Since Flickr’s redesign, something seemed strange about all the photos in my activity feed. I went poking around in the source code and discovered a slight gradient across the top of each photograph.

The overlay exists to make the photographer’s name visible. This is a common problem in today’s visual web. How do you choose a color for text positioned on top of an image, when that image’s colors and brightness are unknown? White text will blend into bright images, and black or gray text will do the same with dark images.

Flickr’s design is a common solution to this problem: use a semitransparent layer between the text and image. But in this case that layer is a gradient which micmics the effect of a graduated neutral density filter, a tool commonly used to darken skies when shooting a scene with a wide range of brightness levels. Here’s how a photo looks in your activity feed, with and without the gradient layer:

Before and after comparison of the gradient
Side-by-side comparison of a photo with and without the gradient.

The overlay does its job, but I’d like to opt-out. This design significantly changes the mood of many photos, and to me that’s far more important than the visibility of meta data. The Help Forum has a discussion on the topic but I don’t see any official word nor an option to disable. Since browser extensions can modify the source of any given page, I created a Chrome add-on to remove the gradient overlay.

Installing this Chrome extension will change your Flickr activity feed:

  • The gradient overlay will be disabled by default.
  • Hovering the photographer’s avatar, name, or the photo’s publish date will restore the gradient so you can read the text.
  • Moving the mouse cursor away will once again hide the gradient.

Flickr is a great product. There are a few paid services I’ve used consistently over the past decade, and Flickr is one of them. Overall I really like their redesign. The activity feed with its large images looks great, and the new photo page is equally nice. But this one homepage quirk has been bothering me, so I decided to create an option to change it.

If you have any ideas for improving Flickr Gradient Block, it’s open sourced on Github.