Many photographers would have heard of 500px, a relatively new image hosting site, which focuses on high-quality work. The site has existed since 2009, but has only become very popular in the last year or two.
By all means, Flickr has some great images, and for me it is 'home', but it is used by many people who are not photographers as such, but like to upload 300 straight-from-camera images of the same house party (for instance).
For serious photographers, the key to any site is to surround oneself with the right people - people whose work is a source of inspiration or simple viewing pleasure.
The calibre of work on 500px is outstanding, but of course there is some mediocre snapshot-type material there too; although from what I have seen, there is far less of the latter.
The site works based on a popularity ranking system for images. Viewers can vote and 'fave' images, and votes contribute to what 500px calls an image's 'pulse'. This is a score from zero to 100, and naturally higher is better.
The more popular a photo becomes, the higher it moves up the ranks of the popular images section, which many photographers including myself use for inspiration and pure viewing pleasure.
The secret algorithm behind the pulse system also progressively decreases an image's pulse over time so that new work has the opportunity to work its way up the ranks and gain visibility in the top ranks of the popular images section.
Very similarly to the way the Explore system works on Flickr, a catch-22 situation exists where in order for one's images to gain popularity, one's images must have achieved some level of popularity in the first place.
One naturally needs to upload powerful, evocative, technically excellent images which will attract attention in the first place, but to my mind it seems that there is more to an imaging achieving popularity and visibility than that pure approach alone.
The first issue is timing. Images need to be uploaded early in the 'day' - and I use the term loosely, because it is not known (to me at least) when the 'day' (ie, a 24-hour period) begins. The site is Canadian, but naturally as it attracts members from all over the world, people's days (and the times they have to upload images) varies.
The site unfortunately has a very controversial and unpopular 'feature' called disliking. Quite opposite to liking an image, underneath the option to do so exists an explcit link titled "I don't like this photo".
A click of that terse link detracts from an image's pulse, and from what I have read, a negative vote has a more significant pulse-altering impact that a positive vote.
A few minutes worth of reading the site's support forums will quickly reveal that the dislike feature is extremely unpopular, and many people (myself included) feel that people use this to manipulate the site. Specifically, I have heard of claims that some people whose images are increasing in popularity will go out of their way to cast a dislike vote upon competing images, so that their own images can increase in popularity to the detriment of other people's images.
Unfortunately 500px's staff provide the usual canned response that more or less denies that front page manipulation and vitriolic disliking exists, and that people who suspect abuse should privately email the site's support email address.
If you ask me, I believe the practice of pulse manipulation is rampant.
Yesterday I uploaded an image which has proved to be the most popular and actively voted/faved/commented image in my gallery, and it very quickly rose through the ranks. What I noticed in addition to all the positive responses was that it received three dislike votes, which pushed it further down the ranks.
What I also noticed yesterday was that another image came almost out of nowhere, very rapidly gaining a higher ranking than mine, and later slipping back by a significant amount. I strongly suspect that some people did not like the surge of popularity that image achieved, and went about casting dislike votes to cut the 'tall poppy' down. I was as surprised to see its dramatic fall as its monumental rise.
Personally I believe that kind of behaviour is disgusting, and an extremely low, vile act. One should achieve merit through one's own achievements, not due to manipulation or sabotaging of other people's achievements.
While there are many images on 500px that I do not personally like (art is subjective, after all), I would never seek to actively cast a dislike vote against them. I would rather spend my time clicking on something I do like, rather than engaging in what I consider to be a childish, detrimental act.
By all means, one need not be concerned about popularity. I do not consider myself to be a popular photographer, and being featured on the front page of image hosting sites, while it is very nice and strokes the ego considerably, is not something that drives me or serves as a reason for existing on such a site.
If you can avoid all of the pulse manipulation, 500px is a fantastic site on which to maintain a gallery, and see the work of some truly fantastic photographers. Many of my esteemed Flickr contacts also have galleries on 500px, so I follow their work on both sites.
My own approach is to be quite selective about what I upload to 500px. Of my collection of my personal favourite images on Flickr, not even one fifth of them appear on 500px. I want 500px to represent the best of my best work, so I am selective about what I publish.
The site also offers members the ability to sell images, but a few years ago I made the decision to discontinue selling. Photography for me is not a financial motivator; it is something about which I am passionate, and I shoot on my own terms only. Money does not factor into it. That is just my personal approach.
In summary, if one is not fazed by the popularity ranking system and consequent vitriolic manipulation which I am sure (but cannot prove) exists, 500px has a voluminous collection of outstanding images, which for a fine-art photographer subject to peaks and troughs, can provide enough inspiration to get out and shoot when life's happenings and one's general mood would otherwise stifle that.
Check it out.
Published on Sunday, 22nd July, 2012.