Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The new Flickr

They've just revamped Flickr in a major way (see, so that one's Flickr Photostream pictures are now presented quite differently - still in upload sequence, but as a mosaic of shots without gaps between them, not all the same size, and without captions.

I think it's meant to enable many more pictures to be seen at one go, and to maximise the use of screen space.

You can of course still find out everything you need to know about a shot (including the caption) by clicking on it, but my first reaction is that hiding information about the picture is a great loss. Assuming a proper caption, how will you be able to tell at a glance, without moving the mouse pointer around, exactly who or what is in the picture? And what is the point of inventing a witty caption, if it won't be shown? But no doubt we will all get used to it.

Apparently the people behind Flickr were losing money, and decided that it needed a massive makeover. It's now much more phone- and tablet-friendly, which is fine if all you really want is a gallery of shots to scroll through.

But there are complaints already that by going in that direction, Flickr has moved away from a presentation that professionals would prefer. Well, two things here: (a) no pro would ever expect to sell anything from Flickr: they'd do that from their own website, and charge accordingly, and of course no marketable shots would ever be placed on Flickr itself; and (b) the new presentation is very reminiscent of the 'lightbox' used to view transparencies in the old days, when a selection of images was being made for possible publication - and so in that sense the new-style Flickr Photostream is not at all 'unprofessional'.

The money-making endeavour will now include thrusting advertisements at Flickr users if they have the bog-standard Free version, which all new Flickr users (or existing non-Pro users) will get by default. It does however come with a terabyte of space to fill, which represents an awful lot of photos.

If you don't want ads, then you must pay about £35 a year to have an Ad Free account, or, if you want two terabytes and no ads, then it's about £350 a year for a Doublr account. Existing Pro users (I'm one) can carry on indefinitely, paying about £17 a year for no ads and unlimited space, easily the best deal.

All users will get finer rendition than before, to show off their work to the best advantage. I have to agree that looking through my own pictures is now a better experience than ever. One wonders what investment in computing power must have been made to make things this good!

It just shows how photo-conscious the world has become. Is there anything, from the Oklahoma tornado damage, to today's London street killing, that isn't instantly caught on camera by dozens of nearby people, all using their phones as cameras? It seems that Flickr management implied in their announcement of the new-style Flickr presentation that professional photography was dead. They got into trouble for that, and quickly modified their message, but I do think they had a point. There are certainly circumstances when a 'specialist photographer', who will be a professional, is needed - in scientific, medical and engineering contexts, for instance; and some will go on securing work from weddings, pop concerts, fashion, and shooting catalogues. But in everyday life? What is left for a professional to do? Everyone has access to either a decent phone with a built-in camera, or, if the bug has taken them, they possess a proper camera capable of amazingly good results.

Cameras have been good enough for all normal purposes for several years now. The camera I use (my Leica D-Lux 4) was bought in June 2009, and was first launched in October 2008. It has a 10 megapixel sensor and an f/2 zoom lens, and it's small and light and fits in my bag, so I always have it with me. It's taken over 38,000 shots so far, and I'm hoping it will last until 2015, when I can afford a replacement. It will no doubt have taken 50,000 shots by then. But if it's still going strong, and nothing special is on the market, I shall stay with it, and defer replacement until there is some technological breakthrough that genuinely warrants spending £600, or £700, or whatever it will cost.

It was all very different in the days of film photography. Very few people could afford to blast away with shot after shot, because film, and development and processing, was so expensive. Good cameras were the province of keen amateurs, who shaded off into frank professionals. The rest of us made do with shoddy plastic things with plastic lenses that relied on flashcubes in all but bright sunshine. Only professionals had the negative and print storage problem nailed.

It's a sobering thought that only a tiny proportion of the millions of pictures taken prior to the digital age will ever be 'published' so that the rest of the world can enjoy them. So different nowadays, when shots can be taken and posted to Flickr (or anywhere on the Internet) in an instant, for all to appreciate. Billions of them. And the cameras can ensure that they are at least technically good shots.

What happens if Flickr ever folds, though?

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