Category Archives: Flickr

Hitting the Flickr Explore Jackpot with Crepuscular Coast

Crepuscular Coast (v2) © Harold Davis

My monochromatic image Crepuscular Coast (shown above) hit Flickr Explore yesterday. This is a reprocessed version of the original image, which I originally photographed, processed, and posted in October 2018 (link to the original story here).

I reprocessed the image at the behest of a client, who wanted me to take down the crepuscular rays a bit (those rays were really there!). I also removed a small texture effect—which you can mostly see in the sky of the original version—so the reprocessed version is a cleaner, simpler, and starker image, although the differences between the two versions are really pretty subtle.

Three months out the original version on Flickr has 173 views and 4 Faves (“Faves” are the Flickr version of “likes”). In contrast, the reprocessed version on Flickr after about 36 hours has 10, 558 views and 575 Faves, and counting upwards. Whatever one’s opinion of the merits of the two versions, most of this vast difference in audience appreciation can be attributed to the inclusion of the recent one in Flickr Explore.

The eyeballs today for photography are mostly on Instagram, and if you want your work to be seen you need to go where the eyeballs are, despite the formidable limitations that Instagram has for serious photographers (it is designed best for mobile photography). But even compared with Instagram, when it comes to instant recognition, it is hard to beat Flickr Explore. My own experience is that any image that “makes Explore” get 10K page views almost immediately, and is typically profitably licensed. I get an image “Explored” once every quarter or so; besides Crepuscular Coast, two of the most recent ones are Lonely Road / Poem of the Road and Twisted.

So some of the images included in Flickr Explore are pretty compelling (I like to think mine are!), and others not so much. How do images get “Explored”?

In April, 2018 SmugMug bought Flickr from Verizon, who had acquired it about a year earlier from Yahoo. SmugMug has made it clear that being “Explored” is reserved for paying customers a/k/a Professional members of Flickr, which seems quite fair, and a good policy.

Besides membership category, Flickr itself is pretty mum about the process of being “Explored”, but points to an algorithm for something they dub “interestingness”. As one FAQ for an Explore derivative group on Flickr puts it, “Selections for Explore are made by a math equation. This math equation (called an algorithm) calculates a score based on how many views, faves and comments an images gets over a period of time. The better the score the higher an image gets placed in the Explore list. Faves are heavily weighted in the equation and are far more important than comments. This score is often referred to as the “interestingness” factor of an image.”

Of course, blaming an opaque algorithm for a secret sauce is not unusual in “high tech land,” whether that secret sauce is Google’s PageRank algorithm or Flickr’s interestingness algorithm for Explore. Really, the process of “being Explored” is pretty much a black box.

The only thing that is clear is that something like the community trail conundrum is at work: the more times a trail is trod upon the more visible it becomes, leading to more visits, more visibility, and a bigger trail, all in a virtuous spiral. Early movement is vital: you don’t get an image “Explored” unless it starts garnering views, comments, and faves pretty early in its online history. Anecdotally, based on my observations, I agree that faving (“liking”) is actually more important than views or comments in terms of the algorithm’s ranking.

So we don’t really know how images get into Explore. We do know that some of the images in Explore are very good and others are banal, or worse. Comments and observations are welcome. Perhaps if we put our communal heads together we can shed some light on this conundrum. After all, this is one more mysterious process in virtual space with real world consequences.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Orchids in a Blue Bowl

I photographed these Cymbidium orchid blossoms in a blue bowl placed on a black velvet background. Lighting was natural, ambient sunlight bounced off white boards and reflectors. Exposure and processing info below the image. I like the way the image looks like a mandala!

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D810, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, six exposures at shutter speeds from 1/10 of a second to 1.3 seconds, each exposure at f/11 and ISO 64, tripod mounted; exposed using mirror lock-up and the Nikon MC-36A remote release.

Processing info: Exposures initially processed in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and combined in Photoshop as layers using layer masks and manually painted-in with the Brush Tool.

I added a “kicker” layer for additional punch created by running five of the six exposures through Nik HDR Efex Pro.

The resulting layer stack was merged down, cropped to a square format, retouched, and spotted in Photoshop.

Next, I applied creative color and sharpening effects selectively, and at low opacity, from Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Viveza.

Merging the layers down again, a final pass applied filters—once again selectively at low opacity—provided by Topaz Simplify.

Also posted in Photography

Flickr and a perfect trifecta of tagging errors

Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am no fan of the perspicacity and wisdom of the powers-that-be at Flickr and their Yahoo masters. This is despite the fact that I have been a Flickr member since 2005, with at last glance a 5,647,849 view count on Flickr. A case in point I wrote about fairly recently is Flickr’s foolishly implemented attempt to venture into photo licensing (see Flickr and me, and stock photography: Adventures in Licensing in the Internet Era and The worst mistake you can make with customers).

