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Using Flickr (And deviantArt) To Improve Your Photography

Ship GraveyardWe're lucky to be Photographers today - cheap cameras that can take unbelievable shots. Unlimited photographs with digital storage. Anyone around the world can see and comment on your images through photo-sharing sites like Flickr and deviantArt.

But how can we use them to improve our Photography?

This is what Flickr considers to be my most interesting Photo (don't ask me how it decides!):
Ship Graveyard

This is my photo with the most "favourites" on DeviantArt:

Murky Waters by ~scalespeeder on deviantART

I enjoy sharing my work on Flickr and dA. I like receiving feedback, comments and "favourites", but how has it helped my photography?

I think of Flickr and dA as a finishing point in my digital work-flow at this point. I go out, try and take the best photo's I can, so that I can upload them to show to other people. I really enjoy and love taking Photographs for myself, but I get great satisfaction from looking at the finished product for other people to share. I want other people to look at my shots and evoke some sort of response. It may be "Wow! What a great photo!", or "How did he do that!", or "That makes me feel happy / sad", or even "I'd like that to be hanging on my wall."

I don't achieve this every-time, far from it, I acknowledge that I'm a beginner and have much to learn, but that desire to share my work, for others to appreciate my view of the world through Photography, drives me on to get better at what I do, and share that knowledge with others.

Choose. by ~scalespeeder on deviantART

In order to get better you need to put your work in context, to see what others are doing, to get ideas from them, share techniques, gain inspiration and the drive to get out and "just shoot one more image...". Flickr is great for that.

The key for me, in Flickr, is to join lots of groups, participate in discussions, posts Photo's to the group Pools, but most importantly, really look at other peoples photographs! It sounds obvious, but too many times we get caught up in the technical side of photography - mega-pixels, sensors, the latest models, when really it's just about that image on the screen. You won't get better by buying the newest Canon or Nikon. You will get better by studying other peoples photos, seeing what you like (what you don't) and using that information to guide you in your own art.

Art? That's right. Photography is an art-form. I know people argue that its about capturing real life, but it's not. Real life is your eyes looking at a scene. In order to produce a photo, the light has to bounce off a subject, pass through a lens which distorts it turning 3d into 2d, be analysed and interpreted by a sensor, edited on a computer, and displayed on a screen (or paper) that is nothing like looking at something for real. You could say that if you don't edit your images then they're true to life, but the camera has already interpreted the scene, put it's own "spin" on what it sees, as you have, with your choice of subject, composition and light. You're making art.

To become better artists we need to develop our eye - to be able to envision what we want to create before we press the shutter. We can help ourselves achieve this by making sure we understand how to do this technically, but also by understanding what is possible - by looking at other peoples photographs.

Flickr has thousands of groups, all sorts of different photographers, from people sharing their snap-shots, to pros posting amazing images. Start off by looking at the explore page. Look at the different months - pick out photographs you like and "fave" them, so you've got them for reference later. Look at the photographers profile and add them as a contact, that way as they upload new stuff, if you're logged in, go to the home page and you'll see it.

Silence by ~scalespeeder on deviantART

Search for the group dedicated to your camera. Join. Add some images to the pool, look at the other photos. Taken a picture of a Swan? Search for a Swan or bird group, submit, and again, look at more pictures. Take time to look at the large sizes, to get a better view. When you find a photo you like, look at which groups its been submitted to - have a browse through, join and share.

Try and be critical - what do you like / dislike about a particular photograph? Whats the subject? How has it been composed? - Thirds, leading lines, etc. How has the photographer used the light available, or maybe they've used flash / studio lights / reflectors. You'll start to analyse photographs, so that the essential skill of pre visualisation will start to develop.

There are critique groups on Flickr - where you can submit your photographs for others to critique. Twip is a good one. Just treat comments with a pinch of salt, don't take them personally. Spend a lot of time in the critique discussion forums and see who seems to be posting the most constructive and informative comments, and listen to them.

Some groups run Photo assignments - they're great fun, and give you an excuse to go out and shoot, especially when you're running out of ideas. We do them over on this sites Flickr group.

Come Hither by ~scalespeeder on deviantART

I've talked a lot about Flickr, but deviantArt is worth looking at too. Check out the most popular photos on deviantArt, and prepare to be amazed. There's a more "arty" feel (surprise!) to this site - the mixing of painters, graphic artists, computer artists and photographers brings together some amazing pieces, and the quality is breath-taking.

I don't upload all my Flickr images to deviantArt, just my real favourites that I think could be classed as "arty". I haven't come across a real community there yet, but I've only been a member for a month or so.

Well, I'll stop rambling on now, join Flickr (and dA), share your best shots, and look at LOADS of photos!

Thanks, Rob.

Warning. Any photo you upload and display on the Internet can, and will, be stolen and used by other people. If you want to make money by selling your shots, only upload lo-res, small versions, and watermark them. Never upload personal photos that you wouldn't be happy for everyone in the world to see.

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