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Wednesday, 18 September 2013


And as in most things related to computers, it's worth putting some time in up front deciding what you like. I got on pbase years ago, it's serviceable but there are better ones now that are not that much more expensive.

I'd like to migrate but I can't face all that work of re-generating the low-rez jpgs (because I don't keep them around) nor of doing all that uploading. OTOH, that may be a good excuse to do some culling.

Very much like the "simple to use" camera for Mike's Aunt Mary...


Could you give us more details on your perspective on what a "serviceable site" is? As somebody that does not have your experience in dealing with professional photography in so many levels as you, what would you say are the musts and don'ts of a portfolio website?

For example, take my website. I went for a hypersimple design when I created it. Would you say that is an improvement over Flickr for a personal portfolio? (I think it is) What would you change, or miss? (disregard the photos themselves).

I don't know if you have specific things in mind that you could articulate as general rules or guidelines, or if you are looking at it from the perspective of knowing when you see it.

Thank you

There's nothing inherently wrong with a "set" on flickr, it works as well as anything else for viewing a portfolio. Thus, I deduce that this essay is really saying "serious people will dismiss a link to flickr, because it's a link to flickr"

This depends, surely, on which serious people you're talking about. Some people certainly will. Some people will dismiss a smugmug link. It's not at all clear to me that there's a specific formula which your lin can follow which will cause nobody to dismiss it.

Is this a statistical claim, that "more people will dismiss a flickr link than will dismiss a more personalized link"?

Dear Ctein,
I agree with most of your statements on Flickr. I'm a user myself and I, just like probably many others, kept making the mistake of dumping every acceptable photograph I had been making on Flickr.
That's wrong, of course. It is by no means the place where serious photography curators and talent catchers will go to in order to find meaningful pictures. Those with a somewhat lesser interest in photography (but still keen appreciators) will never have the patience to peruse through thousands of photographs.
So we the Flickr users are doing it wrong. I have 1250 pictures and recently decided to publish only one a day when I became aware nobody would see all those photographs - because it's humanly impossible.
The pertinent question is - why do people post pictures on Flickr? Well, most of us can't afford (or can't be bothered with) building a website, but still we want our pictures to be seen by others. Flickr is an inexpensive means to do so, and with a modicum of copyright protection to boot. As for myself, I often dabble with the idea of building a website, but I refrain from it. It would be time-consuming and would require some web design skills in order to make the web pages presentable. (Aesthetics are important and I may not like pre-established templates.) Besides, it would be too pretentious of me to have a website. Maybe one day, when I've done anything significant. Not now.
The other option for most people would be to have a photography blog. The problem is everybody has a blog. How do we make it stand out from the crowd? That's impossible. It would be like trying to tell a drop in the ocean apart.
I hope this comment is useful in giving another clue as to why many photographers like Kathy choose Flickr. Especially now that you get 1 Terabyte of web space for free. 'Free' is the operative word here.

Dead on, Ctein. Exactly right. And I say that as someone who both posts regularly to Flickr and maintains a serious portfolio site. And a photoblog. They aren't mutually exclusive.

If you want your photos to be taken seriously, they ought to be viewable in a serious presentation.

There are a bunch of gallery/portfolio sites, but most are geared to event or portrait pros, and can be pricey. The art photographers don't have much geared to us. I use Flickr for the social aspect, and because it's free, and easy to upload, arrange, caption and tag pictures, but then use a script system I wrote (I call it Flickrolio!) to pull everything onto my website. Flickr sets become sections of the site, and titles, captions and tags flow onto the page. I even hooked it up to a PayPal payment system to allow me to fulfill my own print orders, which is impossible or an extra-cost option on many of the portfolio sites. I think it's the perfect middle ground between the web services that are easy to use but don't have the right image for an art photographer, and completely manual web authoring that most artists can't do.

I have been using Flickr for the past three years as a way to meet other photographers and to reach a different / larger audience. It may not be the most highbrow of websites but I have connected with a bunch of like-minded photographers from all over the world during my time on Flickr. While I still have bigger projects that will remain hidden until I can exhibit them properly, I set out to post 3-5 good photographs on Flickr every week, and that has been crucial in getting me out more to exercise my creativity on a regular basis.