Passion for Petals Painterly © Harold Davis

Passion for Petals Painterly © Harold Davis

The latest Flickr foray into egregious idiocy comes with a Flickr site redesign. In all fairness, the redesign is actually pretty attractive and functional. The problem is with a feature that Flickr implemented, namely auto-tagging of one’s photos. A software robot analyzes images, and adds tags. The point of course is to make searching easier, because search engines mostly use words, not visuals. The problem is that the Flickr’s robot isn’t all that good at recognizing subject matter.

For example, Passion for Petals Painterly, the image shown above, created using photography of flowers, Photoshop, and Topaz Impressions is tagged on Flickr (opens in new tab, scroll down to see the tags) “pastel”, “drawing”, and “food”—a perfect trifecta of tagging error since none of the tags are correct.

The problems with the tagging feature could be chalked up to it being an early software version. Obviously, automated image recognition software is a hard challenge. But my frustration stems from the fact that there is no way to turn this feature off globally. I take a great deal of care with my work, and I really don’t like it being tagged incorrectly. To remove the incorrect tags from my images on Flickr, and there are many of them, would mean going through my photos one-by-one and clicking the little X above each errant tag. No thank you!

Also posted in Photography

The worst mistake you can make with customers

What is the worst mistake you make with a customer? Probably it is the inability to see things from the customer’s viewpoint, and to only see costs and benefits from your own position. A close second in the worst mistake category: raising someone’s hopes and dashing them in short order as in “Congratulations, you are not in the club!”

Mark Twain, who didn’t want to join any club that would have him, would probably approve. But anyhow.

Nautilus © Harold Davis

Nautilus © Harold Davis

This piece of idiotic computer-generated boilerplate that I received from Flickr today in response to my decision not to enroll images in the Flickr Curated Collection manages to make both mistakes in one hearty “Congratulations! Unfortunately none of your images were selected” epistle:

Hi Harold Davis,

Congratulations! You have now completed one full curation cycle with the Flickr Curation Team! Unfortunately, and it makes us sad to report, your photos are not available for licensing through our distribution channel.

Your photos could have been excluded for various reasons, including:

  • The photo was marked as invited in our system, but was not actually requested from you due to internal curation needs.
  • You instructed us to exclude the photo from the Flickr Marketplace.
  • The photo was not legally or technically resolved during our communications with you during the enrollment cycle.
  • The photo was declined by our distribution channel due to their own legal or technical examination.
The Flickr Curation Team may contact you as part of an effort to re-curate your photostream (an additional curation cycle). This will be especially true if you added more work, so feel free to upload additional content at this time. Our goal is to enroll some of your beautiful work in the Flickr Marketplace by completing additional rounds of curation.
We want to thank you for your patience as we work on improvements to photographer tools, communication and the overall onboarding experience.
Our appreciation for your involvement in this amazing endeavor!

Thank you,

The Curation Team | Flickr

Obviously, since as I noted in my previous story I asked Flickr not to include my images in their collection I am not heartbroken. But suppose this had been a big deal for me? The Curation Team seems to forget that Flickr members are their customers, and that customers are people. How would receiving this email feel from the customer’s viewpoint? Not very good. At least irritating, and tending towards infuriating.

On the Internet, as the saying goes, nobody knows you’re a dog. The problem here is somewhat the obverse: too many important communications on the Internet are generated via thoughtless computer-generated boilerplate that treats customers as no dog should be treated. On the Internet, the computers don’t know that you’re a human being.

Great Hall, Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Great Hall, Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Flickr and me, and stock photography: Adventures in photo licensing in the Internet Era

I have been a Flickr member for almost a decade (since 2005). According to Flickr’s dashboard, there have been more than 5,000,000 views of the 4,500+ images that I have uploaded to the site. It’s my general practice to upload a low resolution JPEG to Flickr with every important photo set I make, which accounts for my almost 5,000 images over ten years. On average, it amounts to about one uploaded image a week.

Statistically, I am probably somewhat unusual as a serious professional artist and photographer, and widely-read author, with an active and ongoing Flickr presence. One reason I maintain my Flickr persona is that over the years I’ve got a lot of photography business from my Flickr images, including prestige publications as well as assignments. This comes and goes, and is not something that can be counted on, but I find the best publicity one can do for one’s images—when one produces something unusual, unique, and striking—is to get them up on the Internet.

I like to say that when it comes to image licensing “the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh.” Against a background of racing to the bottom with things like microstock sales, and the pronouncement by Marisa Mayers—the head of Yahoo, the owner of Flickr—that “with cameras as pervasive as they are [today] there’s no such thing really as professional photographers,” I have been contacted by legitimate upper-end image acquirers from around the world because of my presence on Flickr. Of course, you have to have a unique and compelling offering, but these companies never would have found me in the past.

