Flickr, your electronic photo database?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Flickr, Higher Education, Management, Marketing, Photos, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology | Posted on 04-24-2008


(Updated 7/31/2009)

It’s no secret that I love Flickr. It’s a perfect blend of community and functionality in the web 2.0 world, and it’s an extremely powerful tool.

Could it also be your solution for an electronic photo database management system?

Let’s take a walk at what Flickr has to offer you, and how it can help you organize your campus photos and provide some additional value to your workflow. We’re going to get pretty in-depth here, so buckle up and refer back often.

Flickr Basics
Flickr, owned by Yahoo!, comes in 2 flavors: Free and Pro. Feel free to try it out before going Pro, but definitely make the leap at some point. At a measly $24.95/year you can upload unlimited photos, unlimited videos (up to 90 seconds in length, HD quality), make unlimited sets, and files can be up to 20mb in size each. You also get stats on your account and skip out on ads. Think about it. $25 will get you an 16gb flash drive. $25 will get you a 60gb hard drive. $25 on Flickr will give you unlimited storage and backup. So not only do you have the files on your computer, and on DVD stored in another building or location like home, you also have it stored online at Flickr/Yahoo!, who undoubtedly have their own backups as well. That alone is worth the $25 to me. But with the ~40gb (over 15,000 photos) I’ve already uploaded to Flickr, I’m paying less than $1/GB/year for online storage/backup, in addition to everything I’m about to show you. What a great deal. And of course, the cost/GB goes down as I continue to upload more. Economy of scale at its finest.

Uploading Photos into Sets and Collections
When you upload photos, think of a set as an event. Think of a collection as a photo album. When I take pictures at a basketball game, I have a set. When I put all of my basketball games into a collection, I have a photo album. Photos can belong in multiple sets, and sets can belong in multiple collections. It’s organization at its finest. And using the Organizr tool, it’s just as easy as dragging and dropping. Keep your files organized from Day 1, and you’ll be set.

Tagging Photos
I cannot stress this enough.
It will make searching so easy and will make your life easier. When you upload a photo, tag what it’s trying to capture.

For the photo below, I would probably tag it: female, studying, study, outdoors, campus, Mall, laptop, “Butler University” “Butler Bulldogs”

This one might be something like: outdoors, “Ross Hall”, “student life”, friends, basketball.

*Note: When you want to keep words together, put them in ” “, otherwise they will become 2 separate tags.

You see where we are going with tags. A typical classroom shot might look like: student, professor, faculty, classroom, studying, lecture. If you see a shot that would be great for a certain page, tag it! “Admission”, “Alumni”, etc.

THEN, when you get that request of “I’m looking for a shot of some students studying on the in a dorm room”, you go to search your photostream for “students room studying” and boom, there are your images. Don’t be afraid to get specific on your tags, everything I used here was a little generic. You are allowed up to 75 tags on each photo, so tag the heck out of it.

If you are keeping your photos public, don’t forget to tag your university! Use abbreviations, initials, full spellings, or anything else you think someone might search to find your school. Again, 75 tags per photo. Be generous. Then when people are looking online for more info about your school, they get some shots of what your campus looks like.

Also, you can let ‘Friends and Family’ tag photos as well, so if someone else sees something they think might help (“Sunny”, “landscape”) they can add value that way.

Defining Who Can See Photos (and Videos!)
Some institutions insist on keeping all of their photos private and inaccessible.  If your department holds these high standards, just use relationships/contacts to decide who can see what. Think of ‘Family’ as your direct office, and ‘Friends’ as other campus members who might need access.

When you upload photos, you can mark a set/collection/photo as viewable to all public, or friends/family (either or both). In the Organizr, choose the photos you want to hide, click Permissions < Who can see,comment, tag? and then make your selection. If you have internal photos that you don’t want others on campus to get to, mark that only ‘Family’ can see them. If it’s a photo that all of campus can get to (again, only campus members who are ‘Friends’…. we are assuming you don’t want the general public to see these photos), then mark the photo as Private, but viewable to Friends and Family. I think you get the idea.

