Flickr (Spring 2013) Review
Even after a redesign that drew heat from longtime users, Flickr is still the best place online for your digital photos.
(5) Editor’s Choiceout of
- Beautiful presentation of photos
- 1 terabyte of free storage
- Good organization tools
- Great community features with photo interest groups of every flavor
- Basic online photo editing with Aviary
- Traffic statistics
- Black background on photo page doesn’t work well with black-background photos
- Map not displayed on photo page
- User has no control over layout of profile page
There was a big outcry of “someone moved my cheese!” among longtime users when Flickr, the king of photo hosting and sharing sites, recently launched a major site redesign and account policy update. The new look features black backgrounds and an infinite-scrolling, justified view of the photostream. It’s a beautiful design that takes cues from Bing and Google image search and Pinterest. With a couple of exceptions, it’s a clear win for most users of the site. But perhaps an even bigger win is that, along with the site remodeling came an enormous increase in storage for free accounts: they now get a whole terabyte. To put that in perspective, it’s a thousand times what you get with a free Picasa account (which offers 1GB) and it can hold over 400,000 8-megapixel photos or over 200,000 16-megapixel images.
In sheer volume of photo-sharing activity, Instagram has overtaken Flickr, but that service, with its limitation to square mobile phone photos, can’t match Flickr’s website capabilities, vast number of interest groups, full resolution, and organizational tools. Facebook, too, has a larger volume of shared photos, but again, if you’re serious about photography, you can’t live with the image-degrading compression Facebook applies, and the distracting photo presentation.
The unlimited $25 Flickr Pro account is no longer available to new subscribers, but a terabyte should handle more than most photographers will produce in a lifetime. Free users can also now take advantage of the traffic statistics view formerly available only to Pro accounts. If you’re already a Pro member, you’ll get the same terabyte limit, but won’t see ads for the remainder of your subscription, and you’ll still be able to continue recurring subscriptions. New users who want an ad-free experience will have to pay $50 a year. I only saw ads on the home page in free accounts, though. A prohibitively priced Doublr account, at $499.99 a year, does what its name implies, offering 2TB. This may sound expensive, but if you wanted 2TB on a Google Drive account, you’d pay $1,200 a year. I suspect only professionals like wedding photographers might need a Doublr account; for them it’s a necessary business expense.
Signup and Setup
You no longer need a Yahoo ID to get a Flickr account; you can use your Facebook or Google account, but of course a Yahoo account still works. At signup, you can choose a screen name, and you can separately set up a custom flickr.com/screen name URL. Once you enter your birthdate, you’ll be taken to your home page, where clear instructions tell you the next steps: Personalize your profile, upload photos, and find friends.
The Home Page
Up until this redesign, your Flicker home page listed recent activity—comments and favorites–with separate tabs for this activity and your own photostream. I thought this was an odd choice, since it made the photos take a back seat to the activity. The new home page shifts the focus back to the photos, showing a justified, infinitely scrolling view of your own and your contacts’ top recent photos in a black background that lets the larger images take center stage.
Flickr representatives have told me that new photos from contacts are among the top site actions, so it only makes sense to show these on your home page, rather than making you click on it below the activity list. And the homepage doesn’t just show the most recent contact photos, but prioritizes the most-favorited and commented ones. If the photo’s part of a set, you’ll see a few inset thumnails of other set photos.
Since its last, less-drastic redesign, Flickr already started using the infinite scroll for contacts photos, and it was only a matter of time till that design made it to the photostream and the home page. Though it’s a cooler way to skim through loads of pictures, it does make it difficult to read the bottom of the page, where Flickr’s Help and corporate info are linked. On the plus side, you can now Favorite and share right from the home page or from a user’s photostream, rather than having to visit an individual photo page.
The new design unifies the major purposes of Flickr’s previous home page: To show activity on your account, your contact’s photos, and activity. It also highlights some of Flickr’s massive photo assets in a right-hand sidebar, such as the Commons, where historic and other important photo collections are stored; and Explore, where algorithmically chosen—and often gorgeous— recent top-liked and -commented photos on the site are displayed. Your groups get tiles here, too.
If you’re a new user and don’t have any contacts yet, Flickr will populate your home page with photos of distinction from favorite users, with the suggestion that you add them as contacts so you’ll see their future creations on your home page—a nice way to highlight some of the great visual assets of the site.
The Photo Page
The two big differences in the photo page are its new black background and that you have to scroll down to see EXIF, location, groups, and all the other meta data. This last bit rubs some users the wrong way, but after you do it once, you know scrolling down gets you all this info. Just about every website has you scroll down for more info, so it’s not such a hardship. Even on this info panel below the black-backgrounded photo, though, the small map showing your photo’s location is gone. Instead, you have to click on its place name to open a larger pop-up map.
