What is your Flickr stratergy?

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A little while ago I found Issuu. Issuu is a digital publishing platform which allows companies and individuals publish books and magazines for free. I have found some really great content on Issuu and the other day I came across Explore Flickr by Swiss Photographer Thomas Leuthard.

I have been using Flickr for a while now but with no real plan in mind. I chose Flickr based on the fact that I already had some friends that were using it and when I picked up a camera again it seemed like as good a place as any to share my work. Much like in the days of chemical photography an image is no good to anyone if it is left unseen. In our digital age we have swapped draws of negatives for hard drives full of digital files.

One of the questions Thomas suggests you ask yourself is “Why am I a Flickr user?”. Unlike Thomas I don’t make any money from my photography. It is a creative release for me rather than an income stream and so building up a profile with a view to generating interest from prospective clients isn’t what I want. So what was I using Flickr for? Is it OK to simply use it as a modern day photo album?

Looking back at the first pictures I shared on Flickr I can instantly see how I have grown as a photographer. Both my technical and creative ability has improved and this is a pretty good feeling. I believe that I have come to an important point in my photography and I want to continue to grow and see my work branch out and become a reflection of myself and how I see the world. So to answer the question why am I a Flickr user?; I want to build my portfolio and share my work with other photographers, to get constructive criticism and find inspiration from the work of others.

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So whilst some of the strategies and ideas given in Thomas’ book won’t help me reach my personal goal some of them seem to be a good fit. Here is a short summary of the changes I have made to the way I use Flickr:

Don’t upload straight away
I have created a new collection in Lightroom called ‘To publish’. Instead of publishing images on the day I process them I first move them to this collection and leave them there a couple of days. This gives me some time away from an imagine after I have finished working on it and helps me to see it differently when I come back to it. A few images have been edited or rejected all together because of this strategy and I think my portfolio is better for it.

Upload no more than one image a day
This helps with the first strategy but it also means that my portfolio has more regular updates which makes it more likely to get some feedback from other Flickr users.

Upload to more relevant groups
I now think more about which groups I upload my images to. I spent some time looking at the groups my favourite photographers contribute to and I searched for some new groups that I thought had interesting content. I also sought out some groups that are specific to my local area where I live and made some connections with local photographers.

Compare each newly uploaded image against similar images on Flickr
One way to critique your own work is to compare it against others. I now spend some time looking at similar images after each upload and think about what has drawn me to any given picture and how I might have changed my own work to include different ideas and viewpoints.

Leave it a couple of days before adding pictures to groups
Thomas suggests that this is a good strategy for getting your images to be selected for Flickr Explored but I like to do this to see how much interest and image gets organically before it is added to any groups. Whilst not very scientific it does give me some indication of whether or not people think it is a picture worth looking at.

Give feedback to others
If I want to get feedback on my own work then it makes sense to be more involved with the Flickr community as a whole. I find that giving feedback in groups that I contribute to or to photographers that I follow also helps me to think about what has drawn me to their image and how I might apply similar ideas to my own photography.

Follow photographers you find interesting
I have always regularly looked at the images of the photographers I follow. With the iPhone app it is easy to keep up to date with new images and if nothing else it inspires me to pick up my camera or process my next batch of RAW files. Unlike Thomas however I don’t follow somebody just because they follow me, I wan’t the pictures in my Flickr feed to inspire me and give me ideas or something to aim for.

After making these simple changes to the way that I use Flickr I honestly feel like this has helped me to improve my portfolio. I have still got a long way to go but that is all part of the fun.

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Starting on the road to documentary photography

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Since I picked up my camera again I have worked on a number of small projects that have helped me to improve my photography and given me something to work towards. For a while though I have wanted something bigger to get my teeth into. I have had a few ideas about what this project might be about but having recently just moved away from the city that I lived in for most of my life I wanted to use the project to find out a little more about the town that I have come to live in. I could potentially do this with a street photography project but I wanted to learn more about the people themselves and so I had the idea of starting a documentary project.

