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Photographers find unwitting success with social media

November 14, 2008 |  9:50 am

Mountain Goats

A photo of mountain goats scaling a cliff, featured on Roger Eickholt's Flickr page, was all the rage on Monday. It was plastered on social media sites and around the blogosphere, driving more than 200,000 people to view it.

But nobody told Eickholt, who snapped the photo.

It wasn't until after he received my e-mail, requesting an interview a few days after the photo's popularity had run its course, that the 28-year-old amateur photographer from Alberta, Canada, checked his Flickr account to find his new audience. Eickholt says more than a hundred people added him to their lists of favorite Flickr users, meaning they'll be notified every time he posts a new photo. Before this week, he had two.

When Eickholt analyzed Flickr's link referral page to make sense of his newfound prominence, Reddit.com topped the list. What is Reddit, you ask? "This website talks about current events and stuff like that, I guess," said Eickholt. "I have no idea. I've never really been to those websites before."

Reddit, like all social media websites, is serendipitous. Few know what type of photograph, video or news bit is going to explode, and what's going to fizzle. And often times, content creators aren't the ones who ...

... submit their own links -- they don't discover that their photos had struck gold until later. "It just seems so random," Eickholt said. "You never know what's going to take off like that."

Eickholt doesn't even consider this among his best pictures. "It's interesting, I suppose," he said. "But it's not photographically that great, you know. It's not technically great."

Still, it attracted the attention of U.K. photographic press agency Rex Features. Although he won't be receiving a paycheck, Eickholt is excited about the opportunity to see his photo and name published in magazines and newspapers.

Spring LambSocial media websites have a way of catching photographers off guard. On Digg, the social media créme de la créme, about 16% of all front-page items in the last 30 days were images. That's nearly a photo every hour.

Andreas Junus and Irawandhani Kamarga, art directors for a creative agency based in Indonesia, hit it big on Digg last week. For their picture, called Real Life Photoshop, they recreated the interface of the professional image-editing software in their studio. The project was done as a favor for their friend's software company, which planned to use it to promote Photoshop CS4.

They placed the photo on Kamarga's Flickr page to show their work to friends. But Digg and Reddit users took notice. It's now the seventh most-popular image of the last seven days on Digg, and it was featured on countless blogs, including Gizmodo and Wired. "We never intended it to go viral really," they wrote in an e-mail. "It was for print and poster."

Richard Peters' Spring Lamb photo (above left) also hit Digg this week and racked up a whopping 120,000 hits to the Flickr page in the first two days after it was featured. The self-taught photographer, who now shoots occasionally for a 24-hour news channel in the U.K., says the year-old image is by far his most popular. It appeared in a U.K. newspaper's "viral e-mail of the week" section and won the BBC's Countryfile 2007 competition.

Peters, 30, was delighted with the photo's recent resurgence. "I kind of forgot all about it," he said in an e-mail. "It was fun to keep track of all the comments being made, and some of them really made me laugh, especially the ones that were negative for the sake of being negative."

C Is For Cookie Lakshal "Lucky" Perera abhors Digg for that very reason. The 27-year-old from Wollongong, Australia, had his image, C is for Cookie, make the Digg home page earlier this week -- also without his prior knowledge. For the picture, he shot himself, wearing a swimming cap, in his bathtub, and used Photoshop to duplicate hundreds of homemade cookies and render his body blue and hairy.

While he appreciates the attention paid to his disturbing recreation of a Sesame Street character, the staunch Reddit supporter cringed when browsing the Digg discourse.

"Digg is like YouTube," Perera said in an e-mail. "There's some great content on there, but the experience is ruined for me by the inane and stupid commentary that so many users get involved in."

Here is a sampling of a couple of the most-liked comments on that post: "OM NOM NOM NOM," wrote one user. "COOKIE MONSTER!!!" added another. What's not intellectual about that?

But the fact of the matter is that websites such as Digg are providing a gateway for photographers to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Where else can you find that kind of audience for a snapshot of a mountain goat?

-- Mark Milian

Top photo: Mountain Goats. Credit: Roger Eickholt.

Middle photo: Spring Lamb. Credit: Richard Peters.

Bottom photo: C is for Cookie. Credit: Lakshal Parera.

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