Living through the Lens Challenge

Two and a half weeks ago I launched the Living through the Lens weekly challenge on Flickr. The Challenge was in response to Jeff Cutler‘s request, a weekly effort that lets people participate in whatever I may be photographing during the week. I reposted Jeff’s idea on Facebook, and many people liked the idea and wanted to participate, too.

So here we are. I have been super impressed with the incredible quality of photos that people have submitted. The first challenge was “foliage.” Here are some of the notable photos that people submitted.

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Teresa Thomas submitted the cover image “Fields of Glory” for the Foliage Gallery collection.

The next challenge was bridges. And sure enough people who participated offered some fantastic photos. Here is the gallery of notable bridge pics.

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Jane Kaye submitted the cover image for the Bridges Gallery, a piece called “The Forth Bridge.”

It’s been great seeing what people have come up with, particularly those that see the challenge, take it, and go produce their own interpretation of the subject. The world is a beautiful place. So many people can use cameras today — smartphone to medium format — to offer their own perspectives. I appreciate people sharing their views of the world with me.

This Week’s Challenge

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This Blue Hour shot was taken on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

This week’s Living through the Lens Challenge is taking a photo during the blue hour(s), that precious period of about 45 minutes before the sunrise or after the sunset. There is a whole site with blue hour photography tips here, if you are curious. Join the fun and submit here: www.flickr.com/groups/livinglens/.

The weekly challenge ends on Thursday afternoon. At the end of the business day, I breeze through the weekly suggestions and curate my favorites in a notables gallery.

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This is a photo I took of the Charleston Market in South Carolina.

By the way, I never include my own pictures in the notables gallery. I figure as curator its not really fair to do that, plus I am biased. And on top of that, I already post my pics everywhere throughout the week. It’s time to highlight some other people’s work. Instead, I use one of my pictures to introduce the weekly challenge, for example the bridge picture that leads this post or the above pics for the blue hour.

If you are curious about the suggestions/rules. I will post the challenge in the group on Thursday evening or Friday morning, and then repost across networks. People are encouraged to post new pictures, not old ones published three years ago. It’s a photo challenge, not a recollection of past glory ;)

Folks are limited to two pics per week. So make them your best shots!

Also please comment and favorite the photos you see from your peers. Don’t be a grinch and just post and run. That’s weak!

So there is the challenge. What do you think?

Flickr 4.0: PR Hype versus Reality

Flickr 4.0 launched 11 days to much hype and fanfare in the consumer tech media. Some pubs went so far as to say that Flickr was now relevant again, ironic for a photo sharing social network that consistently ranks in the top 10 networks.

The new interface certainly is beautiful. But as well hyped as the new Flickr 4.0 is, it suffers on a few levels. For starters, the new interface seems to stifle interaction. I have noticed a 25% decline in favorites and comments on my photos.

Perhaps I am in a slump. I have been posting fewer landscapes and cityscapes, which tend to perform better for my following. But at the same time, when I have posted decent landscapes — landscapes that perform well on 500 Pixels and Instagram — they still garner quite a few less favorites and comments on Flickr than in the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the slump began the day the new interface launched.

As a viewer, I find it harder to favorite and comment on Flickr 4.0, too. The mobile apps are clunky. If someone publishes a series of photos, to comment you have to tap on a photo twice.

The traditional web version suffers as well. It gets stuck and fails to show you past favorites. In some cases, the responsive design prevented me from even seeing the favorite and comment icons on photos like on this image from Jan de Corte.

Responsive Fail

The new Uploadr has been wonky, timing out periodically. Flickr has acknowledged this new feature has issues and is working on repairing it.

Flickr 4.0 is not all bad. Some of the new features are great, like Camera Roll. Now I can view my photos chronologically, which is a pretty cool way to see how your work is progressing over time. It’s also a great way to get a timeline view of your life. This new feature also lets you organize your photos by type, e.g. landscape, portrait, etc.

Competitive Balance

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Flickr launched its new version to make it more competitive in the mobile era. In some ways, this makes Flickr more consumer-oriented, allowing people to store thousands of mobile photos automatically as they go.

In the context of Instagram versus Flickr, I really see Instagram as a more valuable consumer network. The land of selfies is fluid and dynamic, allowing for quick and easy feedback. Friends see how their lives are evolving in the moment. In comparison, Flickr 4.0 makes quick and easy feedback a bit harder.

As a photo storage site, it works (when the Uploadr is functioning). However, if people struggle to interact with your photos then you are publishing strictly to keep the images in the cloud.

