Online images – 500px, 1x, and Pixoto

Most photographers like to post their work online, and at some point in time, many begin looking for something better than “Flickr”.  Pinterest has received a lot of attention, but the problem with Pinterest is they are about everything, and photography is just a small part of what they offer.  It’s hard to not get lost in a crowd, so why a way bigger crowd?  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t the best avenue to present a portfolio.

Many photographers are looking for feedback from an audience more educated and less emotionally attached than their friends.  There are many avenues, posting pictures to various forums (such as fredmiranda.com), but a few web sites are built around the premise of providing some type of feedback.  The type of feedback and it’s value is important, and here I discuss three. Most sites are structured similar to one of these three.

The basic premise of all three is a way to “rate” the images to provide feedback to the photographer, but the difference in how they approach rating the images is different, each with strengths and weaknesses.

500px offers a system where images that are uploaded can be reviewed by other members.  Those viewing images can “like” it, which promotes it up the ranks and if popular enough makes it available for various purposes.  So the members themselves rank the images … even though many are not qualified to do so.   I would also question whether the skilled photographers who are pretty confident of their work are doing much reviewing – they probably aren’t using the site for feedback and aren’t as interested in what others are shooting. This means those who are in the process of  learning and perhaps not very qualified are the main ones reviewing,  I guess what I’m saying is if you are using any of these sites to get an honest idea of how your work stacks up it be careful.  At 500px, you will get people voting for your image, telling you how much they like it and then mention or ask if you might want to check out their images.  So it’s more of a popularity contest – a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality.  The good news is the overall work is a level above somewhere like Flickr, and the images are presented in a nice way. Here you control what is on the site, and you can even use the site to have friends or others see your work.

1x tries to take a more advanced approach as their main feature is it is a juried site, so only the “best” work gets shown.  Admittedly the overall quality of work on the site is pretty good.  However, there are a couple of fundamental flaws in their approach which makes it unappealing for me.  The site allows you to make a portfolio, but nothing unique about that.  The purported purpose of the site is to create an overall experience to display only the best images, meaning you don’t have much control over what they choose to display.  Obviously they feel by choosing an image it’s like giving you an award or something, but if you look at their business model, it’s about leveraging the work of photographers to create a fulfillment site, nothing more.  The process is you submit images to their “professional” jurors who decide whether to include the image.  The issue here is that process is arbitrary.  For example the statement is made about submitting “unique” images, so don’t bother submitting images of piers. Really?  Just because some others submitted pier shots before me that disqualifies mine?  Each image should be reviewed based on it’s own merits and qualities without concern as to being similar to other images on the site.  Otherwise, don’t bother coming because someone beat you to it.  It also appears the image is reviewed by a single juror, and that’s never good.  Personal biases are impossible to disregard.  A panel of several is really necessary if you want to correctly jury something like this.  You don’t get an explanation of why an image was rejected.  They do have a critique option, but the critiques are not by the jurors.  If you upload a nice image for critique it will probably get all kinds of nice comments, but then if you mention it was rejected suddenly everyone will become an expert with all the reasons why, when in fact the actual reason might be the juror personally has taken a similar shot which they believe is better. (Did I mention 1 juror is never a good idea?) Finally after reading up on the jurors and looking at some of their work, it is debatable how qualified they are.  Perhaps adequate may be a better term, but then again that’s why multiple jurors is really a necessity to make this a good approach.

Finally we have pixoto, which has a pretty unique approach.  When you submit an image you must describe some information about it, then it goes into image duels.  The duel process is where viewers are presented two images that are determined to be somewhat similar by their descriptions, and the viewer selects the one they like best (there is a skip option which probably isn’t used as much as it should be, because both images are really not very well done or they don’t relate to each other well enough).  Once a member, voting in duels awards you points which allows you to upload more images.  Here again the cream is supposed to rise to the top, and it sort of does.  The problem is the qualifications of those judging the battles – and it shows as you look through the most popular images.  In the landscape category a lot of pretty pictures, most a little over saturated.

The caveat of all of these sites is they don’t exist to help you be a better photographer, they only exist to make money.  So whether you learn anything or get any useful feedback isn’t their concern, and they are quite content with the concept that their users think they are getting great feedback. All 3 try to monetize their business in various ways by marketing some of the work,  pixoto as sort of a “stock” agency approach, the others by printing. Whether that’s good or bad, hard to say.  Maybe good for a few, but there are so many images on the sites as to overwhelm potential customers and dilute any opportunity for presenting your image as opposed to someone else’s.  Obviously good titles and good key wording are critical, but here again you get lost in the crowd, and you have people considering whether buying your image or another similar one based on looking at little online jpegs.  Not too professional, and certainly not an avenue from someone really trying to take their work to a higher level, where much of the value is based on the artist, not just the image.

I’m sure there some photographers that submit to all 3, and perhaps others (there are several more similar sites). As to whether you participate I guess it depends on what you are after.  If it’s recognition all three offer a different way for that, and to some degree all 3 are successful at it.  All three approaches have their disadvantages but I’m not sure a “pure” system is viable economically so perhaps this is a good as it gets. If you are looking to do an online portfolio and offer your images for sale, something like Zenfolio (who I use), Photoshelter or Smugmug seems a much better way to go.  But who says you can’t do both.  I won’t say there isn’t any value in them, because they certainly offer a little bit of a learning experience, but don’t put too much stock in getting high marks on any of the the sites.

 

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