Flickr Enters Downward Spiral

Traffic for Flickr

It seems like every year or two you see a Flickr is dying post that sparks a major conversation about whether or not the photography social network will survive. Unfortunately, it seems that the time may finally be arriving for one of the longest standing social networks out there.

The most recent round of the “Flickr is dying” debate happened two months ago right around when Yahoo! announced it would stop investing in the network and sell it off. That one was sparked by Photoshelter CEO Allen Murabayashi’s Petapixel rant (I am a Photoshelter user) and sparked a strong defense by Thomas Hawk (I am an active friend of Thomas’s on several social networks).

Murabayashi’s rant seemed motivated by his competitive service offering, but in hindsight the Yahoo! public lack of support at that time may have been the network’s undoing. Things are not the same on the network with interaction and dialogue feeling slow.

flickr vs 500px

It’s more than a seasonal slump, which you would expect with warmer weather and enthusiasts running outside to use their dusty cameras. While uber photography social network 500 Pixels has experienced a small decline in traffic, too, their overall page views have declined a little more than a half a percentage point since December. Flickr has declined by more than 4 percent, and is in danger of falling out of the top 200 websites globally.

Instagram comparison

The two photography sites are not quite the same with 500 Pixels catering to “serious” photographers, many of whom are pro or semi-pro, while Flickr serves more of the photo enthusiast and consumer crowd. Yet Flickr’s decline is palpable as consumers fly away to more attractive and easier to use options like Instagram. As a result, for the first time that I can remember Flickr is not ranked as a top 10 social network.

Yahoo! Chases Away Whole Groups of Photographers

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Remember when Flickr rebranded itself as a consumer site last year? The new interface has been lacking in my mind (as I noted last May). Load times are slow and the interface was wonky. Yet, this was Marissa Mayer’s grand plan to challenge Instagram.

At first traffic increased, but the new traffic was not the traditional photography enthusiast, semi-pros and pros that made up most of the social network’s audience. It was consumer who used their smartphones as point and click cameras. Meanwhile, the people that made up the more sophisticated photographers on Flickr began to leave for other places.

You know what? That worked for Apple when it stopped catering to the Quark and Final Cut crowd. But Yahoo! is not Apple, and so when the plane crashed this winter, things began to fall apart.

Weekly photo contests suddenly stopped. Load-time issues, upload snafus, and other bugs increased. Auto-upload support for nonpaying Flickr users was taken away. And on the last note, consumers began leaving (because pro-photographers rarely upload scores of photos at a time for anyone other than a client, and when they do they use DropBox or Google Photos or Photoshelter or…).

Can you blame this new generation of Flickr photography enthusiasts? Why bother? After all, other sites are easier to use, have more interaction, and if you’re going to pay, it may as well be with a more reliable entity than a company cutting itself into pieces for an estate sale.

So who’s left after the pro and consumer exodus? Enthusiasts who like to upload nature and landscape pics, often the domain of photography hobbyists. And if that’s what you do, good news! Flickr may still be right for you.

More difficult types of photography — portraits, architecture, nightscapes, monochrome, artificial lighting, etc. — do not perform as well, though. The number of photographers that could create those works are dwindling on Flickr as they seek other networks like the 500 Pixels and YouPics of the world. The feedback is faster and more meaningful there, peer-to-peer. As my friend Richard Binhammer (an infrared photography specialist) says, “My photos seem to be getting more pop on 500 Pixels.”

And event and selfie pics? We all know Instagram is the place for those.

Can Flickr Be Saved?

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A lot depends on who buys Flickr. Doc Searls made an impassioned plea for Adobe to buy the social network, saying that Flickr was the best site for serious photographers.

I’m not sure about the latter anymore, but I do believe Flickr still has value. I’m still there and still use it to house my library. I still get occasional media inquiries to use my pics from Flickr, too. I know others like Thomas Hawk haven’t given up, either.

The question is who will buy it? If Google or Facebook buys Flickr, I will be downloading all of my photos that day and closing my account. Warren Buffett would be more encouraging. At least you know Berkshire Hathaway would invest in the network again.