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

I do find there is a certain amount of image “appropriation” based on what I’ve uploaded. I combat this by being careful to only upload low resolution, small files—so my potential losses are limited, and tends to be things like individual wedding invitation usage, or for personal notecards. When these people do the right thing and contact me, I grant permission, and request a small donation to a charity that benefits children. I usually see this as a teachable moment, to help educate people out there about issues of copyright and image ownership.

Probably the most unusual licensing request I’ve ever had via Flickr was to use one of my cherry branch images as the basis for a tattoo extending pretty much the entire length of a woman’s back and up onto her neck. Since the request was made after the fact, there wasn’t much I could do about it (although scenarios resembling Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice do tend to come to mind). But I asked for some photos and was pleased by the beautiful tattoo—my cherry blossoms had become living art.

Cherry Blossoms on Skin

But I look at the issue as “spoilage”: if you don’t put your work out there, no one will see it, and no one will license it. But I also need to be nuanced, and take some care, which is why I am careful about releasing high resolution files “into the wild.”

I also do select the “All rights reserved” setting within Flickr, and include my copyright notice beneath each of my images. Some people who contact me need to be educated about what this means, but for the most part, contemporary art directors regard Flickr as just another image pool—perhaps the world’s largest database of imagery—and understand that they need to contact me to get permission to license or use my work (or to obtain a high-resolution version, if they need it for their usage).

So Flickr is part of my business strategy. An important part, but not a vital part—not as important to me as, say, my blog. I’d hate to lose my Flickr presence, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, and it is perpetually irritating to be working within a hierarchy of people running Flickr who seem to be most interested in amateurizing and dumbing down the interface and patronizing the serious photographers who do use the site.

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Now a word about stock photography. First, let’s consider the way stock photography is licensed. Stock photos are licensed under two general schemes: royalty-free, and rights-managed. When you license a royalty-free image, you can use it for anything you want (except, usually, for reselling it as part of a stock collection). Often, royalty-free stock photos are sold for pennies, or as part of a downloadable collection where the end-user can download a certain number of photos per subscription period.

Obviously, an individual royalty-free stock photo is not worth very much, and the hope, of course, is to make it up on the volume: either in the number of purchasers or (from the viewpoint of the photographer) from the sheer volume of photos that an individual has licensed as royalty-free stock. If you have 100,000 photos that are royalty-free licensed, even if you only average $1.00 per photo per year, obviously it adds up.

In contrast to royalty-free, rights-managed licensing demands a higher price, and often includes exclusivity for a given usage, sometimes limited by time. Generally, if you had a distinctive and special collection of images, you’d want to employ rights-managed licensing as opposed to royalty-free licensing, since the best royalty-free images tend to be a bit generic so as to be more ubiquitous. Distinctive collections of work also tend to be concerned with branding, may want to avoid certain kinds of usages, and can be involved with furthering the career of the artist involved.

In fact, leaving licensing aside, it is a truism that the images that are shot for stock, and those that do well as stock, tend to be bland and generic. There’s a contradiction in terms between saying that an image is striking and creative and unique, and at the same time is likely to be widely in use as a stock image.

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Personally, over time, and as the stock photo industry has transformed, I’ve become increasingly skeptical whether my work as a place in it. I’m happy to consider rights-managed licensing of my work for appropriate usages, and in some cases have worked with industry-specific agents. I’m not opposed to paying commissions, and have had a long and fruitful career with my book agent over many years.

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

But I’m just not that interested in licensing away the control and rights to my own work. I’ve sweated hard enough to create it, and risked enough to create my body of work, why should I lose control of it now? As the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, giving up the rights to my work is like giving up the skin on my eyeballs.

This is not to say that this anti-stock stance is right for everybody. I have at least one pro-photographer buddy who makes a very good living via stock photography sales made by a number of prominent agencies. And speaking of stock photography agencies, it’s become apparent over the years that I’ve been posting to Flickr that stock photography is increasingly being managed with business efficiencies in mind. The stock industry has consolidated, with many smaller agencies now being subsumed by Getty Images, the incumbent behemoth in the stock photography business.

This brings me somewhat indirectly back to the topic of Flickr and stock photography. Maybe three or four years ago, some brainiac at Yahoo-Flickr looked at the fact that they had this huge image repository, and figured they could make some money on it via stock sales. Of course, this imagery didn’t belong to Flickr (it belongs to the individual contributors) so Flickr would only be making a commission. The other problem was that recognizing that some Flickr contributors were of marketable or publishable quality opposes the no-nothing pseudo-populist spirit of Flickr’s ideology that “there are no professional photographers” anymore (which implicitly flatters the amateurs).

