On having your work featured on Flickr Explore

Each day, Flickr showcases 500 photographs from among that day’s tens of thousands uploaded. A super-secret algorithm selects them based on their “interestingness” for other Flickr users to explore. Today’s Explored photos are always on this page for your browsing pleasure.

Many people do browse Explore every day and click Like on the photos that grab them. That’s where being Explored gets fun: your email blows up with notifications of all those Likes. Flickr otherwise gives you no heads up that your photo was selected. If you think one of your photos was Explored, the Scout page at the Big Huge Labs site (here) will tell you.

My first Explored photo was a quick image I made to illustrate a blog post. I didn’t arrange the subject especially carefully. I didn’t even bother to remove clutter from the background (such as the bottle of aspirin). But Flickr called it interesting just the same.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and expired film *EXPLORED*
Canon PowerShot S95, 2013

I’d been a Flickr user for six years before that image was Explored. But that seemed to open the spigot, so to speak. Seventeen more of my images have been Explored since then. I’m sharing them all here, in chronological order.

I’m happy this one was chosen — I think it’s a wonderful image. This is part of Oldfields, the Lilly family house on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Evening light at Oldfields *EXPLORED*
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

After a while I stopped trying to guess how Flickr chooses images for Explore. I just enjoy it when one of my images is chosen. Experience has showed me that only the first, or maybe, maybe, the second, image in your photostream is eligible. This has led me to upload photos in smaller batches, always placing the photo I’m happiest with at the front of the batch. It has somewhat increased my success rate.

Still life with fan *EXPLORED*
Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

Sometimes an image can become un-Explored. It’s because Flickr’s algorithms keep calculating on each image forever, and each day’s Explored images are ranked. If another photo becomes more interesting than yours, it moves your photo down the ranking. If your photo’s rank falls below 500, it falls off that day’s Explore. That’s what happened to both the image above and below. They entered Explore at numbers 498 and 496, respectively. After a few days, other photos somehow became more interesting and replaced them in the rankings. The Big Huge Labs Scout page tells you the rank at which each of your Explored images started, by the way. To see images that fell off Explore, click the Include Dropped link.

Farmall *EXPLORED*
Nikon F2AS, AI Nikkor 50mm f/2, Fujifilm Superia Xtra 800, 2014

I especially like it when my film photographs are Explored. A lot of what makes Explore is heavily Photoshopped native digital imagery. My work is so elemental and minimalist in comparison.

Yashica Lynx 14e, Arista Premium 400, 2014

I’m especially amused when a photo of one of my old film cameras gets Explored. I shoot these images for the reviews I write on this blog and don’t mean for them to be especially interesting.

Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

But when I shot that roll of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, I certainly aimed at interesting! At least interesting to me. I was happy Flickr agreed on this photo.

Red tree parking lot *EXPLORED*
Nikon F2, Fujifilm Velvia 50, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, 2014

One of my Explored photos resonated so well with viewers that it racked up a whopping 36,000 views over a few days. I shot this in Garfield Park in Indianapolis. Someone had written these words on these steps and I had the good sense to compose a photo around them.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*
Nikon N2000, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2014

Once in a while one of my old-camera photos turns out just great. As I’ve written before, I’m not always thrilled with how they turn out, but I use them in my reviews anyway. This was one of those photos, and I was pleased that it was Explored.

Kodak 35 *EXPLORED*
Canon PowerShot S95, 2015

I use my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot S95 primarily for family snapshots, road-trip documentary photos, and other non-artistic work. But it’s a worthwhile camera when I want to do serious work. I’ve made many pleasing images with it. This was one of them, and I’m happy it was Explored.

Publix Theatre *EXPLORED*
Canon PowerShot S95, 2015

The afternoon of a challenging day I spooled some Kodak E100G into my Yashica-D and shot the whole roll in my front garden. It was photo therapy. I didn’t take great care in composition but this photo was Explored anyway.

Yellow and purple lilies *EXPLORED*
Yashica-D, Kodak E100G, 2015

I don’t think this photo from the cattle barn at the Indiana State Fair is all that interesting, but Flickr’s inscrutable algorithms disagreed sharply. I can’t tell whether this photo was Explored despite the light flare, or because of it.

Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C, Arista Premium 400, 2015

Two images from the same roll of film were Explored. It’s my personal best. The first is above and here is the second.

Fencepost *EXPLORED*
Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C, Arista Premium 400, 2015

The more experience I gain as a photographer, the more control I have — I increasingly know what a photo will look like, in my head, from the available light and the settings I chose. But this photo from under the 38th St. bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery turned out far better than I envisioned. I was very happy with Flickr’s Explore algorithms agreed.

Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Plus-X, 2015

This photo from inside the Methodist church in Woodstock, Illinois, was another that fell off Explore after it was added. Too bad.

Inside Woodstock First UMC *EXPLORED*
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, Arista Premium 400, 2015

I didn’t think this photo was anything special at all, but Explore featured it anyway. If you’re ever in Indianapolis, you’ll find this house on Cold Spring Road just west of Michigan Road.

House on Cold Spring Road *EXPLORED*
Minolta Maxxum 9xi, 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Minolta AF Zoom, Kodak Max 400, 2016

In contrast, I really hoped this photo would be Explored, so much did I like it. But I was in an Explore dry spell. Seven of my 2015 photos were featured, but only two in 2016.

Leaves on the iron bench *EXPLORED*
Canon A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Fujicolor 200, 2016

My dry spell correlates to a several-month period when I used Lightroom to upload photos. I recently got frustrated with Lightroom’s maddening interface and quit using it. I returned to uploading photos with Flickr’s Uploadr, and almost immediately one of my photos was Explored. It was this one, from the Olympus µ[mju:] Zoom 140 I reviewed recently.

Praying angel *EXPLORED*
Olympus µ[mju:] Zoom 140, Fomapan 200, 2017

Did using Lightroom really have anything to do with my Explore dry spell? Who knows. Maybe if my acceptance rate goes up now, I’ll have some evidence. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a fun surprise when one of my photos is featured.

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40 responses to “On having your work featured on Flickr Explore”

    1. Russ Avatar

      I.ve had 40 photos on explore and agree with many things you have said.

      1. Dr. George Gallant Avatar

        I like the photos

      2. Dr. George Gallant Avatar

        Great pictures

  1. nobbyknipst Avatar

    I had some photos at Explore that I didn’t really want to upload, because I did not like them and it seemed so, as if nobody like them. Before they were at Explore, nobody even took one look at them. Lots of favs and congratulations came afterwards. Nobody can explain or understand Explore selection. I think this is the secret and that is done by flickr consciously.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, it’s a seemingly random occurrence, but it sure is fun when it happens!

  2. Michael Avatar

    I wonder how many children (and adults) lost fingers to fans like that? ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Many I’m sure!

  3. yashicachris Avatar

    Great post Jim. You have some very worthy images in there!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! It is extra fun when something I think is good gets Explored.

  4. Christopher J. May Avatar


    While the exact “recipe” for “interestingness,” remains a secret, much of it can be guessed or inferred. It all has to do with how your pictures gain likes and comments.

    There are a few rules. I went through a dry spell at roughly the same time as you did. I later found out that Flickr had changed the size requirements unannounced. It used to be that a photo had to be at least 1024 pixels on the long side of the image. It’s now 1600. I’m not sure what size you were exporting in Lightroom but I wonder if it’s related to this requirement.

    Beyond that, it’s related to likes and comments and how you get them. As you said, you want to keep your best stuff towards the top of your stream because most people won’t look at anything beyond your most recent image or two.

    You want to put your images in a couple of groups but not too many. 2-5 seems to be the best recommendation for this. Also, I’ve had the best luck with groups that relate to the gear or my location. “Vanity” groups (the ones that give out annoying stickers and the like) don’t seem to fare as well.

    Additionally, I’ve found that being a good netizen on Flickr helps. I limit the number of people I follow on Flickr but I try to be good about liking and commenting on those people I do follow. And I make a special effort to leave long comments on the people that do so for me. I’ll also go through the images from the various groups I follow and leave comments and likes for new people whose work I enjoy.

    Doing all of the above keeps me in Explore on a regular basis. Since I’ve figured out the 1600 pixel thing, I’ve been averaging more than one picture per month in Explore (which isn’t too far from the max since Flickr limits how often one can be in Explore).

