Pros and cons of photo sharing on Facebook vs. Flickr

I’ve been uploading photos to Flickr for over three years and Facebook for over a year, and I’ve been thinking lately about what I like and dislike about each service’s photo sharing functions. Here are my thoughts on Flickr vs. Facebook’s “Photos” application.

Flickr Advantages:

  • Photograph Data
  • High-Resolution
  • Keywords Tags
  • File Hosting
  • Public Access

Facebook Advantages:

  • Friend Tagging
  • Click-thru Albums
  • Large Private User Base
  • Simplicity

Flickr for Photographers; Facebook for Friends

The way I see it in a nutshell is: Flickr is for photographers; Facebook is for friends. Flickr is a photographer’s paradise. It is full of professional, artistic, high-quality photographs and — unless the photographer prohibits it — photograph data (EXIF & IPTC; i.e., aperture, shutter speed, light sensitivity or ISO speed, etc.) You can learn a lot about how certain effects are achieved by viewing the “More properties” link under the “Taken with a [Camera make-and-model]” link. Yes, of course Flickr is also for amateurs and snapshots. It’s not all art gallery stuff. But where it really shines is in the sharing of the photograph as an art form. Photographers can upload at very high resolutions, and viewers can click the “All Sizes” button above a photo (if the photographer allows it) to see the photo at higher resolutions. Higher resolution images may also be accessed by viewing Slideshows or by browsing Flickr with Cooliris.

Flickr: Open, Moderated Publishing

Another advantage of Flickr is its open, public presence on the World Wide Web (which I spelled out to emphasize the “worldwide” part). Photographers and viewers alike can tag photos with verbal keywords, which in turn allows photos to be found in keyword searches within Flickr and even within WWW searches. I have sold several photos that people found on my Flickr photostream through keyword searches. To aid in the worldwide sharing of photos, Flickr allows photographers to moderate and filter content through SafeSearch settings. This means that a photographer posting a photograph of a nude subject can flag that photo “Moderate” or “Restricted” and that photograph will only be visible to viewers who have configured their SafeSearch browsing settings to allow them to see Moderate or Restricted photos.

Flickr: Hosted, Copyright-filtered Publishing

Flickr also aids in the worldwide sharing of photos by implementing CreativeCommons labeling and filtering. If I want to restrict the use of a particular photo I post on Flickr, I can label it “all rights reserved.” But if I want to allow people to use it for non-commercial purposes as long as they don’t alter the image and as long as they give me credit, I can label it “Attribution-NoDerivs CreativeCommons.” Finally, another major benefit to photo sharing on Flickr is hosting photos on Flickr for use in web pages elsewhere, such as blogs. I have many photos in my blog, but they are all hosted on Flickr. For those of you who are less tech-savvy, that means that I upload the photo files to Flickr and the images you see on my blog are merely displayed on my blog even though the files reside on a server (file storage space) elsewhere. I also allow people to blog my photos as long as they leave the original photos on Flickr and merely embed image links in their blog pages. So again, Flickr is a great service for the storage and sharing of high-quality photographs.

Facebook’s Killer Photo App: Tagging Friends

Facebook, on the other hand, is great for sharing photos of friends with friends. Facebook has a killer feature: the ability to tag your friends in the photos they’re in. When you’re tagging photos, you just click on your friend’s face and begin typing their name in the field that pops up. Facebook auto-completes, so as soon as you see your friend’s name from the list of similar names, you click the check mark next to the name and – voila! – your friend is tagged. Clicking the tag takes you to that friend’s profile page, and on the left sidebar of their profile page, you’ll see a link that reads “Photos of ___.” Clicking on that link takes you, in turn, to a page of all the photos anyone has tagged them in. This great feature allows many different people to post photos of the same person and allows many different people to tag this person in photos, and then Facebook aggregates all these tagged photos of a certain person into one place. Cool!