My website doesn't get near the traffic that my Flickr page does. I use it mostly for professional purposes, somewhere to direct potential clients and to show a more personal view of my work. As you stated, I think it is important to have both. I just think Flickr can be a valuable resource if you spend enough time with it.

I couldn't agree more. I have both a website and a Flickr account. The Flickr account came first. It's mostly used for pictures that I need to link to from other sites, usually forums, and pictures to do with various Flickr groups.

There's a set from a funeral bike run which I wanted as many people as possible to see. Photos of a paving block that I hoped would be identified, for a hard landscaping forum. A diagram explaining the inverse square rule showing how it works for both light sources and lit objects. You know; stuff.

I think I've succeeded in making my website as simple and transparent as possible, so people can see through it to the photographs. A bit like how those simple cameras we've been discussing need to be, below.

I think it depends what you mean by a "proper web presence". I would agree that Flickr is inferior to a really good website. However, a lot of professional photographers have Flash-based sites with strange special effects, which don't work properly on different devices and browsers, with slow and complex navigation, and which don't respect basic web conventions.

Compared to those sites, I would rather see a photographer's work on Flickr, which has a lot of useful features which work well on all kinds of devices. And the use of collections and sets in Flickr is well adapted to organising a portfolio - Flickr is not just a stream of consciousness in the photostream.

Sadly, too many people discount Flickr and the people who post there. The amount of incredible art photography on Flickr is astounding. One needs to just starts looking. There are so many accomplished artists on Flickr and in all areas of photography: street, portraiture, landscape, figure, abstract/minimalism, studio, and event photography. Vivien Meier's work was first posted on Flickr. Most accomplished photographers have beautiful websites as well. But there is a lot more traffic on Flickr. There are over 4 billion pictures on Flickr--there are bound to be some great work and great photographers. But you have to dig through the packages of snapshots. Find a great photographer on Flickr, then look at his favorites and you will find more brilliant photographers. You will find so, so many, that it will be overwhelming.

I'd been a flicker user for quite some time. The ability to organize images into "sets" allowed me to present collections of images with an artists' statement, and it was easy, so I was satisfied. Then they overhauled the site.

Cut to six months or so later and the abysmal new layout/presentation, coupled with the inability for paying users to customize has driven me to get my own website up and running. Nothing fancy. Dark gray background for clean viewing, no ridiculous Ken Burns effect, etc. Its slow going for someone with little desire to learn how to set this stuff up, but it's not that bad. Or expensive. I think domain registration and hosting cost me maybe $40 or $50 for the year. In the end I'm glad flickr forced my hand with their overhaul.

Flickr has another use that falls in between 'social sharing' and web/gallery presentation. I'm not a big Flickr fan, don't know anyone who regards the new layout as an improvement, and agree it's not lie a website. But I've found it useful for a critical kind of sharing.

Some friends and I post on Flickr and exchange critical comments. Some of us have websites, and all exhibit their prints. We put up our most recent work, make it into a 'Set,' and e-mail one another. What we're posting is tentative: it needs editing, and we're looking for critical advice before printing it.

This is like showing work-prints to colleagues who don't have to gather in one place. At a later point we do meet to look at prints and edit portfolios, but a 'first cut' from Flickr postings (or Dropbox or perhaps other sharing sites) is a real help.

In addition, there's one little Flickr group called "The Democratic Photograph" that I check out fairly often, because it's like taking a trip to a small gallery. There aren't many members, but I can almost always find something there to admire, for visual cleverness and inspiration.

A truly talented photographers work will shine through whatever medium or presentation. But that's just my opinion. :)

the use of certain photo display sites is not necessarily only a question of aesthetics, style and presentation.
it is also a matter of availability, and ease of use.

in my personal case, availability is the major point - i need a site that can be looked at and maintained from both inside and outside of the people's republic of china. and the "great firewall of china" is a real obstacle. fortunately, flickr is (still) accessible to me ...


We work hard to give the photographers on our site a great viewing space for their art. We show their work with their interviews and on our gallery page.
No matter how well an image looks on line nothing beats seeing a fine print in person.