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Similarly, 500 Pixels benefits from a strong critical group of professional and serious amateur photographers who only like the best images. While this can create homogenous photographer pool where certain images do better than others (think landscapes and pictures of models), 500 Pixels makes it very easy to like, love and comment on photos. Exploring popular images on 500 Pixels is also much easier, with segmentation by image type.

For a work-validation standpoint, I have been as reliant on Flickr as I have been on 500 Pixels to see what other photographers thought of my work. Now I am leaning towards 500 Pixels more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Flickr, always have, and won’t abandon the network. I just wonder if in its attempts to become a consumer photo network, Flickr shunned its existing power users.

In my mind, Flickr owned a niche as a photography site that catered to both pros and amateurs. The stream was good. It become a resource for many who searched for great images to fill out their stories. While adding mobility is a natural evolution, sacrificing interactivity and function to get there may become a long-term weakness compared to more specific-use oriented photo networks like Instagram and 500 Pixels.

What do you think of the new Flickr?

2 Million and Counting

My Flickr blog passed 2 million views on Saturday. Thank you to everyone who checked out my stuff, chatted with me on Flickr, and encouraged me, too.

It took almost seven years to get my first million views. It took just 10 and a half months to get the second million.

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The French Market in New Orleans.

What made the big difference? I can point to several things:

1) A commitment to quality content via the 365 Full Frame Project. I am continuing to shoot almost every day and develop my editing skills. But I think we know good or great content is not enough to succeed online these days.

2) Social interaction on Flickr and 500 Pixels has helped spread the reach of my photos. But it has done more than that. Interaction exposed me to so many good photographers, and I have learned a great deal from them.

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The Library of Congress

3) SEO: If you are not tagging photos on Flickr, shame on you. Both Google and Yahoo! index the site and offer the images as search results. If you offer a creative licensing option, people really do use them. I don’t have a Wikipedia page, but I sure as heck have quite a few photos on the site.

4) Luck: I’ve been blessed a few times and had a select few photographs like the above Library of Congress shot featured in Flickr’s daily Explore feature. Those moments exposed my photography to hundreds of new contacts. Because I engaged, they became a part of my network. For that, I am extremely grateful.

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The Boulevard of Bokeh Dreams (Nashville)

I never expected my photos would become this popular with others. For that I am grateful. More than anything, it makes me happy when I hear others tell me that the photos add a little to their social stream, that they look forward to seeing them.

Thank you. I hit two million, and but I am not looking back.

Thanks, a Million!

Over the weekend I achieved one of those crazy vanity metrics that I feel great about even though it has little measurable impact. My photo blog on Flickr surpassed one million total views.

It feels great and exciting, kind of a cool thing to happen. A million is a nice number to roll around in your head, especially when you consider that I bought my first DSLR — a Nikon D60 — six years ago.

One Million Views on Flickr

You’ll notice two distinct bumps in the above chart, one from my shots at SXSW and last week’s bump from Social Media Marketing World (#smmw14). These two events were nice photo bombs that generated a ton of traffic. You can read my coverage of #smmw14 here on the Vocus blog, but I do want to excerpt one section:

Ekaterina Walter, co-author of The Power of Visual Storytelling, offered a different statistic, which was that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text by the brain. She said, “Content with compelling visual content receives 94 percent more total views.”

I have to agree. I don’t think I could have gotten a surge of new followers, a few new business opportunities, and general momentum from these shows without photographs.

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San Diego at night

But I digress. More than anything, hitting a million views makes me feel like I really am a half decent photographer.

There have been a couple of other recent affirmations, too. Over the past two weeks I was asked to file a story on CNN’s iReport platform based on my baseball pics over the years, and to present a photographers view of DC at a networking event in Baltimore, by Dee O’Horan.

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My friends Cheryl Vosburg and Mike Smith’s wedding.

So I took the amateur off my photographer description on Twitter. I can safely say that I am a real photographer now.

I still have more to learn, starting with editing in Aperture and Photoshop, as well as maximizing the potential of my Nikon D7100. When I reach that next level, I hope to move to HD full frame shots with a Nikon D800E.

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Speaking of photography, if you are in DC on April 9, please join me and social media all star Ann Tran for a beautiful early morning Cherry Blossom photowalk at the Tidal Basin. We will be meeting up at 7 am, and will have an informal coffee and breakfast meetup afterwards.

Thank you to everyone of you who has looked at and/or shared one of my photos. I really appreciate it.

On to the next photo!