Flickr and Instagram

It’s been about 9 months since I bought my Olympus E-PL5, and there is still one thing I’m not satisfied with. That is the final step of my photography workflow: posting and sharing pictures.

It was my iPhone that led me to buy a better camera. Nearly all of my “best” and “favorite” shots over the past 9 months have been taken with the Olympus and now reside on my Flickr page. The iPhone, however, is still the clear winner when it comes to sharing and enjoying photographs and moments between friends and family. Primarily this happens through Instagram and iMessage — it’s easy and it’s where everyone already is.

My iPhone photography “workflow” looks mostly like this: Snap a picture → launch VSCO or Instagram → import the image → apply a filter → maybe also apply a blur → share on Instagram → get several “hearts” and maybe a comment or two.

My Olympus photography workflow looks something like this: Snap pictures → import from SD card into Lightroom 4 → delete the blurry ones → pick out my favorites from the bunch → make edits and adjustments → upload to Flickr → cricket noises.

From an artistic standpoint, I am far more satisfied and excited about the photographs I’m taking with the Olympus.

Shots like this one of Noah and Anna reading or this picture of my iPhone taking a picture of Moscone are just two examples of some really great photographs I’ve gotten with my Olympus over the past 9 months.

And I want to share these photographs with people. I am proud of them and I enjoy looking at them, and I want others to see them and appreciate them as well. But unless one of my Flickr images makes it onto Explore (which has happened twice), I get very little feedback or activity.

On Flickr I have 885 contacts following me. On Instagram I have 2,235. Yet my Instagram photos get far more than just 2.5 times the activity than my Flickr photos.

Here’s a shot I posted to Flickr on June 30. As of this writing the photo has been up for 2 weeks and has received 7 Faves and 1 comment. Which is already more than most of my photos on Flickr gets.

As a little experiment, this morning, while writing this article, I posted that same image to Instagram (which is totally cheating, I know). Within 10 minutes it had the same number of likes as its 2-week-old Flickr counterpart, and within 5 hours it had nearly 8 times the “likes” (55) and thrice as many comments (3).

In short, my Instagram snapshots spark far more feedback, interaction, and conversation than my Flickr photos do. And I bet anyone reading this who has an Instagram and a Flickr account would say the same thing.

The conundrum, for me, at least, is that my Flickr photos — my best photos and the ones I am most proud of — are the shots I want to share with people so we can both appreciate them together. These are the ones I most want conversations to spark around, and yet these are the ones which get the least interaction.

One of my favorite parts of editing through a batch of images is at the end. I’ll ask Anna if she wants to come into the office and see all the best shots (usually they’re mostly pictures of Noah). I enjoy looking over the pictures with Anna because it brings a feeling of satisfaction to my photographic work. I feel closure when an image I’ve taken receives feedback and/or accolades from others (especially friends and family members).

Which is why I feel a bit of pain right now as a hobbyist photographer. My best photos all go to Flickr, yet they sit there, unnoticed, slowly collecting imaginary dust.

Fortunately, Flickr has been doing much to increase the vibrancy of their network. Last December they released a awesome update to their iPhone app. And a few months ago they redesigned their website and added new pricing structures.

Though the activity and interaction of Flickr’s network has clearly grown at least a little bit, it hasn’t grown that much (at least from where I’m shooting in my small corner of the network). It’s been an uphill battle.

After the new version of the Flickr iPhone app shipped, Khoi Vinh wrote about Flickr’s long road back to relevancy:

[Flickr is] not just an additional place to post photos, but a different kind of venue for different kinds of expressions and interactions. In fact, it’s a reminder that competition, when it is robust, directly translates into added functionality at the consumer’s disposal.

I agree. Flickr doesn’t need to replace or clone Instagram. But if Flickr is where we’re posting our “best” and “favorite” photos, it can be anticlimactic when those photos go mostly unnoticed and unappreciated.

In short, the activity I see on Flickr is disproportionate compared to that of Instagram when I compare the quality of the images on the two networks.

There are, of course, other outlets I have for my favorite photographs. Around our house we have several picture frames, and every few months we’ll swap out the photos with new prints from Shutterfly. And Apple’s photo book proved to be a fantastic Christmas gift for parents and grandparents last year that we’ll no doubt do again.

While those are both extremely satisfying final steps to my photography, they only consist of a fraction of the photos I shoot throughout the year. I’ve considered building my own website where I can post my favorite images, but I’m not sure that’s the answer either.

At the end of the day, Flickr is the only place I’ve got to put my best photographic work. But it doesn’t feel like the right place. As much as I love the service, it’s just not cutting it. And I suspect I’m not alone.

Flickr and Instagram