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

A concrete manifestation of the prevailing lack of respect for professionalism and image ownership at Flickr was the encouragement of uploading imagery with the default Creative Commons license—which allows usage without permission if certain conditions such as attribution are met. (One form of the Creative Commons license only allows non-commercial usage, but that is a side discussion.) As I’ve noted, I’ve always eschewed the Creative Commons license, and uploaded images to Flickr as “All rights reserved”—which is what I generally recommend.

In any case, the first iteration of the attempt to monetize Flickr’s image library was an arrangement that allowed Getty Images to troll the Flickr user base. Getty could enroll the Flickr photographers by invitation in a Getty library (this library always seemed something of a second-class citizen compared to the more orthodox Getty libraries). In addition, Flickr photographers could be invited by Getty to enroll in a program that added an icon to the images in their Flickr stream. Viewers could then request a license to specific photos, and Getty and Flickr would then intermediate to make sure the paperwork was in order, and to deliver a file to the license purchaser. Both schemes primarily involved royalty-free licenses. Presumably, Getty paid Flickr some share of the proceeds, but the exact terms of this arrangement were never to my knowledge published. As you’ll see, the business probably didn’t work very well for either party, as Flickr canceled the arrangement at what was their first opportunity, two years into it.

Getty Images in fact asked me to join their Flickr program, and for a brief while I did, mostly out of curiosity. Apparently, one of my images—a fisheye photo of the great Hoover Dam—was quickly requested by a client, so to see what would happen I opted it into the Flickr/Getty royalty-free program. I don’t know how my image was used, but I do know that my share came to a grand total of roughly $80. Following this experiment, I left the program, and continued to use Flickr the way I always have.

Hoover Dam

In mid-2014 Flickr announced that they were ending the relationship with Getty, and starting a new in-house stock program called at first Curated Connections, then termed the Flickr Marketplace (more info about the program here).

The idea behind this program was that Flickr’s curators would get everyday members of Flickr “discovered.” Flickr would handle the paperwork and business details, and place images with prestige outlets including the New York Times, and (somewhat curiously) Getty Images. Beyond licensing opportunities with photo agencies, other opportunities were held out: “We will look for ways to showcase your photos on the Flickr blog and across other Yahoo properties like News and Travel. We’ll also try to connect you with original photo assignments!”

In mid-February 2015, I received a communication via the internal Flickr mail system:

We love your photos! Your beautiful and genuine photos could be in high demand in today’s global photo marketplace. We want to work with you to increase the visibility of your photos across multiple platforms such as wall art, photo agencies, editorial placements on Flickr and Yahoo, and other media outlets.

If your photos are selected and sold in the marketplace, we will share 51% of the net sales with you through your PayPal account. There is no fee to join and you control your level of participation.…

Once we receive notification that you have enrolled, our curatorial team will select photos from your photostream and be in touch to see which ones you would like to approve for inclusion in the new Flickr Marketplace!

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

In the interests of science, I took care of the formalities involved in program enrollment, and waited to see what would happen next. I didn’t have long to wait. I did note that I would only be interested in the rights-managed program (as opposed to Flickr’s royalty-free offering).

The Flickr curators sent me an extensive list of my floral imagery—almost all flowers photographed using my transparency technique—that they wanted to add to the collection.

I wrote back to the curators noting that many of these were already subject to licenses for art reproduction, and that I needed to be able to use my images for my books and the prints that I make. Would this be okay? (The program FAQ allows artist “limited edition” prints, but this isn’t a term that specifically covers what I do, since many of my editions are not, in fact, explicitly limited.)

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

In response to whether I could carve-out rights already granted, I got a boilerplate negative:

Because you requested that your photos only be included in the Rights-Managed exclusive collection, we would need you to opt out anything that is licensed elsewhere. For photos accepted into the rights managed collection, exclusivity is required due to the type of rights that may be granted to a buyer.

Since higher royalties are often generated from this type of sale, the photographer is not allowed to (1) license the same photo to any other source (past, present or future) and (2) license a “similar” photo.

I never really received an answer as whether “limited edition” prints included the prints I make in my studio that are not in fact limited, or whether use in my books constituted a permissible promotional use: “You are still allowed to use the photos enrolled in the rights managed collection for self-promotion and as limited edition prints, so long as the prints are not sold exclusively. For the other two parts of your question, I am still waiting to hear confirmation and will get back to you.”

Often, as a freelance artist in business for myself, and supporting my rather large family essentially by my wits, I am struck by how hard it can be to decide if something that comes along is an opportunity or a pitfall. The opportunity is all the nice things that these Flickr curator people were saying they were going to do for me. The pitfall would be to tie up some of my best work for years. I like to tell a story about a cleric caught in a great flood. The religious gentleman ends up on the roof of his house. A helicopter comes along and offers to rescue him, but “No, no, God will rescue me.”

The question, of course, is whether God sent the helicopter.

