Photographers Still Making Sales on Flickr


When Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of Yahoo, “the internet” responded with an appeal to “Please make Flickr awesome again.” The Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site was seen as having lost its way, leaving mobile to Instagram and photo showcasing to 500px. That might be about to change. Earlier this month Yahoo announced the promotion of Adam Cahan to Senior Vice President of Emerging Products and Technology, a big title that includes responsibility for mobile, enabled screens… and also Flickr. But Cahan isn’t just the tech-savvy founder of IntoNow, a start-up that Yahoo bought for between $20 million and $30 million. He’s also a former wildlife photographer for National Geographic who has contributed to Emmy award-winning nature shows. With a one-time professional photographer and full-time tech geek now in charge of what was once the Internet’s most important photo-sharing service, image-makers who want to make money from their shots should really be giving it another look.

They might well find what many professional photographer have long known: that Flickr can still deliver sales to photographers with the right images and the knowledge to reach buyers.

Chris Nuzzaco is one of those photographers. A former videographer and director of photography who shot occasionally, he switched disciplines in 2008 when the recession dried up orders and he realized that photographers had better working conditions, options and control.

“Video is also kind of a funky product to sell, you can’t get it out of the digital realm onto paper, it takes time to view, time to load… still images just seem to have a much wider market,” he says. “Ironically, potential clients are now increasingly looking for people who are highly skilled DP / Photographers — something not many people can claim. I’ve found myself in a much more competitive position these days.”

Now primarily a commercial photographer who takes commissions and sells stock, Chris’s clients find him after seeing his work online and through word of mouth from former customers. He also describes himself as a “very proactive entrepreneur as well, a real ‘go get’er’ type” who’s not afraid to cold call prospective clients and find his own leads.

Healthy Daily Traffic that Spill onto the Website

Since 2010, Chris has also maintained a presence on Flickr. His aim in creating his profile, he says, was the same as that of many photographers: to increase his exposure and perhaps to generate license sales.

“So far, I’m very happy with the results,” he says. “I have a healthy amount of daily traffic on my stream that spills over into my website that actually sticks around to see what I have.”

Measuring those results isn’t straightforward. Chris has licensed several images directly through Flickr and through Getty’s Flickr collection but not all buyers will make Chris an offer directly through the site, preferring to purchase through one of the stock agencies that take Chris’s work. His portfolio of 77 images seems to encourage sales. It’s organized mainly by popularity, with sets for images that have won a certain number of views. One set contains a photo that has received 10,000 views; others cover commercial photography and fashion. Each photo contains a description informing buyers that his work is available from all major and minor microstock agencies, and includes his username for easy searching.

“I have had many people contact me directly for licenses, other times, they simply go to an agency if it’s represented by one,” he says. “There are real photo buyers surfing Flickr; how many is hard to quantify.”

Commissions are rarer. Chris has yet to receive an assignment through Flickr, although his brother, who has an active portfolio of more than 4,700 images, has won projects on the site.

What really makes the difference though isn’t the number of direct sales that Chris picks up from buyers already browsing Flickr. It’s the traffic he picks up from buyers who find his images on search engines. Google, Yahoo and Bing are all sources of the visitors who have reached the images Chris has placed on Flickr. They conduct a regular Web search for an image, are offered one of Chris’s Flickr photos and make an offer directly, continue to his website or search their usual stock source for one of his photos.

Max out Your 75 Keywords

And what brings in that traffic is Chris’s careful keywording and tagging. Every photo has a meaningful title and beneath the description explaining how buyers can make their purchase is a long list of relevant keywords. Each time Chris uploads an image, he makes sure that he uses all the space that Flickr provides for keywording.

“It’s the only way to really generate sustained traffic on Flickr,” says Chris. “Flickr has an unbelievable number of images and I would estimate that 99 percent of them don’t have more than 5 tags, zero description, and far too often, a useless camera file name as the title. I always try to max out my 75 tags. The end result is that I’m simply found – all the time… and it’s because of the metadata I enter into every shot I upload.”

It’s not clear what the appointment of Adam Cahan is going to do for Flickr. That he’s in charge of both mobile and the photo-sharing site can only be a good thing for a service that should have been at the forefront of mobile but was too slow to move and left the path wide open for a newcomer. But even if nothing changes, even if a former National Geographic photographer and tech geek does nothing to push the site forward, photographers hoping to win traffic and make sales should still be on the site.

They should be uploading their images, telling buyers how to buy them and adding all the descriptions and keywords they can to ensure that their photos are seen and sold.

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