What It Takes to Get Your Photo on the Flickr Explore Page

Photography: law_keven
For many photographers, a place on Flickr’s Explore page is the ultimate prize. It’s an acknowledgment that their work can stand among the best on the site, that it is indeed “interesting,” and that they are an important part of the community.

And of course, it can bring a massive surge of views to their image and their photostream.

So what does it take to improve the chances that a photo will be highlighted as one of the most interesting uploaded in the last seven days?

To Be “Interesting,” a Photo Must Generate Interest
The simple answer is that other people have to like it. Flickr itself has no way of assessing a photo; it can only react to the interest the Flickr community has already shown in it. As Serguei Mourachov, a Flickr staff member and part of the team responsible for creating the Explore page algorithm, told us:

“We are looking for what’s attracting [the] attention of our community and not just for nicely arranged pixels.”

That means that to reach the Explore page, a photo has to have gathered views, comments and been faved. Each of these actions has a different weight in the algorithm and the weighting is adjusted regularly. According to Serguei:

“[v]iews have the minimal weight in the interestingness calculation [and] favorites have slightly higher weight than comments, but we change these numbers about four to five times a year to adjust our algorithm to the current climate of Flickrverse,”

There are however a number of minimum requirements that an image has to meet to qualify. In addition to being faved at least twice, photos must also be public, ‘safe’ and include EXIF data.

Groups too can affect the probability of a photo reaching the Explore page (what Serguei calls ‘PEP.’) Photos posted in groups with high numbers of ‘unsafe’ photos, for example, are flagged as suspicious and given a “significantly lower” PEP. Groups with rules that require members to take actions that would increase PEP are also penalized.

“Many ‘award’ and ‘comments’ groups fall in this category,” Serguei explained. “To avoid this kind of problem we are trying to automatically discover such groups and adjust our algorithm for photos included in their pools, decreasing their PEP.”

Posting in Too Many Groups Lowers your Chances
Interestingly, photos posted in “too many” groups are penalized in a similar way, (‘Having [a] photo in more than 15-20 groups will significantly affect PEP,” Serguei told us) presumably to reduce the motivation to spam groups in order to win views, faves and comments.

The order in which the images appear on the Explore page however, is not important.

“Photos are shown in some order just because we want consistent pagination on the Explore day view page,” said Serguei. “The problem we try to avoid is typical for our Last 7 Days page, where sometimes you can see the same photos after page reload. And at each interestingness recalculation we are adding several random factors such as completely excluding all photos of [a] random user, or just [a] random photo for the day.”

Promoting an image in order to place it on the Explore page then can backfire if not done carefully. Post the image in as many groups as possible, and especially those which demand comments, and you will damage the chances that the image will be highlighted.

And being too successful can count against you too. The Explore algorithm increases PEP for photos of little-known users and only places images from the same photographer on the Explore page in intervals of several days.

The best strategy then is to follow the advice posted by Viejito in Flickr’s “Interestingness” group, and provide comments and faves to other images in the hope that they’ll return the favor naturally. That’s always a good strategy to follow on Flickr, especially if the comments are genuinely valuable advice rather than quick compliments.

And if a photo that you think is Explore-worthy doesn’t make the cut, remember it’s not you, it’s Flickr.

“Explore pages are for viewers and not a photography popularity contest,” warned Serguei. “Many great photos of excellent photographers never made Explore… and it does not mean they are bad. [The] algorithm that populates Explore pages is not fair by definition. It’s not created to judge, but to find something that could be interesting.”

Have you had a photo on Flickr’s Explore page?

[tags] flickr, flickr explore [/tags]

40 comments for this post.

  1. Scott Ingram Said:

    Nice article. Interesting to see the inner workings described here.
    I have to admit though, Explore always seems a bit overrated to me. If an image I shoot makes it to Explore, then great, but I am not going to go out of my way to try and get it there. Also I admin a few groups and am active in others, so my photos end up in a lot of places. If that happens to affect my "PEP" then so be it.