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

In the case of the Curated Connections program—or Flickr Marketplace, as it has been called more recently—I decided that the risks clearly outweighed the potential rewards. The underlying problem was the inflexibility of the program in regard to work that already had a licensing history, and also the attitude that Flickr’s curators would be “discovering” me. This seems a little unreasonable if they had taken the trouble to research me even a tad, and not what my work needs. An offer to co-market my work as a unique collection with some understanding of how best to brand it would, of course, have intrigued me. Here’s what I wrote back to Flickr, declining to enroll any of my images in the program:

“I am really saddened, because like most professional photographers I can always use an additional revenue stream, but based on your response I will not be able to work with your program.

Of course, I do understand what a rights-managed program means and implies. Of my images that the curator selected, about half are subject to prior licenses of some kind, as I noted most existing licenses have to do with art reproduction or wall decor. With an organization that understood the value of my offerings, I could probably enroll these in a rights-managed program, but of course both sides would need to exclude the rights that have already been granted. Note that my existing licenses would absolutely prevent me from licensing on a royalty free basis (and I also don’t believe in this kind of licensing as a matter of principle because it degrades the value of the art licensed).

While I could probably select a few images from the list that the curator put together that don’t have any licenses outstanding, I do need to retain future art and book publishing rights to all my work (I see that you’re still researching these areas for me). But this hardly seems worthwhile for either me or Flickr/Yahoo, considering the few number of images that I could put into your program, and the fact that I would need to retain these future abilities.

I do hope you understand, but for now I will have to pass. Should you be willing to reconsider and negotiate an arrangement that meets my needs, considering the licenses that are outstanding and my future likely uses, I think that reasonable parties could reach such an agreement, and I would certainly be willing to discuss it. By the way, my images are available in extremely high resolution versions.

But without a customized business relationship that meets the needs of a distinguished educator, professional, and artist of my caliber, I shall have to decline, and remain the sole legitimate source for rights-managed licenses to my work (if there is a specific image of mine and a use you and/or a client of yours wish to discuss I am happy to quote a licensing fee, of course).

My very best wishes, and good luck with your venture.

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

The devil, of course, is always in the details, particularly in anything as complex as licensing imagery that involves several intermediary organizations. I do feel that the Flickr image repository is a very real asset that Yahoo and Flickr could monetize, at the same time helping the participating photographs earn some extra cash. But I don’t think this can be done with a patronizing stance about discovering people, and the underlying attitude that Flickr’s members have full-time IT jobs and are just happy to be noticed. Nor can it be done with a “stock photography as usual” one-size-fits-all business model.

Overall, the stock photography business is if anything oversupplied, and in a dismal race to the bottom. Only those with truly unique offerings will thrive, and probably they will thrive best if they use the tools the Internet provides to dis-intermediate parasitic organizations like traditional stock vendors, and those like the Curated Connections program that would try to emulate this clearly broken model.

Here’s what Flickr should do: They should give up on the idea of curating (not their area of expertise in any case) and on “discovering” Flickr members who may already be well-known. Flickr is never going to successfully compete on the same turf as a conventional stock source like Getty. So it’s time to innovate. Create an efficient and transparent market mechanism for willing buyers and sellers of licenses, and facilitate these transactions, taking a small cut of the fees. It’s foolish for Flickr to try to be another Getty, instead they should aim to be the eBay of image licensing transactions.

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Writing

Clematis Light to Dark


View this image larger.

Yesterday, a beautiful day with plenty of cloud cover and a strong wind, and the garden in full bloom, was perfect for indoor photography of flowers. I placed this dinner-plate-sized clematis blossom on a light box for transparency, and combined six exposures. All were skewed towards high key, meaning a right-facing histogram and and over-exposure bias (according to the camera, but what does the camera know?).

The clematis on white was my Annakin Skywalker, and I started the conversion process to Darth Clematis and the dark side (the image below) by converting the image to LAB color and inverting its L (Luminance) channel. From there, it was building up the dark side piece by piece through at least fifteen layers.

Note: if my silly Star Wars metaphor means nothing to you, you probably don’t have kids of the right age, and may the force be with you!

Clematis to the Dark Side

View this image larger.

In my passionate embrace with Photoshop, I often don’t make as good notes as I should about exactly what steps I’m taking. That’s why I save the history log of my Photoshop moves to the metadata of each image. To set this up, open the General tab of the Photoshop Preferences dialog and make sure History Log is checked. Choose to save the log items to the image metadata (you can also save it to a text file). Finally, make sure that the Edit Log Items drop-down list is set to Detailed.

Adding your Photoshop History log to your metadata will increase your file size, and it won’t tell you everything. Painting on a layer mask with the Brush tool is just listed as “Brush.” Photo metadata is often incomplete. You won’t learn from the image metadata that I combined a number of exposures (you just get the background layer). But all that said, you do a pretty good picture of the steps taken.