Maybe the right question is, “Will the sale be in time?” Each month that passes, engagement dwindles. Resuscitating a dead social network is beyond even the brightest minds as we have seen with many attempts to restore MySpace (sorry, Justin Timberlake) and Digg.

Whatever happens, Flickr has been good to me and many other photographers for the past decade plus. If it does fade away, it will be missed.

What do you think?

The Special Nature of Night Photography

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The blizzard of 2016 is upon us. I am hoping the wind isn’t severe during the latter hours of the storm so that I can take some night shots of the blizzard before everyone steps all over the snow. Yes, I know. It’s insanity, but that’s how much I love night photography.

Most photography is about capturing the beauty of a moment or a scene. Light plays an essential role in magnifying that beauty. Night photography is much more than that to me.

Night is defined by the absence of the greatest light of all, sunlight. When you photograph outdoor images after the sun goes down, you attempt to capture the precious beauty usually hidden by night.

How many times have you walked outside in the night and needed to let your eyes adjust so that you can see your surroundings? When light appears it is stark, almost like a splash of paint in an empty negative space.

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Today’s digital cameras use sensors that are more sensitive and can better capture those details in the dim night. Many photographers use wide-open aperture settings to try and brighten the scene, often sacrificing detail in the foreground and background. But I think the real value of today’s full frame digital cameras are their ability to read deep amounts of light data across a nightscape at small apertures.

These long exposures can produce fantastic photos. If you have the patience to set up and sit by a tripod with a remote trigger for 1/2 second, eight seconds, 30 seconds or even longer, you can capture some amazing, stark, color-rich night shots.

You will see the subtle oranges of the not too distant day, the blues of an LED light, or the yellows of a tungsten bulb. Shadows dance across the scene hinting at deep colors of green or brown. Stars and planes twinkle in the night sky. Metal and glass reflect the scant light available creating mirror images. Streetlights and beacons in the distance proclaim the nearness of safe harbor if you can just traverse the nightscape before you.

It Takes More than a Smartphone

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The beauty of well-executed night photography is exceptional and rare. These pics stand out in a world filled with everyday black and white street photos in photo forums, grumpy cats on Facebook, and selfie shots proliferating Instagram. It is extremely difficult to capture a fantastic night image on a smartphone, at least with the current models (and here come the pics in my comments section).

Instead, a photographer must know her or his camera well, how the light impacts a landscape or an object, and the best ways to capture the essence of a night scene. Heck, in some cases you may even paint the scene with your own artificial light (flood or flash light, for example). Even then, you must know how to edit the RAW file produced by the camera and bring out the color, tone down light flares, and highlight details that may still be hidden in the shadows.

Night photography is truly an interpretation, a visual art form that cannot be minimized by popular technology. You have to have a vision of what you want to see, and you have to know how to shoot.

Here are thee tips beyond the usual (e.g. get a tripod and a remote trigger) for those who want to take their night photography a little further. I will warn you that one of these is unorthodox.

Spend the Time

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Serious enthusiasts and pros tend to shoot manual. And as most of them will tell you this requires a balance of light sensitivity (ISO), how far open your lens will shoot (aperture), and shutter speed (length of time it takes to capture your photograph).

In the most well lit situations you are photographing at 1/60th of a second or faster and at a relatively low light sensitivity. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO vary depending on how much depth of field a photographer wants to expose. These are the benefits of artistic choice in normal photography.

With night photography, to get a workable capture you need to make some sacrifices. You have to shoot with a very shallow depth of field. Or your need a high ISO, which can make your photo extremely grainy. Or you need a low shutter speed, which in turn can require a tripod and trigger release to avoid shake. You may need a combination of these things.

I almost always choose to make my sacrifice with time. I prefer an extremely deep field with lots of detail for landscapes, so sacrificing on aperture is a no-no. And I hate photos that are too grainy, so I prefer a lower ISO setting.

I usually ignore the advice of experts who say to shoot between f8-and f16 to maximize lens sharpness. Frankly, my camera sensors are good enough to make up the difference, and I want as detailed a nightscape as possible.

