Google+ did a lot more than just showcase images with large sizes and great quality, they rolled out features that photographers actually wanted. Sure, the image editing tools are basic and lackluster, but there are some real gems in what Google+ can do. For instance, every image has EXIF data and a histogram available to view — the sort of behind-the-scenes information that prompted Kelby to observe that “it feels like it was designed for photographers.”

Every time you post something on Google+, you can control which circles do and don't see it (image by Thomas Hawk).

This detailed information gives users a glimpse into what goes into making the shots they love. The baked-in integration with Google’s Picasa image hosting service also suddenly meant that many people didn’t have to upload all their images again from scratch, instead just tie the two Google platforms together, and transfer over the prettiest of their shots.

As cool as all these features are — including many more that appeal to photographers — Google+ has become a mainstay due to the community that’s formed around it, and the way that Google+ allows for easy and precise control of sharing. A critical mass of photographers discussing their work has created a huge and excited community. Last month, Google announced more than 400 million Google users have signed up for Google+, and 100 million are using the service on a monthly basis. 

Google seems to have learned a lot from Facebook’s mistakes when it comes to images and sharing content, and Google+ benefits from this knowledge. Sharing controls are expansive and easy to use, and Google+’s Circles mean that a prominent community member can have thousands of followers, and easily choose between sharing to everyone, just their closest friends, or anything in-between.

Every time you post something on Google+, you can control which Circles do and don't see it.
Google+'s Hangouts brings together far-flung users into a group video chat.

The social side of Google+ extends well beyond just sharing images and commenting. Trey Ratcliff has nearly 3.7 million followers watching his every move on Google+, and regularly holds court in “Hangouts,” video chats between as many as 10 people where tips, tricks and information seem to flow freely. These virtual Hangouts have become a breakout star of the Google+ experience, allowing photographers to come together and discuss how they edit, their favorite techniques, gear recommendations, anything under the sun. Hangouts have even branched off into HIRL — hangouts in real life, as people have started holding meetups and photowalks with others in their Google+ circles.

Events are a relatively recent addition to the world of Google+, and have built on the already widespread success of get togethers like photo walks.  

Hawk jokes that the “Events” feature should just be called “Photowalks,” quipping: “The new events pages almost feel like they were specifically built for showcasing photowalks.” 

Everyone seems incredibly impressed by the camaraderie that’s sprung up, and Kelby is happy to call Google+ “the most vibrant photography community anywhere on the web.”

Google, in turn, has embraced the photographic community as a pillar its the social network. When the Google+ iOS app updated earlier this year with iPad support, images received a large amount of attention. The ability to flip through a user’s photo album from your tablet, swooping through huge, gorgeous images was nothing if not a nod to the importance of photographs within Google+, prompting Hawk to dub the app “98% photocentric.”

Google+ app

The Google+ app also has a feature dubbed Instant Upload -- something of a boon for smartphone photographers. Instant Upload makes sharing images from your iPhone or Android smartphone on Google+ that much easier. Once configured, it quite simply uploads all of the images from your device (thankfully, you can set it to do so over wi-fi only to save bandwidth). These images are private by default, but it saves the effort of getting them off your phone and uploading them manually.

Instant Uploads makes syncing images from a smartphone a cinch. 
Imagery is at the forefront even in the Google+ app where photo posts are displayed full screen.

It also ameliorates one of the connections that’s sadly lacking with Google+: Instagram. Recently purchased by Facebook, Instagram is merrily doing its own social network thing, and can easily post to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr or Twitter. Google+? Not so much. But, since Instagram saves files locally, you can couple it with Instant Upload to save your lovingly filtered shots onto the service.

Because Google+ is so intimately linked to Google itself, it also provides a wealth of information and utility for those hustling for link clicks. Google+ has proven to drive Search Engine Optimization spikes as any posts shared over the service get instantly crawled and indexed by Google. The introduction of Google Authorship has meant that the content of your website is linked to your Google+ account, verifying your identity, and helping protect against people who might copy and paste that blog post that you slaved over for hours. People also seem to be more likely to click on a link in search results if there’s a specific person attached to it.

And, for everyone addicted to analyzing the minutiae of Google Analytics and figuring out how exactly your content is getting shared, there’s Google Ripples. This slightly bizarre feature will let you view any public post, and see a chart of how it spread and through whom, as you can see in the example of Colby Brown's "Google+: The Survival Guide for a Photographer's Paradise." Once you get your head around how this chart works, you can quickly see who the hubs of sharing are, and who likes what you have to say — invaluable know-how for getting your photos seen by more people.

This screenshot of Google+'s Ripples features shows how one very popular post has been shared and re-shared hundreds of times.

By far the largest indication of Google+’s interest in photography has been the Google+ Photographer’s Conference held in May in San Francisco. With more than 700 attendees, talks were given by big-name photographers like Kelby and Peter Hurley, and sessions were hosted live over Hangouts. This was a major nod to the photography community, and its importance within the greater sphere of Google+. Topics ranged from photography advice, to software tutorials, to live critiques, to advice on blogging -- everything a social-media-connected photographer would need to know about.

Originally, the conference was designed to be solely about using Google+ but ballooned into covering all aspects of photography, and created quite a buzz — prompting Kelby to dub it “Woodstock for photographers.”

The relationship between photographers and Google+ hasn’t always been perfect — soon after the social network launched, something of an uproar kicked up around the terms of service of site, sparked originally by a blog post by Scott Bourne. While he later clarified his stance, the original post was enough to spark a heavy round of discussion about what rights Google claimed over your work. The worries were eventually decried as FUD, and with companies like Getty Images looking over the terms and not finding anything suspect, the debate disappeared quietly.

Another slightly perplexing issue is the question of nudity on Google+. Technically, Google+ entirely disallows the naked form, stating “We don't allow nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material.” Some have embraced this as a good thing, while stirring debate as well, but images of the nude form have a long and storied connection to photography. Google doesn’t seem to be enforcing this rule unless people complain, and there are nude photography groups on Google+, but falling afoul of this rule could have major consequences. According to Business Insider, breaking Google’s terms of service could mean your entire account gets deleted, which extends beyond just Google+ and into Google’s other services. Facebook has a similar hardline stance on nudity, whereas 500px and Flickr both use content filters to control what people can see.

The relationship between photographers and Google+ right now is fantastic, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. Major players in Google are regular users of Google+, and the Photographer’s Conference had  a surprise visit by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. But one of the coolest signs of this relationship was when Google showed off a really stunning piece of new technology. The day after the Photographer’s Conference, for the first time, Google allowed a group of people to try out the new Project Glass augmented reality glasses, letting some of these famous photographers get their hands (or heads, as it were) into one of the most interesting technological advances in recent years.

The first widespread hands-on of Google's Project Glass was during a photo walk at the Google+ Photographer’s Conference. (images by Brian Rose)

It turns out the Google Glass photowalk was last-minute thing, organized by Google, and a sign of the huge amount of support Google gave to the conference. There’s talk of the event becoming a repeat, and Kelby is hoping that what was by all accounts an incredible conference can be continued in the future, but that ball’s now in Google’s court. Given how much effort Google has put into courting photographers, the prospect of a round two appears promising.

So, while the Internet may still hope that Yahoo! answers its plea to “please make Flickr awesome again,” it seems the smart money might be in getting on board with a company that really seems willing to embrace photographers, and appeal to what they want out of a website.


Tim Barribeau is a freelance science and technology writer based in San Francisco. He's been taking photographs since he got an Olympus OM-10 in High School. You can follow him on Twitter (@tbarribeau) or through Google+, and occasionally see him lugging a Mamiya RB67 through Golden Gate Park.