A Beginner's Guide to Flickr

A Beginner’s Guide to Flickr


flickr-logo.jpgFlickr changed my life. True story.

I am a relatively new Flickr convert and a full fledged Flickr evangelist and my number one message to the masses: Flickr isn’t a dumping ground for ‘pics’. It isn’t a graveyard where millions of images are laid to rest never to be seen again. It is a community where photographers share their latest conquests and view beautiful works by other artists. Of course, there are probably millions of users who merely dump and run but I think Flickr has done something rather clever to prevent too many non-users: they charge a minor yearly fee for accounts who want to upload more than a certain number of images. This might turn off a huge percentage of users who just want a free method of generating a url for their photos to put on Ebay but I think it just weeds out those who don’t intend on doing much with their subscription in the first place.

So how can I make the statement that Flickr changed my life? First I’ll lay a foundation for where I’m coming from. I firmly believe that the number one way any visual artist can become better at what they do is to view other works of art. It opens you to the possibilities, techniques, ideas and concepts you may have never entertained before. Allow me to demonstrate. Before I became engrossed in Flickr, I’d never before seen:

  1. The beauty of captured light as in R. Lily’s forest mushroom
  2. The richness of textures as in Paul Grand’s Sunflowers
  3. The gentle calm of ethereal florals as in Shana Rae’s Spring Pastels

I didn’t know about such things when I was newly into photography and having my eyes opened to not only beautiful photography but also the techniques processes that fellow photographers use to achieve such works revolutionised my skills and ability immediately. I think all photographers experience the frustration of not understanding why they haven’t achieved a look they were going for and I think that a photographer who isn’t wholly committed could easily give up after their first couple disappointments. But with the community of Flickr, you don’t have to wonder how to take beautiful photos. Users regularly share their techniques and even detailed ‘recipes’ they used in their post processing work flow. Had I not been able to access that valuable information, I would have thought that I was just a bad photographer and been discouraged. I didn’t realise that there were such things as textures and presets before being enlightened to them courtesy of the wonderful photographers on Flickr.

What about the safety of your images? Well, when you add someone as a contact, you can also specify if you want them to not only be a contact, but also a ‘friend’ or ‘family’ status. Then when you upload certain images with permission limited to family, only they can see them. Their most ingenious function, though, is that you can choose to not allow users to view your photos in their full size and Flickr will do something amazing: they layer a transparent image over your image so that if someone right-clicks to save your image, they are actually only saving the clear overlay. Genius.

I have learned a couple things about protecting yourself lately. There have been a few people found on Flickr who add other users’ photos to their stream and say that they are their own. Obviously, a HUGE no-no and one which doesn’t usually take long to catch. I put my name on all of mine. Another trick is that if you notice that quite a few of your photos have been ‘favourited’ by a particular user and you go to their profile and they have no photos of their own, only favourited ones, there’s something fishy going on. I only allow real users to keep my photos. If I notice someone favouriting my photos who has a profile of nothing but other users’ photos, I block them. Just seems to me that they may be stockpiling images for stock or other uses which aren’t above-board.

If you haven’t used it before or are new to Flickr, here are some pointers and screen shots to help guide you (there is a thumbnail gallery below if you want to click on them and see full-sized).


1.} This is the main page to login



2.} A 'Photostream' is the first thing Flickr takes you to when you click someone's name or login to you account. It is a steady stream of every photo you've ever shared, newest at the top. There are more convenient ways to view photos, however (below)



3.} 'Sets' are sets of images determined by the user. Here, you see my sets such as 'vintage', 'Sue & Barry', etc. If you click 'sets' where you see I have hilighted, you will see the user's sets.



4.} 'Collections' are a bigger folder for sets for example "portraits", "engagement & weddings", etc.



5.} "Favourites" are photos which you have tagged as a favourite while viewing other users' photos. When viewing someone's profile, you can click to see what they have added as a favourite, too, which can lead you on a magical journey of discovery. This is how I've discovered so many of my favourite photographers.