Most of my night pics take between 5 and 30 seconds. In some cases, long exposures at night can take two minutes or more. This gives me the most detailed RAW file possible for editing. And that in turn allows me to bring out the best in my nightscape photos, at least that’s what I currently believe.

Don’t Spend the Time

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There are always exceptions to the rule. In my case, as much as I love a well defined nightscape, if I am photographing the moon or an outdoor action scene, I don’t have the luxury to go for a long exposure. I will open the aperture to f9 or 11, and then try to make up the balance with the ISO setting.

The above photograph is a Super Moon shot from 2014. The photo was shot at f10 at 400 ISO over a half a second. I am certain the focus was on infinity as the shot was taken at 160 mm. I may have done myself a favor if had shot it for 1/4 a second or even faster, and upped the ISO accordingly. The detail in the moon would have been better.

Nevertheless, the focus was on capturing a moon shot that was detailed and yet not too bright. This is the primary issue with moon shots, overexposing the subject. It was a fine line, because I also had to capturing the much dimmer Washington Monument to give the photo context. This was an extremely hard shot, one that a long exposure would have simply ruined.

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Another example is when you want a shallow depth of field. The above Little Snowman pic is an example. I wanted the focus of the shot to be on the snowman and not the Jefferson Memorial. With this one I went for an extremely shallow depth of field (f1.4) and let the lens render the Memorial as a bokeh blurred background. CNN, HLN and local TV picked up the photo for their iReport, social media and broadcast properties, respectively.

When to Break the Rules

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Digital photographers rely on their histogram to tell them when a photograph is well exposed. Most schools and experienced photographers will tell you to shoot and correct to get a balanced histogram. Some would even tell you to overexpose in a dim situation and correct later. Be careful. Instead, I am going to tell you to make your own educated decision when it comes to night photos.

I have corrected and overexposed photos to meet the mantra and almost every time I am disappointed with the result. Usually, I get a night photo that looks like a day shot or a sunrise/sunset pic.

My point is that if you are taking a night shot, it should look like it was taken in the blue hour or at night. The above frozen river picture was a two minute and 12 second exposure. It was dark outside, really dark. The photo looks like it was dark, too, but you can clearly see that a sunrise was approaching on the horizon.

Below is the histogram.

Histogram

This chart makes sense to me. There really wasn’t a lot of bright things to balance the histogram. When I went to correct it, the scene looked like it was moments before the sun peaked. In reality it was a half hour before sunrise. Sometimes you just need to break the rules.

I believe this to be true even when things are white such as buildings or snow, like the previously mentioned snowman shot. It is my view that night shots should look natural as if they were taken at night with delicate, yet illuminating light. The histogram should be secondary in the editing process.

What do you think about night photography?

Consulting and Photography in 2016

 (Geoff Livingston)

(The Space Shuttle Discovery)

Several folks have asked what I am doing now on the professional front in the post Tenacity5 era. I am focusing on independent consulting and photography in 2016.

Consulting remains my primary focus as it is my most valuable skill, and the one companies need the most. Give them what they want as they say, and it is something I feel very comfortable doing. I will say that I am being a bit more selective about clients as it is just me, specifically no ongoing community management accounts or the like.

This also means I will not build a new agency or a larger marketing company. Part of my reasoning to end Tenacity5 was that I did not want to invest the energy into starting a new company anymore. That remains as true now as it did six months ago. However, I am keeping the Tenacity5 site up to describe the services I am offering, but have deleted the primary Tenacity5 social media properties.

What About the Photography?

 (Geoff Livingston)

(Early Morning at Pier 3)

On the photography front, I am getting hired more frequently as a pro photographer, which is awesome! In fact I have three jobs this week alone, which is pretty cool. Overall, photography makes up about 10-15% of my current income, and for that I am grateful.

However, the fine art and landscape photography, while certainly a driver of social media engagement, is not producing great amounts of revenue. I believe this is in part due to distribution.

