Sharing Your Photos Online, What Site Is Best For You?
I have always had a love for the visual arts. As a kid I constantly was shooting and editing snowboard and skateboard videos with friends, as I grew older I got more and more into photography. In June of 2007 I purchased my first DSLR to start shooting hardcore punk rock shows, and soon after made a Flickr to share my work with the rest of the world. 5 years and some change later Flickr seems to be on the decline, and I am left wondering, “what now?”
The internet is the strongest promotional tool we have at our disposal. A virtual unknown photographer can rise from nothing in their small rural town in the middle of Kansas, to being a super star in the photo world. Now I am not saying that just posting your photos to the internet is going to get you fame, or better yet work, but it has definitely turned us into a world community of photographers.
When I started posting my work to the internet there wasn’t much for social networks. I had a Myspace to promote myself, Facebook was just for my friends, and then I had a Flickr, which was like a hustling and bustling online metropolis of photographers. Now the tides are turning, 500px is the new kid on the block and it seems less and less people are using Flickr these days. After some deep thought on the matter I decided to weigh out the pros and cons of several photo sharing sites to figure out what is best for me. I took a look at Flickr, 500px, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. I know there are more out there, but these seem to be the biggest contenders at the moment. Also before anyone mentions Google+, I have heard great things about it, but when I asked 10 random people via text if they use Google+, 6 said “no,” 3 said, “wait that’s still around?” and 1 said, “what’s that?” With those answers I figured as great as Google+ might be, it wasn’t worth the research time for this piece. I also tried to get an invite for the new Myspace, because it is supposed to cater more to creatives, but unfortunately I couldn’t swing one. So without further adieu, here goes the journey.
Pros: One of my favorite features of Flickr are the groups. I learned so much about off camera lighting just from hanging around in the strobist group back in “the day.” Flickr also has some powerful search options, not only can you search for keywords, but you can search for groups, you can search for photos from specific camera models, date, time frame, CC or copyrighted photos and so much more. Flickr also tends to attract more people who post news and entertainment related photographs, which is mighty helpful for media outlets looking for pictures from specific events. A few years ago Flickr teamed up with Getty images, allowing members to sell some of their photos through the world famous stock agency. Also if you have a paid account with Flickr you get access to some pretty powerful statistic tools which are not only fun to look through, but also incredibly helpful and insightful.
Cons: Once upon a time Flickr looked awesome, but as the web grows and evolves, Flickr seems to have been stuck in time. In 5 years I haven’t seen any major changes to Flickr at all other than how photos from my contacts are displayed. I know the methodology “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but Flickr is showing it’s age and well, it might be time for them to shake things up a bit. The comments on Flickr, while at times can be insightful, are often atrocious. For some reason so many users of Flickr find it necessary to present “awards” via comments, and these “awards” are normally reminiscent of the spinning, sparkling gif images 14 year old girls adorned their Myspace profiles with in the early 2000′s. The ability to embed images into comments coupled with Flickrs dated interface makes for a horrible viewing experience at times, and really messes with the ability to have conversations of any substance. As of late Flickrs activity seems to be dwindling, many people I once followed on Flickr have disappeared, and many groups I once frequented have turned into e-ghost towns.
Pros: The first thing one notices about 500px is it’s interface. The pictures are large and the interface is very sleek. They give you a lot of options when uploading photos to add every detail you could think of to the photo. You tend to get immediate interaction on your photos from the 500px community when you upload them. They have a personal store option, allowing you to sell prints of your photos. This is an awesome feature. There is also a pretty straight forward voting feature allowing people to “Like” your photo, giving it more or less “pulse” as they call it. 500px also has paid accounts, much like Flickr, which give you more uploads, unlimited sets, advanced statistics, portfolio pages, and more.
Cons: For a free account you are only allowed 10 uploads per week, for me this isn’t much of a big deal now, but at a point in time when I was shooting 2+ shows a week with 4+ bands on a show, this would not have worked out for me at all. The interaction you get from the community soon after uploading your images seems to fade out really quickly. Today I uploaded some photos to my account, of the 9 I uploaded, 3 became “popular” according to 500px. My email was going nuts with notifications on the images for about 2 hours, and now roughly 9 hours later everything is silent again. So I would say the interaction on your photos is fleeting at best. Searching on 500px is alright, but compared to the complex search options on Flickr, it is pretty depressing. The biggest downfall for me though is the lack of groups. I would love to be able to join and post to groups on 500px more specific to my photographic interests, and to network and discover other photographers with similar interests. 500px really needs to implement groups.
Pros: Everyone uses Facebook. Ok well maybe not EVERYONE, but I mean my parents, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, even my 10 year old sister, they all have Facebook accounts. Having a Facebook these days is about as common as owning a cell phone, and because of that, posting to Facebook is a good call for pushing your work to the masses. Facebook also allows people to create groups, and I belong to a few groups (including our own Fstoppers group) filled with helpful and insightful photographers. Being able to network with people is a great feature of Facebook. Fan pages are another big selling point for Facebook. Originally if I wanted people to see my work on FB I had to be friends with them, but thanks to the addition of fan pages now anyone, anywhere can follow my work I choose to post to Facebook.