6.} Your profile is the place where people go to learn about you. When you click on someone's name, it doesn't take you to their profile it takes you to their photostream (Flickr is all about the photos afterall!) You have to click profile to see their profile which will show you groups they're a member of, photos they have favourited recently and loads of other tidbits.



7.} When you are viewing your own photostream or profile, clicking the 'you' dropdown menu will give you the option of seeing all of your sets, collections, favourites, tags, etc.



8.} This is my favourite function. Clicking 'organise' will take you to the biggest, best way to organise your photos by dragging them into groups, sets, collections, etc. You can drag a certain few photos which you want to batch edit and change something about them all at once. It's a fab tool and you'll love it!



9.} I lied in that last one. Groups are my favourite function in Flickr! This is where all the magic happened for me. If you joined a group (for example 'Flypaper Textures' as in the photo below) you would be able to use the organise feature (explained above) and drag photos into the group. Groups such as these for different texture artists, preset artists, specific editing methods (I'm in the 'Orton' group) are limited to photos which apply to that subject. If you did a killer edit using a Flypaper Texture, add your photo to the group for other users to see. Many of them even give their post production recipes to tell you which texture they used to achieve the look. Groups also contain discussions to get into. Participating in groups is the way to get your photography seen and commented on and possibly even featured on the Flickr front page.



10.} 'Explore' is another completely fabulous area! It is a continuously updated stream of exceptional or interesting photos to jumpstart your creativity or simply set you on your way for an evening of getting sucked deep into the world of Flickr of which I am a permanent citizen.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Anonymous March 16, 2010 01:05 pm

    People can take the pictures that you put on Flickr. No transparent image being put over it will keep that from happening. It's as simple as pressing the function and print screen keys together. If you really don't want other people doing that, you shouldn't upload anything to that website.

  • Carol Lundeen January 12, 2010 09:19 am

    Great article - and thanks for the screen shots!

  • louise December 2, 2009 02:28 pm

    The old adage: if you dont want your photo's stolen, dont put them on the web - doesnt quite wash with me, and neither does it help those who actually earn a living via their artwork online. We have to display it, simply put.

    I have had a remarkable amount of copyright issues via flickr, countless images stolen and used inappropriately, even after de-tagging, watermarking and opting out of groups, not to mention keeping a firm eye on my privacy, download settings.

    From my perspective, flickr actively promotes image harvesting. Copyright information is not readily accessible to new users, and the settings section is vague at best.

    Heard of 'flickr hive mind'?
    if not, google it and see how our images are distributed without consent. New users are never made aware of such applications.

    I also agree with the commenter who mentioned the sameness and copycat behaviour. Once a fashionable little aesthetic pops up, a thousand minions are jumping on the bandwagon, the imagery of girls in fields, girls in grass, girls in stripe socks, girls in sleepy, infantile poses are the big thing right now, it seems. `some of this is stunning work, but the homogeneity is a serious turn off for me.

    I have been using flickr for five years now, and sadly cannot report much in the way of positives anymore. For online, impermanent archiving (not true, original sized archiving!) flickr is a great place to store files. Aside form this, i only keep my account open to promote new works. (i make digital art and photomontage).


  • Gregory Taylor November 16, 2009 02:43 pm

    Flickr has been a great vehicle for me to get my work seen, get critique, give critique, network with other like photographers and really take the opportunity to challenge myself creatively by seeing other people's work.

    I choose to share my EXIF data. WIth an open exchange of settings I find Flickr can be used as a great learning tool.

  • k@ryn November 8, 2009 02:12 am

    Loved this article. Could have taken the words right from my mouth. Thank you Flickr!

  • Helen November 7, 2009 05:54 pm

    I post photos on flickr, I also put the occasional one on fotothing ( who never delete to my knowledge ). I wasnt aware that flickr deleted photos, although I think if your account isnt active they say they do.

    My photos are mostly available to view "on black " . There are several applications that allow you to do this, find various things on flickrs " toys " or groups.