Combined, the photography is not enough to earn a living. I am exploring some possible gallery and distribution methods, but none of these will be a quick fix. Even if I am able to get my own space, I don’t anticipate that photography will become my primary business. Things could change, you never know, but for now it’s a nice secondary revenue stream.

If you want to help with my photography business you can buy or license a photo, or you can hire me to perform work for your business or custom portrait shots. I am referring personal events to my friend Camille Catherine.

What About a Job?

 (Geoff Livingston)

(Under the El)

I did conduct a job search for several months, and while there were some near misses, things have not worked out. Some of the experiences reminded me of why I left corporate America 10 years ago. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Rather than continue the search, I have stopped looking completely. There will be no commute for me. Instead, I am taking the aforementioned consulting and photography route. I am able to do this thanks to my wife Caitlin, who successfully rejoined the government contracting community this past October.

That does not mean I won’t take a job or won’t listen to opportunities, but it is no longer a direction I am actively seeking.

I do want to thank everyone who inquired about what’s going on. You are good friends.

Merry Christmas

Have a safe and merry Christmas, folks. And if this should be my last blog for the year, be safe and enjoy your New Year’s eve celebrations, too.

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If you’d like to see all more of holiday photos from the 2015 season, check out my whole gallery on www.geofflivingston.photo. You can get 30% off any of my photos using the HOLIDAY2015 code on the site.

Cheers!

 (Geoff Livingston)

A New Blog and Approach for 2016

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You’ll probably notice a new simple blog design on the site. The revised geofflivingston.com reflects a greater focus on photography, and less on books and writing as a whole.

This reflects an anticipated larger strategic shift with my own activities online in 2016. Next year will bring a professional change. With it will come a reduced focus on marketing personal consulting services. I will reveal more when I can.

As a result, at some point during the next year I anticipate letting myself off the hook for a weekly post, and will simply blog when I have something to say. I know people like to interpret these things and go off and write posts about bloggers quitting and riding off into the sunset. This is not that. It is not a resignation, nor the end. Instead, it represents a maturation and an evolution.

There are two drivers behind this change.

Purpose

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The aforementioned personal change will likely push any personal blogging to other venues, a corporate site, my Huffington Post blog, and/or my LinkedIn blog. If I am not marketing, building personal influence, or trying to prove my worth as an individual blogger for some other reason, then weekly blogging is a habit.

There are a variety of reasons for that habit, from maintaining a consistent presence to making sure my writing skills don’t get rusty. The truth is I will be writing, again probably elsewhere. So the only reasons to continue are to build personal influence, which frankly doesn’t interest me very much.

Keep in mind, this is not a new game for me. I don’t see much value from getting free Doritos, conference passes, and movie tickets because I am an “influencer.”

When blogging here does become something I do on my own time, it becomes a time eater, a hobby. My top two concerns will be my child and my professional activities. And I have another hobby which actually produces a dollar now and then, one that I find is less time consuming and more enjoyable, at least right now: Photography.

After regular periodic blogging for so long (see below), it is time for geofflivingston.com to become a true personal blog. That means only publishing when I care enough to write something. Writing when I have something to say effectively right sizes personal blogging to where it belongs.

I’ve Been Around Too Long

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In April, I will celebrate/mourn 10 years of blogging. I have used blogs to weigh in on industry issues, market my services, help causes, and in the latter few years, add my voice to societal matters.

Blogging was unique when I began. Now it is a crazy evolving mess. That probably reflects content shock, and the corresponding impact information glut is having on the interwebs.

In the end, writers write. While I may be a marketer and a photographer, my core skill remains writing.

My experiences blogging and marketing over the past ten years have taught me one thing: A blog is just a means of publishing, nothing more, nothing less. It is an online Gutenberg press that allows people to comment on and share posted media. It’s always been that way. How marketers use or abuse the form is up to them.

My words will still have a venue if I need it. And if I am still active on social channels — and I will be — then my friends and community will still welcome those words, infrequent or not.

So blog I will. When I want to. I guess that’s what happens when you become a cranky old blogger ;)

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.

Living Through The Lens... Weekly Challenge..
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?