    Hope this helps!


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Valuable insight. What’s crazy to me is how I ignore most of these tips and still get Explored. A photo that is the first in line after a dump of 36 images, with one like and no comments, belonging to no groups, and then it gets Explored.

      1. Christopher J. May Avatar

        Sorry, I forgot to include views, too (in addition to like and comments). Especially if those page views come from a search. For instance, I had the opportunity to try out the new Nikon D850 recently. I got a lot of page views just from people searching for “D850.” I think Flickr factors that into “interestingness” calculation, too.

  5. Jerry Avatar

    The house you have pictured on Cold Spring was the featured house of the Decorator’s Home Show in ’99 I think. You could tour the main house, the grounds, and the carriage house (the one pictured). Very nice estate in Spring Hill which, until the Holcomb Estate Condos were built was the smallest town in Indiana. It borders and old cemetary and in back of the cemetary ran an old interurban rail line. My great grandparents had their house built in the ’40s about 1/4 mi. west of there. Though it was by no means an “estate” LOL. On 2nd thought I guess there’s nothing stopping anyone from referring to their little piece of the american dream as such.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Very interesting — I figured that was a carriage house but wasn’t sure! I know about the Interurban line; wasn’t it the same one that ran along the border between Washington Park North and Crooked Creek School?

      You can call your corner of the world whatever you want! I’d like to build the Grey Family Compound someday. Not really, but it would be fun to call it that.

  6. Jerry Avatar

    Speaking of railroads if you look at an old rail map of Indiana the ‘Big 4’ railroad used to run parallel to Michigan Road, west of it maybe a mile. It crossed Crooked Creek just north of 44th St. and the concrete bridge abutment is still there. A small portion of the old route ran thru Northern Estates and as kids we found other interesting remnants of it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh now isn’t that interesting. I had no idea. I see the trace of it on the 1937 imagery at maps.indy.gov. Very cool!

  7. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Only ever had one image in Explore its a bit of a mystery is explore, but but congrats to the amount you have had they deserve it

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Christopher! I’m not sure why I’ve been chosen so often but it sure is fun.

  8. Jerry Avatar

    Lots of chunks of coal and old partially buried wood steps along a slope leading to right where that track would’ve been were found. This was all deep in peoples’ backyards but as young boys did we care about trespassing? NO! lol

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Eh, nobody cared about kids nosing around back in the day.

  9. dan james Avatar

    Interesting thoughts Jim. I checked out the Big Huge Labs link and found I’ve had a grand total of one image on Explore! And I wasn’t even aware of that – as you say they don’t seem to notify you.

    I think camera shots seem to do well on Flickr generally. As much as I’d like to be appreciated for taking great photographs WITH my cameras, I can’t ignore that 17 of my top 20 shots on my Flickr stats page are of cameras and/or lenses, and this includes every single one of the top 14! And the three non-kit photographs in the top 20 are all very throwaway test type shots I just took at home or on a work lunch break. No rhyme or reason!

    1. dan james Avatar

      PS/ Love that Farmall tractor shot – the reds and the grain are delicious.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve come to the point where I’ve stopped clicking Like on camera photos. I’m happy for everyone for the gear they have but I want to discourage GAS for its own sake!

      The Farmall shot was on Fuji Superia Xtra 800. I’m not sure now what led me to shoot such fast film outside on a sunny day!

      1. dan james Avatar

        Looks like you were shooting at a fairly wide aperture too by the depth of field, so you must have been at a very fast shutter speed. Inspired choice of film though, that shot’s a beauty.

        Clicking “like” – ah that’s reminded me of a blog post I have in draft about a pet hate I have… : )

  10. SilverFox Avatar

    harrumph Been on Flickr for 11 years and never been ‘Explored’ I guess I’m just not as interesting as you

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      See, now, that’s the challenge with Flickr’s algorithms. They make people feel bad!

      1. SilverFox Avatar

        It’s fine I don’t feel that bad. I may have been on there 11 years but for a long time I barely used it and if I compare with you, you have many more photos than me by a factor of about 28. Also you are a Pro and I wonder if that factors into the Algorithm. It is interesting and I hadn’t really thought about the Explore thing much until your post I never really thought that people get on there multiple times. I think I am more proud that one of my pictures got picked by Camera-wiki.org than i would be by being picked by an algorithm anyway though I can imagine the excitement of the flurry of activity resulting.