  2. Eric Said:

    I've had several hit Explore at one time or another (38 of my 1500+ to be exact... so I suppose my record isn't stellar).

    It's rather confounding; several of my "most interesting" photos which seem to meet all the criteria mentioned never made it, while others with relatively few comments/faves/views, and much lower on my interesting scale, did.

    Perusing the explore pages - those "must comment" groups do seem to come up a bit, despite the alleged penalty, especially "the world through my eyes" and various "1-2-3" groups. Though about half the photos aren't in such groups, so I guess it must factor. It's true that they all seem to be in less than 10 though.

    (Seems silly to me, there's other ways to neutralize that effect without penalizing people for participating in those kind of groups - for example, look at the average number of comments a photo in such a group receives and weight accordingly).

    Personally, I try not to think about it too much - it's nice and all, but it's not the only (or even the best) kind of recognition that Flickr offers.

  3. Pierre Said:

    Nice post, thanks for gathering and sharing this.
    However, I got a few pics on explorer but I'm not sure about the EXIF requirement.
    This one made it for instance:
    And doesn't have EXIF.

  4. Adam B Said:

    This image gets loads of hit from all over the place, some searches from outside and inside flickr
    Even Digg where I have a link to it
    Still not in Explore

  5. Howard Grill Said:

    Just curious, how does one or can one find out if their shot made it to the explore page...are you sent some type of e-mail by flickr to tell you or is there some other type of mechanism?

  6. Brian Auer Said:

    I've always been mystified by the whole Explore thing. It's funny how I'll have photos pop in there unexpectedly, while others that I thought had a good chance never make it. I figured it had to do with views, comments, and faves, but I always thought they had some other factors (or people) in the background that decided on the entry to Explore. It still feels a bit like the Digg algorithm to me, but I guess that's what makes it so fun.

  7. labaronesa Said:

    Flickr is only sharing what they want us to know. There must be many other variables as, those who have tracked photos say that there is no consistency at all. I've had a few photos on the Explore Page...one never even got on Scout, it was there for such a short time. And, where many of my photos used to be among the top 500, I haven't had one show up in a month. It's best to take Explore and Interestingness with a grain of salt.

  8. Antoine Khater Said:

    Well I need to confirm on the groups things, I never really knew that but I have noticed that a lot of my pictures that reached the explore page where only part of a group or two, while others, that I was more proud of and promoted to about 10 groups never did it to the interestingness

  9. PhotographyVoter.com Said:


    There is a tool out there that will show you what has hit the Explore page. I will try and dig it up and post it here..

  10. DAVE ID Said:

    And the pretty girl with the same frakking self-portrait from 3 quarters, it's mostly the same pic, but hey she's cute so she has a following and she gets faved and clicked and everything. But just like a Melissa Etheridge album it's always the same song, just different makeup (not really) different lighting (not really) it's the same frakking picture with slight, slight difference and she gets to the front page, there's no creativity, but she's cute. Further proof that all social networking elements always end up as a cool-clique network where the cool people are worshiped over the talented. Oh Look I can point a camera at my face.... yay!

    Just slightly bitter - Not that I think my pictures deserve the frontpage (though I'm proud of a few of them) I just think that a lot of them don't deserve to be.

  11. Howard Grill Said:

    I found the tool by Googling...very useful. Here it is if anyone wants it:


    Go know I had 9 images in Explore and I never knew it!

  12. Barrie Said:

    I've always been baffled by Explore, but it's fun when a photo gets picked up. I've had 7 show up according to Scout.

  13. dawn Said:

    I've had 120+ included in Explore, but I can't tell you how it's done. Some get a lot of comments, views, and favorites, others not so much.

    It's a nice compliment but I don't really pay attention to it. I just want to make appealing photographs.

  14. Paul Said:

    I heard a couple of the Flickr developers speak at web apps conference a while back and they said that one of the factors was that someone who has had lot's of photos in explore favourites your photo then that will carry more weight than someone who doesn't have many photos in explore faving it.