Recently, the history log of my Photoshop moves started showing up in the EXIF data published by Flickr. If you scroll down the links, you too can read the Photoshop history log of this Clematis, and on the dark side.

Speaking of Flickr, and the community of photographers and artists on the Internet generally, I find myself excited about the way I am constantly exposed to new ideas and artists through contacts on Flickr.

I belive that photographers need to look at visual artists beyond photography (for more on this topic, see this interview with me). M.C. Escher has obviously influenced my composites.

Lately, I’ve been exploring the work of Jacques Hnizdovsky, pointed out to me by a Flickr friend, a twentieth century artist known for his paintings and woodblock prints. Hnizdovsky’s work is intelligent, humorous, and photographic in the best sense of the word—astounding for imagery created as woodcuts. A true inspiration.

Also posted in Flowers, Photograms, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

How I Used Flickr To Power My Blog and Got 1,496,603 Visits

Why do I show my work on Flickr? There are a number of reasons, but they boil down to 1,496,603. Let me explain my affair with Flickr.

When I started Photoblog 2.0 in May 2005, I made the decision to serve my photos out of Flickr. This means that the several thousand photos in my blog are sitting on Flickr’s servers, instead of my own server (where I could perfectly well have put them).

Choosing to “mash-up” and outsource Flickr’s photo serving with my own WordPress and MySQL installation was a very Web 2.0 decision, and it has proved to be a smart move from a technology perspective. Flickr takes care of many aspects of image management that I don’t have to worry about, including having each of my photos available in a variety of standardized sizes, image tagging, and image searching. Flickr also saves me from having to manage commentary on my photos, and allows me a great platform for entering into dialogs with people who are interested in my work. For example, hundreds of people on Flickr have stopped by to visit the image below, without me ever having blogged it:

Cone Flower Photogram.jpg

View this image larger.

In fact, my presence on Flickr has taken on a life of its own. My Flickr photostream is complementary and as important to me as my blog. According to Flickr (as of January 25, 2008) 1,496,603 people had paid visits to my photos. This is a huge number. It’s hard to see how else I could have exposed my photos to so many people. Besides that, the Flickr community of photographers are a great, creative, and supportive bunch. Here’s my profile on Flickr.

Are there any downsides to using Flickr as an image server? Well, a couple. Flickr’s filters can add contrast and over-sharpen images, so with some photos I have to prep to counteract these effects the way I would with a specific printer. Essentially, I have a Flickr profile that I apply with some of the images I post to Flickr.

Then, there’s the whole issue of putting my photos up on the web where anyone can grab them. True, photos can be “stolen” even when you host them yourself. But there seems to be a feeling in some circles that photos posted to Flickr are fair game.

I’ve been careful to maintain the copyrighted status of my work on Flickr, and avoided the Creative Commons license that Flickr seems to advocate. Nonetheless, it is a safe bet that some of my photos have been copied without permission or payment in their low resolution Flickr versions. I view this “spoilage” as the price I pay for the extravagant exposure and virtual community I get on Flickr. Of course, sometimes the virtual Flickr community collides with my physical world, and I do meet Flickerites in some remote places. These meetings are a true pleasure!

The summary version of this story is that I signed on to Flickr to get a free ride with organized image serving. This has worked pretty well, and the exposure of my work and the friends I’ve made has been a very nice bonus.

In addition, in this day and age, photographers need to look to multiple revenue streams. The advertising revenue that a photo blog can bring is very welcome as one of these. My Flickr photostream and my photo blog are synergistic, with Flickr helping to bring people interested in my photos to my blog. At the same time, Flickr is an extension of my blog, where people can dialog about the photos, and use Flickr’s searching mechanisms. Besides the traffic, my photos on Flickr have caught the eye of many photo buyers who have subsequently licensed my photos.

Also posted in Photography

Turquoise’s Mosaics

My Flickr friend Turquoise Bleue creates marvelous mosaics using her favorite Flickr images. Sometimes the Turquoise mosaics include my photos (I am always flattered). Floral imagery seems to predominate.

Turquoise’s mosaics illustrate a number of my favorite things about online photography communities like Flickr:

  • Turquoise is a true friend of mine, but it is unlikely I will ever meet her outside the virtual world (for what it is worth, she lives in France).
  • Flickr makes a vast and eclectic collection of images available to everyone.
  • The Flickr software and community encourage “mash-ups”: combining imagery to create another image that might be greater than the sum of its parts like Turquoise’s mosaics.
Also posted in Photography

White Mallow

I was caught up in photographing the spiral deep inside a pink mallow. Then I looked up and noticed this white mallow nearby. I took the extension tube and close-up filter off my 200mm macro lens, and exposed a couple of further-back versions of the white flower.

I like the luminous quality of the sun coming through the flower.

You can see the pink mallow peeking around at the upper left.

Also posted in Photography

Flickr’s Best of My Best

Death Valley Sunrise 2

View this photo larger. This Death Valley landscape was originally featured here.

