How to download your photos from Flickr before it deletes them

Do you still have a lot of photographs in a free Flickr account? If you do, you'd better get them out of there, because the once popular photo-sharing site will soon start deleting them.

Once upon a time, Flickr was a popular photo-sharing site with a remarkably generous free terabyte of storage. Well, all good things must come to an end.

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After SmugMug bought Flickr in 2018 in the post-Yahoo firesale, it's new owner soon realized there was no way it could profit, so it cut your free storage from a terabyte to 1,000 photos. And -- here comes the bad news -- on March 12, 2019, Flickr will start deleting your photos for you.

Do you want to lose your shots of grandma and the kids at Disneyland to an algorithm editing your virtual photo roll? I think not.

You may have more photos on Flickr than you realize. Back when Yahoo ran Flickr, it encouraged users to automatically upload every photo they could from their memory cards and phones. And, with a terabyte of room, many of us did. Now, the bill has come due.

You may not even remember saving these photos. When you look at your Flickr Photostream, the program defaults to showing photographs you've marked as public. To see the rest, go to Flickr/Photostream and view all. You may be in for a surprise.

Which shots will go first? 

We don't know. A Flickr representative said, "The accounts that haven't been accessed in years will be the first to go. We'll be working from the back of the line."

You have two choices: 

  1. You can get a Flickr Pro plan for $50 a year. If you're a casual snapshot taker, this might not be for you. There are numerous free and cheaper online photo services, such as Amazon Prime Photos, Apple iCloud, and Google Photos. But, if you're a passionate or professional photography, you may want to buy in to Flickr Pro.
  2. Your other choice is to get your photos out of Flickr. Now.

Download photos without their metadata

If you just want the photographs without their metadata, select photos from the Camera Roll tab. You can pick them out by data stored or taken. Want to download the lot of them? Just, click on the Roll's top photo, hold down the Shift key, and run down to the page's last photo and click on it. Either way, once you're done picking your images, move your cursor down to the window's bottom. A menu will pop up. From it, chose to download your photos.

This, however, won't let you start downloading your photos. Instead, you must tell the site to create a zip file. When your zip file is ready to download, Flickr will send you a message via its internal e-mail system. This can take some time. A friend with thousands of photos had to wait over a day to get his notification.

You can also download photos from albums. To do this, head to your album of choose, hover your mouse pointer over it, and then click on the down-arrow button when it  appears.

No matter how you pick your images, Flickr defaults to letting you bundle no more than 500 photos per zip file download. In theory, you can download up to 5,000 photos from a single Flickr album. In practice… not so much. Many users are reporting having trouble when they try to package up more than 500 images per zip file.

Downloading a few thousand photos can get very tedious, very quickly. But, that's still better than trying to get your photos with their metadata. 

Download photos with their metadata

Click on your avatar icon in Flickr upper right corner and pick Settings. At the bottom of the Settings page, you'll see the "Request my Flickr data" button. Hit it, and you can choose where Flickr should send you a download link.

Once this link arrives, which again can take a long while, you'll get multiple zip files. 

Unfortunately, the metadata doesn't come attached to your photos. Instead, you'll get a single file containing, by photo name, the JSON-encoded Exchangeable image file format (Exif) metadata for each of your images and multiple zip files containing 500 photos each.

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How do you match photos with metadata again? 

Not easily. ExifTool, a command-line program for Windows and macOS, is your best bet, but you'll need to do a lot of work and have the programming knack to remarry your photos and their metadata.

The easiest way to get your data and photo together without tears is to use a third-party program. 

There are two good choices: 

  1. The first of these is the open-source Flickr Downloader. With it, you download each image separately, but they come down as a constant stream instead of packaged in 500 image zip files.
  2. Another worthwhile choice is Bulkr. You can try it for free, but to get the most from it, you must pay a $29 fee. It shines best for its ability to download your picture's titles, tags, and descriptions to your photo EXIF metadata.

There's a moral to this story

If something sounds too good to be true on the internet, it's not true. 

Eventually, all free services end up costing you something. Before committing your precious photos to any internet service, make sure you have copies on your PC and that they're backed up. They may very well end up being the only copies you can count on getting when you need them.

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