Documentary photography is a form of photography which was extremely popular in the mid 20th century and has experienced a lull more recently however a number of talented photographers have started a resurgence in the field and are producing some hugely interesting and inspiring work. Whilst I don’t feel like I have honed my skills enough to produce anything close to the work of any of these photographers I hope to learn a lot from the project both on a technical and personal level.

So where do I start on the road to documentary photography? In one of my previous posts I shared a photography project framework which I intend to follow for this project. With this in mind I went out and purchased myself a new notepad and made a start noting down my ideas. Personally having a small notepad that I carry around with me most of the time really worked. Whenever I had some time at home or in my lunch break at work I read through my notes and expanded on my idea. I also spoke to some of my friends about the project and this helped to make the project feel more real and lead me to even more ideas.

New notepad

Creating the mind map

Eventually I had quite a few notes and I was starting to feel like I wanted to move onto the next stage. Before I did that however I want to write my notes up as a mind map. I was hoping that this would help to give the lists of ideas some structure and build a picture of how a plan for the project might come together. I had previously found an online tool for creating mind maps but another search uncovered a different tool which I felt was a little easier to use: http://drichard.org/mindmaps/. You can see the mind map that I produced below and if you are interested then you can get a copy of the original JSON file here.

Documentary Photography Mind Map V1

Just as I thought I had finished putting my ideas together I found out that Huck magazines current issue was a documentary special. With this in mind I thought that this would be a great opportunity to expand my ideas further. Once I have done this I will be sure to write another post and share the updated mind map. If you have any comments or suggestions then please add the comments to this blog post.

Taking photographs on your own is easy

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In my last post I mentioned how I recently joined a photography community on the online community platform Meetup. After entering one of Birmingham Photography Meetup’s monthly competitions I thought it would be worth going along to one of  group’s photoshoots. Luckily the next meeting was a street photography shoot in Birmingham, which (excuse the pun) was right up my street.

I knew that going along to the Meetup was going to have an effect on the way I thought about my photography but I didn’t realise just how much. In the back of my mind I thought I would meet some interesting people who would be able to give me some technical pointers about how to get the right exposure in this situation or with that type of lens as opposed to another. The friendly bunch of photographers that came along to the meetup where more than happy to share their techniques and I learnt some great stuff but these pearls of wisdom aren’t the main thing that I have taken away from the experience. Somehow going out and shooting with a group of other people has made me focus on myself.

Up until now photography has been pretty much a solitary exercise. I’m often shooting  when out with my family but it’s normally only me that has a camera in their hand. I find myself walking around from point to point thinking about what it is that I am trying to capture and moving methodically through the motions. I am usually capturing images with something in mind and I tend to have a single set of ideas. Walking through Birmingham  with the folks from the Meetup had some profound effects on me and hopefully will help me to grow as a photographer.

The first thing that took hold of me was impatience. I had an itchy shutter finger and the only way I was going to satisfy it was to push that shutter release as quickly as I could. Its not that I took a great deal more pictures than I probably would have done on my own its just that I took less time to take a single image. The presence of others with a lens in their hand immediately made me feel like I had to be the first. Street photography generally lends itself to this type of fast paced shooting as you attempt to capture the “decisive moment”1 but it doesn’t mean that you should do this at the expense of a well composed image. Unfortunately at the beginning of the shoot my lust to be the first overtook my photographer’s eye in some cases. Sometimes my speed payed off but in others my lack of attention is obvious in the images that I captured at the beginning of the afternoon.

The next thing I noticed was that every time I went to take a shot someone else was already there. The guy beatboxing, the bored looking burger flipper texting on his phone, the trumpet player, the atmospheric side alley. Snap, snap, snap, snap! This made me feel like I had to go faster but it made no difference, the photographer in front of me just became the first behind me. My competitive nature started to grow in my panic. Luckily for me I have an emergency kill switch. I came to a halt on New Street and assessed my situation.

I’m sure many of you have read photography books that give tips on how to improve your photography and one tip that tends to come up again and again is don’t just turn up and take the picture that’s right in front of you.  It occurred to me that this was exactly what I had been doing and to some extent that’s what I was observing from my fellow photographers. There nothing wrong with this approach and it doesn’t mean that from a technical point of view that you are going to get “bad” images it’s just that on my journey into photography I was hoping to find something else. I was hoping to be able to find something about myself in the images that I create, an ability to communicate my perception of the world. I might be a long way from having my own style in my images but if I don’t think about why I am creating a certain compositions then I’m never going to find it.