Sure, you can add “Notes” to photos in Flickr, and if I’m in a photo, I can add a “Note” to the photo saying “That’s me!” and Flickr will automatically add a link to my photostream. But I can’t add a note to a photo and have it automatically link to someone else’s photostream. And not all my friends are on Flickr; in fact, most of them aren’t. [Update on October 22, 2009: Flickr just added a people-tagging feature.]

Facebook: All my friends are on it!

Which brings me to another advantage to photo sharing on Facebook: most of my friends are on it. Chances are, most of your friends are on it too. Now, I can upload a bunch of photos to Flickr and mark them “Private: Friends Only” but that only works for my friends who are on Flickr, which ain’t many! Facebook, on the other hand, is a place where I can upload photos of my friends for my friends to see.

Case in point: a little over three years ago, I took a bunch of photos of coworkers at a company picnic. I wasn’t sure they’d all want to be on the World Wide Web, so I uploaded them to Flickr, marked them “Private: Friends Only” and send invitations to every one of those coworkers to join Flickr as my friends so they could view the images. Half of them joined Flickr just so they could see the photos. Most of them didn’t leave comments, and none of them (except the two who were already using Flickr) ever used Flickr again, to my knowledge. At least I never saw any photos in their photostream. Three years later, I took a bunch of photos at an Interpreter Appreciation Dinner, and almost every single one of the people at that party was on Facebook! This made it easy to upload all the photos into an album, tag everyone in the photos, and instantly share memories of the event with not only my friends but their friends as well. Now, all the photos I tagged of those people will show up in those people’s Facebook profiles under “Photos of _____.” Yet no one in the rest of the world can see those photos. They are “private” yet they are shared and enjoyed by many friends. Major plus!

Photos on Facebook: Easy to Post, Easy to View

Oh, and Facebook is easy to use. You click on the thumbnail size of a photo to see the photo full size (which, on Facebook, is only about 600×400 or 400×600 pixels at most) and then you click on the full-size photo to see the next photo. You can keep your hand in one place, resting your palm on the mouse and click-click-clicking to flip through a whole album of photos. There’s no “Slideshow” widget on Facebook (Flickr has one), but it sure is easy to click through a whole album in a matter of seconds or minutes. Flickr, on the other hand, forces you to click on a little square thumbnail less than an inch in diameter to advance from one photo to the next, and that little thumbnail moves from place to place on your screen depending on the width of the photo on each page and/or the width of photos people embed in the comments they make on those photos. There’s no resting the hand on the desk and click-click-clicking in place with Flickr, no sir! But it still beats Facebook hands down for photo quality and information.

Speaking of information, though, Facebook makes it easy for me to upload photos when I don’t care as much about quality or information. I know my photos are not going to be seen at high resolution on Facebook, so I don’t have to worry about pixel peepers. And Facebook doesn’t punish me by uploading images without titles the way Flickr does. If I upload without titles on Flickr, my images will be titled “IMG_4087” etc., and if I want them to be “untitled” I have to manually go through and delete every filename. When I don’t care about titling or captioning photos on Facebook, no big deal! Just upload them and Facebook doesn’t insist on titles and captions. (In fact, there really are no “titles” on photos in Facebook; there are only “captions” below the photos if you want to put them there.) I don’t have to worry about tagging my photos on Facebook, either. Of course, that’s also a disadvantage, because it makes it impossible to aggregate your photos by keyword or search photos by keyword, but again, Facebook is about people; Flickr is about photographs. That’s an arguable generalization, but there you have it.

Flickr and Facebook: Each Has a Place in My Heart

So what does this all bring me to? How do I use Flickr and Facebook now that I’ve analyzed each service’s photo sharing utilities? Well, I still adore Flickr. I’ve been a Pro member for three years and I just spent another $47.99 to be a Pro member for another two years. I will continue to use Flickr for the sharing and hosting of high-quality images I want to show off to the world and mirror on my blog. I will continue to use Flickr for the sharing and searching of photos by keyword. I will continue to learn from photographers and teach photographers by sharing my photos’ EXIF data and reading the EXIF data on great photos so I can peek into the camera settings used to achieve them. I will continue to geotag my photos on Flickr and look at other geotagged photos so I can teach and learn about this world we live in. (Yeah, I didn’t mention it, but another bummer about Facebook is the lack of geotagging. Oh, well.)