    As for explore- yawn ! Some people are SO obsessed by getting their photos on there, I have seen some amazing photos ( including my own of course !! ) that hardly get a comment let alone make it into explore, mainly because they dont add to groups, or tag like its going out of fashion ! I have had photos on explore btw, so this isnt sour grapes !

    I cant stand the groups where everyone has to " add one, comment on and fave three ". Still these photos often then make it into explore, which makes them happy ! I have contacts who take reasonable photos that seem to have a cult following because of these groups.... sad, I usually end up deleting them as a contact, they bask in their own popularity, and forget to comment on the photos of us lesser flickerites !!

    I also have friends from opposite sides of the world that I have "met " on flickr, which is lovely.

    Like other folks have said, if you dont want it stolen- dont put it on the web.

    When I first chose my flickr name- no-one else on the web had it to my knowledge- certainly nothing like it on flickr.... having " googled " it I found it all over the place.... and some were very odd folks ! Its not just your photos that get pinched !!

  • Elizabeth Halford November 7, 2009 02:27 am

    Ha ha this pretty much sums it all up for most of us [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdm/52035931/[/img]

  • Dave1943 November 6, 2009 08:32 pm

    Have been a member of fiickr but no one seem to view or comment on my photos so how can I improve my photography so now have given up.

  • TAZ November 6, 2009 03:09 pm

    I love Flickr and have been using it for some time now.

    I encourage people to try out the 365 project or if that is too much of a commitment, go for the 52 week project. It's a fun way to kinda force yourself to become closer with your camera, and hopefully appreciate digital photography.

    But.. Flickr is not a great place to learn new things in my opinion. That's why we have DPS ^^
    I see so many of the same themes over and over, and I really don't spent that much time on Flickr..
    So many copycatters.. (ie girls painting their face, girls sitting in a box or basket, photos of just their feet wearing colorful socks, etc) and so many people commenting on how creative and artistic these photos are!
    Seriously makes me wonder sometimes if people are commenting just to comment, because no way would I call any of that creative..

    Also, there are way too many perverted people on Flickr. When I post female friend's photos, I get tons of views, but when I put a photo of myself, hardly any.. Am I that not interesting?? ^^;;

  • Risk November 6, 2009 08:11 am

    Not a fan-to-death of flickr, but I like it cos it's simple and you get to see nice inspiring pics. What I love of this site it's the chance to see the EXIF data of an image.
    My fave site of this kind is deviantArt, but that's more for all kinds of art, rather than just photography. However, you can see there great works in there.

    One thing I see why I prefer dA rather than flickr, it's that there IS the option to give and get CONSTRUCTIVE critiques which will be seen in the "deviation page" right under the work, with the ratings on originality, technique and others. That is, if you pay for it.

    Oh, and one thing I learnt from every site of this kind I've been, it's:

    "be polite, give your sincere opinion -whether you like it or not and why... this always depends if the author is friendly or not you may use colloquial or friendlier expressions XD- and if you feel curious about their technique, ask... you may get some response and you'll get a chance to learn a lot".

    I'm rather new in flickr and haven't commented that much, but in other online galleries (like dA or others) I used this and it worked.

  • JGamble November 6, 2009 07:38 am

    The one site I have found to be mesmerizing is FlickRiver.com It shows recent "Explored" Flickr photos in a somewhat continuous stream (with a black background). Some of the photos are absolutely stunning and it changes daily. I've found myself spending an hour a day just browsing the river and exploring more of the ones that really like.

    I do agree that Flickr should go to a black background. But I don't agree on customizing the pages, or else the place will start to look like Myspace sites. If you want a customizable site there are other options like SmugMug, PBase, or even a personally hosted site.

  • Marc W. November 6, 2009 03:15 am

    Don't forget, when you want to ask a question in a Discusion, RESEARCH IT FIRST. Either on Flickr or Google. 9 times out of 10, someone asked the same question or provided the answer somewhere!

  • The Crazy Suburban Mom November 6, 2009 02:45 am

    I love flickr - and piknic is really great. I have photoshop elements but to be honest piknic works just fine for so many things and better sometimes for things too.