Regular readers (or should I say “viewers”) of my Photoblog 2.0 likely know that I use Flickr for my image management. This means that after I’ve post-processed my photos in Photoshop I save off a high quality Jpeg version of each photo and upload it to Flickr (see Post-Processing a Photo for Flickr for more info).

Flickr then hosts my photos in all sizes I might want, and provides an easy mechanism for me to post a photo and story to my blog. Each photo in Flickr comes with a Blog This link. Provided you have configured Flickr to “speak with” your blog, you are one click away from blogging any photo.

Somewhat to my surprise, other parts of my blog have essentially been outsourced to Flickr. Flickr’s tagging facility is an excellent way to help keep track of my photos, and I use it rather than tagging photos within Adobe’s Bridge. More significantly, most of my dialog with you (people who view my photos and read my blog, that is!) takes place within Flickr (rather than on my blog). It’s really great to be able to dialog with people who view my photos, and it is great to be able to use Flickr’s community and sharing features to facilitate this. Combining my photo blog with Flickr has created a far greater pool of interest for me than I ever would have been able to generate just using the blog.

Flickr’s photo community has also become significant to me, as a world inhabited (for the most part) by talented, gracious photographers who are truly interested in sharing. What a gift! This is the community I always looked for as a professional photographer, but never found–because photographer were more interested in “getting ahead” than in helping others.

Flickr also provides a clarifying mechanism for quality photography. As the old saw goes, “cream rises to the top.” There are a number of objective measures of this “photographic cream” on Flickr:

  • How many times a photo has been viewed
  • How often a Flickr member “favorites” a photo
  • The number of comments a photo receives
  • The Interestingness of a photo, a secret formula that Flickr uses to rank photos (read more about this)

All these measures are temporal. Meaning that a photo (hopefully) gets more views, comments, etc., over time. And that (as a relative matter) other photos get better ratings as well. So the Flickr clarifying mechanisms as a way of comparing photos are not static.

A more significant drawback is that Flickr ranking is essentially a democratic mechanism. But being an “artist” (whatever that means) is not a democratic state. Flickr can show me what photos of mine are popular, but it is no substitute for my own judgement of quality of my own work. I can slip something by on Flickr, but will I really be happy if I know I’ve cut corners? (Of course not.) Flickr is an exercise in populism at its best, but great art (and great photography) is not.

These caveats aside, this blog entry presents my top three photos on Flickr at this point in time. The two landscapes are on top using all four measures while the rose photo (being more recent) trails in number of views, but is third in the other three categories.

By the way, these photos are approaching 500 views and 50 comments each. By Flickr standards, they are still light weights. For example, there is a Flickr group devoted to photos with 1,000 views that have been favorited 100 times each.

This photo of reflections in Lake Tenaya in the Sierras was orginally shown in this blog entry.

Lake Tenaya Reflections

View this photo larger.

The rose was originally featured here.

Rose Spiral

View this photo larger.

Also posted in Flowers, Landscape, Photography


This is a re-post of an earlier blog story, with bromeliads added!

Bromeliads, toy slinkies, a single dandelion bud, irises, desert landscapes, and some of my photos on Flickr





Meta Flickr

Also posted in Bemusements, Patterns, Photography


Slinkies, photo by Harold Davis.

Toy slinkies, a single dandelion bud, irises, desert landscapes, and some of my photos on Flickr




Meta Flickr

Also posted in Bemusements, Patterns, Photography

Processing a Photo for Flickr

On my trip, I left Yosemite Valley and drove across Tioga Pass. (I’ll write more about this segment of my journey in another blog entry.)

I stopped at the west end of Lake Tenaya for a little down time in the sun (would you believe I was going to read a copy of the New York Times I had picked up in the Valley?) and encountered the wonderful reflection, enhanced a bit with my polarizer.

I’ve been asked a number of times rcently how I process my photos before I upload them to flickr. So I thought I’d write about what I do.

It takes me roughly an hour an image. Often, this is more time than it took to take the photo — more evidence to me that digital photography is a cyborg, one part photographer and one part computer.

There’s nothing that says that you have to do anything so elaborate. For the most part, a Jpeg image straight from your camera will look OK. (But you should know that the Jpeg format automatically sharpens and adjusts the color and contrast balance of images — something that a good human operator can probably do better.)

Here’s how I processed this image (and most of my photos) for display on flickr. (As you may know, I use flickr as the image management software behind this photoblog.)

First, I have my camera set to capture all photos in RAW and Jpeg formats. The RAW version — which is unoptimized but provides all the information from the original capture — is what I’ll use, because I do a better job of finishing a photo than the Jpeg algorithm.

But it is useful to have an initial Jpeg capture because this will tell you (at least most of the time) what the finished image will look like a little better than the RAW version.

