tested all cursors on side blog so they should all work

The thinking man’s guide for photographers on tumblr - Part VII Tags and searches

So I’ve been asking you the reader the question of whether you feel there is any benefit to tagging your photographs. From the responses I got 78.6% said yes, 14.3% said they didn’t know and just 7.1% said no. Some of the phrases used included; it definitely matters; tagging photos is critical and tagging is one of the most important things you can do. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to argue for and against here only to start looking at tags in more focus.

I was curious to find out what photographers use when they search on Tumblr and I was keen to know the three keywords they would generally search in regards to photography if indeed they searched at all. Some were incredibly honest and added non photography searches but I will take those answers to the grave with me out of respect - You know who you are if you are reading this right now. Also quite a few admitted that actually they never use it at all or found if they did they didn’t find it useful in terms of what they were looking for but more about that later.

I’d like to say there were some great surprises in there but to be honest in the main it was just as you would probably expect. The photographers who responded who are also curators of other reblogging sites all stated ‘photographers on tumblr’ within their three and I would echo that as someone who uses it and searches for it too when looking for photographs to publish here.  If you take photographs and you post to Tumblr then using this is a given.

What followed from there is pretty much industry standard for the most searched tags; landscape, black and white, architecture, nature, macro, street photography and still life.

There are those who search out more specific interests like locations, models names or photographers names which they use for research purposes or inspiration.  One person mentioned Fuji x-t1 which I guess in hindsight is the camera they shoot with and it’s not unknown for smaller communities to pop up around brands so it’s certainly worth considering. I know that Leica owners frequently add that to their photographs probably on the basis it gives them an air of prestige in the same way that Rolleiflex owners do to give them an air of being cool. Let’s face it Rolleiflex camera’s do look cool. Is there an added benefit to adding the camera maker you shoot with to your tags? Well actually yes – I know that Canon and Nikon both have a host of brand ambassadors that work for them a lot of whom were found from their web pages. Now please note I’m not claiming that they were discovered on Tumblr but if you do have your own external site or use the likes of Flickr etc which are considered to be more ‘high end’ sites for photographers then I think it’s a great way of potentially getting noticed if you were looking to build a career as a photographer long term. There is of course more to it than that but it’s just something to consider.

If you are looking to gain more notes from those who aren’t photographers and wish to target a wider audience then the advice is to tag what you see. Whilst it might sound a laborious process quite a few have pointed out to me that they have gained likes from city names, tagging butterflies, rainbows, sunsets and so on rather than just using the umbrella of nature. 

The five tag myth

I have heard this many times from many people and even found myself saying it to other new users early on. I had it twice stated to me in the responses given to the two questions and I regularly see it in posts from Photos Worth Seeing that only the first five tags are used in searches. I don’t know if that was the case when Tumblr first started or is an urban myth fuelled by Pete (who Stephi tells me writes the posts - love you really Pete) but Tumblr’s official line is that the number is twenty and I quote the following from the guidelines;

  • You don’t need to put a tag in quotes or start with a hash symbol (#).
  • Hit enter to separate each tag.
  • Only the first 20 tags on a post will show up in searches. After that, you’re just tagging for show.

I will no doubt still have people that will tell me it’s 5 after reading this even though Tumblr say it’s 20 or that it doesn’t work. I had a curator tell me the name of a specific user who always tags a specific tag sixth and claimed it didn’t work. I typed it into the search bar and it was the first post on most popular. I’m not here to start a war people I’m just telling you what Tumblr states in its guidelines. So if you’re tagging above 20 then numbers 21 onwards are obsolete and you are wasting your time.

So why should you tag or why should you avoid tagging your photographs?
I know I said that you should use photographers on Tumblr as a standard tag but what benefits does it really have. Well from a curators point of view such as my own it’s like a safety check that what I’m about to post has been created by that person and I’m not reblogging copied work from someone else. It’s not a guarantee I know but it’s a starting point for me at least to start to check. Given every curator who responded said they used it in the main it allows sites like this and others to find original work to reblog. So if you want to have your work shown to a wider audience then carry on using it.
But, and there’s always a but, it seems that very few photographers actually admitted to searching the tag which means that in the main one suspects we don’t actively engage in trying to find other users and let them come to us and then make a decision based upon what we see as to whether we follow them back or not.