    I love flickr - a lot

  • Aj November 5, 2009 09:40 pm

    i m also a kinda fan of flickr and also a paid member.... but sadly after i moved to the middle east i found that flickr.com is been blocked over here, so i cannot directly access flickr :(

  • Alex Kilbee November 4, 2009 08:59 pm

    I've never really been a fan of Flickr for my own work. However I do wander through it from time to time to get inspiration and view something new and different.

    The trick is to find that new and different work.

  • Brandee November 4, 2009 03:07 pm

    Sorry, I didn't check the box to be notified of a response to that question. Box checked now! lol

  • Brandee November 4, 2009 03:06 pm

    I wasn't aware I could generate codes for my flickr photo's, where do I find that feature?

  • Phil November 4, 2009 11:14 am

    "Many of them even give their post production recipes to tell you which texture they used to achieve the look"

    Thank you Elizabeth. I have a Flickr account with a few pictures but I hadn't thought of it as a tool to becoming a better photographer.

  • Aamer November 4, 2009 04:27 am

    what is flickr?

  • Remington November 4, 2009 04:12 am

    I also have a flickr site. It's free which, is good. But it's not a professional looking site. Pedestrian is the term I would use to describe it. It would be great if flickr could allow users to configure their page to look more professional.

    Oh yeah, I agree with Charle' comment above... I can't stand the white background... pedestirna AND clinical!

  • Johno November 3, 2009 11:34 pm

    Been there. Done it, Hated it and will never be back,
    Slow, cumbersome, complicated in placed, difficult to share with other unless to allow the who world to see your pics- and the biggest draw back was the fact that whilst you could have sub-albums (This was the main reason I upgraded my account and coughed up the $$$) , so could not share the whole tree (multiple albums in the same folder tree) with anyone. You still had to give specific rights to each album to each person.
    So, paid school fees..and left.
    RIP Flicker.
    So buyer beware !!!!!!

  • garreyf November 3, 2009 11:29 pm

    I am very active on flickr and it is a terrific place to put your photographs and to learn.
    There are places on flickr where you can get a critique.
    Ive learned so much in the past couple years by seeing what everyone else is doing.
    I am an admin for many groups on flickr.
    Below are just 3

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/photographycritique/ (photography critique group)
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/473537@N20/ (photography critique assignment group)
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/545852@N23/ (tutorials and helpful links group)

    Great post :)

  • ooga ooga November 3, 2009 04:03 pm

    ooga ooga

    I didnt know much about flickr. I'll have to check it out! thanks friend!

    ooga ooooga

  • João Gomes November 3, 2009 06:04 am

    But I'm trying to decide to put my photos on Fickr or Picasa.

    Can you please tel me why is Flickr better than Picasa?

    Thank you!

  • celeste November 3, 2009 05:47 am

    I use flickr regularly. I ask for opinions and suggestions, but my experience with it is that a lot of people can be down right negative. I just want some advice, a helpful critique, but some people seem to forget that they had to start off somewhere too. I get a few words of encouragement and advice, but it is very few.

  • Kim November 3, 2009 05:33 am

    Count me in as a flickr lover! I would never have gotten into photography without it. I have always held a bit of resentment towards the mysterious "explore" feature, but it's easy to let that go when you can find groups to participate in. I agree with some commenters about the lack of constructive criticism - but I don't think that's flickr's fault, and I'd like to know where on Picasa or those other services, exactly, you might find that. It's a cultural thing - we're all very uncomfortable and inexperienced giving criticism (that's also constructive)!

  • NewBlackAllStar November 3, 2009 02:11 am

    Flickr is a great site for viewing great works, it exposes you to various styles and techniques, I'm happy that their are more good works on Flickr than bad works :)

  • Hans November 3, 2009 02:08 am

    I always liked Flickr, but it does lack criticism.
    It is very, very rare to get a really critical review and most people just say "gorgeous" or "wow".
    I like it, sure.. but that teaches me nothing.
    One thing anyone should have by the way, is greasemonkey.
    It allows you to use Flickr the way you like it.

