Fantastic Flickr Photographers

Millions of photographs are posted on the photography site Flickr, but a small subset of them demonstrate a leap of technique and imagination. We showcase some of these interesting artists.

Flickr: A Bulletin Board of the Collective Imagination

Flickr, founded in 2004, has long had its roots in chat and in image sharing. Since migrating to the United States and Yahoo in 2005 from Ludicorp, a Canadian company, Flickr has gone from beta to "gamma" (slyly denoting "never-ending improvement"), added capacity for video, and evolved into the image-sharing service we now know.

The Flickr site is a tremendous beast that Web 2.0 can only begin to harness with its social tagging (user-defined keywords that go beyond simple metadata), photography groups, image pools, and invitation-only "best of" categories. (For instance, The Library of Congress Flickr photostream provided this image of a young woman riveter working on the B17F heavy bomber known as the "Flying Fortress," shot in 1942 by Alfred T. Palmer.)

But this slide show doesn't dwell on the historical. PC World roamed Flickr looking for particularly interesting work--and what we failed to discover was a place to stop! So, what we present here are some noteworthy groups that we'll visit again and again, photographers who are incorporating traditional and modern techniques to create terrific work.

Flickr claims that its massive gallery of snapshots now contains hundreds of millions--from the mundane to the wondrously creative--and it's easy to spend hours meandering the digital halls, clicking pretty picture after pretty picture, hoping you don't get fired for your Flickr addiction.

Put on your boots, grab some food rations, and pull on your oxygen tanks, because we're going in to admire some of Flickr's more interesting wonders.

Tilt-Shift Miniature Fakes--"San Fran Tilt-Shift"

Here's a playful technique in which adjusting points of focus (and thus, depth of field) in a photo can trick the eye into seeing a miniature set. It works quite successfully in aerial views, and artists can accomplish it by using an actual tilt-shift lens on an SLR camera or by applying digital manipulation using blur layers and saturation increases after the fact.

If you wish to try going old-school instead of working with image editing software, 35mm tilt-shift lenses are available at photo-equipment rental houses.

The Tilt-Shift Miniature Fakes group offers a multipage gallery and discussion threads, where several members are happy to share tips with newbies. Paper Scissors provides us with an example of the technique applied digitally on a shot of San Francisco. Check out further standout shots by AlexEdg and others in the group.

(Image courtesy of Paper Scissors)

Underwater Portraiture--"That Which Is Mine"

Here's something we don't all get to do every day: take pictures of people underwater. And we almost certainly don't get the awesomely artful results of Alberich Mathews, who is fond of incorporating mythos into his pieces and views the female form with reverence.

Underwater portraiture is a technically complex process for both model and photographer; lighting and postures are extremely difficult. Mathews's models are often dancers, and their expertise shows. Joojo's "Wet" set is also beautiful and merits some serious browsing.

(Image courtesy of Alberich Mathews)

Geotagged: Underwater--"Striped Dinner Jacket"

Continuing the underwater theme, we have these gorgeous shots of a world that few people get to see outside of the Discovery Channel. Scuba divers took these photos in some of the best diving locations in the world. Part of their project on Flickr is to geotag each image, delivering both longitude and latitude so that a map of the best dive sites can be tracked.

Much of what you see on Geotagged: Underwater is, as a rule, beautiful, colorful, and crystal-clear, unlike most folks' "snow"-filled amateur attempts at photography while snorkeling. Nick Hobgood offers some good examples of what to expect from this exciting group.

(Image courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

Insect Macro Photography--"La Mosca"

This group features extreme close-ups of everything from flies to flower stamens to a plastic head of Marge Simpson.

Shown are things in the natural world that people cannot see without the help of a lens with close-to-life magnification, accessories such as extension tubes, or even the reverse-lens trick.

Somehow I'm always drawn to the insects, like this fly, no matter how much their many eyes and legs terrify me. David Dominguez of Venezuela shows plenty of artfully composed close-ups of flies and other critters. While you're cruising through the Macro pool, look for Goshinsky's furry spiders. Their eyes might haunt your dreams.

(Image courtesy of David Dominguez)

Haphazart--"Green Stroke, Blue Stroke"

The Haphazart group showcases abstracts typically found in the urban environment, but it also poses a "theme of the week," which keeps new and interesting content, organic and man-made, flowing in. In doing this, the group also presents a challenge to photographers, professional or not, to keep their eyes honed to the craft of "seeing" the world around them. Everyone has many excuses for closing their eyes during their workaday lives, but groups such as this that pose "assignments" can offer just the kick artists need to stay creative. See frequent contributor scribbleClick's stream for ideas on how to stay "in the moment."

