on posting photography online

IMG 4349I've been posting photos online regularly since I got a Flickr account way back in 2005. Since then, I've posted photos regularly (and daily since January 2007). Currently, I have 8,840 photos posted to Flickr (not all are public). That's a fair number of photos, but nowhere near a complete archive (there are over 24,000 photos in my Aperture library, and several hundred more older unscanned photos shot on film).

I've taken a step back to try to figure out why I post photos online. I can think of 4 reasons:

  1. Backup
  2. Feedback / Critique
  3. Sharing with intent for reuse
  4. Sharing with friends

Taking the reasons in turn:


Flickr is a decent last-chance emergency backup. It's lossy (stores JPG rather than the original RAW images if available) and some of the metadata may be out of sync with what I have on my computer. It's possible to get a complete backup restored from Flickr, but it's not ideal. You can either download every photo into a folder, and then re-import into a photo library manager, or order a CD or DVD (or several) and then re-import into a photo library manager. Spending weeks or months trying to rebuild my Aperture library doesn't sound like a very robust backup strategy.

I use Time Machine on my computer to back up our files. Well, I use it when I remember - it's been almost 5 months since I ran the last backup. (the drive is stored, unplugged, in a fire-resistant strongbox in the basement, so performing the actual backup takes some digging and setup.) This performs a real backup of the files I have, including the entire Aperture library. Metadata, projects, albums, etc… are all maintained. It's a real backup, with no re-importing or re-creating after an emergency. That is more sane than hoping to restore order from a Flickr dump/backup.

So, backup isn't really a reason I post photos online.

Feedback / Critique

My Flickr account has comments enabled. I do get occasional comments on my photos. But, if I judge from those comments, I am the single most gifted photographer to have ever picked up a camera. I have never received any critiques of my photos - they're all awesome and wonderful and beautiful and amazing etc… Well, that's not really feedback. That's just a group hug. Which is nice, if that's what you're looking for. But, a photographer (or anyone else) who only receives praise is likely to start believing it. Which leads to a self-delusional I'M SO AWESOME spiral. Which, in turn, I'd like to avoid if at all possible.

So, feedback and critique isn't really a reason I post photos online.

Sharing with intent for reuse

I've posted all of my photos with a simple Creative Commons license - for years, I stuck to a clean Creative Commons Attribution license, and only recently adjusted to a slightly more restrictive Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. I'm happy to hear about people finding uses for my photos. As a result of this open sharing, they've been published in books, magazines, used on stage in a ballet, turned into paintings, and posted to literally countless websites (I used to try to keep track, but gave up).

I view reuse as a secondary outcome - I've never posted specifically for reuse. I dabbled with shooting photos for microstock - those photos were intended for reuse - but that wasn't fun, as I felt like I was shooting photos that someone else might want. Which is fine, but not something that I find enjoyable. And the microstock system must have picked up on that, as I made a whopping $3 or so, which will be paid out in about 100 years, as they only cut cheques if the balance is over $100.

So, reuse isn't really a reason I post photos online.

Sharing with friends

On Flickr, the single page I spend the most time on is the "Contacts" page - where I can see at a glance what my friends have posted recently. It's a fantastic way to see what Alan's doing on his road trip, where on earth Kris the Lumberjack Photographer is this week, what amazing places Duncan has wound up today, and what a bunch of local photographers are up to.

But not everyone I care about has a Flickr account, so the Contacts page is incomplete. I also get to check Facebook, to see what the non-Flickr-but-still-Facebook crowd is up to. And monitor Twitter to see what the Twitpic-YFrog-Instagram crowd is up to. As a result, I've been finding myself spending more time off-Flickr.

Lately, I've been posting "ephemeral" photos to a photoblog. It's where I post fleeting photos about what I'm doing. It pumps updates out to Twitter, and has an RSS feed. This feels like it solves the "Sharing with friends" side rather nicely, for me, anyway.

I had been posting my daily photos to another photoblog since January 2008. I started doing it as a more formal way to show the daily photos (which were also being posted to Flickr) and as an additional way to keep myself motivated to shoot daily. But, since they're daily photos, many really suck photographically. Not really website-showcase material. And since I'm not really getting feedback or critique (I'd even disabled comments on that photoblog a few months ago), it's not doing much.

So, it seems as though sharing with friends is the only reason I'm posting photos online lately.

What now?

What triggered this post was our return from a week-long vacation in the Shushwap region in BC, houseboating and camping. I shot lots of fun photos documenting the trip, and posted a few of them live to the ephemeral photo blog (and would have posted several more, but the cell network in the Shushwap region is spotty). After returning home, I imported them all from my phone (my PHONE! I didn't even bring the DSLR), and did the usual filter/stack/metadata routine. And then realized I just didn't feel like posting them to Flickr. Nor to the photoblog. I was happy just having the photos. I'd already shared the moments with my friends via the ephemeral media blog and twitter. So, posting the photos wouldn't really have added anything.

This isn't a big drama-laden post. I'm just thinking this through. I'm not deleting any accounts or blogs. I'm not doing anything drastic. But I need to get my head around what I'm wanting to do, and why, and with whom. The endless posting of photos has lost my interest. It feels like a pointless activity at best, and a delusional exercise in self gratification at worst. Neither sound very interesting to me. So, I'll just pause for now. Looks like I'm still posting ephemeral photos. For some reason, that's fun while the other photo-posting has worn off.

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