500px: Photo Sharing for Real Photographers (Review)

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Photography – like any creative medium – is fueled by inspiration.  Inspiration can come from a great number of sources, but one of the easiest resources to tap into is the work of others. A great way to improve your own work is to be a fan – I truly believe that.  And so I encourage everyone to do what they can to seek out the photography of others.  These days, with so many photo sharing websites, finding photographers and photos isn’t a problem.  Finding inspiration, however, requires a little more work.  That’s where 500px comes in.  It is a photo sharing website that is designed for photographers.  Real photographers.

The Hole to be Plugged

It would be short-sighted to discuss any photo sharing website without discussing the big sites:  Flickr and Picassa.  There are others, of course, but when someone mentions a photo sharing social network, these are the two that come to mind for most first.  I will not speak poorly of either site.  Both serve their purpose and both are great resources.  I personally contribute regularly to Flickr, and we can’t overlook the fact that it is also the home of our very own Shutter Photo group.  Picassa takes a different approach with an application installed on your own computer that is linked to their website, but the purpose is similar.  Both have their own on-board sharing and commentary as well as exploration and similar photo browsing.

But both have a lot of members that are simply guys-with-cameras.

Guys-with-Cameras – or GWCs for short – are all about documenting their lives.  They share family photos, photos of every meal and 200 pictures of four drunken hours on Time Square before the ball drops.  Friends and family (and voyeurs) may find this great, but there is not much inspiration to be found for photographers.  Hell – the most popular camera on Flickr right now – of all the photos uploaded – is the iPhone.  We all love the iPhone, but isn’t The Best Camera and Instagr.am better for those shooters?  Sure, there are plenty of photographers on both sites…but finding them among all of the GWCs is difficult.  It’s a pretty awful signal-to-noise ratio.

500px is The Plug

 

500px Interface

500px Interface

500px is a smaller site (at least for the time being) with a smaller and more specific community of actual photographers.  You’ll find the occasional iPhone shot on the site, but nearly all of the photos are shot with an actual dedicated camera.  More importantly, the photographers that are sharing at 500px are sharing photographs.  You will not find any GWCs here, and you won’t find any snapshots here.  500px is for photography, it is for art, and its niche community has a far better signal-to-noise ratio than any other site that we’ve seen.

I have been a member on 500px for a little over a month now.  Early on, I wasn’t sharing so much as just observing.  But then I started uploading my best works.  I’ve never been one to share everything that comes out of my camera – even my Flickr profile sits well below the average contribution rate.  From the aesthetic to the sheer quality of work on the site – 500px just feels more refined.  The site is not curated for overall content, but something about the culture of the site drives members to curate themselves.

Becoming a member is free, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of what free features 500px has to offer.  If all you need are the basic features, you can hang out indefinitely with the free account.  But if you want a bunch of other bells and whistles, you can upgrade your account – which the site affectionately refers to as making your account Awesome – no joke, they even put an “Awesome” tag next to your name.  Going Awesome – a $50 annual fee – eliminates any upload limits.  It also gives you the ability to link a custom domain to your profile, gives you full control over the display of your portfolio (see More Great Features, below), Google Analytics, and iPad/iPhone ready templates.  Not a bad deal for an up-and-coming photographer.

The interface is pretty simple, which you can see above.  When you’re viewing a photo, the photo is the dominant component of the screen.  The site logo, and even its menus, hold a low profile, taking a back burner to the photo on display.  The right side of the interface displays some brief information about the photographer and the photo.  The large numbers you see are for rating, views and votes.  This is the data behind 500px’s algorithm and I’ll get to that in a moment.

At the photo viewing page, there are a number of actions that you have.  You can add a photo to your favorites – which is pretty self explanatory.  You can also choose to “Like” a photo, which increases the photo’s rating, or you can choose to “Dislike”  a photo which will decrease its rating.  Clicking the Dislike button will request that you give a reason, a deterrent for those who just want to down-vote everyone else’s work (because they’re grumpy, I guess).  Note that on the screenshot above, the buttons are not available because I am browsing my own photo.  Comments (also not shown) are also a natural component of any sharing site and 500px has that too.

The real power behind 500px is their rating system.  Some dislike the concept of rating photos…but we all have it in our nature to do so.  It’s fair to say that a rating system of any kind would tend to make it difficult for nameless photographers to gain any recognition.  But I feel that the way you discover photos on 500px helps to prevent that.  It’s not a perfect system, but I like the way 500px handles it.  We’ll of course discuss finding photos below.  But lets first talk about this rating system.  The rating of a photo is based on a combination of how many times a photo has been viewed (whether or not every person has actually liked or disliked it) and the amount of votes.  Photos that incur a number of likes in a short amount of time with the least amount of views garners a higher rating.  The inverse is also true.  A photo that gets a lot of views but not many votes – in other words, a photo that hasn’t inspired anyone to vote at all – has a lower score.  The score gets plugged into a number of different features on the site, including browsing options….which leads me into…

Finding Great Photos

A sharing site of any kind isn’t worth much unless it’s easy to navigate.  You need to be able to find great photos and, of course, great inspiration.  Fortunately, 500px really excels at navigation.  There are a number of options for finding works.

