UPDATE: This post was first published back in the summer of 2015.
In some ways, you could argue, not a lot has changed since this piece was first published. Flickr is still with us, Instagram still reigns as the king of photo-sharing apps and Lomography still flies the flag for all things analogue and lo-fi.
But there have been some big changes.
Flickr now stands at a crossroads; it has not seemed relevant for years, partly because it was shackled to Yahoo, a supertanker-sized Internet behemoth still seemingly setting a course for 2005.
US telecom giant Verizon’s acquisition of both Yahoo and AOL has led to Flickr being hived off to SmugMug, a photo site that seems a more obvious partner. This could mean a second wind for a site that has always retained a large community of film photographers.
Instagram has emerged, at least in the last 18 months, as an unlikely champion of analogue. The continuing revival of film can be at least partly attributed to the plethora of pics not only taken on film camera but OF film cameras. A new generation is drooling over pics of Spotmatics, OM-2s and Lubitels. Some of them are curious enough to take the plunge and dabble with film.
With digital photography has come a culture of sharing pictures almost unheard of to those who grew up in the analogue, family album days.
Photos might not be printed much these days (a situation that has come with its own dire warnings) but they have the ability to be seen now in almost real time, by friends and strangers near and far. A picture taken in London can be enjoyed almost simultaneously in Singapore, Santiago, Samarkand and Seattle.
This digital world might not be as immediate for those photographers shooting film, but it still gives analogue snappers a wealth of ways to share their photographs, should they chose to. Many digital photographers too young to have shot film in its heyday are really curious about it – they see digital apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic apeing the look of those old emulsions and want to know more.
Some people will want to take photos and keep them private – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is a simple pleasure in sharing photographs with other people, showing them your take on the world, and perhaps inspiring them to create their own. And that’s especially true with film – every photographer you persuade to try film is another photographer who will help sustain it for further generations.
So what are the social mediums worth checking out? Below are some of the most popular – household names, a few of them – which could take your film photography in interesting new directions.
In the period between Flickr and Instagram, 500px took advantage of the age of the iPad; it was about showing off your best work. Images had to be uploaded in larger sizes, and the overall level of quality has been very high – whether digital or film. 500px is not about life-logging or uploading dozens of pics from a festival, party of holiday, it’s about curating high quality pics.
500px’s lustre may have been dimmed in the list five years or so, but it does boast more than 2.5 million users – and it’s an audience that’s passionate about photography. There’s even a dedicated film category, allowing users to peruse only analogue photos.
500px doesn’t pretend to be as hip as Instagram or as all-encompassing as Flickr, but it does aspire to be a site where photographers can show off their best work – especially those wishing to get noticed and male money from their photography.
Should you be on it? If you want an online portfolio showing your very best work – and perhaps want to sell prints – then yes.
Facebook is by far the biggest social media platform in the world. It had grown in the last decade from being a Harvard University student project to one of the biggest entities on the internet. An enormous number of people – some 1.4 billion people a month, according to the latest ranking – are regular users. And on top of those personal profiles are a great deal of company pages, fan pages and groups.
There are a number of film photography groups within Facebook. Some of the bigger groups have more than 10,000 members and the audiences grow with each passing day (such groups have only really been a feature on Facebook for the last couple of years). Some of the bigger groups – Traditional Film Photography, 35mm Film Photography, Film Photography and Medium Format Photography – actively encourage posting photos, both of gear or pics taken on cameras.
This is very much a different audience compared to posting pics on your page, where your friends might not be so enthused about whether your picture was taken on a phone or a 40-year-old rangefinder. I’ve regularly posted stories from this blog on various Facebook pages, some of which have sparked really useful conversation and introduced me to some fantastic photographers who’ve since become friends. It doesn’t have quite the audience of Instagram or Flickr, but the upside is, you’re showing your photos to people who are genuinely interested that the pic you’re showing was taken on a film camera.
And despite the regular rumours that anything you post on Facebook automatically becomes the property of the site, your photos remain your property – sharing them in a group doesn’t change that. If you want to be extra careful, share them via a link to your own site or to the likes of Flickr.