One common thing I hear for a reason of keeping photos locked away is “we don’t want photos overused”. Enter comments. Using a photo for an email? Leave a comment! “Hey, I put this in the header for an admissions email. It went to 5200 seniors.” Done. What better way to keep track of it? And the real question, how the heck are you doing it right now? Pen and paper? Excel? Put that junk away, your new method is right here.

What Size Would You Like?
Print media needs 300 dpi. Web wants 72, and a thumbnail of the picture as well. Resize no more, Flickr fans! After uploading your original high-res photos, just click the ‘All Sizes’ button above the image. From there you have 6 different size options, from a 75×75 square to a standard 100x67px thumbnail, moving up to small, medium, large, and original sizes. Web and print rejoice, and you don’t have to spent time resizing for people’s needs.

Other Great Flickr Tools

Date Taken Calendar
One of my favorite Flickr features is the Date Taken Calendar. Flickr organizes your photo by the day/month/year they were taken, with the info pulled from the EXIF data on the photo. Say you don’t tag well, and someone is looking for a photo from an event and knows the date. Boom. There it is.

Start a Pool!
Mike Richwalsky at Allegheny started a pool for anyone to add pictures to. What a great way to start a community effort of collecting photos from all over campus!

If you have a huge campus, it might be worth geotagging your photos. Geotagging means assigning a specific lat/long coordinate to where a photo was taken. Here is an example of geotagged photos at Butler University (there are nearly 1,000 of them). Pretty cool.

With stats you can see how many pictures are being viewed, what your most popular pics are, top referrers, and a few other stats. Check out your top pictures.. what are their tags? Why are people getting to them?  The point is to find out what’s working if you have your photos public, and use those tags to get the most visibility of your images.

Joe Gaylor from FJ Gaylor Photography gives more good insight to using Flickr on his blog, offering up this advice:

“By looking at the sampling of Accounts that were “official” school sites, there were a few things I noticed.
1. They looked like they were just batched and thrown on the site, with original file names and not many titles that would be conducive to any search algorithm. No one is ever going to find your images.
2. There was rarely a caption that was worth looking into further that would make me want to click on a link to the website..
3. There weren’t links to click on, that would take me to the school’s homepage.
4. When clicking on the “profile page”, very few had a link to the school’s site either.

Creative Commons
I’ve talked about Creative Commons before on this blog. It boils down to trust. Feeling good enough about your photos to let others use them? Throw some Creative Commons on it.

Tag Cloud
This is a neat visual look at what you’re tagging the most. If you want all the tags, just go to your list.

Flickr API and 3rd Party Tools
There are so many additional features through the Flickr API that extends what you can do with the site. Here is a great page that lists quite a few of them.

Well, as always I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of this powerful tool. What are some ways that you see Flickr as useful for higher ed? What else would you want out of a $25 photo database management system? As the cost of online storage and cloud-based service continues to drop, it’s economical and efficient to start researching web-based tools such as Flickr for your office’s digital organization.

Comments posted (40)

Great post. A question and a comment…

Do you only get the original size photos if you are Pro member? I’m not a pro member and even when I upload very large photos, the biggest I get is the “large” size.

Second, if you really wanted to, you could use Flickr as your CDN for photos any time you post one on your site, in a news story or student profile for example. Flickr T&C says that if you directly include an image hosted there, you need to link to the Flickr page, but since you’re putting in the effort to put your photos there, that isn’t a bad thing at all. Your users can explore more photos and you get to save a bit of bandwidth.

Perfect timing on this, Brad, as I’ve just been pondering how to go about making photos for my (now two-person) department available for both of us, as well as the people in admissions, advancement, and athletics who occasionally need access. The Pro membership sounds like it’s a steal for what you get.

So not only do you work for Zinch, but now also Flickr. That Pro account better be free for you next year, haha.

This is an excellent post! I am still trying to convince people about the benefits of Flickr. I will be upgrading my account to a Pro soon (can’t believe I haven’t done it already) and am trying to get the university to let me start one for them so that we can have our photos there. I know one big concern is about people overusing photos, but I like your idea about that and will have to bring that up.