      2. SilverFox Avatar

        And as if by magic I think I got featured this week in Explore! Have you been pulling strings in my favor?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Just luck of the draw, my man; I have no strings to pull!

  11. HD wallpapers Avatar

    amazing pics..

  12. DougD Avatar

    Great shots, wonderful way to start the day.

    Every step of the way indeed!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Doug!

  13. theothersideofbokeh Avatar

    Nice article. I especially agree on the fact that we don’t understand the flickr algorithm at all and that sometimes one doesn’t know why a photo got explored.

    I must say, right now I’m a bit disillusioned by Explore. From personal experience I think the Flickr algorithm is not (only) about interestingness. I think the aspect of being a good Flickr user like you wrote before is more important.

    It’s a rewarding mechanism that keeps people going.

    Sure some of it also has to do with all the mentioned tipps and tricks, but that can’t be all. When I came back from my vacation trip a few weeks back I started posting a few photos, one at a time, every couple of days. Those were photos that I was really proud of. I was hoping to achieve a place in explore a little further up, maybe in the first hundred. It didn’t happen. Now, two days ago an image was explored that I uploaded merely to be able to link it to a forum page. It feels something like: “Ok. he’s really been trying, so let’s give him an Explore appearance.”
    I really suspect that kind of thinking of “the algorithm” or rather the people behind it. This explains also why there are so many “average” photos on Explore. There certainly are some really good ones, most of them in the top ranks, also some spread further down, but in between also images that I would never even consider uploading. I know this sounds vain, but I think you will agree if you examine those images in Explore that don’t catch your eye right away. There is a reason for that. They are nothing special. Just like the one of mine that got chosen. It couldn’t be about favs or comments either, because it had practically none, also views were at maybe 30. I’d consider it by far the least interesting of the last uploads.

    Personally I find it frustrating that the photos are not chosen because they are really good, but mostly for many other reasons.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What an interesting take: that Explore has become a mechanism for encouraging consumption of the Flickr service.

      I could use Flickr entirely as a dumping ground for my photos so that I can link to them from elsewhere around the Internet. But the dopamine rush of being Explored leads me to do things that increase my chances of it. My actions can’t cause a particular photo to be Explored, but they can encourage it — and my success rate is just high enough that I keep trying. Which means that I’m interacting with Flickr on a regular basis.

      Kind of nefarious when you think about it!

  14. pesoto74 Avatar

    It has been a while since I have done much with Flickr. Around ten years ago it seemed like to have a good number of comments/favs per view was a sure way to get on Explore. Ones that came from groups didn’t appear to count as much. Especially the post one, comment on one type groups. I had a friend who would post in groups to get comments/favs and then remove the photos from the groups. She had stuff on Explore all the time. I never went to that trouble, however I did have a few photos get as high as one and I noticed that they did get a lot of comments and favs per view. Sounds like they may have made it more complicated now. Anyway whatever they do I doubt that an actual human is much involved in it other than coming up with the algorithm.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh, Flickr is quite clear: code entirely chooses each day’s Explored photos. Any algorithm can be reverse-engineered and then gamed. The question is, how much time does one want to spend at it for the hollow reward of Likes?

  15. theothersideofbokeh Avatar

    You guys are probably right about a computer doing all the deciding. BUT I stick with my opinion that it is more important to interact with Flickr in the right way than it is to take an admirable photo. There must be some weights in the algorithm that are supposed to make people feel rewarded just enough in order to stick with it.
    I must admit it works on me: Even though I often can’t agree with what’s on explore I still try getting my images explored. It simply is a lot of fun to get all the attention every once in a while. BUT, what I don’t do for it is fish for compliments. I interact with the same rather small group of people that are into the same type of photography and put my images in 5-10 groups to show them around a little.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is easy enough for the Flickr code monkeys to write tracking code to follow our activity in the platform, so I’m sure your observations are accurate.

  16. […] in and dropped of the list fairly quickly (you can read Jim’s explanation of how this works here) so it didn’t really […]

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