We’re always impressed when we hear about people who have sold images through Flickr. It happens so often that we really shouldn’t be, but because the site wasn’t designed for commercial use it’s always remarkable to find that buyers and sellers have come together without either side taking any great efforts to make it happen. That’s especially true when the buyers are big and the companies are willing to take a risk by commissioning amateurs.
But while sales are taking place on Flickr, the photo-sharing site isn’t good for every commercial venture. There are times when you’ll need to give it a miss if you want to land a job.
Here are some of the most important:
When you’re Pitching to Pros
Flickr is primarily used by photography enthusiasts. While there are plenty of professional photographers using the site, the majority of people on Flickr really join up to share their photos and learn from other hobbyists. They don’t treat their stream as a commercial showcase so they don’t take the sort of care with it that photographers who shoot for a living take with their portfolios.
That means that Flickr isn’t really seen as a professional tool, especially by professional buyers.
On the one hand, that’s Flickr’s strength. Buyers come to Flickr looking for something that goes beyond the usual stock images (or which falls short of professional prices). They’re hoping to make a discovery, and often they do.
But it does mean that if you tell a magazine’s photo editor, for example, that he can find your images on Flickr, you may as well tell him that you’ve never done this before and that if he hands you a suitcase full of cash for a shoot, there is a possibility he’ll later need to give another one to someone with real experience.
When you’re pitching your photography to professional buyers, whether they’re photo editors, stock sites or anyone else, be sure to follow the company’s directions for contributors. That can vary from firm to firm but it’s unlikely to include a Flickr stream.
When you’re not Sure What you’re Selling
Selling images isn’t quite like selling soap. You’re not selling the photo itself; rather, you could be selling permission to use it, or you could be offering a copy of the original.
Failing to understand the difference between selling a creative work — one over which you own the copyright — and any other product gives unscrupulous buyers a huge advantage.
It’s bad enough that some Flickr members are willing to let businesses use their images commercially for nothing; it’s far worse when a photography signs away his or her rights to a photo for few bucks because the buyer took advantage.
That doesn’t happen often, but the only way to be sure it doesn’t happen to you is not to start marketing your photos on Flickr until you understand exactly what you should be selling.
When your Stream isn’t Organized
One of the disadvantages for buyers browsing Flickr is that it’s so hard to find good images. Although the site contains millions of photos, only a tiny fraction of them are worth anything.
And when a buyer does find a talented photographer, the images are rarely organized well enough to help him track down similar works that are of equally high quality. Instead of being able to browse a stream easily, buyers are often faced with a bewildering list of random images on topics that range from iguanas in Istanbul to children playing in the park.
There’s no excuse for not organizing your photos by sets and collection, writing good captions and tagging carefully — although laziness is a pretty good reason.
While a buyer on Flickr will always be willing to buy a license for a good image, you’ll create a much better impression if your photos are arranged in a way that shows you believe they’re valuable.
When you haven’t Edited your Images
One of the best pieces of advice we heard about Flickr came from Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir who received a commission from Toyota on the strength of the images in her Flickr stream.
“The most important tip for becoming recognized on Flickr is only to upload the very highest quality materials,” she told us. “There are so many people who upload ten pictures of the same subject. And the next day, ten more pictures of the same subject.
“You really want to be sure that you’re showing what you want to show, that you’re not just throwing everything up there.”
Taking pictures might be cheap these days, but quality still beats quantity. Your Flickr stream is a type of portfolio, and like any portfolio as much effort has to go into the selection as went into creating the images themselves. A stream that contains every photograph you’ve ever taken tells buyers that you don’t know the difference between a good image and a mediocre one, and that your best shots were a result of luck rather than judgment.
Keep your average images on your hard drive and only make your best shots public.
Flickr has become a commercial space for photographers and is packed with opportunities. You should know how to get the most out of it. That starts by understanding when not to use it.