  • Jbirdphotography November 3, 2009 01:44 am

    I love love love love love flickr!!! :)
    It's like a free, online photography school for me--I get daily lessons on post-processing, the use of light, the definition of bokeh (had no idea what it was before flickr!), how to give constructive criticizm, etc.
    Many days, I slip into photography slumps and am plagued by creativity blocks... but I get so much inspiration from my wonderful contacts who kindly get me back on my feet with helpful criticism and encouragement!
    I'm officially an addict! :)

  • Fletch November 3, 2009 12:54 am

    Flickr is all about sharing and socialising around photos.

    It is not
    A storage site
    A way to get "noticed" and become rich and famous
    A free stock library
    A good way to stop your photos being stolen.

    It is
    What you make of it, so get stuck in.

  • JB November 3, 2009 12:27 am

    Good article overall. Just wanted to clarify a point:

    > they layer a transparent image over your image so that if someone right-clicks
    > to save your image, they are actually only saving the clear overlay. Genius.

    Yes, it will prevent basic users to steal your image. But anybody with some web/HTML knowledge would know how to go around this (several methods), so do not assume nobody can download them.

  • Paul November 3, 2009 12:24 am

    Flickr was a big DISAPPOINTMENT for me. After developing some trust in it, and continuing to add photos, I've reach the unpleasing LIMIT of 200MB and since then everything was cumbersome. Why not choosing Picasa or Microsoft? (the last gives you 25GB of space!!)

  • Zack Jones November 3, 2009 12:22 am

    flickr is the bomb. I love that site. A great way to waste several hours is to look at a photo, view the photostream of the photographer that took it and then look at his or her favorite list. Find a photo you like, click it and on it goes. One new feature in LightRoom beta 3 is direct upload and download from your flickr photostream.

  • Pedro Cedeño November 3, 2009 12:06 am

    Look this one, i post this photo and i have 1550 visits. FLICKR is a excellent way to learn photography


  • Greg November 2, 2009 04:07 pm

    The most addictive thing about flickr are all the statistics. It is really interesting to see who views what in my photostream, what's popular and what's not. I only just joined this October and it's all still new and exiting. One thing that strikes me when I upload is the reception some shots get but other remain ignored at large. Funny enough it turns out that what I think are my best shots and what is most popular with people viewing my account is two very different things.

    Pay me a visit at flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43520295@N08/

  • Pedro Cedeño November 2, 2009 03:43 pm

    Really i love FLICKR, you can learn many thing about photography...


  • Chris Sutton November 2, 2009 01:02 pm

    Does anyone know if there is a Flickr plug-in for PSE?

  • João Gomes November 2, 2009 12:27 pm

    Do you (all) think Flickr has advantages over Picasa?

    Good post!

  • Kevo November 2, 2009 11:00 am


    If you don't want anyone to republish your pictures or change them, choose Copyright.

    "Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works" means that if someone uses the image it can only be for noncommercial works, it cannot be modified at all, and it must give credit to the creator (you). "Attribution-NonCommercial-Share" means that someone can use your work for noncommercial purposes as long as they give credit to you and they share the image under the same license. The CC has good descriptions on their licenses here: http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/ :)

  • Rich November 2, 2009 10:57 am

    I like Flickr. If you're worried about others ripping off your work, then don't upload full size originals. Or disable the option that allows others to view the original. Or add some dreadful watermarks. ;-)

    Also, join groups. The reasons are two fold, 1) you share your photos with others, 2) it makes your photos known. Often times, photo thieves are discovered by other group members and they will notify you. The Flickr community generally frowns upon plagiarism

    And I agree with Nick P.. don't depend on Flickr as your main back-up. You should always have a back-up system if your own.. burn to DVD, external hard drive, and so on.

    Noncommercial No Derivative -- means people can use your images for non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit you as the photographer and do not modify the image in any way.

    NonCommercial-Share -- means people can use your images for whatever they purpose want, as long as it's non-commercial, and they credit you somewhere in the final version of the image.