I use Adobe Bridge software to scan images to see what came out well enough to bother with. As I said, mostly the Jpeg version gives one a better quick impression of a photo than the RAW version.

You can use the Bridge to tag (and later on filter) photos for quality as a kind of sorting system, but I usually don’t bother with this. Instead, I jot down on a pad of paper the images I am interested in working with further.

Once I’ve settled on an image for further work, I open it in Adobe Photoshop. (Note: I use Photoshop, but for everything I describe in this entry you could use the far less expensive Photoshop Elements with almost exactly the same effect.)

When you open the RAW image in Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements), you can make many adjustments. (See my earlier entry for more information about opening RAW images in Photoshop CS2, and a related piece about processing digital photos.)

Generally, and this is based on my personal preferences, I tend to make the color in my photos more dramatic before I open them by upping the color temperature, tint, and saturation.

I also go for a more dramatic effect by upping shadows and contrast, and compensate by also upping brightness and the exposure.

But all photo conversion effects when converting the RAW image need to be monitored sensitively. It is easy to go too far.

It’s useful to know that once you get the RAW conversion right for one photo in a set (taken in the same light conditions), you can use the same settings for the rest of the photos — by telling Photoshop to use the previous conversion rather than the camera defaults, or by selecting a previously converted image to use as the model for the conversion.

Once the converted image opens in Photoshop, the first thing you want to do is save it off as a PSD file (Photoshop’s native format). You want to be sure to do this so that the original file is never touched by your manipulations.

Next, if the image is to be cropped, use the Photoshop Crop Tool to crop it.

The next step is to adjust the image levels by choosing Image > Adjustments > Levels. The idea here is to manually adjust the histograms represnting the R, G, and B levels to eliminate color outliers that either show spikes in the given primary color, or do not show any color at all. Here’s the Red level pushed in to eliminate the spikes at both ends (you’d also push the ends in if no color at all were shown at the ends):

You need to be a little careful with this. If adjusting the level for a given RGB primary color makes the image less pleasing, then you should also tweak the color using the slider shown in the center of the Levels dialog.

Once I’m satisified with my manual adjustment of levels, I generally put the image through Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels. If I’ve down everything right, this doesn’t have too much impact, but does kind of smooth things out. I also try Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast and Image > Adjustments > Auto Color to see what they do. But be careful: more often than not Auto Color produces a lousy effect, and I have to undo it.

Next, I work on detail areas of the photo (if there are any). This usually means removing imperfections and artifacts with the Clone Stamp Tool and/or slightly adjusting the color in specific selected image areas using the Selective Color dialog (Image > Adjustments > Selective Color).

The photo is now almost there, but needs to be sharpened. To do this, first I apply the Unsharp Mask (Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask). I sharpen it somewhere between 50% and 70% with the radius set low (between 1 and 2 pixels). Then I use the Smart Sharpen filter (Filters > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen), shown here:

I don’t use Smart Sharpen at a high percentage – no more than 30%. And I watch the impact of the radius setting carefully. The higher the number of pixels used in the radius setting, the more apparent sharpness. But setting the radius high — above 5 pixels — actually causes information to be lost, and can lead to a sort of weird fuzzy-but-sharp look. So you need to be careful with this.

When you are happy with it, save the image in its PSD format. It’s now ready to be archived, and you can used the PSD version if you ever want to make a print or reproduce the photo via Photoshop.

To make a version for flickr, save it as a Jpeg using the highest possible resolution.

Next, upload it to flickr. I use the Flickr Uploadr, a bit of software that you download from flickr. But be somewhat warned: this software is officially beta, and sometimes acts like it! It’s nice that you can upload multiple images at the same time with it.

People use flickr for many reasons. For example, my primary use of flickr is for image management. But I’m also happy to be part of the wonderful flickr community. As part of the community, once your photos have been uploaded to flickr, you should tag them, organize them into “Sets,” and add them to flickr Groups to share them with others. Two good flickr groups for this purpose are 1-2-3 and Macro-1-2-3.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Road Trip, Yosemite

Flowr Pie

flowr pie, photo by Harold Davis.

Phyllis and I created this flowr pie using flowers (not flour) from our garden to enter in a flickr virtual pie contest.

Also posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Katrina Relief Auction on Flickr

Those of us living with our families in the Bay area realize that the disaster could have been ours. I’m not posting any photos in this entry. Instead, I want to note that the Katrina Relief Group on Flickr is having some success raising money for the victims by auctioning prints by Flickr photographers. Funds raised will benefit the American Red Cross emergency fund set up for hurricane Katrina victims.

Here’s the link to my specific auction on Flickr (you can bid on a print of any of my photos that I’ve posted on Flickr or that have appeared in this blog).

You can read about the auction in the official Flickr blog, and also donate directly via the American Red Cross.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography, Writing