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?

This entry was posted in Features, Flickr on by .

About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

17 thoughts on “Flickr Etiquette Basic Guidelines

  1. Brian Auer Post author

    I saw your post — thanks! I think you’re right that sometimes people forget their manners when they get behind the keyboard, but fortunately we photographers are a civilized bunch.

  2. the_wolf_brigade

    Sorry I was brief before, I was on my way to work but wanted to express my thanks for taking into consideration my request.

    While it’s been some time since I originally asked about this question, there was still some stuff I wasn’t sure about such as the nature of comments. I tried for a while to reciprocate every comment AND thank the person on my photo, but it began to get too much. I like the idea of mainly responding to engaging comments.

    Personally I try and ask a question that needs an answer if I really like the photo – trying to establish a dialogue (this is one of Zooomr’s strengths). This has lead to an increased feeling of familiarity between a few contacts as you suggest in your post.

    As for contacts, initially I was adding everyone that added me, though when you featured me in this post the contact requests began to overwhelm me!

    So I started to cut back a bit. Mainly my contact list consisted of people that I’d discovered that inspired me so I wasn’t too concerned about the previous adds, though for the future I really wanted people that would be an encouragement for me to keep seeking out that creative edge. This peaked when I found Rui Palha.

    After discovering framefreezer a couple of days ago and finding that he also shares the same opinion of only adding those in whose work he finds inspiration, it was nice to see it reiterated in your post that there really is no implied obligation to add to my list of contacts those who call me a contact.

    (Sorry for the long comment!) Anyway, I think it’s a great article and definitely covers all the concerns I had when I first joined flickr. I shall be directing newbies here!

  3. Brian Auer Post author

    Not a problem. I figured that if you had questions about it, other people would too — that’s usually how it works.

    And wow, that Rui Palha really has some awesome work. Definitely one I’ll be following closely.

  4. laanba

    I don’t automatically add people who have listed me as a contact. In fact, I will go through my contact list (and my group list) on occasion and reevaluate my choices because I really try to look at every contacts photo. The great thing about Flickr is that everyone can tailor its uses for their own style. Some people add a thousand contacts and a thousand groups. Some people just use it as online photo storage. It can be anything you want it to be.

    I’d love to see an article in the future about licensing. I go back and forth between All Rights Reserved and the Creative Commons. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on why they choose their license and what experiences they’ve had with the various licenses.

    Thanks for all the great articles!

  5. Brian Auer Post author

    I had the same thought about the licensing — I’ll probably write up something about the differences between copyright and creative commons. It’s unfortunate that I see a majority of the photos on Flickr licensed as “All Rights Reserved”.

  6. Pingback: WRITING PROJECT: Social Photography

  7. Jim

    One thing I have noticed is that there seem to be many people who have no photos of their own, in fact they do not even have a buddy icon, and of course no real name given. These people tend to have amassed hundreds or thousands of favourites of women, some scantily dressed, some not. Many seem to be cross-dressers, perhaps looking for fashions to favourite. Most of these people never leave comments.

    Should I be concerned if photos of my wife are made favourites by these people? She is attractive but not scantily dressed. Obviously since I put them on Flickr I am not trying to hide the photos, and she herself is OK with the photos, but is there some seedy sort of underworld I don’t know about.

    I could go through and weed them out by blocking, but is there any reason? One reason I ask is that sometimes when I read a profile it will say “please don’t favourite my photos or I will block you”.

  8. Brian Auer Post author

    I know the type you speak of. I’ll usually block them just because they’re not trying to be part of the community and it’s really creepy when you look at their faves. Obviously, you can do whatever you wish with these followers, but I’m typically not a fan of the “super-creeper” gathering photos of my Wife.

  9. BrightJock

    Hey, Brian. Thanks for these guidelines. I’m new to Flickr, and I’ve been wanting to use the Creative Commons pics for my blog, but I wasn’t quite sure what the etiquette was. You turned up on the first page of Google results, and I got my answers!

    Thanks for taking the time to educate newbies! :-)

  10. Robin

    Hi, thanks for the post. I’m trying to reach a flickr user to see if I can buy the right to use one of his photos but don’t see any way to reach him. I don’t see any links for “flickr mail”. Any way to get in touch in this case? (creative commons use is not an option. I need the right to use it w/o adding attribution text.) Thanks for any suggestions!

  11. Brian Auer Post author

    If you have a Flickr account, you should be able to send them a message. In the drop down menu on their user icon, you’ll see an option to “Send FlickrMail” near the bottom.

  12. Robin

    Thanks, Brian. After hours of googling, I finally found this information. Now I guess I just wait. No way to know how long and meanwhile my project is on hold until I either hear back or give up and decide to take my own photo. My frustration might be of benefit to the readers of this blog. Others might not be as persistent as I was and might figure, “if this person cares about reuse, they’d have left me a way to contact them”. I saw during my night of googling and reading blogs that many photographers on flickr are quick to accuse people of stealing their work, but there might be another side to the story. For anyone who wishes to license use rights, making it easier to reach you and responding promptly to queries from potential buyers may prevent unauthorized use and might make it easier to profit from your work. Wishing you all the best.

  13. Jim

    Anyone on Flickr can be reached by sending a Flickr Mail. They might not respond in a timely matter because some folks have lives and only read their Flickr Mail occasionally. That still doesn’t offer their images up for free use.

    Also you might want to look at the meta data using an EXIF reader. Many photographers embed contact information and copyright information in the image.

  14. Robin

    Jim, the exif data ia a good idea. Not sure I agree that people who spend all their time posting blog comments having a life =) Seriously though, if photo creators don’t keep up on their flickr mail, then that’s not a viable option for contacting them. That returns us to the original question: how to reach a photographer on flickr to ask if they’re willing to license use rights?

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