Thanks for mentioning Dave Reichert as I've just spent some enjoyable time browsing his site.
I googled inkista and took a quick look at the flickr page - I went to "sets" and would have no idea what to look at to see her good stuff. It's a hodge podge of photos of gear, tests of gear, shots from workshops, event photos and so on. I wouldn't say it's not a serious presentation of photos because it's flickr; I'd say it's just not a serious presentation of photos. Put that collection of images organized that way in its own site at inkista.com and it's no better.

What a nice surprise!

Thank you, Ctein.

"Context, context, context" is an equally important consideration. Serious is as serious seems. To that end I offer two thoughts.

1. "Serious" art presentations in any medium, but particularly in photography, begin and end within the context of communications concepts and ideas, not with greatest hits, awesome snaps from your recent trip, or camera gear "test shots".

2. "Serious" work is not presented anonymously or in anonymous environments, as is so generally the case on social sites. If you think you're presenting your work for serious consideration as "bokehdude123" on Flickr you're badly mistaken, regardless of how compelling your work really is.

I really like the simple, non-Flash website example you give (Dave Reichert's)with good-sized images. Only thing is I bet many people would suggest updating it to be more phone friendly. I know smartphones aren't great for viewing, but they often are the first impression, and one can later check out the site on the computer.

Dear Manual,

Ok, you've got a lot of good and practical reasons for sticking with Flickr. But then there's this:

"Besides, it would be too pretentious of me to have a website. Maybe one day, when I've done anything significant."


I clicked thru your name to your Flickr pages. Agreed, most of what's up there is at the "random box of prints" level of memorability. Which there's nothing wrong with it, just means it doesn't deserve a major showcase. But there's an average of one photo per screen that's REALLY good. Stays with you, stands out above the crowd. Assemble those on a "proper" site and no one is going to accuse you of wasting the bandwidth.

Doesn't matter which ones-- I didn't make notes and I just skimmed through a handful of images to see if anything jumped out at me. Someone else looking at those pages might well be drawn to different photos. I can tell I'm not the audience for some of the work.

That's of no import. What counts is that you're exactly the kind of artist I wrote this, and the previous column, for -- you sell yourself short.

Not so incidentally, no one considers a having a personal website as having pretensions these days. It's like one step above having business cards.

pax / Ctein

Dear John,

You've reminded me of something from my early web days. I set up my site back in 1995, and it was one of the very first commercially successful photography sites (that wasn't selling porn, that is). So, I'd get polite queries from other photographers asking me to give them my opinion of their sites. (Like making money made me an expert -- hah!)

One request comes in from some photographer in Southern California, a name I vaguely recognized from the Compuserve Photoforum days. So, why not look?

I go to his URL.

First a background screen color loads.

Then a tiled GIF background loads.

Then splash banner of some sort loads.

Remember, this is back when 9600 bit per second modems were considered FAST.

Then a title GIF loads.

It's like a minute in and I'm still waiting to see a photo.

Then one of those little counter widget thingies that tells you how many other folks have visited the site loads.

OK, there's nothing else that could possibly load. Next has to be some photos, or at least links to photos.

After another substantial wait for the bits to flow from him to me, music starts playing in the background!

And I log out. Wrote him that if he ever decided to put up a website that actually let me see his photographs, to let me know.

pax / Ctein

@Stan B: I've found that moving from Flickr to Zenfolio is a net timesaver. You can have them import your Flickr photos directly, and once you're there, you no longer need to pay attention to the attention-seeking attention you've been paying attention to on Flickr.

Still a fan of Smugmug and Zenfolio - the customisation options at least allow you to create a proper index, bio and blog as well as attach your logo to your site page, and even set up a direct URL.

But a lot of the custom sites I try and browse are slow, buggy and very hard to navigate, even if they are quite nice to look at.

But I agree about Flickr, especially the new one. It's hideously over simplistic which is a shame as a lot of the work on there is really surprisingly good if you can filter out all the other stuff.

I disagree.

My argument: see Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir

At https://secure.flickr.com/photos/rebba/sets/

She does it right.

Dennis writes: I wouldn't say it's not a serious presentation of photos because it's flickr; I'd say it's just not a serious presentation of photos.

