How to Judge a Good Photo via Social Media

It’s time for me to beat my favorite dead horse: metrics. I talked ages ago about The “Like” Trap and more recently The Problem with Metrics and I don’t feel any differently about any of it now. But Me2’s post yesterday on how he chooses his Little Book, plus events in my own life, compel me to revisit this issue.

We are all looking for some combination of validation, encouragement and feedback for our photography. Most of us enjoy sharing our photographs with family and friends; it is the rare person who is able to create work with the intent of keeping it private (Vivian Maier comes to mind, but even that example is debatable.).

The number of followers and the number of likes you receive for any photograph posted to social media only hints at how good (or bad) a photograph is. I think we are all aware that our follower numbers are padded with what is affectionately referred to as ghost followers. You know those accounts that are inactive, spam or people who are just plain lurking. That is why a simple like, or ratio, or any metric for that matter,  is never enough to give you a clear view of the success of a photograph.

Personally, I think the best way to judge the quality of a photograph is sales. But considering that this is not a feasible method for most of us (myself included) to judge the success of a photograph, I look to comments as the next best indication that an image has connected with a viewer.

I am lucky that even when I post a rather questionable image, there are a few stalwart friends that I can count on for a positive response (thank you @goldnessie, @amwfotos, @dansolotoys and @darrencroft to name a few). But it is the other images, the ones that get 20-30 comments, those are the ones that I think are the most successful.

For example I published this image recently and the total “likes” was 500+, but there were 21 unique comments on the image; some from people I had not heard from before.

V For Vendetta

Versus this image with 900+ “likes” and 25 comments.

Mythical Creatures
I believe in dragons, fairies, good men and other mythical creatures.” – Unknown

How do you tell which images is the better image through the social media lens of likes and followers? You can’t! But when you look to your comments you can get a sense of how well an image has connected with your viewers.

My point is, looking to metrics to solve the age old question of “what are my best images” is a continuously shifting target that isn’t worth your energy pursuing. The best images are the ones that speak to you, the ones that mean the most to you, the ones that you would hang on your wall with pride. No number, no metric, no outside validation can replace what you know in your heart of hearts, is a true reflection of you.

If you need outside validation, then look to your comments; look to your fans and what they’re saying. But really, the only person to know what are your best images, is you. This is not the easy way to choose a “best of” book, because making choices is hard, but in the end you will learn something from the process of choosing.

~ xxSJC

I don’t mean to come down harshly on Me2’s method, I know he was giving anyone who doesn’t know where to begin a few tools to get started. I only hope you will choose your best of images based on a criteria other than someone else’s view point. 

Many of your are well on your way to finishing your “best of” book, how did you choose your images? Do you think that looking at your most liked images or did you do like I did and throw all the rules out the window before you even started?

Have you signed up for the best of 2015 challenge? There are only a couple of spots left, you don’t want to be left out!

Mr Steel
“Mr. Steele” is my most liked photo ever; is this because of the photo or the subject? By the way, I didn’t even consider this image for my “best of” book. Not because I don’t like the image, but because i don’t think its better or worse than the ones I did choose.


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8 years ago

Shelly, thank you for this most interesting post. Having chosen my twelve for a second time I could think about this subject a little longer (for about a year). I absolutely agree that there is no right neither a wrong way on how to select “only” twelve images. I admit I didn’t opt for metrics when picking the shots for my book. Yet I’m thankful for every (!) idea on how to. Even though Me2 went for likes and popularity the most important question to ask oneself when thinking about including a picture or rather not was his suggested third… Read more »

8 years ago

This post feels so spot on for me. I’m pretty new to using Instagram for my toy photos but it’s obvious people tap the heart more than they comment. Although I get more comments than I do on Flickr! I am a long term Flickr user and over the last couple of years, it has become more and more obvious that people who used to comment have stopped and just hit like now. If they engage at all. I have far more views than likes these days. Maybe they just don’t like my photos now as they have changed from… Read more »

8 years ago

The secret sauce of metric algorithms :) I will not argue that comments is another dimension to add to the mix. Most probably a very powerful fourth dimension to measure engagement (did you see number three), but if you are not one of those powerhouses that is engaging in #toypops to grow your audience and boost your likes or play the #tagging powergame to get more engagement, the likes of your online friends are a genuine measurement and a very good first start. The reason why I would not put comments over genuine likes, is that comments can be misguiding… Read more »

8 years ago

I think the difficulty here is what do we define “good”. Are the best pictures the most popular ones, the ones with highest quality, or the ones we prefer, or something else? Likes and comments both measure popularity and IMO popularity is not what should matter. The only time when I find useful to work with these metrics is when I have two very similar pictures and I don’t know which one I prefer. It happened for one picture of my book. I tried to look on both Flickr and Instagram at the number of likes I had on the… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Maëlick

Reading back my comment I realized I said that “comments measure popularity”. And I want to add/clarify that I meant it for the number of comments. Obviously I do believe in the usefulness of individual comments. They give a useful qualitative feedback, but not a quantitative one.

8 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

I don’t know if I would go to the point of stating that the only opinion that matters is the creator’s but we surely shouldn’t be too much driven by the opinion of others.

Putting that aside I agree the opinion of someone else is often useful. That’s the reason why I originally started to put my photos online. On the other hand I regret that people often gives a positive feedback. While it feels reassuring, it does not help as much as a good critique does to improve our work.

8 years ago

Shelly, Great post. I think about this quite a bit. I have a theory that the more one comments the more he/she receives comments…That makes sense – engage and be engaged. If that’s partly true, to use number of comments to measure quality may not be the whole story (as you have said too)…”That’s the greatest image in the world!”

8 years ago
Reply to  Shelly


A meet up is in order:) I’m in Spain in March, Missouri & Minnesota in June, here in NC in July…come visit!!!

8 years ago

There is one more factor that affects this thing, not present in Instagram but very much so in Flickr, and that is the number of views. Comments are mostly genuine and sincere, but there are also those who are reaching for a favor in form of comment returned. It doesn’t make them false or dishonest, but they have an agenda which is sometimes quite evident or even direct. That makes it difficult to estimate their significance. It’s the level of engagement in the comments that matters, but it doesn’t translate to numbers. Same goes for the likes and faves. This… Read more »

Lyn Miller-Lachmann
8 years ago

If I were to choose a “best of” (which I’m not going to do), I wouldn’t just choose the audience favorite but rather photos that captured key moments in my year — my last photo of the township in my old house, my first full-size modular MOC, the custom minifigs I made to commemorate my latest book, a photo from the month I spend each year in Portugal. Then again, I take photos primarily for myself and share them on Instagram with people who maybe enjoy them, the photography equivalent of people who self-publish not to be the next 50… Read more »

Mike H
8 years ago

I used to think that “likes” didn’t matter, and that the creative process was it’s own reward. I’m not so sure now. Not posting much through the summer means I’ve missed out when the community has moved on. People drop out, and new folks get involved. In the past I was often getting a good number of likes and I think I took it for granted, so it wasn’t important. Now, getting less validation, makes me feel that images aren’t as good as they were. So hopefully it’ll encourage me to work that bit harder and get more involved ☺… Read more »

Captain Kaos
8 years ago


now I have no idea how to chose my pictures

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