Cons: PHOTO QUALITY. Seriously, for the largest social networking site on Earth which boasts to host more than 10,000x times the amount of photos in the library of congress, you would think they could do a little bit better. I check “high quality” on my photo uploads there, and it still looks like Facebook has swallowed my photos and then puked them back out for me. I know this might just be something that photographers notice, and the average viewer won’t, but on the flip side if I am trying to appeal to possible creative directors or clients or anyone really, I am always praying that they click the link for my portfolio which I add in the description of every photo I upload now. Facebook isn’t a dedicated image sharing website, so it definitely lacks search features like other dedicated sites have. They have incorporated statistics into fan pages now, but they don’t even scratch the surface of what Flickr does. Finally my biggest gripe with FB is their constant quest to steal every dollar from my pocket. Once upon a time my images were seen by most of my fans. Now when I post if I even want to reach a decent percentage of them I have to fork some money over to Mr. Zuckerberg and friends in hopes that it pays off in the end.
Pros: Well Tumblr isn’t a dedicated photo sharing website either, in fact it is a “micro-blogging” service. With that being said, I would make an educated guess and say 85-90% of their posts are photos. Tumblr is a great place to host a blog, especially for photographers who don’t want to actually blog. Tumblr allows you to upload 1-10 photos at a time in a post and write a caption below. You can then tag your posts just like your could on Flickr or 500px and people can search tags. The one great feature about Tumblr is that it allows other Tumblr users to follow your blog, and unlike Facebook, anything I post to my Tumblr will show up on my followers feed. Now if your post garners enough attention your post can possibly end up on the Tumblr spotlight. The spotlight rotates a couple posts for a day or so on the sidebar of Tumblr, so odds are at some point or another anyone logging into Tumblr that day might see your post. Let me put this into perspective for you, my girlfriend posted a photo we shot together to her Tumblr. It quickly gained attention from her followers, of which she only had around 200 at the time, and it made it onto the Tumblr spotlight. 24 hours later she went from having around 200 followers to over 8,000. Now every time she posts over 8,000 people are exposed to her work. Tumblr allows people to “reblog” your posts, but Tumblr makes sure you always remain credited, so if 1 person reblogs one of your photos, it is now shown to everyone who follows them. This is a great way to spread your work around quickly.
Cons: When I first joined Tumblr, it was loaded with little kids who just had “curated” blogs in which they went on reblogging sprees but it felt like no one was ever actually looking at your stuff, just liking and reblogging and moving on. Over the last year or so I have discovered more and more awesome photographers through Tumblr, but it has definitely taken some time for people to come around to the service. If someone follows thousands of people, odds are their feed is updating so often that unless they log in the moment after you make a post, your post might just get lost in the annals of their feed. There is no definitive way on Tumblr to check up on your favorite Tumblrs other than going directly to their page. If Tumblr implemented some sort of list system it could really help out with this. Tumblr isn’t a dedicated photo sharing site, so organizing your photos into sets or groups is near impossible, although you could create a specific tag for specific photos, and then create a link which would just load those specific photos when clicked, but that’s a little over the average web users head. Tumblr is definitely a nice place to post your work and to host a simple blog, but as far as being your primary source for image sharing, you might want to look elsewhere.
Pros: Instagram is instantaneous. Much like Tumblr, people follow you, and as you update your IG it pushes directly to your followers feeds. Instagram allows you to tag other users as well as hash tag your images which allows for better networking and some halfway decent searching. I think the best feature of Instagram though is that it allows you to push whatever you post directly to Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, and Foursquare. This ability in and of itself is huge if you are spread across a number of social networks like I am. Instagram also just released web profiles, and while you still cannot post from a computer, you can at least easily share your profile with friends across the web.
Cons: Instagram only allows you to post from a mobile device, and this is a big pain in the butt. Furthermore it crops and crunches your photos to a 612×612 pixel square. You can use third party apps to “frame” your photos so they don’t get cropped into a square by IG, but you can’t do anything to prevent it from scaling your image overall to 612×612. Instagram also places an emphasis on preset filters, and while no one says you have to use them, a big complaint from people who oppose IG is that everyone’s photos look the same due to these filters. I will often post photos I took on my DSLR to my IG to help promote new work, but getting them to my iPhone from my computer isn’t really the easiest thing. Just like Tumblr, Instagram in my opinion is a nice tool to help promote your work, but as for an image sharing service for everything you do, I would probably look elsewhere.
So what’s the outcome? Well I think if you are looking for a place to host your image libraries and interact with other photographers Flickr is your best choice (although the user base seems to be dwindling) with 500px pulling up a close second. Facebook is good for hosting your stuff and reaching out to people, but if you are concerned over hosting high quality images, look to Flickr or 500px, but Facebook will make your photos look like… Well their quality will look bad. Tumblr and Instagram are great promotion tools but probably not the end all be all for most people looking for a good image sharing service. Although in the end I think using a combination of these services is a great idea for any photographer looking to get their work in front of more people, especially since all of them are free, or have free options.