide a place for professional images to shine.
Yahoo (perplexingly renamed Oath), upon purchase and takeover of Flickr, seemingly managed to forget about their new baby and immediately Flickr’s offerings fell behind the competition. The user interface became an odd tangle of a slick modern redesign still interspersed with pages from the last decade. New services like Facebook and Twitter, while lacking in the upload quality and photo features made up for it with instant shareability and affirmation from a wider and more engaged network.
Yahoo managed an ill-advised rebrand, looping you through Yahoo sign in pages, signing you up for Yahoo data selling practices, and adding new ways to monetise your content, and this undoubtedly didn’t help stem the flow of the community abandoning the site.
Nowadays, plenty of people still use Flickr, and it is still one of the best photography focused places to post on the internet. If you are looking for a place to show off the stunning quality of your images, then this might still be the place for you.
To post to Flickr, just remember that data is key, the more data you feed in about each photo the more the photo will be seen be the right people, the more potential engagement and the more potential success. Add tags, detailed descriptions, add photos to groups, add geolocations. Some users advocate avoiding this for privacy focused reasons, but we are past privacy, if you want to be discovered you have to put yourself out there.
Focus on the consistency of your work, the main view for a Flickr gallery is a whole page of thumbnail sized images, this gallery should be as harmonious as possible in terms of colours and styles. This is the first (and often only) impression that users will get of your work, so aim to impress from the off. Try to keep your editing style consistent, consider re-editing some images if they look out of place. If you shoot a lot of varied images or genres, try not to post wildly different images one after the other. You can have multiple accounts for different genres of photography, or you can hide images from your grid, however this does adversely affect their discoverability. Many photographers sort their images by colour so that you can create a pleasing faded ombre or rainbow effect throughout the gallery (also a useful tactic for any grid-based display, i.e. Instagram). Planning is key, think how it will look before you post, and consider coming up with a posting schedule to keep your content on-brand, your grid pleasing and your output consistent.
500px is the worthiest successor to Flickr, and nearly all of Flickr’s key features built in, but with a glossier and much more attractive user interface. The scope of 500px is somewhat more limited by the community on the site, has niches of fine art, wildlife and landscapes are dominating, searching through the main pages, the majority of featured posts are in these categories, meaning photographers occupying other genres might feel a little unwelcome.
A brief tour of the site and you will instantly see the quality of photos featured by the 500px team or their algorithms are exceptional, so this is a tough crowd for anyone not at the absolute top of their game.
The strength of the community is less so than any site with more of a social lean, so discoverability is an issue, however photos have really in depth tagging which helps you be seen by those people who know what they are looking for. One benefit of starting to use 500px is that all photos from Flickr and many other sites can be imported, (with limits), which makes a changeover much easier. And much the same as Flickr above, the more details you add to your images the better your chances of being seen. Also, as 500px is another grid-based display, take heart the advice above about styling your overall page for that overall visual consistency.
Tumblr was once the most happening place on the internet, but in recent years after several corporate buyouts and archaic restrictions on what is acceptable to post, it has mostly faded into an afterthought blogging network. Tumblr is maybe not for the older crowd, with the main focus being on teens, and the focus for photos being very much on fashion and travel. Tumblr was however a fantastic community that is really fun, interesting and unique to be involved in. The Tumblr platform is also unique in it is one of the only photo sharing social networks where your profile is almost completely customisable to make it your own, almost as a mini personalised website for your work.
If you want to share to Tumblr, firstly be aware of the type of content that does well, if you don’t meet those categories, then maybe give this one a miss. Tumblr also requires a lot of personal engagement and takes time and effort; this is only worthwhile if you enjoy the community enough to invest heavily in it. You need to follow and engage with the right people, like and share a lot of other images, and most importantly inject as much personality into you page as you can.
If you are an artistic photographer, then Behance is a good bet. Behance is owned by Adobe, who push it hard to Creative Cloud users. There are countless opportunities to get your photo featured across the site, but also Adobe’s other properties, such as selling presets or posting editing tutorials. This is a huge opportunity for anyone who does a lot of complex lightroom editing and already makes YouTube videos or other tutorials.
With the might of Adobe behind it, and their increasing dominance in all things photo this is certainly one to watch, now is probably the time to get involved and be ready for the potential revolution. Behance can be used for any genre of photography, but with Adobe’s inference on its editing suite of software, those who focus on fine art, commercial and marketable images or just some heavy-handed editing then this is the one for you to show off your skills the best.