(Image courtesy of scribbleClick)

High Dynamic Range Photography--"Gesellschaftshaus"

High dynamic range (HDR) photography has been around since the time of the atomic bomb. This technique increases a photo's dynamic range (allowing a greater range of tones to register in an image) and is done through the use of layered bracketed exposures--nowadays, a task performed with multiple digital exposures and software.

HDR images often appear otherworldly because the colors used are not the same as those intended for output on paper or on a computer screen, so in the compression of an HDR image, some tonality can be overly compressed, creating a surreal look. In some cases this renders an image that has an appealing cartoonish quality, a look that more resembles an illustration than a photograph. That said, many in the field agree that the trendy HDR process has gone too far on occasion, crossing over into an undeniably tacky dimension.

In less-processed instances, however, a photo with a magical quality can result, showing more detail in shadows and highlights, often with a lovely saturation. HDR also allows beautifully detailed photos to be created in low-light settings. We took a look into the HDR pool, and found that German photographer Halsemann's work offers some prime examples of these magical low-lit scenes, lost places hinting at a mysterious past. Halsemann has a talent for scouting out abandoned, decaying buildings that are wonderful subjects for his work. Be sure to scroll through the HDR pool to see the full spectrum of treatments from other interesting artists, such as Hipydeus.

(Image courtesy of Halsemann)

High-Speed Photography--"High-Speed Mountain"

Stopping the motion of objects traveling at high speed is undeniably cool. By using a fast camera shutter speed and a short-duration, low-powered flash, you can observe the trajectories of things not available to the naked eye, such as a water droplet going through each of its many stages of formation, or the full process of breakage, splashes, and explosions. Once you know how to rig your gear to accomplish these techniques, it's remarkably addictive.

The people of this group are tech enthusiasts, and they're happy to help you with questions about your setup, always a welcome perk in a Flickr group. One of the most colorful contributors in the High-Speed Photography pool is Jose Viana. Check out his photostream and marvel at his incredible droplet captures. (You will see that he is a talented avian photographer, as well.) And have a look at Maumet's and Alan Sailer's work while you're in there.

(Image courtesy of Jose Viana)

I Shoot Film Group--"Hasselblad way to fall"

Yes, people still do it--yes, you can still buy film. And despite the Mac-versus-PC-style debate, both film and digital shooting have their advantages. Many of the photographers in the I Shoot Film group and similar Flickr groups are film-camera devotees who also own digital cameras.

Here you will also find acolytes of the plastic cameras produced from the 1960s to the 1980s. These folks will never give up the irregular but loveable results of cheapie plastic cameras full of light leaks, homemade case mods, soft focus, and vignetting.

In addition, you'll see some people who are using up their stock of old film in newer cameras, and those who love the look of certain films. And many of the highest-quality pictures still come from large-format films that range in size from 120mm square to 4 by 5 inches. Click through dcassaa's Hasselblad (granddaddy of the medium-format camera) series to see what we're talking about.

(Image courtesy of dcassaa)

I Shoot Film Group--"Holga: Croatia"

To get an idea of just what fascinates some people about crummy plastic cameras, take a gander at microabi's photostream. Abi, a photographer in the UK, creates particularly artful images using her inexpensive Holga film camera. This photo is from her Croatia series.

(Image courtesy of microabi)

Noise, Textures, and Layers Results--"Tent Circus Clown"

The work in the Noise, Textures, and Layers Results pool transcends photographic technique and crosses into art. Not everyone believes that filters, plug-ins, and cool Photoshop effects can transform a crappy image into a cool "vintage-looking" one, but here are examples of how digital manipulation can elevate a straight photograph into something more personal and evocative.

The work of Bob Merco is an example. Some already creepy subject becomes downright unsettling after he applies his effects, and his collages are also impressive and moody. Several of his works are also lovely and impressionistic. We recommend that you check out his photostream, and also dig into the work of other group members, particularly Sixy5images and Paul Grand.

(Image courtesy of Bob Merco)

Modern Impressionism--"wish someone could"

The Modern Impressionists pool offers a little of almost every technique, from texturizing filters to HDR, fantasy, digital pop art, and back to happy accidents and traditional photography. It can be mind-bending to explore.

We recommend starting out with the delightful work of heidi.grace and stopping by Flyf1sh3r's and ChazBØz's photostreams for good measure before you step off into the deep end of complete fantasy.

(Image courtesy of heidi.grace)

Natural Abstractions--"Ammonite I"

The Natural Abstractions group makes you do double-takes at the world around you, in a good way. Nature is full of beautiful abstracts, natural design elements and symmetry that everyone should notice more. Here you will see it broken up into lines, geometric shapes, and beautiful colors, all of which perform a function in the natural world. Stop by dedalus11's photostream to see what we mean.

(Image courtesy of dedalus11)

(For photography advice and tips, read Dave Johnson's Digital Focus blog.)

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