Great post! I agree that Flickr is a great electronic photo database management system. We upgraded to the pro account this year and I would recommend that everyone upgrade.

I learned a lot on this post and forwarded it to my staff. Thanks.

Great article. As an archiving tool, Flickr is brilliant. It’s cheaper, easier and more time efficient than most other products. I shoot a lot on campus, and in return get a number of photo requests. Being able to send people to my Flickr account is a huge timesaver. (I used to post pics manually to static Web sites I built myself.) I can send them to a set or tag (even though it’s my personal account and vacation and campus shots are co-mingled) and they can pick what they need. In addition to using Flickr as an archiving tool, I think it is also a great way for those with a bent for photography to begin exploring the social media/ Web 2.0 world. It also makes it easy to bring pics into regular Web pages via Flash based slideshows or RSS feeds. On the whole the price is incredibly cheap for what Flickr offers.

Re: Creative Commons, I’m not using it, I’m maintaining full copyright, but I give permission to people to use my shots for university projects, and often for other non-commercial purposes as well. I prefer to maintain this level of control, but could imagine circumstances when I might be a bit more free.

I’ve started to do this at Medaille College ( Flickr is great for integrating pictures into our news web site ( and facebook accounts, too.

Thanks for the comments everyone. It seems that WordPress decided to stop emailing me when I had comments, I was a little bummed at first!

@Mike – It seems that Original is only available for Pro users, according to their FAQ’s. Good thought on adding/linking photos as well.

@Another Mike – 2 staff members?!?! What did you do to get that awesome honor? Haha seriously, that is great. A lot of schools aren’t even to 1 yet. Very exciting.

@Jeremy – I think I can foot the $25 bill for this one. :) Your to-do list: 1) upgrade to Pro, 2) get a .com, 3) email me about hosting ;)

@Mark and @Dennis – thanks for your comments. Good to hear!

@Heidi – Totally agree about archiving. What implications do you think there might be if Microsoft buys Yahoo! (who owns Flickr)? Could things change? I am the same as you, meshing personal and professional images into 1 account. I think I will start a separate account for BU soon though. Thanks for the links as well. I use that badge on my personal page (, but it could be a great addition to the side of

@Kara Welcome! Glad you found us. Added your school as a friend on Flickr, looking forward to seeing more campus shots!

I love learning more from commenters than my original thoughts when I post!

Flickr – institutional photo database…

Flickr is the best online photo management and sharing application. It is simple to use and relatively inexpensive. A Flickr-Pro account is only $24.95 per year. The benefits are incredible:

Unlimited photo uploads (20MB per photo)
Unlimited video up…

[...] I did find this article and this one, and this one very interesting, if anyone else is having the same issues as me. Tags: flickr, [...]

Thanks for the info. I am the photographer at BCIT ( Looking for a good way of spreading photos around to our multiple departments.

Question: Once uploaded, who owns the copyright to the images? Who has access and usage rights? Does anyone know of issues around this?

Scott – I would assume that you/the university would own the copyright to the images? It’s really no different than the photos sitting on your computer, they are just ‘in the cloud’ and more easily accessible by others on campus. If you use the model above and only allow ‘friends’ or ‘family’ access to the photos, YOU control access and usage.

We wanted to use Flickr as a photo management system for a new marketing web site but our legal department could not reach an agreement with Yahoo around indemnification. All I know is that as a state institution, we have to follow State Attorney General guidelines surrounding this issue. Anyone else in the world of higher education have this same struggle? Suggestions?

William & Mary, a Virginia public, has multiple Flickr accounts:

Wayne State:


There are plenty more…just search for “University” on Flickr and hit the “people” tab.

[...] Flickr, your electronic photo database? | SquaredPeg (tags: web2.0 photography images flickr photos college database highered) [...]

great article.

i was rebuilding a webapp of a friend and moved all the image handling over to flickr, major bonus with the pro account; now all the bandwidth weights are handled by flickr’s awesome image retrieval system.

also managed to offload the email handling to google apps, and improved google analytics to get better reports rather than doing it myself.

great stuff!

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