Which is why it's on flickr. :D

Put that collection of images organized that way in its own site at inkista.com and it's no better.

The point Ctein was making is that if I took the time to properly curate and present this as a gallery website, it wouldn't BE organized that way, it wouldn't be that hodge podge accumulation but a coherent focused selection made with an audience in mind and attention to transitions, flow, and contrast, and you'd see the signal sans the noise. And he's right of course. If you wish to be taken seriously as a photographer, if you want people to see how good you are, presentation is the single simplest thing you can do to increase impact. As a professional, it would be unthinkable to use Flickr as your main presentation venue.

However. My first and foremost goal in taking pictures is that my health sucks, and taking photos cheers me up and is fun. And cheer and fun are very precious to me, being hard to come by a lot of the time. I shoot all over the board, because that's what I enjoy. Landscapes one week, portraits the next, 360x180 panos, birds, and then Comic-Con--this lack of focus would be death to a pro. But photography's not my job. It's my hobby. I can suck if I want to. I can dabble if I want to. I can put up the most boring gear photos in the world if I want to crow in public that I successfully soldered 3.5mm minijack sync ports into my YN-560 and 580EX. And the idea of having to dress up my photos into a gallery and curate and have to say "that doesn't belong" to a shot that has deep personal meaning but is just a snapshot is rather like having to dress up in a three-piece interview suit (with the heels and hose) while I'm on vacation.

For Ctein photo presentation should be like a job interview. That makes perfect sense, given who he is and what photography is to him.

But to me, photography is my hard-won, hard-fought-for, all-too-rare play time. Why would I spend time, money, and energy I don't have to make it easier for nameless strangers to see the signal in the noise? To me, the noise has meaning. To me, the noise is not noise, although I am cognizant it is only not-noise to me. To me permission to put up all the crap images I love is a luxury I wallow in. Bad for me as a photographer? Probably. But more importantly, good for my soul? Oh yes. Photography is how I destress and stop being hypercritical. For Ctein, an audience lowers the self-criticism. For me, it raises it.

Flickr for me isn't just about photography; there, photography all gets mixed up together with other passions in my life. I can see how my sister in Colorado is dealing with floods, my best friend's rescue bunnies, Kyle Cassidy's portrait of Ctein (and his other forays into SF con shooting), sharpen my bird identification skillz, learn to do stereographic or Quincuncial Drostified remaps of my 360x180 panos, follow street shooters in London and Tokyo whose work I love, find out the latest origami designs, see what's happening at the PBS TCAs, or which of my friends went to Worldcon this year. And the Strobist group? From them, I learned how to light just a little.

There's another bunch of photos I showed Ctein at World Fantasy he didn't tell you about. It also held him spellbound for a handful of minutes, although I think it may have been with horrified fascination rather than admiration. :) I took them after I had had a stonkingly terrible day at work. Software tools breaking in my hands and no fix in sight. Endless de-install/re-install/restart cycles, never squashing the idiot bug that made my life hell. When I got home, I was in a temper that made me want to throw things against the walls. Instead, I got out the tripod, set up four flashes with triggers, and began making faces, and did a series of angry selfies that to this day make my friends guffaw whenever they see them. Horrible awful abuse of unsharp mask in post--completely over the top.

Those photos are NOT up on Flickr, because they were made solely to make me to feel better (which they do every time I look at them). Are they artistic? Informative? Insightful? Meaningful? Worthy of deeper study? Good? Hell no. But did they turn a craptastic horrible no good very bad day into something fun? Oh yeah. And that's what I needed.

If your photographic goals and ambitions are higher (and that ain't hard), more power to you, and as Ctein says, you should go out and find the audience you deserve and make it easier for them to find and see how good you are. I'm just saying, my goal is something different.

@ Kathy Li: What a wonderful little essay you've written! It's such a refreshingly frank and honest statement that reminds us all that photography, at its core, is supposed to be fun, an enjoyable pastime, a creative outlet, a recorder of life.

BTW(1): A stunning number of photography's greatest hits were created just for fun, as relief from more "serious" work or just in completely carefree and casual styles.

BTW(2): Many of your images look every bit as good as so many images presented "seriously". Seriously.

You go, girl! Keep-a-clickin'!

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