When I take photos of friends at parties these days, I almost never think of putting them on Flickr. I just put them on Facebook, where almost all my friends are! I tag my friends in photos. Once in a while I’m disappointed when friends untags themselves in photos I’ve posted of them (maybe they thought the photos were unflattering even though I thought they looked great), but more often than not, my friends like my photos such much they make them their buddy icons, at least for a while. It’s nice to know there’s a ready-made user base of friends to share photos privately with. And not just “here’s a photo of you,” which anyone could do with email for the past two decades, but “here’s photos of us all, y’all!” It’s the communal, networked, interconnected sharing of photos which is so much fun on Facebook.

So, there you have it! Here’s a recap for those who skip to the bottom of things:

  • Public photos on Flickr
  • Private photos on Facebook
  • Keyword-tagged photos on Flickr
  • Friend-tagged photos on Facebook
  • High-quality, high-resolution photos on Flickr
  • High-familiarity, medium-resolution photos on Facebook
  • Photographer’s paradise on Flickr
  • Fun for friends and family on Facebook

Of course I oversimplified things here. I know all the widgets and twiddles on Facebook and Flickr, but this blog entry was more for me to share my overall perspective than to get into a didactic tutorial about how to use each site. I hope you enjoyed reading this and find it helpful.

What do YOU think?

I look forward to hearing from you, either on Facebook or here on my blog. How do use use each service? What are the pros and cons in your experience? Has your use of Flickr changed since the advent of Facebook? Do you ever untag yourself from a photo on Facebook, and if so, why? Do you wish Flickr allowed the tagging of friends? (Who knows… days, weeks, or months after this blog entry is posted, they just might implement it!)[On October 22, 2009: Flickr added a people-tagging feature.]

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

32 thoughts on “Pros and cons of photo sharing on Facebook vs. Flickr”

  1. I uploaded same pictures (files) on Facebook and Flickr : on Flickr ALL are in amazing quality (contrast, colors and clarity), on Facebook they are a little more blury and less contrasted. So Flickr for "Pro" content.

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  2. (For those of you who are less tech-savvy, that means that I upload the photo files to Flickr and the images you see on my blog are merely displayed on my blog even though the files reside on a server (file storage space) elsewhere. I also allow people to blog my photos as long as they leave the original photos on Flickr and merely embed image links in their blog pages. So again, Flickr is a great service for the storage and sharing of high-quality photographs.)Here is my question 9 times out of 10 a person who uses one of my photos on flickr doesn't ask me? And if you're making money from your blog and one of my photos helped you isn't that stealing my work?

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  3. Thanks for the information. I have lots of pics to share following a specific event, and I really was not sure with path to take. After reading this, I'm going with FB. And maybe those without an FB account will sign up!

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  4. Great comparison and helps kinda shuffle things intonperspective. Just started a site to share pics but every time I thought of a category (family, friends, work etc) I got to think I really needed different hosting services. So, flickr for my art photography and facebook for work/friends family I'm using Apples mobile me gallery. Mobile me is great as it flawlessly integrates to iPhone, iPad and any othe browser. Thanks for the comparo. Take care!

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  5. I can see how people might interpret Facebook's Terms of Service it that way, Chris, but to look at both sides of the story, you might want to read Mark Zukerberg's Facebook Blog response On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information. He makes some good points. Compare your sharing of photos on Facebook with the sharing of photos on every other photo sharing cite, and I think you'll see that Facebook is not unique in its ownership terms.

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  6. David, I always export my photos from Apple Aperture to 640 pixels because that is the largest size Facebook will display. If I upload at the size FB displays, then FB doesn't have to resize it. I also learned from another photographer to add a bit of extra sharpening to a photo before uploading it to Facebook to compensate for FB's "softening" of photos.

