First impressions of 500px

I love Flickr. I joined the site only a few months after my first SLR purchase and it gave me a photographic goal; take a photo that was worthy of my Flickr and its audience. I may take 800 photos on a given walkabout and take pride in putting only the best dozen or so on Flickr. I’ve learned most of what I know about photography from the Flickr community. I can check out EXIF data, read group forums, and most importantly check out other’s photos for inspiration.

I often spend a few minutes every day looking at random people’s Flickr accounts. In general I’ll say something positive or constructively critical. I’ll suggest the user is a bit more selective in what they put on Flickr, which will increase the quality and attract more visitors to spend more time on their stream. Often I’ll suggest techniques that I only learned through trial-and-error. In general these comments are well received.

There’s a lot that I don’t like about Flickr however. The biggest complaint is that it still looks like it’s stuck in 2004. If I link someone to a photoset it opens to a grouping of very tiny thumbnails. Each click reloads a page completely, dissuading most non-parental viewers from clicking on more than a few photos. The second complaint is that there are 10 flickzillion photos on the site today, and no reason not to simply unload the contents of one’s camera onto the site. I don’t expect the Flickr community to be professional quality, but it would be nice if a bit of pride was put into submissions.

When I first heard of 500px.com my first thought was “what the hell does that name mean?” PX could mean pictures or pixels, but why 500 of them? My first reaction to the site itself was that it looked modern. I wanted to click around at people’s photos because it was graphically inviting to do so. The quality of the photos also drew my attention. What was missing on 500px was the picture of a teenager holding up a DVD of Twilight or little Jimmy’s birthday surprise. Random picture pages on 500px looked like the explore page on Flickr.

I decided to join the site and give it a try on the same day I heard of the site. I had reservations as there is currently no uploader pluggin from Lightroom 3. Jeffrey Friedl created an uploader to Flickr that’s so good I usually forget it’s not native to the application. On Jeff’s site he referenced that even though 500px recently released an API, they were being a bit difficult in supporting 3rd party developers. In the end I realized this isn’t all bad. The lack of uploader makes it difficult to select 10,000 Lightroom photos of varying quality and load them all into the abyss of Flickr. If it’s a manual process I need to be selective, and everyone else needs to be selective too.

I chose a few dozen photos and spent 20 minutes uploading them. A batch editor would have been very helpful in adding a “category” to all photos but it goes along with their motto that if everything requires individual care, quality will follow. After uploading the photos, the only task left was to create my biography. It was recommended to be written in the 3rd person so it was very difficult to take it seriously, but I ended up having fun with it. Since it’s doubtful anyone will read it on 500px, here’s the biography verbatim as written on 500px:

Jason McGorty Photography aims to break the paradox established by the professional photographers of his generation. A good photographer is a good photographer regardless of his equipment and the price tags once attached. All photographers with any skill can demonstrate that. But a new concern has emerged from the world of photographers; the increase in cheap SLR equipment and camera phones saturating the market. Hence the paradox; why would one worry about easy access to the equipment if gear is a negligible part of the equation? McGorty’s photography gracefully accepts cheap equipment into the creative equation with the care, eye, and index finger of a professional.

McGorty’s love for photography emerged from his love of live music. Armed with a cheap(ish) 70-300mm zoom lens he entered folk festivals with an eye on the photography pit. Never one to draw attention to himself he happily took photos from his assigned seats. Pointing the zoom lens away from the stage he learned to next love street photography; spontaneous, real and unposed photography that often features unknowing strangers in their element. In his 500px interview, McGorty discusses how posed photography adds a false element to a scene that was once alive, replacing a story with a mugshot. To quote, “posed photography adds a false element to a scene that was once alive, replacing a story with a mugshot”. See?

In addition to specializing in concert and street photography, McGorty also dabbles in the world of macro photography. He ventures outside of the requisite bug and flower shots and has recently featured computer circuits and candy bars in his work. Other preferred subjects include his beautiful wife and daughter.