So instead of walking down the center of the street and being drawn to “the obvious image” I started to stalk around the edges of the street. I began by searching for stickers, the little pieces of graphic design which adorn our urban environments. I expect that many people view these vinyl wonders as vandalism but to me they tell a story about the creativity of the people that live in a city. The type of people that live their lives through the bold colours and alternative images that the self adhesive artwork  represents.  One of my favourites images from the shoot was found stuck on the side of a phone booth in the corner of large a square in Birmingham:

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This might not be the most technically perfect image but it feels much more like it belongs to me. I have found recently that its the small incidental items which intrigue me.  For example on a recent trip to the pub with friends, a shot of my best friends Doc Martin resting on a beaten up coffee table was one of my favorite images. For me that image captures a little piece of the day. Perhaps the same can be said for the image of the sticker.

In conclusion, one trip out with a group of fellow photographers has made me look at the way approach my subjects as well as help me to think about what an image means to me. They also helped me with some new ideas, one person in particular mentioned using a square crop and I decided to use this as a way of bringing together my final collection. These are some pretty deep subjects and not was I was expecting to get out of the Meetup. Taking photographs on your own is easy, meet some people and get out of your comfort zone.

1 http://www.openculture.com/2011/11/henri_cartier-bresson.html

Photography Clubs are Dead, Long Live the Photography Meetup

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When learning anything you can only get so far on your own. Reading books on the subject can help you get a little further but tends to be a one way conversation. Being able to critique your own work and the work of others is a core skill for someone who is looking to take their photography seriously. Photography clubs have always been a place for amateurs and professionals alike to share their experiences and learn from one another. In this age of the Internet however you no longer need to leave your armchair to share, critique and learn from other photographers. So the age of the photography club is over… right!?

Personally, photography can be a very insular practice, I walk the streets alone trying to capture my view of the world and distil it in a single image. At the same time I want to share what I have created and gain some feedback and perhaps recognition for my efforts. Very quickly I started sharing my images on Flickr and I was able to get a certain amount feedback with very little effort at all. I’m sure I could get more from Flickr but the level of separation between me and those who would critique my work isn’t quite what I am looking for.

The next logical step was to search for photography clubs in my area and living in Birmingham I wouldn’t have any trouble finding one. The problem is I have only recently returned to photography as a serious pastime and to be honest I wasn’t ready to meet with a group of complete strangers just yet. Its not that I am socially awkward, I just find that joining a group like this takes time and effort. You need to become a regular face before you truly become accepted. Maybe further down the line I will join a “traditional” photography club but until then I need a stop gap. Something that’s not quite an internet community and not quite a face to face photography club.

The answer came to me whilst I was thinking about something altogether different from photography. I have been using the the local community platform Meetup to help organise an agile software development group for a while now and it occurred to me that there is likely to be a community of photographers in my area. Sure enough Birmingham Photography Meetup has been going since June 2012 and has just over 400 members.

For me Meetup has just the right blend of the online and offline world. The Birmingham Photography community has regular face to face meetings in my local area as well as a the forums and photo galleries that you would expect from an online community. The online discussions and monthly photography competitions means that you could get everything you want from the website and never actually meet anyone face to face but personally I want more than that. I went along to my first face to face meetup at the beginning of this month and thoroughly enjoyed myself . I felt like I already know a bit about how the group works and who the key members are before I met any of them  and that simple fact made things all the more accessible to me.

Plenty of existing photography clubs are starting to create their own spaces on Meetup which can only be a good thing. In my opinion the internet is great at making resources more accessible but you can’t beat meeting people in person. You wouldn’t want to merge the online with the offline world in all cases but  as far as photography communities go it really does work.

The picture included in this post was my submission for the Birmingham Photography Meetup competition for January 2014; Modes of Transport. You can see the other images that I captured during the same shoot in the Birmingham Photography set of my Flickr stream.