One problem with the new photo view concerns photographs with a lot of black around the edges, which lose their intended borders. Flickr could offer a choice of background shades, or even change to a neutral gray to solve this. But really, this affects only a small minority of photos, and switching to Large view (with a right-click) does show images on a white background.
The new photo page makes lightbox view less necessary for a good look at the photo. But clicking on a photo page still opens it in lightbox view. You no longer see the View All sizes option at the top, from which you could download the photos. Instead, now you have to know to right click on the photo, which pops out a choice of sizes up to the original. From any of these views, as in the previous Flickr design, you can download the photo if the owner has allowed or if it’s your own photo.
I always preferred viewing photos in lightbox view, and then would find it jarring to have to go back to the white-backgrounded photo page, which you had to do if you wanted to share, favorite, or comment. But I found that most non-Flickr aficionados didn’t realize they could click on the photo for a better view, so the new photo page makes a lot of sense. Another nice interface touch is that you can hit the arrow keys from any photo view to advance or retreat in the photostream.
Clicking once again on the photo in lightbox view starts a slideshow of the current photostream, which uses the “Ken Burns” Pan and zoom effect. Personally, I’d rather just see the full-screen still images. I do like how hitting the Escape key backs you out of each of these views, back to the photo page.
Like many social sites, the new Flickr profile page—aka, your “Photostream”—takes a page from Facebook by letting you choose a “cover photo” as a banner atop your page. As in Facebook, you can choose from recent photos in your stream or upload a new image for your cover photo. If you don’t add your own cover photo, Flickr automatically adds an attractive on, in my case usually of some sort of vegetation.
Some Pro users may be miffed that they can no longer choose the presentation of their images on their profile page; they used to be able to switch between smaller thumbnails and a large, one-shot-at-a time view. The page gets the same justified, “waterfall” view that the home page gets. This view is nice in that it keeps the photo’s aspect ratio accurate, where preset thumbnails don’t. Flickr was never intended as a portfolio site with lots of individual control over webpage design: For that, look to SmugMug ($40 a year, 3 stars).
Uploading has gotten much better with Flickr’s new HTML5-based Uploadr. I like it even better than some installed photo uploading software. You can drag and drop photo files onto it, and while the upload is happening, you can rotate the photos, add tags, titles, descriptions, people tags, and even choose or create a photo set. You can even magnify any un-uploaded photo for a larger view. Of course, you don’t have to use the Web-based Flickr Uploadr, since just about every photo-editing app, from iPhoto to Instagram to Lightroom, can directly upload to the service.
Photo Sets, Collections, Galleries
Flickr’s photo organization offerings may at first seem like overkill: You have photo sets, galleries, and collections, not to mention groups. Photo sets are simply a number of photos you group together, whether from a vacation, event, or some topic. These are now accessible from a menu item on your main user page, and they’re pretty much separate photostreams. You can re-order their component images to taste. The Organize and Create page lets you do this by dragging thumbnails from the filmstrip view along the bottom of the window. Collections—formerly only available for Pro users—are groups of sets. These are accessible from the … menu on the right of the user page.
A Flickr Gallery lets you collect other people’s photos and bring them together in a presentation including your commentary and large presentation on one deep scrolling page. These are limited to 18 photos, in an effort to mimic an actual curated museum show. Some lovely work has been done with these Flickr Galleries, such as Orange Cats, Trams, and Domes, just to point out a few out of thousands. A surprising number use B&W photos exclusively.
Tagging, Faces, and Maps
You can apply tags and attach names to photos at the uploading step, but you can also add and edit tags on a photo’s page, and Flickr remembers all your previous tags, so you can easily click on them to apply to a new photo. Photo programs like iPhoto and Lightroom also can transfer tags to Flickr that you’ve applied inside the applications. Once your photos are tagged, they’ll be more easily searchable by Flickr visitors, and it will be much easier for you to find all those photos that, say, included your cat.
Each of your photo pages has a location field, the clicking of which lets you add it to your map if it hasn’t been added automatically by your camera’s built-in GPS (like that on the Canon EOS 6D). If you do want to add the photo to your map, you drag a pointer to the spot where you shot the photo. If the image already has location data embedded, as is usually the case for pictures taken with a smart phone, Flickr’s map will propose the exact location you actually snapped the picture—try that in Facebook!
Though Flickr does let you assign People tags, the feature is more limited than what you can get in Picasa Web Albums, and even that in Facebook. For starters, there’s no face recognition; you simply have to tell Flickr that the picture includes a person. Second, tags can only be of Flickr contacts. In Picasa, if your person isn’t a contact in the service, you can simply use any name. You could just use a standard tag for this purpose. Another photo-info-adding option, which I usually find annoying but one that seems popular is to add a note—you draw a box on a part of the photo and when a viewer hovers over the photo, text you wrote appears.
