Everyone wants to be Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir. That’s not because she shot into the headlines when her images were stolen from Flickr, sold for thousands of dollars by a company in London and her announcement of the theft was removed by Flickr (who later apologized.) It’s because she became an online photography icon when her images on Flickr were spotted by Toyota who commissioned her to shoot a series of ads promoting the Prius. You can see some of them here.
It would be nice if we could say that happens all the time. Simply upload your best images to the world’s most popular photo-sharing site, and wait for your talent to be spotted and the commissions to roll in. But it doesn’t usually work that way. In fact, it’s questionable whether professional photographers on Flickr even expect it to.
While many certainly use the site as a way of promoting their skills — and it’s likely that most dream of being spotted and paid large sums for a commissioned shoot in the way that Rebekka was — professionals seem to be using Flickr primarily as a way of networking and learning new skills.
“I joined so I could take part in group discussions, and learn more about shooting a camera manually,” Taylor Jones, a newly-minted professional photographer who now specializes in bands and small commercial projects told us. “To this day, I haven’t taken a single course in photography, and a part of that is thanks to Flickr. It’s been a great learning tool!”
Pat Fruen, who mostly shoots children and families and who, like Taylor is active in a professional photographers’ group on Flickr, agrees. Her clients are local and she hasn’t received any business from Flickr. Nonetheless, she still loves looking at the pictures and networking with other photographers.
“I think I learn so much just by looking. I also enjoy the forums and I appreciate the generosity of people sharing information and experience,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to be a part of the photography community and meet others with the same interests.”
Flickr is certainly a great place to chat with photographers and learn new techniques, but commercial deals are being made there. Terry McCormick, for example, sold a picture he’d taken of a train to a model railway company who put it on the cover of their catalog. And Denis Callet’s picture of a lake was used by a media company producing a history of California’s Attorney General. (Okay, that’s not likely to become a best-seller but Denis was paid for it.)
“If you have a definite style, and it’s noticeable, something good could happen,” Taylor told us. If Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir is anything to go by, that’s certainly true, and Taylor added that he had sold a few images through Flickr, though “nothing serious.” Nonetheless, it seems clear that you can get more out Flickr than networking and learning — you just have to shoot the right images to grab it.
Photo by Taylor Christian Jones