    That would explain how some photos with very few comments may get into explore over others with loads.

  15. Jas Said:

    Wow thanks for that Scout tool Howard! Never noticed my swan photo had been on there - only 10 comments (2 of mine!) and 82 views. Cool!

  16. art siegel Said:

    I've been fairly successful with Explore, but it's still something of a mystery. For obvious reasons, Flickr isn't interested in doing more than hinting at how pictures get in. They don't want to see the obvious gaming that would follow.
    More thoughts on the definition of "Exploreworthiness" can be found in the Scout faq: http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/faq.php?section=scout

    I especially like how Scout keeps track of every photo that you have in Explore:

    http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/[email protected]&sort=date&year=0

    or, you can have it just show you the ones that are currently in:

    http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/[email protected]&combined=0,

    which can change quite a bit.

    Explore is very dynamic. Photos for each day jump in an out, based on their current "interestingness". Or perhaps someone decides to make a bunch of photos private. They vanish from Explore and new places are created.

  17. Ilina S. Said:

    Having your photo in the top results of Explore gives an immense amount of exposure - not only on Flickr but also on various websites around the web, which display those photos through RSS. That's why Explore is not something to ignore or regard as insignificant or unimportant.

    According to my DNA page (http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/[email protected]), 41 of my 102 public photos have made Explore, yet it is a mystery to me as to why some make it and others with far more faves and comments don't.

    But in every case the pics which made Explore, especially in the top 10, are what gave my stream the most views. Those photos, however, rarely stay on Explore for long.

    My personal opinion on Explore is that the guys at Flickr try to show photos of various users - and new users on Flickr do need that kind of exposure so they get noticed and encouraged too.

    That's why it seems that the more popular someone's stream becomes, the less probable it would be that their new photo would get on Explore.

  18. Arian Xhezairi Said:

    Very good article, and handful tips meantime. The strategy behind the algorithm is fair I think, though sometimes is lacking the sincerity.

  19. JON Said:

    DAVE ID Said:

    And the pretty girl with the same freaking self-portrait from 3 quarters, it's mostly the same pic, but hey she's cute so she has a following and she gets faved and clicked and everything. But just like a Melissa Etheridge album it's always the same song, just different makeup (not really) different lighting (not really) it's the same frakking picture with slight, slight difference and she gets to the front page, there's no creativity, but she's cute. Further proof that all social networking elements always end up as a cool-clique network where the cool people are worshiped over the talented. Oh Look I can point a camera at my face.... yay!

    Just slightly bitter - Not that I think my pictures deserve the frontpage (though I'm proud of a few of them) I just think that a lot of them don't deserve to be.

    I suspect you are talking about Lucia Holm aka Miss Lulu or whatever. I totally agree. I do think she has talent, but when it comes down to it she's only popular because she's pretty and a minor internet celebrity. So much for "interestingness".

  20. DR Said:

    Interesting article, but I still find Explore a huge oddity - I've only had two in, but my best position was based on 18 views, four comments and four faves, and it's a long way from my best photo. Even more odd, it was dropped, then re-added a day later in a higher position, but on the basis of no more views or comments. The EXIF thing annoys me though, if it's true, as it's surely a bias towards digital rather than film photography.

  21. nick Said:

    My problem with Explore is simple...some of the images that are placed on there stink. I see some of these images and wonder how the hell they make it on there. The is no artistic quality whatsoever. I dont feel as though an image of a bunch of friends partying quantifies "intrestingness" and deserve a place on explore. Call me jealous or whatever you like but the fact still stands.

  22. Keenahn Said:

    Hrmm, interesting. My question is, does it matter what day you post the picture? Older pictures will obviously rack up more comments/favs just over time, but will 10 favs spread out over a year count less than 5 in one day?

  23. Nathan Said:

    I’ve been posting photos on Flickr for a few months, made a handful of contacts and have favorited about a couple dozen photos. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it on explore unless I dramatically change the way I interact with Flickr. In my estimation, getting your photos on Explore requires two things.