Those who read the last blog will know I mentioned ‘The Fishermen’ a phrase I coined to describe photographers who follow you, dangle their rod in your direction without liking anything on your page and see if you bite. It’s quite obvious to suggest that photographers are most likely to follow other photographers in the same way that you might imagine a school canteen structure exists all over the world. Let me explain that to you. If you were to walk into a school canteen at lunchtime and observe each table and who is sat at them you would find in the overriding large majority of schools that similar types of people naturally segregate themselves from others and there is rarely any cross over. So the footballers sit with other footballers, the musicians with fellow musicians, the scientists with scientists and so on down the line. So it’s logical to assume that if you’re fishing for followers you target those who share an interest first and the easiest way to do that is to search ‘Photographers on Tumblr’ and follow all that appear in that list. So if most users who aren’t photographers aren’t actively seeking out photographers in that manner than you could logically argue that those who do fall into the category of fishermen.

Stop using the photographers on tumblr tag and you potentially save yourself a lot of time wasters especially if you really aren’t interested in having your work reblogged. Flip side it - if you do use it seemingly the only real benefit is to state all us curators admit to checking it on a daily basis. I know there will be exceptions to the rules and not everyone is made from the same mould but I can only judge on the information and feedback presented to me.

It’s not going to be just fishermen either that are going to target specific tags but I guess that’s probably no surprise to you if you’ve been using Tumblr for more than a couple of months. Now one surmises that a lot of these things are driven by some sort of algorithm even if Tumblr asks us to prove we’re not a robot when we sign up. But I shall share with you the story from one user who told me that; “I used to tag photos of my black and white cat #tuxedo cat, but I got too many follows from spam blogs for weddings.” Yes it seems that either there are some really stupid spammers about or you can argue the case for algorithm’s which search out key words but either way it is seemingly relentless and something we all suffer from so like I said in the last post if you’re happy with the level you are at in terms of followers etc maybe switch off the search facility full stop or if you really aren’t worried about being reblogged don’t use photographers on Tumblr. It seems sad to have to even suggest it really but I guess that’s the world we live in.

Using the search facility to your advantage

There are two great ways to search that I know loads of people will go – I know that already but trust me given I only learned one of them this morning there will be others too… Please let there be others too…

Now please bear in mind what I’m about to write really depends on how good someone is at tagging their photos they post in the first place. If they’re really bad or don’t do it then it will draw a blank. But if they are great then it pays dividends.

I am going to present this as if you’re using a desktop just for reference.

With your dash open you will obviously be able to see either an endless scroll of posts or if you’re like me pages of ten posts at a time. If you want a quick way of searching through a specific users posts who you follow for a specific theme, let’s say landscape then do as follows;

Place your cursor over their user name shown in bold and this brings up the little box with three photos as described in the last post. As you probably all know by now if you click on the name in bold it brings up a new sidebar on the right of the page and you will be able to see the last post that person made and there is a scrollbar to help you go down. At the top is a magnifying glass which if you click on it, it will activate a drop down list of tags used by this user. Thankfully @lichtwelt tags properly in the example I’m testing as I write and I can select ‘landscape’ and there I have all the landscape posts they have made. To close the search option click on the magnifying glass again and Esc to close the panel on the right totally.

Ever noticed that my first hashtag is always the users name as it appears in the bold caps at the top of that person’s original post? Well I’m not totally crazy and the logic is that if I think did I maybe blogged a post before I can bring up Manual Iris in the side bar, type the name into the box and it will bring up any posts of yours that I have featured. Well almost all, maybe not all of July and August but certainly September onwards. See there is logic in case you ever wondered but were afraid to ask!

Searching multiple tags

The other cool one that I will own up to not knowing until this morning is being able to search multiple tags at once. Again there will be many people going I know that already but there will be a few of us going actually I didn’t and given one of the reasons people gave to not using search is that they didn’t feel it worked for what they wanted to find this could be a good one.

So in your top left of your desktop you will see the magnifying glass and the words search Tumblr. For my example I want to find something to reblog for tomorrow so I am going to use

#photographers on tumblr #black and white #landscape

Please note I have included the # and spaced between each one and only hit enter after typing in all of the above. Copy and paste it if you want to see if it genuinely works.

In my search results I actually genuinely have something that for me is worth wading my way through now by combining my search. If I was to just use black and white I find the majority of posts aren’t even photographs for example. Now me being me I switch to most recent and I find – two portraits in colour – but both have been unhelpfully tagged landscape and black and white though to prove a point about twenty tags @deersincemeteries in this post

as you will see tagged black and white as the third tag, photographers on tumblr as the fifth and landscape as something like the fifteenth (I don’t know I got kind of bored counting but it’s a long way across her long list.)

But if you want to argue the point that only five tags will work then please try it for yourself. I’m not Derren Brown an this isn’t a setup or a scam. This was genuinely at the point of writing what appeared. While you’re at it if someone would like to tell the user the difference between a portrait and a landscape photo and/or colour and black and white please feel free on my behalf because personally I don’t have the patience.

Thank you for reading as always.