My long term infatuation with flickr may be my undoing… (skipping past the gripes about flickr’s design changes) (also skipping past whatever monkey goo that Google is offering for your photos) (anything else?).

To me, what’s more important about flickr is what you do not see on the site or the (still partly crippled) mobile app. It’s about the data, man. The metadata, woman. And the API.

Enough pre-amble.

Yesterday, a long series of tweets about cameras and lens started because Gardner Campbell was looking for lens suggestions (his daughter has a neat summer art/photography project)

I still stand by my nifty 50 lens, but that’s not the point.

The thing is when you upload photos to flickr, information embedded in the image travels with it, not only date, but things like the camera model and lens, and much much more. As Tom Woodward pointed out

the Flickrriver site has a great tool that lets you see photos shared in flickr taken with various lenses, so one way to decide maybe how images compare with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D vs the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.

I have a 2009 post on my camera history up til then, but the flickr searches that once worked to list of my photos taken with the cameras seems busted and even with yesterday’s tinkerings, I can’t get the older camera model parameters to work (this links shows all my photos taken with my current Canon 7D).

And down the hole I went…

I found a pair of 2008 blog posts that showed some extra search parameters you can use in flickr search to filter results by aperture and focal length.

It took some playing around, but I ended up doing things like looking for all flower photos taken with a particular camera and setting:


Breaking down the URL, means I am asking for all photos labeled “flower” taken with a Nikon D300 with a maximum aperture of 2.0<strong>camera=nikon%2Fd3300</strong>&<strong>exif_max_aperture=2.0</strong>&<strong>text=flower</strong>

Or I can search for all my own photos where the maximum aperture was 1.6 (my shallow depth of field photos). It says there are 2153 of them, that seems low. I shoot a lot wide open


That first w= string is my user id. It’s left as an exercise for the URL reader to make that a search that shows all photos where the maximum aperture is f/5.6<strong>w=37996646802@N01</strong>&q=&<strong>exif_max_aperture=1.6</strong>

Or flip it to see how many I have where I shoot at f/22 or smaller — the min/max bigger/smaller on aperture is always confusing low aperture numbers is a bigger hole of light and give shallow depth of field; high aperture numbers is a tiny hole and give deep depth of field.


But you can also add elements for maximum or minimum focal length so getting back to Gardner’s quest, let’s compare photos tagged road, where the maximum aperture is f/1.8 and the maximum focal length is 50mm – one can see these are wide open aperture shots of “roads” taken with a maximum focal length 50mm lens


Or for URL readers… (get how it works?)

And we compare that to the same except setting the maximum focal length as 35mm


Does that help pick lenses? Maybe not. There are differences because of different photographers and subjects. But hey, I am not a camera comparison lab.

I just like to monkey around with URLs and hidden search parameters.

How much data goes with a photo? You can explore with the Flickr API Garden for the one that lets you see what the API returns for EXIF data from a single photo. If you plug in the ID for a recent (or any flickr) photo:

get exif

You get a whack sock of information (way more than you can use on the search form). If you scan closely, you might see at the end my own custom metadata that I add to every photo I save in Aperture (good luck getting that feature in the new Apple Photos app), including my creative commons license. This information travels with the original photo whereever it goes (well except for the different size copies that flickr makes, they squeeze out the meta data on derivative sizes).

There is a virtual universe of information you can maybe appreciate, and perhaps start to want to get a better understanding of what can be done with APIs. I am just about one step down that road…

Top / Featured image credits: flickr photo by Leah Gregg shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. You might be interested in PixSteward. It’s a Mac app that pulls down all your Flickr original images, thumbs and metadata and stores them in a relational DB locally, so searching is very fast and you’ve essentially backed up your Flickr account with most of its functionality preserved. After an initial (sometimes painfully long) download, it stays connected to your Flickr account so you can quickly pull down new pictures from Flickr. If you edit the caption/description/keywords locally, that’s done in a live-connected mode so you stay in sync. There’s a video walk-thru at:

    1. That looks pretty amazing, thanks, James! I wonder how it will do with my 43,000+ photos in flickr 😉 I also saw in the docs that you can even write your own SQL queries. Hope to check it out soon, thanks.

  2. Thank you so much for this blog post! My brother was asking me if I liked my Nikon 50mm/1.8 lens. Now I’m able to show him all my photos taken with this lens!

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