  • Christoph November 2, 2009 10:57 am

    Flickr is maybe the best way to get your pictures out there. And that's what we want, right? I also love the new DPS feature of inserting pictures into comments directly from flickr :)


  • Mandi November 2, 2009 09:47 am

    I'm a total Flickr addict...it's my favorite website ever! It's really encouraging to get comments and views from others, and looking at other people's work is really inspiring. Great article!

  • Elizabeth Halford November 2, 2009 09:32 am

    @nick P - absolutely FAB comment and very good info. Thank you!

  • Charles November 2, 2009 09:16 am

    I tried, but I cannot live with the white background

  • Sime November 2, 2009 09:09 am

    Gotta love those shoes... Good article

    Sime // dPS

  • Elizabeth Halford November 2, 2009 08:23 am

    @dan what a crazy coincidence!

  • dan November 2, 2009 08:10 am

    ahhhhh my shoes photo on the front page :-) am actually thrilled that this cropped up in my feed reader

  • Ilan November 2, 2009 08:01 am

    Thanks for the great guide!

    I also posted a Flickr guide few days ago. I do warn you, that's it's a cheat of how you -might- get your photo to Flickrs Explore - - How to get your photos to Explore - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2009/06/together-and-alone.html

    I must confess that after figuring that out, the whole concept of interestingness / Explore kind of looses it's magic, so think twice before trying to 'manipulate' the system.

  • Jess November 2, 2009 07:51 am

    I think it's a mistake (a somewhat arrogant one) to assume that people who favorite on flickr without having images of their own are up to no good. I'm not a photographer, so I don't have any images uploaded there, but I do love looking at great photos. When I favorite a picture, I am showing my appreciation for the vision and execution of the photographer. In fact, the main reason I registered at flickr was to show my appreciation in this way.

    I don't think it's wise for an artist to treat their admirers like criminals. The people who intend to steal aren't going to be deterred by 'no right-clicks' and/or blocks. There is always a way around obstacles for someone so inclined.

    The most useful way to protect yourself from theft is to avoid uploading your full resolution images and to use an unobtrusive nameplate so that people will recognize your work without detracting from the images.

  • Tanabata November 2, 2009 07:44 am

    I have a question, about Creative Commons license, What to choose?, I see that people use basically two: 'Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works' and License Attribution-NonCommercial-Share, who take for preventing spread my photographs attribute or change.


  • David November 2, 2009 07:17 am

    I love Flickr and I love some of the photographers mentioned in the post. Rebecca Lily has her own group to show off how you use her presets. I have been using Flickr for a few years and if you run a Mac check out flickery - I reviewed it here it is a desktop client for flickr that I am using nearly full time now. http://www.totalapps.net/apps/flickery-flickr-for-your-desktop/

    It is great to log on each day to find the view count or comment count has increased on your work :)

  • 9inchnail November 2, 2009 07:16 am

    We all know what's coming now. Everyone posting their Flickr-site just to promote themselves...

  • Nick P November 2, 2009 06:48 am

    Whilst Flickr is great and has helped my photography immensely (thanks to the rather overactive Leeds group) it does have its problems.

    I guess top of the list at the moment is the fact the Flickr staff seem a little trigger happy with their big delete button. If you happen to get on their bad side (and what qualifies as their bad side is anyone's guess) you could see all your hard work suddenly disappear. What's worse is they don't keep backups - so make sure you do! Don't use Flickr as your backup!

    Secondly is the fact that its not always the best place to get constructive criticism on your work. Typical comments are "Wow" or "Neat" or "Love it". Generally if people don't like it they don't comment and tell you why. There are exceptions to this. Some groups (such as the now expired DMU - it fell foul of the point above) can help but they are few and far between.

    Finally there's the copyright issues which are mentioned in the article. Not only do other pretend your work is theirs, there is a worrying trend of organisations looking for cheap photography and thinking that as the images are on Flickr they can just use them.

    That said, Groups (those that work well and don't get deleted) can be great. I'm lucky that the group for my local area (Leeds) is excellent and very active, both online and offline. But you only get out of it what you put in.