McGorty joined Flickr in April of 2009 and quickly joined the ranks of the “Pro” community with his generous yearly pledge of $24.95. Just listen to what other photographers have to say about his work; “Great Capture! Feel free to look at and comment on my stream” and “3 little twins u mean triplets stupid”. He effortlessly accumulated many prestigious awards including “Gold Star Award – Level 1”, “HDR Bracket Stamp!”, “HDR Dreams Invitation” and “Exemplary Shots – Flickr’s BEST! (Post 1 Award 3)”. But his awards don’t end there. McGorty averages 9.4 votes per week in Farktography competitions and has come in first place once! Teens and pre-teens alike agree that his daily Tumblr pics are a-okay. He has won 19 Flickrduels.

One of the biggest draws to me what the professional looking portfolios that are created with my photos. If I was to point a potential client to a Flickr photostream I would expect to be laughed at. Let’s do a quick compare. Here’s my new portfolio on 500px and a comparable set on Flickr. That example should speak louder than any hilarious and witty words I could type here.

The fact that 500px is 500 times smaller than Flickr means that there is a much better opportunity to be noticed. After 5 days on the site I have nearly 3000 views and 27 followers. One of my photos made it to the second place spot on their “popular” page with 1500 views in one day. None of my photos have ever been explored, the Flickr equivalent.

500px Popular Page
See? Number 2!

What I’m not sold on is the like/dislike feature. Just like Flickr you can comment and “favorite” a photo which will stamp your image on that photo. The photographer can then link to your stream and return the favor if they’re feeling equitable. The like/dislike feature adds a bit of anonymity to the interaction. Liking someone’s photo raises the photo’s “rating”. A high enough rating and the photo is put in the “Popular” page and tweeted. But there’s also a dislike option. This will, intuitively, drop the rating at a much more consequential rate than “like”. A single “dislike” can kill the photo’s rating and negate 10 or more “likes”. The site defends this as a way to even the playing field. A photo that spends too long on the popular page can be squashed down anonymously giving others the chance to reach the top. However, there’s another use of the “dislike” button that changes the way I use 500px… revenge.

I was cruising the site and came across a photo that was advertised as the photographer’s first bokeh shot. It wasn’t a bad shot, but it could be improved. Since they went out of their way to note it was their “first” bokeh shot I figured constructive criticism would be welcome. I gave some suggestions on white balance and change of focus and moved on. Later I came back to that photo as it was in my “activity” page and noticed that the comment had been deleted. My overall rating, or “affection”, had also gone down for the first time as someone had disliked 2 of my photos. I can’t be certain it was the bokeh user that disliked my photos, but regardless, they have that power. Any photographer can seek vengeance on any negative comment by disliking a few of the commenter’s photos. As a result, comments are generally restricted to the “great shot” variety. In response to the bokeh user, my snarky-ness didn’t let me let it go completely. I added another comment of “Great Bokeh! (Better?)” to the same photo. I have a feeling my sarcastic genius was lost on them.

In conclusion, the portfolio feature on 500px is worth the price of admission and Flickr doesn’t offer anything comparable today. However, the dislike feature censors the social aspect of the site. How could it be improved? I’d like to see the anonymity removed completely. The like/dislike feature makes the site appear less professional than intended as if they’re trying to bridge in the Tumblr and Facebook audience. The idea isn’t completely a waste however. A Like should be tied to a user, and a Dislike the same but should require a comment. If someone said that my framing or focus was uncomfortable, too noisy, or too cliche I may agree and learn from it. If they simply tell me I’m a poo-poo head for not loving their work I’d know it’s a vengeful comment I could safely ignore.

2 Comments

Add yours →

  1. I love the 500 px portfolios! I also like the flickr, but you’re right, the interface is more professional. The street photography collection is my favorite, i look forward to seeing how many sensitive photog’s will take revenge on your shots with the dreaded dislike feature. . .

    Like

  2. I really appreciate your biography, as well as your review of 500px. My primary criteria for a site such as 500px is to share my photographs with others, get constructive feedback, no ads, and have a community that is looking to improve their photography (and help me improve). I do not want a site that is just a dumping ground for every Christmas photo ever captured. I have tried Flickr, Photobucket, and SmugMug, and they do not meet my objectives. Thus, I hope to give 500px a try.

    I found your “Paradox of Professional Photographers” interesting. I am certainly a novice when it comes to photography. On relative terms, I am a good photographer. I do see photographers debating “Professional vs. Amateur”, and I do not understand. A good photographer is as you say, a good photographer. I view a Professional Photographer as someone who has selected photography as a career, and it is their primary source of income.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: