Newbie's Guide to Flickr

Wondering what Flickr is and why you should use it? We'll tell you.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
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Flickris a popular photo-sharing and hosting service with advanced and powerful features. It supports an active and engaged community where people share and explore each other's photos. You can share and host hundreds of your own pictures on Flickr without paying a dime. There's also a pro service that gets you unlimited storage and sharing for about $2 a month, making it one of the cheapest hosting sites around (more on that later).

Flickr was created by a small Canadian development team in 2002 before being acquired by Yahoo a year later. Many other photo sites (including Yahoo Photos) are easier to use, but none offer Flickr's interesting features or its cohesive community of enthusiasts.

If you have the Flickr uploader installed, you can upload any picture with a right-click. CNET Networks

Adding your photos to Flickr

First step: Get your photos into the service. Flickr has a few options to get photos from your camera into your account, the easiest one being a little uploader app you can install on your PC or Mac (there's also a Linux version.) When it's installed on a PC, you can right-click on any photo and send it straight to Flickr. You also can use this uploader to create albums (Flickr calls albums sets) for your pictures. You can install software that lets you publish from any folder in Windows XP, without the need to use the uploading program. If you're using a Mac, there's also a plug-in for iPhoto.

If you're not keen on downloading a piece of software, Flickr lets you upload six individual photos at a time. This might work for some weekend shots, but if you've got more than 20 shots it's worth trying out the batch uploader. We recommend using the downloader software, or if you've got Yahoo's Widgets Engine installed, the latest version comes with a widget that doubles as a photo viewer and uploading tool.

Continue reading to learn how to tag and organize photos, add notes, geotag, create albums, find out if you need a premium membership, and our list of Flickr users worth checking out.

Add tags to easily search and sort through photos. CNET Networks

Newbie basics: Tagging and organizing. Once your photos have been uploaded, you don't need to rely on titles or folders to sort them, as you do with most other sharing sites. Instead you use tags: short identifiers you can later use to categorize and search for photos. Sorting by tags lets you create sets on the fly--of just your pictures, or yours plus the community's. People often tag pictures with names, locations, event descriptions, and theme, for example: "Mountain," "Everest," "Cold," and "Vacation."

There are several ways to tag pictures, either one at a time or in batches. On any given picture, click the code and add a tag option on the right-hand side. Flickr lets you add up to 75 tags to each picture, so feel free to go wild. If you have a multiword tag such as "Tree House," put quotations around it, otherwise it will get split into two different tags.

Advanced Tagging Tidbit: To tag multiple photos, you can use Flickr's batch editor. Go to a set (album), click the Edit button, then Batch operations>Batch edit>Add tags.

Notes let you add captions for specific areas of a photo. Users won't see a note until they mouse over it. CNET Networks

Notes. Say there's a really cool part of a picture you want people to notice. The easiest way to do this is with notes. On any of your pictures click the Add note button above the photo. This pops up a rectangle you can move around the picture and adjust in size. Just like a Post-it note, you can write a quick message for others to read. Once you're done, click save. The cool thing about notes is they don't get in the way if viewers don't want them. To see them, users can just move their cursor over a picture to pull them up. You can have several different notes on the same picture, and other users can add notes to your pictures. Good note etiquette: keep notes easy to see and use by not overlapping them.

Geotagging. Geotagging is a special method of tagging photos with their location. To geotag any photo, just click "Place this photo on a map" under the Additional information box on the right-hand side of your photograph. This will pull up a new interface with a large map. The easiest way to add the location is to type it into the search box in the top right-hand corner. The built-in search isn't as forgiving as your average search engine, so if you can't remember the address, try looking it up on Googleand pasting it in. Once you've found your spot, just drag your photo from the bottom of the screen to where the map pointer is. After doing this to several of your photos from different parts of the world, check out Mappr, which will give you a visual representation of where your photos were taken on a large map.

Sets on top, collections on bottom. Collections are just groups of sets, clumped together. CNET Networks

Sets. There are a few ways to create a set, the easiest is clicking the Add to set button on top of any photo. Flickr will show you a drop-down list of any other sets you've created, along with an option on the top that lets you create a new set. Give it a name and a description and you're done. If you want to add multiple photos to a set, click the Organize button on the top menu on any page on Flickr, then select, "Your sets and collections." Pick whatever set you want to add your photos to or make a new one. All your photos reside on the bottom of the screen, so scroll around to find the ones you want and just drag and drop them in the large area above. When you're done, just click Save.

One thing to note about sets--as a free member you can only have up to three, whereas pro members have unlimited. We go into more detail about free versus pro a bit later.

Collections. Flickr introduced this feature recently, and it allows users to put several sets together into one group. This would come in handy if you went on vacation, as you could create individual sets for each location, and then group them together as a collection.

Newbie basics: sharing and community

Sharing. Flickr is all about sharing. The reason it has tagging and notating features is so other people can find and make sense of your photos. Flickr gives you quite a few sharing options, but maybe the handiest is the embed option, which lets you paste thumbnail previews into forums, blogs, and social networking profiles such as MySpace. To get the code, just click on the All sizes button above a picture. (Note: if you can't see this option on someone else's photo, they're likely a free member or they are restricting people from getting the higher resolutions of a shot.) Flickr will offer different resolutions of any shot you've uploaded. We recommend sharing the "large" size, as "regular" (which is bigger) is usually too big for the average person's computer monitor. If you want to play it safe, send a link to the just the picture, it's in the box below the embed code. For shots that aren't yours, you can copy and paste the URL from your address bar and put it in an e-mail or instant-messaging conversation.

This is a Flickr badge showing photos in a set called Moo shots. Make your own badge here.

Advanced Sharing Tidbit: Want to share some of your recent shots on a blog or Web site, but don't want to go deal with the hassle of copying and pasting the embed code each time? Make a Flickr Badge! A Flickr Badge is a small embeddable picture viewer that showcases your latest pictures, an entire set, or just pictures with particular tags. To make one, click here. You can pick HTML, which will work with any Web site, or Flash, which will show up for anyone who has Adobe's Flash player installed. We recommend Flash as it takes up less space and looks a lot cooler. Follow the steps, picking out the photos and colors you want until you get to the embed code, which you can simply copy and paste wherever you plan on showing off your photos.

Flickr Community. Sharing photos is neat, but half of the fun of these photo-hosting services is seeing what other people are taking pictures of and interacting with them. The biggest draws to Flickr's community are groups, which let users create and contribute to themed groups. Each group has a shared pool of pictures that any of its members can contribute to. There could be a theme, or maybe no theme at all; it's up to the user. Each group gets its own forum for chatting about topics or individual pictures. It's almost like book club, but for pictures. To join any group, just click the Join this group button on the right side of the page.

To contribute your own photos, just click the Send to group button above a picture (just like adding it to a set). You'll then get the option to select whatever group you're a member of in a drop-down list.

Participating in forums and group discussions also is really easy. If you're signed in to Flickr, just click the "Post a new topic" link. You also can reply to someone's topic by typing in the reply box at the bottom of the discussion. If you find a particularly amusing or noteworthy post you want to send to someone else, click the permalink at the end of the post. You can then copy this from your browser's address bar, or just right click the permalink and choose Copy link location.

Your contact list shows name, user icon, location, and how many photos each user has. CNET Networks

Contacts. Flickr's community is a social network of sorts. You can make friends (Flickr calls them contacts) and track their newest photos. When you want to make another Flickr user a contact, just click on his or her name. This will take you to his or her photos page. After that, just click on Add USERNAME as a contact in the upper right-hand corner. Before sending the person the invite, Flickr gives you the option to mark them as a friend or a family member. You can skip this, but you might find it helpful if you intend on sorting your contact's photos en masse later on.

Advanced contacts tidbit: If you want to see your friends' newest photos without having to check the site, subscribe to the contacts RSS feed. Just click on the contacts button from the main menu at the top of your screen, and scroll down near the end of the page where you'll see an orange RSS feed icon. You can either click this to view the feed (if your browser supports RSS), or copy and paste it into your favorite RSS reader. We've got a listing of popular single page aggregators here.

Beyond Newbie

Free versus pro

The free version of Flickr comes with a pretty generous upload limit at 100MB per month, but the devil is in the details. You can only have three sets, and there's no access to the full-size versions of your photos. Keep in mind this isn't a bad thing if you intend on sharing casual party shots to friends, but if you're serious about sharing your work in its original resolution, it's worth the upgrade. Flickr's pro service is arguably a better deal compared to the competition. Just $25 a year gets you unlimited storage, uploading, bandwidth, albums, and an ad-free experience for you and your users. Many popular photo services such as Photobucket, Webshots, and even Flickr's sister service, Yahoo Photos, place limitations on uploading and storage. The bottom line is if you find yourself getting capped by the free member limits, it's worth forking over a little cash for the upgrade.

Going Further

Once you've mastered the basic skills of uploading, organizing, and sharing, there are a ton of things to do with your photos. Flickr opened up the guts of its service to other Web developers, and there are many interesting mash-ups that can use Flickr images. One of our favorites is Zazzle, a service that creates first-class postage stamps from your photos to use on regular mail. They also make calendars, mugs, T-shirts and hats--the kind of things you used to have to go to mall kiosks to get. Also cool are mini cards from Moo. These tiny, customizable business cards are printed with your selection of up to 100 different pictures (Moo card owners even have their own Flickr group for showing off their creations.)

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Notable Flickr users:

  • Dave Gorman. British comedian and avid photographer.
  • Rosie O'Donnell. Actress, TV Personality.
  • Hamad Darwish. Flickr user picked by Microsoft to shoot photos for desktop backgrounds in Windows Vista.
  • Major Nelson. Microsoft's Larry Hyrb is a big blogger for XBOX, Microsoft's gaming platform. You can usually catch some neat shots from gaming events, as well as up close shots of shiny new gadgets before they're out.
  • Ulterior Epicure. Hungry? This fellow has 186 (and counting) sets dedicated to taking high-resolution photographs of gourmet food. Try not to eat your screen.