This is the second installment of a series of posts where I review the photo sharing sites that I frequent. My posts are not meant as in-depth investigations of the pros and cons of the various sites, but rather my impulsive thoughts based on my sometimes rather infrequent activities. In other words, any negative comments I make are probably completely unfair, because surely, if I had invested more time and energy (and money) in each site, I would have gotten more out of them.
But the thing is, I believe I’m probably like most users in that I don’t have the time to systematically and strategically build up a following and become really popular, or have the money to buy myself more exposure – and even if I did, my pictures are probably not good enough, anyway.
So, 500px… what can I say? There’s no doubt you will find some of the world’s most amazing photographers posting there. Go to the “Discover” section of 500px and you will see some of the best images you are likely to ever lay your eyes on and that each receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of likes from other users. There are multiple categories, all with beautiful pictures, but the “Landscapes” category and “People” category - also known as “pictures of seemingly under-age, Lolita-style Russian girls posing half-nude” – seem to be the most popular (why are they always Russian? And with such a big country, why don’t they have beautiful landscapes to shoot, too?)
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to see an “all-time most popular pictures on 500px” list. Maybe such a list would just be too dangerous to look at as you might overdose with awe. What is certain is that if such a list exists, I won’t be represented. Why? Because here’s what happens when I post one of my pictures on 500px - and mind you, I only post pictures on 500px that I’m certain are masterpiece that will finally secure me a place among photography legends such as Trey Ratcliff, Ansel Adams, and Peter Lik:
1-5 minutes after posting: my picture receives several likes. Every time I refresh the page, more likes have been given. I’m cautiously optimistic that this is indeed my long-awaited breakthrough.
5-10 minutes after posting: I receive an e-mail informing me that my picture can now be found in the “Upcoming” section, which apparently requires in the ballpark of 10 likes. Still sticking to the path leading to fame and fortune.
10-20 minutes after posting: the likes keep coming in, sometimes in bunches of 3 or 4 after each refresh. I pass the 20 and sometimes even 30 likes threshold. I’m getting more and more excited.
20-30 minutes after posting: I receive an e-mail informing me that my picture can now be found in the “Popular” section. This corresponds to a value of almost 90 on 500px’s “pulse” scale, which goes to 100. In other words, I’m 9/10 of the way to the top! I cannot fail. I’m ecstatic and start to make plans to quit my job and become a full-time photographer.
31 minutes after posting: the picture is dead. D-E-A-D… dead. It may receive one or two more likes in the following hours. Then it’s never heard from again. Ever.
The above progression – where reaching “Popular” status is a kiss of death - is pretty accurate of how most of my pictures fare. I’ve had a couple of pictures not reaching “Popular” and I’ve had my famous “Waterfall Vegging” picture reach a pulse of 96.5 and 98 likes. And, for some inexplicable reason, the below picture of an excavator reached a whopping 68.
500px is, of course, more than a popularity contest. You can also sell your pictures and host your portfolio. You can follow and be followed by other members. I have all of 10 followers on 500px. On ViewBug I have more than 400. They don’t make much difference either place, because most following is done not because you like someone’s pictures, but because the more people you follow, the more points you get in some obscure algorithm that may or may not influence how your own pictures fare. And because if you follow someone, chances are they will follow you back.
So, with that in mind, does 500px provide a fair measurement of where you stand as a photographer? Well, it depends. When you look at the top images at any given time, they are for the most part spectacular and well-deserving of their top position. 500px users do tend to bring even the most generic picture showing (Russian) female form to the top as long as it is technically well shot, and even in landscapes you see pictures with a pulse above 99 where you go “Huh? If I posted that, it wouldn’t even make Upcoming”. But overall, the top of 500px is photography at its finest.
However, when you roam the spheres further down in the hierarchy that I do, things are more left to randomness. Scrolling down the landscapes section to the pulse 90 level (you need about 10 minutes to do that) where my submissions usually end their career, the pictures you find are a very mixed bag, from what look like cell phone snapshots to some pretty decent work. I dare say, there are pictures that shouldn’t have made it past pulse 70 and pictures that deserve to be close to pulse 99 (and may make it there yet).
So, no, unless you are both a great photographer and have figured out how to become popular, whether it’s by submitting tons of photos every day, getting hundreds of people to follow you, or whatever, you may not get your due on 500px.
To me 500px is where I go and submit a picture when I feel the need for the instant gratification you get from 30 minutes of showering in likes and, if only for a brief moment, experiencing what the really good photographers must feel when their pictures race to the top on a wave of love. Of course, the disappointment of seeing your masterpieces hitting a wall before they get to play with the big boys is somewhat counterproductive to your confidence boost, but every now and then, when my last failure is but a memory, I try my luck on 500px.