A word of warning though: there has been an enormous backlash against social media but especially Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. A small but vocal minority is fleeing Facebook in the wake of the data breaches
Should you be on it? Chances are you’re already on Facebook, so adding yourself to groups interested in photography is a no-brainer.
Flickr launched in early 2004, riding the pre-smartphone wave of digital photography. It allowed photographers to save their photographs, share them with contacts or in public groups, and create communities around shared themes. It soon attracted many film photographers, using the site’s community to swap tips and share each other’s works. Despite being usurped somewhat as a sharing platform by the likes of Instagram, Flickr’s strength, in part, lies with that heritage. There are still thriving film communities within Flickr, even though the vast majority of photographers using the site shoot digital.
The site’s wilderness years under Yahoo seem to have drawn to a close. In April 2018, photo-sharing site SmugMug acquired Flickr, and its CEO Don MacAskill was quick to reassure photographers that he wasn’t folding Flickr into SmugMug itself. It appears the site’s staff will be retained and it will receive a much overdue upgrade to make it more attractive to photographers more than a decade after its launch.
The I Shoot Film group, for instance, is a carefully moderated community that allows photographers to post one film photo a day – be it Polaroid, large format, carefully exposed slide or a frame from a disposable camera. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Shoot on Pentax film cameras from the 1970s? There’s a group for that. Love the Olympus OM series? There’s a group for that. Can’t get enough on clicking away on Kievs, Zenits and Zorkis? Yes, you guessed it, there’s a group for that.
I’ve been a member of Flickr since 2006 and at some point later this year will upload my 6,000th picture on the site. It’s the first place I upload my cropped pics after I scan them – my biggest digital footprint. Over the last decade I’ve met many like-minded souls and made firm friends among fellow Flickrites. And almost every day I log on the site I find a photo that inspires me to get out there and shoot another roll. That’s something to be said for a site that, in the digital world, was seen as something of a dinosaur.
When you upload a pic, you can add searchable tags – the type of camera, film lens, location, mood etc. This makes Flickr especially useful. I don’t buy anything off eBay without first having a snoop on Flickr to see what other photographers have done with it.
Should you be on it? Definitely.
I must be honest; when Instagram was bought by Facebook back in 2012, I wrote a piece for the BBC News website decrying how the filter-laden sharing app had made everyone’s pictures look the same – and why film photographers in particular might be puzzled at how the digital brigade seemed to be having a collective aneurysm at how awesome their pictures looked, when they could have happily been getting such effects on a Diana toy camera and a roll of cross-processed Kodak Elite Chrome 20 years before. Blame digital’s “curse of convenience”, the instant results with none of the trials of experimentation.
In 2014 I reneged and dipped my toe in the Instagram waters, primarily to promote my blog, but there was another issue; I do the vast majority of my shooting on 35mm film. Instagram’s square format was perfect for medium format, but anything else had to be cropped far too much. I put up a handful of images and then pretty much forgot about it. Then, in 2015, Instagram announced they were allowing landscape format images to be uploaded. Suddenly Instagram – a photo sharing community with at least 300 million monthly users – has become a lot more interesting to photographers who might otherwise have shunned it.
Save your film scans to your phone – either via another photo sharing site such as Flickr or via email – and you can upload them to Instagram. Film-centric hashtags such as #film, #analogue, #lomo and #believeinfilm are starting to be used more and more. I predict there’s going to be a lot more film photographs shared via Instagram in the coming months.
In the last three years, Instagram has become an inadvertent cheerleader for film. Tags like #filmcamera, #cameraporn and #ishootfilm now have millions of photos, and there’s a real community enjoying pics of old film cameras, film stashes and, of course, the pics taken on film themselves.
The film renaissance of the last couple of years is at least partly thanks to Instagram.
Should you be on it? Yes. It’s now the photo sharing site on the Web, and the ability to post landscape format images means it’s much more useful to those shooting 35mm film.
