In this post naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist Steve Berardi from Photo Naturalist explains how Flickr can make you a better photographer.
If you’re not using Flickr yet, then you’re really missing out. Not only is it a great way to store and share your photos, but it’s also an excellent place to get feedback and learn from other photographers.
When I first joined Flickr, I merely saw it as a way to store my photos and serve as yet another backup source, but after using the site for a few months, I became addicted, and quickly realized how the site could make me a better photographer.
Here are few ways Flickr has made me a better photographer:
Learning by example
Albert Einstein once said:
“Learning by example isn’t the best way to learn–it’s the only way to learn.”
I must say that I agree with the great Doctor. I remember sitting in all those computer science classes confused when the professor went over the steps of a complex algorithm, but as soon as they stepped through an actual example, I immediately understood.
The same principle applies to photography. Just by constantly being exposed to a variety of photographs, you’ll see the world through the eyes of others and gain new perspectives, new ideas, and new inspirations.
One of my favorite things to do on Flickr is compare my photos of a particular subject or scene with another photographer’s shots. I do it because it often introduces me to new ways of looking at a subject or particular scene. Each one of us sees the world completely differently, and it shows in our photographs.
Other than just looking at the photo itself and thinking about composition, color, and all the other aspects of the photo, you can also learn a lot by clicking the “more properties” link to find out the details of the photograph: focal length, f-stop, exposure, ISO, etc. All of this information is very helpful in learning how the photographer got the photo.
For most of us, photography is just a hobby, so the only people who see our photos are family and friends. Since you have a close relationship with these people, they’ll likely give you polite feedback on your photos, which isn’t always helpful.
With Flickr, you can expose all your photos to complete strangers, and although a lot of them will also be polite and only leave you “hey, great photo!” comments, a few will actually point out things they liked or didn’t like about a photo, sometimes even suggesting how you could have done it better (especially if you ask them to in your photo’s description!).
The key to getting a lot of good feedback on your photos is to join groups that you’re interested in. After joining, submit a few photos, comment on other photos in the group, and continue to interact with the group. The members will reward you with comments (and, sometimes very helpful ones).
Scouting out locations
This one probably only applies to nature photographers, but Flickr is also a great tool for scouting out locations before you visit them. Sometimes you may only get to spend one day at a particular national park or wilderness area, so it helps to know as much about an area as you can before getting there.
In the beginning, I would scout an area just by looking at photos people took of that area, but soon I realized how much other information I can gather. Here are a few things you can figure out with Flickr’s “advanced search” tool:
- What a scene looks like at a particular time of the year (i.e. when do the leaves start to change color?)
- If a particular mountain peak is snow capped at a certain time of year
- How strong a waterfall is flowing throughout the different seasons
- If the sun shines on a certain geological formation at sunrise/sunset (and at what time of year)
A few months ago I used Flickr to help me scout out waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, of Oregon. The area has over twenty different waterfalls, but unfortunately I had just one day to spend there! So, I logged on to Flickr and searched for “Columbia River Gorge waterfalls” and restricted my search to photos taken in January (when I was there). The search results allowed me to pick two or three waterfalls I thought looked most interesting at that time of the year. One of the waterfalls I chose is pictured at the right (Metlako Falls).
How to get started
Are you ready to start using Flickr to help you become a better photographer? Great!! Here’s how to get started:
1.) Signup for a free account at www.flickr.com
2.) Upload your favorite photos (make sure you add tags, titles, and descriptions!)
3.) Search for groups that target your interested subject (i.e. portraits, street, nature, cityscapes, food, wildflowers, landscapes, etc). Join them, add photos, and comment on others.
4.) Search for interesting photos and follow the photographer’s photostream by adding them as a contact. Here are 5 great Flickr photostreams to get you started:
- Kevin McNeal (nature, landscapes) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinmcneal/
- Davide Cherubini (cityscapes and bicycles) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/d_cherubini/
- Lord V (amazing macro photos) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/
- Heather Evans Smith (just check it out) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/hsmithphotography/
- Gretchen Burkhart (portraits) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/gretchenburkhart/
Don’t just upload your photos and leave…
Although Flickr is great for just storing your photos and sharing them with friends and family, there are even greater benefits of using Flickr: learning by example, getting feedback, and scouting out locations.
To get the most out of Flickr though, you’ll have to explore and interact with other users. So, don’t just upload your photos and leave. Stay a little while. Look around, and find new photographers. You’ll definitely learn a thing or two.
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist. You can usually find him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or the Mojave Desert, both located in the beautiful state of California. You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the Photo Naturalist (link to www.photonaturalist.net), or check out his Flickr photostream (link to http://www.flickr.com/photos/steveberardi/).