Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Not to Get Booted from Flickr Explore

This is a post for people using Flickr to post photos and interested in some thoughts on the Flickr 'Explore' feature.

Heavenly Dunes In Death Valley
Heavenly Dunes in Death Valley; Flickr Explore Rank #6  04/17/11
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.  
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options. 
Flickr ranks the top 500 or so photos per day according to some mysterious algorithm and features these photos on their 'Explore' stream which gets a decent amount of traffic. It's nice to put your photos in front of more people, and getting into Flickr Explore is useful for increasing traffic to your photostream.

I am by no means an expert on Flickr Explore, but I have at least noticed some of what disqualifies your photos from being candidates for Flickr Explore. I spent about a year not knowing what I was doing on Flickr and spent hours and hours trying out posting my photos to various groups and their contests, but hardly noticed any traffic on my photos. Even the ones that seemed to do very well in some Group-based competitions still were no where near Explore and I couldn't figure out why.

Flickr Explore seems to be based on:  (among other factors)

More is Better
Less is Better
  • The Ratio of Favorites to Views
  • The Ratio of Comments to Views
  • The Ratio of favorites and comments to your Contact list
  • A comparison of your latest photo stats to your previous photo stats
  • Seems like descriptions, titles, and tags do help.
  • The Number of Groups where you posted your Photo
  • The Number of people subscribed to the Groups where you posted your Photo

In general, the Explore algorithm seems to be trying to figure out which photos are generating the most enthusiasm per view. How Flickr determines whether your photo is really getting visibility is problematic (not a fair algorithm in my opinion).

The 'Less is Better' list above is particularly critical.
The Flickr algorithms are always changing, but it seems that posting your photo to more than five groups will trip some threshold and kick your photo out of Explore eligibility. If any of the groups where you have posted your photo has a large number of subscribers (something like > 50,000 people), then that also automatically kicks your photo out of Explore eligibility. Seems like the thought is that posting to a group with a large number of people means your photo has more visibility. I think this is a mistake in Flickr's algorithm because from my experience, Flickr groups with a large number of subscribers are only a 'dumping ground' for photos. That is, people post their photos and leave, but do not look at the rest of the photos in that group. I no longer post to any groups with more than 20,000 or so subscribers to be on the safe side. I have found that these groups do not attract any extra views to my photos and I am also penalized in the Explore algorithm because it thinks I am getting lots of views from these sites. (The worst of both worlds.)

Unfortunately, aside from two or three groups, I have found most Flickr groups are a bad time investment. These are my personal favorites (always a lot of inspiring photos to comment on):

My General Tips for Flickr:
  • Use Flickr as a photo school.
  • Notice what inspires you from the other photos on Flickr
    • Find photos either from Explore or a keyword search (sort results on 'interestingness')
    • Check out the Groups where that photo was posted to find Groups you may want to join.
    • Go to the profile of the photographer of that photo and browse their 'Favorites' list 
    • Add the photographer to your Contact list and periodically browse the 'Recent Photos' section of your Contact List.
  • Limit posting your photo to 3 or so Groups
  • Add descriptive tags so people can find your photo much later.
  • Comment and Favorite photos that you like or inspire you.
    • Promotes photographer networking.
    • I love seeing more thoughtful comments on my photos, so try to leave more in depth comments for other people's photos I really like. 
    • This also helps you put your feelings/thoughts about photography into words which can help you learn. (ie: translate ideas into tangible form)

The Big Picture
Journey to the Moon Bridge
Journey to the Moon Bridge; Flickr Explore Rank #335 12/25/11
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved. 
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options. 
I think the ultimate goal is to put your photos in front of people who are interested more in looking at photos (potential buyers) rather than people who love taking photos (photographers). I think Flickr and other photo sharing sites seem to be more for photographers than viewers, so suspect Flickr is best used for photographer networking or sharpening your photo skills.  (Seems like many 'professional photographers' on Flickr mainly make their money on workshops instead of actually selling their photos. Not saying that's bad, it's just not what I'm really looking for.)

Even though the day after you post your photo, traffic usually falls steeply, if you put lots of tags on your photo, the casual browsers (who might be interested in licensing your photo) will be able to find it and contact you (potentially long after you posted the photo). So, my advice is to use Flickr to keep consistently trying to improve and expand you photo capabilities. Patience and Persistence. Flickr is a valuable training platform if nothing else, where you can compare your work to the other amazing art out there and keep working to add something to the conversation, so to speak.

The Scout (Big Huge Labs) website will help show you if any of your photos made it into Flickr explore and any latest trends for these (up or down). If your photo once was in Explore, but got kicked out (likely due to too many groups, or groups with too many members), the Scout website also tracks that info (depending on what options you select). It's a bummer, but at least once you see that is happening, it can help you determine which group you added that might have been 'the last straw'. At least then you can optimize your Group count for future photos.

Seems like a lot of traffic is migrating over from Flickr to 500px (which has algorithms of its own). From what I have seen so far, 500px has a way of introducing new photos in front of a lot more people without having to bother with groups. They have categories of 'Fresh', 'Upcoming', or 'Popular' and a concept of 'Flow' instead of just your photostream so you can more easily see what is of interest to people you are following. It's a site I've been trying out this past month and it does have a lot of upsides, so you might find it worth checking out.

Wrapping It Up
Flickr Explore is not the end all and be all, but it can help increase the visibility of your photos and give you a greater chance of receiving feedback. When you are starting out, kind words are essentially your currency. I hope these tips help send more your way!


  1. It seems to me that a high number of views is almost always a factor in getting into explore. Generating a high number of views is very difficult without using groups, and yet it seems that a lot of people do it somehow. Any thoughts on how to get more views without using groups? I try "faving" and commenting on a lot of photos, and that generates some views, but not nearly enough. Thanks.
    "in touch" (user name on Flickr)

  2. Yes, this is a bit of a paradox. I just had a photo make it to the Explore gallery, and the only thing differently I have done was add it to a few key groups that have many members and lots of viewing.

  3. Fortunately, one of my photos landed on Explore just yesterday. It was totally unexpected, one of the shot that a pro-amateur would consider worth sharing. There were neither tags nor group adds, just an interesting title and a short description. It was rather an unceremonious mobile upload. I was sure that I had been featured when I noticed an influx of email notifications. I felt fulfilled to have over 10,000 views, +99 favourites and congratulatory comments from total strangers on the photo.
    I'd say that it was a rewarding experience, one that had eluded several explorable photos of mine for many months now.

    What boggles my mind is that the photos one often imagine to be Explore worthy hardly make it. Prompt tagging and group additions as the first Explore self-help blog I read suggested apparently was not helpful. Soon I forgot about getting into the limelight and focused on improving upon my work. Viewing explored works was very inspiring. As you mentioned, I also some as favourites for memories. And relations with contacts was significantly beneficial, as with group activities. I kept putting up my best to the stream until Explore came my way again. And that was when I decided to inquire about the whole Explore concept from your link after a Google search. Thank you!

    I am @ www.flickr.com/photos/dotun55

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