Twitter is a great place to share photos that you have posted on other sites, but under no circumstances should this be your de facto place to share new work. Twitter’s purview is short excerpts summing up personal thoughts, opinions, jokes, memes, or links to other content, the text is the key, it is not set up to be a quality photo viewing experience and has next to know tools to make your photos discoverable or stand out on their own.
However, that said, Twitter’s community is huge and likes and retweets are a fantastic way to increase exposure quickly and direct people towards your work elsewhere. Like other networks more focus on being social, there is also the added bonus of injecting some personality and human interest behind your work which may make people as interested in you as your work. This is one of the easiest social networks to organically share personal posts alongside your usual photographic output.
If you are serious about sharing on Twitter, there are dozens of ways to use IFTTT.com to set up fully automated sharing from other sites to Twitter which I enthusiastically recommend.
Facebook is the marmite of social networking. Once the most popular website in the world, a series of data scandals, a rapid shift in demographic to an older audience, and a surge of politically motivated content has left Facebook scrambling. According to Facebook data, billions still use the site, so the potential audience is still there, however these numbers are contradictory to all my personal experience.
However, if you still know people using Facebook then this might be worth your time sharing to, photos with likes and comments will be automatically pushed outside of your own social circle, so it is a good opportunity to make new connections. Facebook also has a huge advertising network across its own site and the wider internet. So, if you are happy to pay to promote your content, (although this isn’t cheap), then this is one of the fastest ways you can build up a following.
If you are posting to Facebook, then make sure your tags are on point. You want to tag users who are appropriate to each post, as well as adding a detailed description with a couple of specific and relevant hashtags. Do not spam the hashtags, use hashtags over and over, or use really generic hashtags, these in the long run will hurt you far more than they help. Tags will boost your post upon posting, then engagement takes over, so make sure you have a strong following by adding lots of friends and liking and engaging on other people’s posts. You can ask all your friends to help boost your posts by liking and commenting on them when they see them. Finally, there are also numerous groups you can join on Facebook that offer a like-for-like service to game the Facebook algorithms, there is mixed feedback on how Facebook treats this practice though, so research and engage at your own discretion.
Here it is, the one you were waiting for. Instagram for the past five years has essentially become synonymous with photo sharing. And yes, the photo borders and tacky filters are gone. It is no longer made up exclusively of iPhone photos of Starbucks and cats, it truly encompasses every genre of photography you could possibly imagine. If you aren’t doing Instagram, you aren’t doing photography.
To get serious for just a moment, Instagram also is by far and away the network that has the most significant and serious issue with influencer culture, and it will feel very much that skill and ability pale in comparison to looks, wealth and opportunity. So much so that Instagram should come with a mental health warning.
Much like Flickr in its heyday, with so many users, the amount of content can be overwhelming, and the chances of being noticed are seriously diminished. There are 1000+ Instagram photos posted every second and reaching over 1 billion users**.
Instagram is also the place where originality goes to die, to the point where there are accounts dedicated to celebrating the banality of Instagram photography.
However, Instagram, for the professional photographer has numerous ways show of both your talents with a camera on your main profile, and a more personal side in your photography, as it connects to you, the person behind the photos. Instagram stories allow your followers to gain a fleeting glimpse into your normal life, see behind the scenes of your work and get to know you better. Engagement is also so easy not only with comments but also with a great messaging system allowing you to connect with friends and fans around the world.
All your friends are already on Instagram, so it is easy to build up an instant following, then with the immense and fanatical community, liking, commenting and hashtags will help encourage others to follow you.
Instagram content is also instantly sharable across every other big social network (automate it with IFTTT.com, seriously, try it out), so this can be the first and only place to dedicate your time. You can even schedule your original posts, comments and stories with sites like Hootsuite and Buffer. I use Buffer to queue up a week’s worth of posts at once, type out descriptions using my computer and plan my output in advance.
If you have read so far then take the lessons from Flickr of making that perfect grid, and the lessons from Facebook and Tumblr of engagement and tagging. There are so many guides how to do Instagram perfectly, from hashtags to pixel counts to what time of day to upload, so I would seek some of them out to get more in-depth guides.
Sharing is Caring
Basically, share! If you care about your work reaching any sort of public consciousness it is absolutely essential to share it. A lot of modern businesses are based almost entirely off social media, the leads and engagement that this can bring you is unrivalled. These are my own subjective experiences aimed to help and guide only. Maybe you are a hugely successful Twitter exclusive photographer, or you think Flickr is still the hottest property on the web, well, you keep doing you. But my best advice for everyone else is just go explore, everyone should see what works and doesn’t work for them. Drop any services that don’t give you any joy or validation to use. Keep changing it up, things are always moving fast, just try to keep up.