Way before Instagram, before even the relative veteran Flickr, lo-fi film community Lomography has had a thriving photo-sharing site since 2000. The Vienna-based outfit, who saved the Lomo LC-A from photographic obscurity and brought the toy camera aesthetic back to the fore – encouraged its users to set up Lomohomes where their pics could be shared with other ‘Lomographers’. This sharing platform grew and grew, creating an online magazine to share tips, stories, reviews and profiles, and even spawned offline travel guides to cities such as London, Vienna and Hong Kong. This year, the community site underwent a massive overhaul, better linking homes to the tens of thousands of articles and the endless permutations of cameras, films, countries and cities represented.
There’s no two ways about it – the Lomography aesthetic is divisive. Some love it, others can’t stand it. I am a fan – I bought an original, Soviet-era Lomo LC-A back in 2000 and it’s a big reason why I’m such a huge fan of film. (Full disclosure too – Lomography regularly give me cameras to test, and my first London exhibition was held at their Soho store earlier this year)
I don’t put every pic I take on my Lomohome, but I find it a great site to trawl – like Flickr at its best, you can easily lose an hour or two searching. Keen on buying a Lomo LC-A or a Pentax K1000? You can search via camera. Want to see what Lomography’s 100-speed colour print film looks in bright sunshine, or cross-processed Fuji Sensia? You can search via film. You can look at the work of Lomographers in major cities like London, Berlin, Barcelona and New York, or the tiny Greek island you plan to spend a week on next summer. If you’re any way inclined to shooting with a camera that costs pocket change, or like cross-processing or other experimental processing techniques, then there’s a huge amount of photos to enjoy.
Should you be on it? If you shoot on a classic Leica or still lifes on a large format camera, probably not. If you shoot stuff that’s a little more off-the-cuff, then you might find much that’s inspiring.
Reddit, started in 2005 by two University of Virginia students, prides itself on being the ‘front page of the internet’. Its registered users submit links or content, which are then voted on by other members of the Reddit community. Those that get the most votes start to become more visible to other site visitors. There’s an enormous variety of sub-Reddits to explore, everything from cricket to The Simpsons, New Zealand music to sharks, aviation to science (and that’s just a selection of the ones that I subscribe to – Reddit’s as varied as the tastes of those using it).
Two sub-Reddits in particular are of most interest to film photographers – Analog allows you to share pics from sites such as Flickr or Imgur, to an audience of more than 20,000 fellow film users. Photography has nearly a quarter of a million subscribers at the time of writing – and while much of that audience is talking about digital, they will certainly show interest in pictures or blog posts of good quality.
If you’re blogging about film photography, then I’d argue that Reddit is the site you need to be on. Blog posts that connect with the photography audience can get literally thousands of hits a day – and if you’re interested in building an audience for your photography, that’s not to be sniffed at.
There is one golden rule with Reddit, however – that it’s not a place where you simply post link after link bigging up your own content. The rule of thumb is – for every link to something you’ve created, you should be linking out to nine things from elsewhere on the internet. Link widely, and get involved in conversations.
Should you be on it? Yes, but especially if you blog about the film photos you take.
I’m a journalist by day, and in my day job Twitter is an incredibly valuable tool; I’ll use to contact people I might want to interview or write for the website I work for, or to sniff out story ideas. It’s something I use every day.
Immediate, concise and informal, Twitter is a fantastic way to communicate – but not in every situation. Yes, you can post pictures on Twitter via Twitpic, and add hashtags such as #film, #filmphotography or #filmcamera, for instance. But unlike sites like Lomography or Flickr, Twitter isn’t really set up as well for searching through past content; there’s just so many tweets being posted every hour, every minute, every second that’s very hard to get an overall view. If you’re already a well-known photographer with tens of thousands of followers, then Twitter will be useful for letting your audience know what you’re up to. For the rest of us, having to upload our pics via mini-lab CDs or our film scanners, Twitter is, frankly, less useful.
Should you be on it? Twitter is a great way to look at what’s happening in the world, but it’s not the photo sharing site Flick or Instagram are.
Should you be on it? Yes, but especially if you blog about the film photos you take.
If you fancy following me on any of the above sites, you can find me at:
Flickr: Stephen Dowling