Flickr Etiquette Basic Guidelines

Flickr Etiquette

In Monday's post, Martin discussed 10 tools and methods for building up your Flickr fan-base. I thought the topic of Flickr etiquette would be a good follow-up, and it was inspired by “The_Wolf_Brigade” (also a Flickr user) inquiring about proper Flickr etiquette when it comes to friends, faves, and comments. You can see his original comment on a previous post.

What I plan to present in this article isn't a set of hard rules that must be followed on Flickr. Martin said it nicely yesterday: Flickr isn’t about cramped “have to” habits. 100% true — It's supposed to be fun, not work.

I'm not Yahoo, so obviously I can't censor regulate what people do on Flickr, but I've used it enough to know that there are certain things you shouldn't do and tons of things you can do. So here are the guidelines that I live by on Flickr.


Flickr is a vast social network made up of real people, so you should act as you would around real people. There's no faster way to kill your profile than to be disrespectful, rude, hurtful, inconsiderate, snobby, superior, mean, or otherwise negative toward other people. I think overall, the Flickr community is pretty good about this, and you generally see a lot of positive comments and constructive criticism. So be nice to the other photographers, we're all on the same team.


Friends and contacts are a great way to keep track of the photographers you like. I typically reserve the “friends” category for those photographers with whom I have extended relationships. This might include other photography bloggers, people I've had email conversations with, or somebody that frequents my photos with comments. The “contacts” group is where I place the photographers who have made some kind of impression on me with their work.

When somebody adds you as a friend or contact, you're notified and given the opportunity to add them back. By no means are you obligated to return the favor — it just means that they like you well enough to keep track of you. Everybody uses their friends and contacts in different ways, but I tend to be quite generous with adding people to my contacts group. I figure that if they're watching my photos, I can spend a small amount of extra time looking at theirs.

This is also quite optional, but I usually dig through the photos of somebody who's added me as a contact and search for an opportunity to add faves and comments. Like I said, usually. I don't always have time for it, but I don't worry since I'll catch their new stuff in the photostream.


Favorites are the perfect way to let somebody know you like their stuff. It's quick, easy, and minimal effort. When somebody adds your photo as a favorite, you're notified in the same way you're notified about new comments. Part of you may feel slightly obligated to return the favor, but just like with the contacts, there's really no obligation. Personally, I don't run off to check out every person that adds one of my photos as a favorite, but I also don't expect that in return when I add a favorite.

I do, however, take notice when somebody new adds several of my photos as a favorite. To me, this says that they like my work and they actually looked through it. At that point, I'm quite inclined to check out their photos and possibly add them as a contact, especially if they've left a few comments too.


Comments can be a great way to meet new people and start interesting relationships, but again, everybody uses them differently. Many of the Flickr comments are quick one-liners, but there are also deeper conversations happening out there. I treat the comments much in the same way I treat the favorites when it comes to returned favors. I don't feel totally obligated to return the comments, but I'm also a semi-active commenter. In fact, I'm trying to keep the habit of adding a comment when I add a favorite.

The other side of comment etiquette is returning comments on your own photos. Really there's not rule saying that you have to return every comment made on every one of your photos, especially if they're one-liners. It is kind of a nice gesture to answer back to bigger comments and questions though. That kind of thing tends to strengthen relationships, so it doesn't hurt to be comment-happy.


Sometimes you'll also see group invites show up in the comments for your photos. These are just a way to make you aware of a particular group, and somebody has asked that you join up and submit your photo to the pool. It's not required that you do, and you're probably not going to hurt anybodies feelings if you don't join the group. I tend to at least check them out and see what the group is all about. If I like the group, I'll join and submit my image. Just note that different groups are set up in different ways. Some don't have many rules while others require that you add faves, comments, or awards to other photos in the pool. So when you get a group invite, check it out; if you like it, join in and participate; if not, don't.

If you do join a group, abide by the rules. Only submit photos to the pool that truly belong there. And be respectful if you decide to join in the discussions. It's that simple.


Testimonials are like uber-comments aimed at the photographer rather than the photo. It's a great way to tell a friend how much you appreciate their work. If you receive one of these from a fellow photographer, you should be very proud. But like comments, it's not required or rude if you don't return the favor.


If you're a publisher or blogger, you will need to pay attention to usage rights if you want to use somebody else's photo in your publication. Many of the photos on Flickr have “All Rights Reserved” which means don't use my photo for anything without permission. While other photos are managed under a “Creative Commons” license of some sort, which means you can use my photo if you follow the rules. So follow the rules and respect the wishes of the photographer. If you want to use a particular image for something and it's not licensed to allow usage, just contact the photographer through FlickrMail. I typically contact people regardless of the license attached to the image and I haven't had anybody turn me down yet. This route is your safest bet, plus it's a great way to make new friends (and readers).


So when it comes to Flickr, there aren't a lot of “unspoken” rules. Most things are common sense if you approach them from a “real” life standpoint. Here are my main points.

  • Be respectful toward other Flickr users.
  • Family, Friends, and Contacts are optional.
  • It's not rude to not add somebody as a mutual contact.
  • Favorites are optional.
  • It's not rude to not reciprocate adding faves.
  • Comments are optional.
  • It's not rude to not comment back on your photos.
  • Groups are optional.
  • It's not rude to not join a group you're invited to.
  • Testimonials are optional.
  • It's not rude to not reciprocate a testimonial.
  • Respect the license attached to a photo.

And don't forget to have fun and enjoy yourself! Does anybody have an etiquette-related question that I didn't cover?