    1. Your photos must be good. Not necessarily great, just good.
    2. You must be integrated into the Flickr social network game.

    How hard you play the social network game will largely determine your likelihood of making explore. So how do you play the game? Connect with as many other people playing the game as possible. If I were to play the game, I would look through the Explore pages daily and then Comment, Favorite and make Contacts with as many of those photos as I possibly could. These are the people are all playing the game everyday and they will be more then happy to play with anyone who will also play the game.

    I don’t think I will ever play the Flickr “game”. Sure I’ll still comment on and occasionally favorite photos I really like, but I refuse to spend hours of my day commenting and favoriting photos that I personally don’t get all that excited about. Praising as many photos as you possibly can just doesn’t seem genuine to me. If you look at the profiles of the Explore game players, you’ll see contacts in the hundreds and favorites in the thousands. In some cases as many as 50,000 favorites. In the game, the word “favorite” has no meaning. It should really be “points”. So it makes sense that anyone seriously playing the game will have given out a great number of “points”. After all, you can’t really score points unless you give points. Just my two cents…

  24. John Said:

    I had to laugh at this: The Explore algorithm increases PEP for photos of little-known users and only places images from the same photographer on the Explore page in intervals of several days. Not True. explore favors certain photographers whose images appear day in and day out. I've tracked 40 or so people whose images are included every day...every signle day regardless of faves, comments, views. Doesn't matter. They are in and they stay in.

  25. Abhishek Said:

    That's very well said Nathan. Flickr explore is a social networking game. I played it a few times and got my photos to explore. But then I feel stupid to comment on photos I do not want to and receive comments on my photos like 'Nice shot'. So I stop and the best of my photos go unnoticed.

    But then I have been contacted by a few magazine people on flickr who are ready to pay me for the pictures. Just wonder how did they find me !

  26. Johnny Said:

    Nice article, but I have to say most of what the admins of flickr say is bullshit.

    There are some members on flickr who have constantly photos in explore no matter what, I can name at least a dozen of members that have a photo in explore every single day, hell some of them have even 2 photos a day....

    I think Flickr favours some users, of that those users have found a way to break this logarithm responsible for picking up photos to explore.

    Seeing the same dull photos from the same persons is hardly called interesting...

    But that being said, you can still find some amazing photos in explore, sadly though they are usually somewhere in the middle pages where you have to go and search for them...kind of beats the whole idea of explore since most people just check the first few pages.

  27. chris Said:

    perhaps the percentage of a given members photos that get "action" is a factor. I wonder if 100 artistic, commented photos have a better chance then a little old lady who has 100 excellent photos mixed in with 5000 shots of her grandson. I have shot a couple of charity fundraisers for some friends, and uploaded a couple of hundred pics, most of wich would be uninteresting to people who did not attend or were not involved with the charity. My only explore has almost no artistic value, but about 600 views more than the first runner up http://www.flickr.com/photos/use2blost/2928403104/in/set-72157609162965389/

  28. flickrloser Said:

    in the end it doesn't help, if one simple girl takes a pretty shot of flowers while a popular girl takes the same shot, even though the simple girl's might be better, in the end the popular girl wins and gets like 5000 views, 600 comments, and 300 favs and makes EXPLORE, while the other girl get 25 views, 5 comments and 2 favs

  29. Cassia Said:

    This article is realy interesting.
    Where do I check for (front page photos)~
    We have the link from Bighugelabs to see if someone phone is or had been in Explore.
    Question Again Were do I serach if my photo reach the FRON PAGE?

  30. Justin Said:

    Not allowing photos that dont have EXIF data seems a little wrong. This excludes people that shoot film.

    Or am I missing something? Why would flickr do this? Maybe this is also why some people that have lots of comments and favs don't make explore.

