Hiding In Fear Behind A Wall Of Tags?

Our recent conversations around Flickr – especially with Frank – have really got me thinking about how and why I use the platform, and how much I rely on it.

With any online site or platform, I’ve always had the perhaps cynical, perhaps entirely healthy view, that sooner or later it will let us down.

Either through a technical malfunction, or the company discontinuing a service, or new owners taking it in a direction that doesn’t work for us, or something else that means we feel let down and/or lose some of our work.

So with my photos for example, whilst Flickr provides an excellent and wonderfully organised storage space for my artistic photography, I also have these images backed up on two separate external hard drives.

I’m not entirely relying on Flickr to provide a 100% secure back up for my photographs.

But what if Flickr did disappear, or otherwise become an untenable option in continuing to provide what it does for me now? What would I do?

My lines of questioning have gone back to basics, asking what I do with Flickr, and whether I need to.

Tagging is a major example.

I use a range of tags for each photo, to enable me to find images of a certain type or subject in the future.

For example, a picture of an ancient gravestone with ivy crawling over it I might tag with object tags like gravestone, stone, graveyard, churchyard, ivy.

I might also use more descriptive tags like weathered, crumbling, abandoned, engraved.

Then I may also tag it with the gear I made it with, like Lumix, Lumix GF1, Helios, Helios 44, Helios44-2, M42 and so on.

Then in the future, I know I can find images of gravestones or ivy, those of weathered or abandoned objects, or those made with my GF1 and/or Helios 44-2. Or all of those things combined.

But really, do I need this tagging at all?

What would happen if I didn’t use any tags and just let the photos stand unadorned?

Would it make them any more or less valuable, or beautiful, or interesting, to me, or anyone else?


The other question that came to mind about tagging is how other people search for photos.

And in the longer term, I think perhaps this is more important than relying on tags for myself.

Do people still go on to Flickr and search for images of certain subjects? Do they look for images made with specific cameras and lenses and film?

The answer to these is definitely yes, because I know I do it myself.

But mostly in the past this has been to find images made with certain gear, to see what it’s capable of.

If I was interested in a certain lens say, then found a few impressive images made with that lens by someone else, it would give me confidence in the lens’s potential.

Again though, if I didn’t have these kind of tags on my photos, would I see fewer views?

And given that I don’t really pay my Flickr stats any attention anyway, is this now also a redundant need for tags?

Back in May 2018 I reset my Flickr photostream by setting all photos to private (ie visible only to me) then (re)releasing my favourites (already on Flickr, and new images made) as public photos one by one.

Part of the reason I did this was the images that were gaining most views were photographs of cameras and lenses, rather than photographs made with them.

All of my top 13 most viewed photos are of cameras/lenses, as are 24 of my total top 30.

I didn’t want to become known as a camera collector or gearhead, when my main purpose of sharing photographs publicly on Flickr was in the hope that other people find them as beautiful and inspiring as I did when capturing them.

The photographer in me took a blow to the ego every time another gear picture headed into my top 30.

These days I have very few images of photography gear in my stream, and most of those are set to private, usually just to use to show what a camera looks like in a post on 35hunter.

As you can see, there don’t appear to be many solid arguments for my extensive Flickr tagging any longer.

Further underneath this though is a nagging fear that another reason I tag so thoroughly is to hide behind them, because the photos aren’t strong enough to stand up on their own.

That I wouldn’t attract anything like as much interest in my photographs just for their own inherent value, but only when someone is looking for a photo made with a Lumix GF1 camera or a Helios 44-2 lens or Fuji Superia 100 film, to see what was possible with this particular equipment.

And that the reason I’ve gained the rather crazy 1.6 million views I have over a decade on Flickr is more due to my doggedly thorough tagging than my irresistible imagery.

Perhaps I need a fresh start, another Flickr reset.

Perhaps I need to just continue uploading my favourite new photos to Flickr but forget the tagging.

Or perhaps I just need to just carry on as I am and stop thinking so much.

How about you, what are your thoughts on tagging, and how (un)necessary it is, both for you, and for others?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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16 thoughts on “Hiding In Fear Behind A Wall Of Tags?”

  1. I have used the free version of Flickr a little bit but I found it a little bit annoying. I find it much easier to catalogue my images in Adobe Bridge or Lightroom as both talk to each other and can share keywords in the metadata. That also means when I export the images with the metadata the keywords are embedded in the file.

    I use Flickr a little bit to search for images taken with specific film so I appreciate people that have taken the time to upload to the platform. I also think it is a really good way to showcase images at a higher resolution than Instagram so that has always tempted me to go pro on Flickr. The thing that stops me now is that I store most of my images in Google Drive which I pay for – I can’t remember how much but it is a monthly fee – so I can’t justify paying another platform to host my images if that is all I am going to use Flickr for.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Karen.

      So if the keywords are embedded in the files, can you then search via keywords just within a standard computer OS filing system, or only if you open it back in an Adobe app?

      I stopped using LightRoom perhaps a couple of years ago. I wasn’t using enough features to justify the £10+ subscription fee, and moved away from post processing with such a heavy duty app, instead preferring Hipstamatic, then Snapseed.

      I use Google Drive too, mine I think is £1.59 per month, and Flickr about £3. WP is also about £3, so all three combined are less than the Adobe subscription, and for me they are very good value for what they enable me to do online.

      1. I don’t think you can search for them just in the finder window from the keywords – I don’t really use it that way. If I shoot a roll that has multiple locations it is really just useful to see the info on the file and go, oh that picture was taken in Bristol and this one was in London.

        I use Lightroom a lot. I was thinking about not renewing it this year but I use to edit my digital Roller Derby photos and as I have been doing a lot of home scanning recently I have found it super useful for that too. I do a lot of the adjustments for film in photoshop and then I might make a couple of other adjustments in Lightroom. Ps & Lr 2020 cc work really well together and the photographers basic package cost around £100 for the year (black friday discount) so its a good investment for me.

      2. Yeh it’s funny, I don’t really ever need to know where an image was taken. I know many modern cameras have GPS so it records the location of every photo (and my phone can do this) and this is a big selling point for some, but I just don’t have the need for that information.

        I believe we all have to find the systems that work best for us, and that we’re happy to pay for.

        For my limited use of LightRoom, it wasn’t worth even the fairly minimal (in the grand scheme of things) £10 a month. And as I said, I don’t like their locked in subscription approach, giving me a bunch of apps I have no use for, and found them a rather shady company. Especially when you start trying to stop the subscription and all these special offers suddenly start materialising to try and make you stay. Not for me!

        But yeh, great that it’s a set up that works for you on a number of levels, that’s what matters.

      3. Yep, and I think that is what is good about Adobe not being the only option out there because lots of people have lots of different workflows and different packages will work for different people.

      1. Yes, Dan, for some reason when I add a reply to one of my replies, it drops down and not connect. I was doing this on the comment thread to your article on tags in Flickr.

      2. Frank, I do limit the nesting of comments, so they don’t get pushed right across the page and become unreadable (especially on a smaller screen like a tablet or phone).

        But I think you can have two levels of indentation, then you have to scroll back up to find the last reply that has the option to reply to it. If that makes sense!

        Where is your original comment though? Did that disappear when you replied to yourself?

      3. Ok is that keywords you’ve added, like tags, or keywords that ipernity has scanned for in the text description underneath your photos, found, and logged?

        Sorry your comment got lost Frank, not sure what happened there.

  2. I have used flickr basically to have a place where I can store photos online so I can post them in forums – where usually they are part of an ongoing conversation. Before flickr I was on photobucket – so I guess you can see where this is going… since I didn’t want to give flickr money for breaking their promises to me, I have been using freeimage.host for a few months. This is a free website and I don’t know if their business model is viable – they are basically working on donations and are asking for sponsors (they don’t do ads but want to have a sponsors section). I like their idea, I hope it works out but I also don’t expect them to be around forever.
    Now I’m only relaxed about all of this because I don’t take my own photography seriously. Maybe I will when I think I’m good at it, but I feel I’m pretty far from that point. On the other hand, the photography conversation is important to me – and I get that with forums and with blogs like yours, Dan 🙂
    I’m just not at the point where I want to be the focus of the conversation… if that makes sense. If I’m in a forum and I admit I think I’m a hack at photography and my pictures suck, that might be mildly entertaining, perhaps even endearing, as in “well at least he’s an honest guy” 🙂 But if I have a blog and my pictures are not interesting and I don’t have a good story to tell… that would just be another failure in my resumè…
    So my resolution is to just continue improving if I can – I don’t put pressure on myself because I have enough enough people in my life that already do that 🙂 and it’s supposed to be just a hobby.

    1. Chris, yeh that’s my primary use of Flickr too.

      There’s a part of me that wouldn’t be devastated if I lost all my photos overnight and had to start again. I quite like the idea of a clean slate. Though I do have Flickr plus two HDs as back ups, sometimes not sure why, they’re just pictures, I can make more.

      Re the blog, the conversation is more important to me too. I don’t really worry about if my photos are good enough, because this blog isn’t used as a showcase of images. It’s main purpose is as a place where people can share their experiences of all the different facets and adventures around photography. The images are just to break up the text a bit, and I guess to prove I do make pictures, not just talk about making pictures!

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