Editing in Aviary
For a long time, Flickr integrated with the excellent Web-based Picnik photo editor/enhancer to allow you to make changes to your photos without leaving the site. Since Google bought and shut down Picasa, Flickr has shifted this functionality to another Web photo editor, Aviary. Accessible from any photo’s Actions menu, Aviary’s very basic interface offers autofixes, as well as a decent crop tool, an “orientation” tool that lets you level photos, and a decent selection of Instagram-like effects.
Aviary’s red-eye and blemish correction work fairly well, but if you want a more powerful Web-based photo editor, check out Autodesk’s Pixlr.com or Adobe’s Photoshop Express either of which can access your Flickr photos. One advantage of Flickr’s Aviary, though, is that it doesn’t require the Adobe Flash plugin, as most other online photo editors do. This means it should work on the iPad’s and other Flash-free browsers.
Flickr is still primarily a still image site, but for years you’ve been able to upload a limited number of short, 90 second HD video clips. The intention was to use this capability not for YouTube-style videos, but for “long photos.” Flickr’s HD playback quality was better than that of most video sites but YouTube’s HD capabilities has since erased that difference. With the recent Flickr update, your long photos can be longer–up to 3 minutes, and there’s no limit on how many you can upload. With a terabyt to burn, that’s a lot of minutes of 1080p HD video.
Flickr offers an unequalled number of avenues that further connecting to fellow photo enthusiasts—Groups, contacts, a profile, and even Flickr mail for communicating inside Flickr with your contacts. You can designate any other member as a contact, and further identify them as friends or family. Community is so important to Flickr, that your home page on the site, after greeting you in a different language every day, shows activity for your account—new contacts, newly favorited photos, and new comments on your pictures. This is followed by sections for your Contacts, Groups, and Explore—we’ll discuss this way to discovery the wealth of imagery on the site below.
As with the home page images, Flickr displays contacts’ photos in “justified” view. The images fit together like a mosaic, with their original aspect ratio maintained. No need to hit a “next page” link, as the view now offers continuous scrolling through all the new images. The redesign is a real improvement, because it’s now all about the images.
With well over 10 million Groups, you’d be hard pressed to find a larger selection of photo-based interest groups anywhere. If you want to join a group focusing on Birds of Prey photos, you’ll find one with lots of activity on Flickr. Topics span an amazing range, from nature to Extar 100 film photography to travel and portraiture. There’s a group for every photographic style and taste. By comparison, the most popular SmugMug group I could find had only about 3,000 members. Some Flickr groups boast in the tens of thousands of members, and some in the hundred thousands with millions of photos submitted. Don’t see a group about your passion: create a new one—any user can.
To help you find photos of interest, there’s Explore. This is both a menu choice, and a designation for great photos. Flickr members who want to get lots of exposure for their work covet the Explore designation, which means their photo may be displayed on Flickr’s home page, and in a calendar of top-favorited photos. The designation is based on “interestingness,” which itself is based on tags, comments, clicks, and favorites. Getting your photo “Explored” means you’ll get hundreds or thousands of views. The Explore page also shows a tag cloud, popular sets, galleries, and groups.
Sharing photos from Flickr is a snap, whether you just want to share via email or post to a social network. Email, Facebook, and Twitter share buttons are right above every photo on the photo page, and hitting the Share dropdown offers the new choice of Pinterest, as well as Tumblr. If that’s not enough, a “more choices” link offers Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress. You can also grab embed code or the direct link to the photo page.
Flickr is extensible with a plugin API, and lots of external sites have also drawn on its API to feed photos that create mashups like the glopho news site and the pixplore world photo navigator. You can discover loads more in Flickr’s App Garden. Many take advantage of Flickr’s tagging, geolocation, and “interestingness” ratings. The other type of integration possible with Flickr APIs is with external apps. Any app—whether it’s of the mobile, Web, or computer flavor—can ask your permission to access your Flickr account to either upload or access photos in your account.
On a general performance note, sometimes the site is not as responsive as it could be; occasionally I’ll be editing comments and the timer displays a long time and then a message says the service was unable to post the comment, only to have it posted next time I check. This could be a result of heightened activity with the news of Flickr’s new account policy and redesign. I also saw some misrendered content, with text overlapping, but it seems these kinks are being ironed out as the new design is rolled out.
Don’t Flick Off Flickr!
If you just want your buddies to see the pictures you took at the beer bash the other night, Facebook is perfectly suited. But if you care at all about digital photography, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with Flickr. Not only will you get a way to display your images to millions of photo enthusiasts, but you’ll get a full terabyte of full-resolution image backup for free, interaction with like-minded photographers, and best of all, the ability to discover and interact with a near limitless treasure trove of photography. The attractive new design and huge free storage limit makes it all the more compelling for new users. No one else can match Flickr’s group abilities, organization, interface, and storage allowance; Flickr remains our Editors’ Choice for photo sharing sites/services.
By Michael Muchmore, PCMag
- Type: Personal
- Free: Yes
- OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS