Social media and the documentary photographer.

You have a Facebook profile. You also doubtless have a flickr account, a 500px account, perhaps one on National Geographic as well and the list goes on and on. And to make matters just that much more confusing there seems to be a new photography site every few months, each one promising to be "the" centre of the photographic world.

Look, we all know it's not easy to be a photographer these days. The competition isn't just in your city anymore, you compete on a world stage for attention, jobs and recognition. People steal your images, people use them without your permission. It's dog eat dog. So, how do you promote yourself without it becoming a full-time job?

We can't escape the importance (prominence) of Facebook as a tool for networking and promotion, at the same time we have to recognize that it's full of holes and traps in how it limits your ability to reach everyone that might follow you and to build an audience. It's been a general complaint from popular bloggers and Warholianly famous people that Facebook throttles the reach of your posts unless you cough up and pay. So what's an aspiring photographer to do?

First up, keep your Facebook profile but stop relying on it as your number one channel. Sure, sure. It's popular amongst wedding photographers and I've got nothing agains them but you needn't rely on it as your main avenue.

There are a couple of choices in terms of an anchor system for your work: Flickr is a pretty solid choice. The groups are active and you get a lot of control over your work and how people interact with it.

500px is a relatively new system and was (is) said by some at least to be the Flickr-killer; frankly I don't see it, but hey, there are plenty of people with a grudge against Flickr, so whatever works.

Google + is an interesting hybrid. Not a photo-sharing system per-se, but very capable and with a large collection of very lively communities. Trouble is, it has no API and no real integration to other systems, which makes life harder for control.

Pick a flagship system and stick with it. Next up is workflow and the post-processing and publication of your images and there are two basic choices; Lightroom or Aperture. Now, for the non-apple people out there it's a no-brainer — go with Lightroom. Ultimately you pick the tool you like best and I'll write another article later comparing the two, but for now, pick one.

Once you've picked a tool use it to publish your work to your flagship system. Lightroom has built in integration for Flickr for example and you should set up an export/publication profile for your images that gives you the best looking JPG you can at the lowest resolution possible. Basically an acceptably good, but not stellar image. Why? Well, consider for a moment that most people will be using laptops and portable devices to look at it and it only has to look good on screen. You just don't need to upload a high resolution image to make it look good on screen. 72 DPI and 1500 to 2000px on the long side is more than enough.

Stop the watermark madness! I'm guilty of it. We're all guilty of it. People will steal your images, period. You'll find out and you can use google reverse image search to hunt them down. (another reason for not image flooding) It makes it less of a slog finding your images online.

Cough up the money for your flagship account and post only your best work but avoid flooding and by image flooding I mean putting every image you have online at once. Pace yourself.

Do the research and look at the groups that are promoting the work you like. Don't post to huge numbers of groups, 1 to 5 groups chosen well is more effective than scattering your work across every group under the digital sun.

Title your work. Don't leave your images as "DSC1101.jpg" even if the title you give it is mundane, title it.

Add a description. Tell the viewer the story of the image; how it came to you and you to it.

Add tags that are relevant. Avoid being a tag-whore — you know what that looks like and it's not pretty.

Put your work into groups and communities. Participate in a genuine and meaningful way. Don't just 'like' everything you see either. Like what you really like. Comment in a meaningful and constructive way and don't be a brown-noser.

Okay, so now that we've gone over the big stuff let's spend a little time on the details. How to use that flagship system to put your work out there. I'll begin by saying that I've tried and continue to try new photography sites and systems as they come out. Some are 'okay' others are enigmas wrapped in question marks. I'll put a list at the bottom of this article with comments.

So, let's say you choose Flickr as your flagship system and you use Lightroom. You can add tags, descriptions and titles in Lightroom, which I strongly suggest to you as a good idea / practice. From Lightroom you can post images to Flickr directly to your photo-stream. You can then organize images into sets etc. but in all honesty, more traffic to your images comes from your stream and through group traffic.

From Flickr you can post to Twitter, Tumblr, Pintrest, Bēhance etc. Which again, is a good practice. You can post directly from Lightroom using plugins, but the goal here is to drive all traffic to your flagship site and not have unrelated posts. You know, all roads lead to Rome etc.

It really doesn't matter if you choose 500px or G+, Tsu, Facebook, EyeEm, etc as your flagship, just that you have one place where all your work goes first. This is about trying to make your life easier so you spend less time fussing over where your images are being seen and more time making images.

I hope you're seeing the workflow evolving here. (handy diagram below) and that it makes sense to you. I will say that I've been experimenting with the ideas above for a while and the article is based on experience, testing and observation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 10.00.05 AM

Got questions? Comments? Rants? Go for it.

Now, the list as I see it. Let me start by saying don't despair, most photo-sharing sites and  systems have audiences with a marked preference for nudes, puppies (small animals) and moody images of bridges at sunset. So bear in mind, your images might not get the attention you think they deserve.

Flickr:The oldest of the dedicated photo-sharing systems, it offers a wide range of tools and services. The interfaces are reasonable and the mobile app is pretty cool, especially the iPad app. You should have a Flickr Pro account.

500px:The new kid on the block. It has a mysterious ranking / rating community that prefers boobs, bums and moody landscapes, so as a social documentary photographer you may find your images not getting the sunshine you might want them to get. But it’s a nice system overall and would make a decent flagship, it does NOT however have the built in ties to other sites and you’ll be copying and pasting URLs a lot.

Bēhance:Adobe's portfolio system, not a bad one at that albeit a little short on features for editing and organization and with some quirks, but the community is pretty much who you want looking at your work: illustrators, designers, art/photography directors etc. And not some dude from Tallahassee with a penchant for underboob pictures. Bēhance has hooks into Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. The rest is copy and pasting URLs.

G+:The awkward cousin who talks a lot but has interesting connections. I like G+. The level of interaction and lively exchanges in the communities around photography are unlike Flickr, 500px, Bēhance , etc. You should have a G+ profile. No sharing outside the G+ universe integrated into the systems, but you can use G+ as a target system for your Flickr etc. account.

Facebook:I'm not big on Facebook but it's there and it can be useful and you already have an account so set up a page for your photography and post from your flagship account to it. So many unkind things to say about Facebook, but this is not the article for that - another time perhaps. Don’t use Facebook as your flagship system and DO read the terms of service vis-a-vis your images and how Facebook treats them.

Tumblr:Oh dear. What can I say? It's a vast swamp of angst and bad poetry but there are also photographers, art directors and designers out there. Just keep clear of the Russian porn bots and angsty teenagers and push your images from your flagship to Tumblr.

Eyeem:Peculiar little system and I’m a little new to it but it’s not Flickr-killer and there’s a surfeit of porn and endless selfies there, so there’s that to consider. Had built in integration to Flickr, G+, Twitter, Foursquare (why I don’t know), and Tumblr. Ignoring the rampant selfies, weenie and boob shots you could make Eyeem a flagship system.

National Geographic - Your shotIt’s slow, awkward to upload and has limits to prevent photo-flooding, but it has a pretty solid community, albeit with a preference for moody bridges and sunsets, but there is a place for harder-edged work and as a bonus there are quasi competitions. No external systems integration which means URL pasting… ugh.

Oh, I should mention that this list is far from final and the article is far from comprehensive, but it starts a train of thought which is all it’s supposed to do. I also want to take the time to say that as a result of my experimentation my own accounts are a freaking mess.


  1. Hi, Byron. This is an example of your strategy working, as I've come here from your Tumblr blog!

    I totally agree with you about Facebook. It's good for linking posts, but I'm not into them due to their trickiness, (as you've pointed out.)

    I've tried most of what's out there for photographers over the last decade, and am now limiting myself to Tumblr as my blog, and Flickr as a gallery. Honestly, every paid gallery site I've ever tried has its rough edges, and this only becomes apparent after some time with them.

    Tried 500px, but had to many users just begging me to see their stuff - including in Russian. (Found that out with Google Translate.)

    Seems you've had a better experience than me with Google Plus. I needed it for photo storage when I had Blogger as my main blog. I still place links to my Tumblr posts there, but find there's a lot of people who just want attention and don't give back. Not to mention the people I have to block because they add me to their circles, but they either have Tom and Jerry cartoons or nothing to share with me. (I don't get it. )

    Oh, and by the way, I gave up on Blogger when I got my Android tablet for quick posting on the move. Would you believe that Google/Blogger (who make an excellent Gmail app - and self driving cars) cannot - or will not - provide a Blogger app that works at all? But that is the case.

    I link to Twitter, too. And that's it...

  2. Hi Andrew. Here's where I say that I spent a long, long time thrashing about before arriving at this. The net result is a messy trail of postings across a number of systems. There's no one answer and everyone will find a set of solutions that works for them. It had occurred to me that there had to be a way to create a workflow that wasn't a drain on me.

    I'm with you on the 500px thing. I only tried it on the recommendation of a friend and have just toyed with it since I put it up. I went with WordPress as my main blog/site. Tumblr used to be my go to system until I got tired of the poseurs and angsty teens/hipsters with cameras, all of whom claim inspiration from the cannon of photography and none of whose work bears that mark nor any semblance of skill. (Sorry, I'm nothing if not critical).

    There are a lot of dud or soon to be defunct systems: Tsu, EyeEm, Blogger, even 500px arguably. Every system has its own quirks and some of those quirks are just plain irritating. I mean, I love National Geographic and all, but in the name of Wotan's beard, why is it so awkward?

    The problem is that mot, if not all of this technology has been designed and developed by technologists, software developers and people who are plainly not photographers. Which accounts for Google's miss on Blogger etc. I'm a little perplexed by G+ still and you're quite right, there's a lot of dreck, fluff and highly polished turds there and elsewhere on photographically oriented sites.

    I found one way to interact on G+ was to develop and moderate a private community. Mine is called "The Passionate Eye" (and it's only a matter of time before CBC; the national broadcaster in Canada, slaps me with a cease and desist order because they have a journalism program by the same name... in 3, 2....) Anyhow, curating collections is a good vehicle. Being critical in the best sense of the word and not the hipster whinging and pointing (the culture of complaint) sort. But again, lots of garbage comes my way too.


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