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  7. Daniel,I really enjoyed your summeries of both Flickr and Facebook.I have been using Flickr for several years and I like it very muchj for the ability to TAG photos and put them ionto SETs and Groups for easy searching.I only recently started putting my photos on Facebook.One thing I don't like about FB is that the quality of my photos is terrible when viewed on FB. I upload from Picasa and there my photos, taken with a Nikon D90 are very clear. However, they appear fuzzy on FB.Is there a particular resolution that is better to upload for FB. Perhaps I'm using too big of a photo file.Thanks again for your insightful review of both sites.David Christmandcsaint@yahoo.comhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/dcsaint

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  8. You all might be interested in the app my company just launched, Dojo:http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?v=info&id=94294741637It lets you share your hi-res originals and seamlessly integrates with Facebook photos. When your friends and family want the high-quality original for their own collection or to print (which Dojo will also offer soon), it's available for download.It's also a better photo uploader, even if you're not sharing the hi-res version, and it's got color adjustment filters built-in. Let me know what you think!

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  9. I found an app called Bloom that uploads pictures to FaceBook, and reads IPTC info and puts any fields you want into the FaceBook caption. (I don't have the link handy, I'm on my iPod, sorry.)Also, after poking around Flikr and Picasa, I ended up getting an account at a site called SmugMug for photo sharing. You may want to look into it, as it has some advantages over the others (and some disadvantages of course). http://smugmug.com

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  10. Terrific summary–thanks!I've not yet joined flickr, but I see a lot of people use it, and the tags seem very handy, especially to make it easy to find photos of public places such as buildings and places. I assume flikr uploads IPTC data as well as EXIF fields?Two things that are very annoying about FaceBook: it ignores IPTC captions when uploading, and batch uploading often fails.

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  11. Judy, you are correct that anyone on Flickr could lift your photos and publish them on their photostream. If they do that, though, you could report them, and I believe that Flickr would demand that they either take them down or delete their account. Also, you are right that anyone on Facebook could remove their tag and add others. It's kind of an honor system. But even on Facebook, you can report bad behavior. Look for the "Report" link on each page.

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  12. This is good information Dan. Thank you.I have a question you might be able to answer. I like to limit the viewing of my photogaphs by friends only and have my privacy settings indicated like that. However, what is to prevent a person from moving the whole set of photos to THEIR page thereby letting all THEIR friends see my photos. I haven't seen a way to keep that from happening. Is there such a way?From what you've said, I guess there is not a way to prevent someone from removing their own tag or adding others.

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  13. If you read their TOS carefully, from what I understand that FB have rights to all those pictures, videos, etc for its future advertising — also be careful that some of FB addon have its own TOS, too…Think again.

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  14. Excellent comparison, Daniel. But as always, it's a different strokes/folks kind of world. A very few of my friends are on facebook but I enjoy keeping up with the ones that are. Even fewer of my family is on facebook.The same actually applies to Flickr as well. (Maybe I just don't have any friends? Need to contemplate that one.) I've been Flickring for four or five years now and enjoy what I see and learn there a lot. I've been facebooking for only a few months and have learned some great things there too. So both have their place in my universe. A couple of years ago I stopped putting family pictures on Flickr. Just felt weird about exposing family to the web, especially grandchildren. I do still take a lot of family photos but tend to share them directly with family through Picasa web albums. I can send what I want to whom I want. I put a very few of the pictures I take on Flickr and those tend to be birds and bunnies for the most part; it allows me a place to post pictures of wildlife that I find endlessly fascinating.So Flickr is for what interests me, Picasa for family and facebook for fun.But that's just me. I sure enjoyed your comparison.Bill

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  15. Great information! I will keep it to refer to for a while. Many good points. I found information on security/privacy most useful as you explained it. I am a novice on both but sure enjoy them. Flickr is mostly for photography, Facebook is for fun. Facebook has helped me connect with my family and friends throughout the world in a new way.

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