  31. Eloy Said:

    This is the explore killer recipt.
    1. Eliminate all your contacts. don't add contacts any more
    2. Put exif, geoloc on all your pictures
    3. put your picture in just one group "la amicizia fa la diferenza" (something that describes very well the italian way of life, could be translated as "you get ahead of others because you have friends") this should be done immediately.
    4. Start commenting as much and as quick as possible the pics on that group. this should be done right after you upload your pic
    voilà.... you are in explore
    now explore is been shot down by because this ultimate game.... who cares anymore

  32. Andy Frazer Said:

    I've had about twenty of my photos in Explore, but I never upload EXIF data. Unless this was a new change to the rules, I suspect that it may not be true.

  33. photographphil Said:

    Ive been posting on flickr for years, and i have only have 1 photo ever to make it to explore, and im baffled to why that photo got in and others dont.

    so i go by the thing, its nice but im not bothered

  34. Paul Said:

    For awhile last year I saw up to 19 of my photos appear in the above 100 set on flickr's Explore. Now I see nothing at all. I suspect they changed the algorithm again. What does happen is that there are those who get to pimp their material in various groups with no consequences because they are well known and popular. These people consistently get on Explore. Those who are not popular or don't belong to the same social set as these get chastised for doing the same thing. This puts the lie to the idea that flickr is looking for less well known photographers. It is a most interesting that flickr staff admits to an attempt to reduce the number of same photographers in explore on pages close to one another. These are the same people who will say that flickr isn't about Explore, that there shouldn't be a popularity contest but it is set up to be such a thing. It's a contradiction and a wild goose chase that I've grown tired of pursuing.

  35. Ah Ha Said:

    What is the point of Flickr?
    to take your money - and allow people to download your images for free -
    the default is set to "anyone can download' - thus Flickr encourages this thievery.

    Flickriadians are paying to have their works stolen -

    amazing business model

  36. CanadaGood Said:

    Explore baffles me completely. I have posted more than 17,000 photos since Nov 2008. Some were taken as far back as 1963 and some were made yesterday. Some are lousy but at least a few are pretty good. Many are scanned slides but most are digital.
    Yet not a single one is on Explore!
    I suspect that it is a social thing. I have spent far more time tagging, geotagging describing, titling and putting into logical sets and collections. I have spent very little time sending random emails that tell people that their photos have "good composition".
    Or perhaps I am just a lousy photographer with boring photos!

  37. Steve Said:

    If I look at Flickr at, let's say, 9am UK time, Explore will already show the best 500 images for that day, so what's the best time to upload stuff if I want to get onto Explore myself???

  38. shelle @ dancingmatilda Said:

    I just had my last 2 photos in expore...and when both were posted i added them to a couple of groups and commented on photos in the groups and my contacts. I think sometimes people underestimate the power of sincere comments...i just love looking at photos and leaving comments on other's beautiful works (this is how i learn to photograph)...I don't think it has anything to do with popularity...i have very few contacts and have only been posting regularly the past month. my theory....when i posted to the groups, the people i commented on were online at the time and commented back almost immediately...ie a lot of activity on that particular photo. there were no tags on my photos, i don't know about the EXIP, i don't know what that is.

    1. tippytoe, 2. duo

  39. Franck Said:

    Hi all,

    Most discussions about Explorer are about impressions. So to go one step ahead, I’ve published a set of statistics made on explored photos of the last 2 years: http://www.flickr.com/photos/franckmichel/6471458477/

    This is not a set of tricks, but an attempt to make observations on why explored photos have in common.

    Let me known what you think!


  40. Christiana Fletcher Said:

    My most recent upload generated 1,800 views over night. I was mind blown and had no idea how until somebody mentioned explore. I'm an intermediate photographer doing it as a hobby and the photo chosen was taken with a p&s.

    I only added it to 4 groups when this happened. So I don't know how it happened. I don't really care to be honest, I just enjoy sharing photographs and really enjoy looking at others' work. I do leave comments and feedback all the time, and not just some copy and paste crap, I try to leave genuine stuff.

    The groups I added to were post one/award 2, etc. So I do agree w/ the other posters, I think it's all about leaving genuine comments and not adding to too many groups. I've made genuine friends too and we all leave each other regular feedback. This was unexpected and cool.

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