Did I say the site isn’t curated?  That’s a bit of a misnomer.  It’s true that uploaded photos are available instantly and get pushed into the Fresh gallery (recently uploaded photos).  But there is also an Editor’s Choice gallery, featuring photos that 500px’s talented and skilled editors pick on a daily basis.  If you’re new to the site or if you’re trying to build up your inspiration network, this is usually a great place to start.  Additionally, there is an Upcoming gallery featuring photos that are quickly gaining in popularity.  Finally, there is always the tagging system which allows you to tag your own photos or browse based on tags.  I would like to note, however, that not everyone uses tags.

If you have an account, your home page on 500px becomes a contact sheet for all of the recent works of people you follow in chronological order (based on upload date/time).  If you follow a lot of people, you can browse everything you’ve missed under the Friends gallery.  But this home page is a pretty good starting place for your daily routine (yes, it does become as such).  Aren’t following anyone?  You can quickly find a bunch of great photographers on the Editor’s Choice or Fresh gallery.  If you like a particular photographer, you can also browse their Friends gallery to see what inspires them.  You can even browse their latest activity to see what they’ve commented on or what they’ve liked – even what they’ve disliked.  You’ll likely find other photographers to follow in these locations as well.  All this in an easy to use interface.

More Great Features

For all the great features that 500px has, believe it or not there’s more.  To boot, many of these features are available with the free account.  For any aspiring photographer, some of these components are difficult to pass up:

  • Portfolio – Sure, the main interface is nice, but you want to be able to display your works in a nice and clean way without the rest of the data.  Having a portfolio is a free option, though it has some basic functionality(you can see mine if you’d like).  Members with Awesome accounts get full control over the look of their portfolio, and the portfolio features big photos and its iPad/iPhone ready.
  • Fotomoto for Sales – Fotomoto is a great printing and sales service that is offered free of charge to anyone with a web site.  It just so happens that 500px set up all the integration for you.  All you need to do is set it up and you’re ready to sell.  This is a free feature.
  • Blog – C’mon, everyone is doing it, why not you?  In all seriousness, the blogging interface is a little simple – and a serious blogger wouldn’t really consider it.  But it’s a great place to offer updates about your life, your work and your latest thoughts.
  • Wall – The wall lets you post something directly attached to another person’s profile.  You can use it to commend them publicly.
  • A Great Staff – Seriously, those that I’ve interacted with thus far seem to be generally responsive.  This is perhaps the advantage of a small site, but these guys really care about their members (and no, they didn’t know what I do, nor did they know about Shutter Photo…at least not at the time).  I’ve seen feature requests posted through social networking sites that have been implemented in short order.  And my correspondence with them has been top notch.  You won’t get that anywhere else.

500px does have it’s shortcomings, at least in the opinion of this reviewer.  I do wish they had some sort of system in place for sub-groups like Flickr.  I would like to see a way for people to create a specific sharing sub-community where other photographers could regularly contribute and join.  If such a feature were added, you’d be sure that we’d have a group there.  For that matter, there’s no real good way to organize my photos into sets.  And while there is a system to put a “badge” (a widget) on your own site that shows your latest works, I do wish you had more control over it’s appearance.  Finally, I wish it had a better uploading interface.  I’d even be willing to use some sort of application or tool that would allow me to do bulk-uploads.

Final Thoughts

Is 500px going to replace Flickr or Picassa?  Probably not – though there are a few photographers (Zack Arias) who have deleted their Flickr accounts in lieu of 500px.  For me, I’ll be hanging onto it for a while as I think there are merits to both.  Besides, 500px does not have the group component that is oh so important to a certain online photography magazine (ahem).  But I will say this…browsing around 500px for a single day has been far more inspirational than a whole week of aimless wandering on any of the big two sites.  The navigation is top notch, the interface is clean and the overall aesthetic is – well – aesthetically pleasing.

Plus you’ll be rid of all those Guys With Cameras.

To that end, I will admit that I am loving 500px.  I do visit the site daily, and I am excited to contribute more to my self-curated gallery. At the very least, it’s a great source of inspiration.  If you contribute, I think it’s also a great place to be recognized and gain some traction in this large world of photography.  So why not head on over there and try out 500px.  I’ll be willing to bet that the majority of you will fall in love.

 

 

 

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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