There are quite a few different photography communities here online where you can display your work, create a portfolio, and even enter photography contests. Is it really necessary to join all of them? Managing portfolio accounts across multiple platforms can be quite a chore, especially if you want to keep them all current.
Over the years, I have found that it really can be very beneficial to be interactive within several different communities. Other than Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, as well as other various other social media platforms, I have found these particular photography communities to be extremely beneficial to me as a photographer. Short answer, yes, you should think about participating in all of them.
For seasoned members of Fstoppers, none of this will be new to you, but I just want to point out a couple things about this community that have really helped me grow and expand as a photographer. I remember that I first stumbled into Fstoppers because I was in search of a tutorial and the Google search placed an Fstoppers article up near the top. It ended up being the article/tutorial that I was needing for the work I was doing. That's pretty much my first point, this website has a massive wealth of information in the form of articles and tutorials. At this point, I've lost track how many tutorials I've read through and watched simply because I saw them here on Fstoppers.
The other thing that really has helped me is the unique nature of the user's portfolios. When you first create an account, you are allowed to upload 10 images to your portfolio. The only way to expand your portfolio beyond 10 is hinged on if your images are rated highly by other users, or not. Every time a photo in your portfolio is rated an average of 3.5 stars by five or more people, you earn an extra upload. For me, that quickly became my incentive to make sure I was uploading my very best work. It ended up turning into an educational tool for me. If an image didn't garner many ratings over time, or if it didn't rate high enough across the board, or if it received lots of feedback on things to be improved, then I was able to use that as self education. I have learned (and am still learning) which images are simply good, versus which images really are great. If an image doesn't do well, don't take it personally, try to understand why it isn't doing well, then just delete it and upload something else in it's place.
Since I have been a member of 500px, the site itself has undergone quite a few different upgrades and evolutions. I won't go into full detail as to what services they offer (they have their own documentation for that), but it is well worth being a part of that community and this is why I'm a part of it. It may seem silly, but I am really only a part of the 500px community simply for the image rating. Whenever you upload an image to the public space, it automatically starts earning a percentage rating. The highest rated image on the site will always sit at 99.9; The closer your rating is to 99.9, the more attention it is getting and the more users are appreciating your shot. Now, the algorithm that 500px uses to rank your image is a well kept secret, so there's no point in trying to play the field.
I can tell you this, part of the trick is to gain followers because the more followers you have, the more people will see your image from the moment it is uploaded. But it's a paradox. The best way to gain followers is to post images and have them rank higher so more people take notice and want to follow you. Yes, it's tricky, and it's not a perfect game. But, like the portfolio here at Fstoppers, I use my portfolio on 500px to teach myself about my own photography. At 500px, if your image earns a 70 or higher then it earns the rank of "Upcoming" which places it in a unique search feature on 500px with all the other Upcoming images. If it ranks 80 or higher then it is listed as "Popular" and then ranks with all the other Popular images. Personally, if an image doesn't rank at least 80 or higher, then it's clearly not my best work, so I take it down and try another one. I have found that consistently uploading quality work that ranks higher than 80 has cumulated in gaining followers on a daily basis, which in turn helps the ranking. I digress, basically I use 500px as a gauge to check and make sure I am uploading my best work. Having 80 or below is a no-go.
Beyond that, 500px has their own collection of interesting articles and tutorials as well as other 500px-centric contests and challenges. It's a fun community to be a part of and I recommend checking them out.
ViewBug is primarily a photography platform that is all about photo competitions but they also go way beyond that for a truly unique user experience. They are easily the website with the most photography competitions that run concurrently. It's easy enough to start out with the free account and the only real incentive for me to even consider an upgraded (paid) account would be access to more competitions, but that's really just preference. As Dani Diamond noted earlier this month on Facebook, you can do quite well for yourself by simply sticking to the free account; All it takes is uploading quality work. The photo competitions themselves span quite an expansive range of subject matter, genres, styles, and topics. Regardless of what type of photographer you are, chances are you'll find categories of engagement on the site that fit you just fine.
Participating in the competitions is fun. They also have user-created Challenges which operate the same as a competition except there's no monetary prize involved. Engaging and possibly even winning these competitions and challenges open unique opportunities for your work to be viewed and quite possibly published for a large, worldwide audience. It's another fantastic way for your work to be seen by viewers across the globe. I have received some invaluable feedback on some of my shots within the ViewBug community where the same shot might not have acquired the same attention in other photography circles. ViewBug also has their own newsletter, articles, and the occasional tutorials that they share with their members. Honestly, it's a lot of fun.
The premise for GuruShots is pretty simple: it's all about photo contests that drive user engagement. For each contest you are allowed to submit four images, you can swap images in and out, but you are only allowed a total of four shots per contest. Winners are determined by a cumulative number of votes, so the person that has the most votes (across all four images) is the winning photographer for the contest. Votes are literally given to you from your peers. Your images will be more prominently displayed to other voters, when you yourself vote more often. The more you vote, the more "Exposure Boost" your images will be given throughout the contest. If you play the game simply to see how your images do, then you won't ever be disappointed. Similar to how I look at my Fstoppers and 500px portfolios, I use my engagement on GuruShots to gain (unspoken) feedback on my images. If an image does particularly well, that tells me something. Conversely, if an image does poorly, then I can analyze that to try to understand what others are actually seeing in my work. I'm sure you're noticing a common thread by now. A lot of how I use these websites is as a neutral outside perspective on my own work. We're all biased with our work because we alone know why we created it, so having external viewers give us either spoken, or unspoken, feedback can be incredibly useful.
National Geographic YourShot
YourShot is it's own unique opportunity for photographers. Involvement is similar enough to the photography competition websites that I previously listed, but with one very distinct difference: YourShot has nothing to do with winning prizes. This is an opportunity to quite literally be published by National Geographic. NatGeo will post "Assignments," and for each assignment users are encouraged to submit a specified number of images (unique to each story) that coincide with the story's theme. The editor(s) in charge of the assignment will then choose, from the submissions, images to use in the development of what becomes a "Story." I can tell you this, competition is pretty stiff; There are a lot of people out there with a lot of incredible images. However, I can't reiterate this enough, the opportunity for education and personal growth as a photographer is pretty expansive. By participating, you will engage with other photographers around the globe. By reading through the stories and understanding the source material, you can gain insight into what the editors look for when developing a visual story and how to expand your own skills as a visual storyteller.
Snaptured is still pretty new to the game. They actually found me on Facebook somehow, and that's how I ended up becoming a part of their community. They have their own unique approach for users creating a portfolio. There are more rigid guidelines for having a good title and description for each shot. They have their own brand of photo contests that is definitely worth checking out. They also have a blog with some solid reading material. I'll be honest, the interface needs some work. For example, at this point in time, you cannot submit a photo to a contest that is already in your portfolio. Right now, the only way to enter a contest is to upload a fresh image, which then ends up in your portfolio. It's kind of annoying, but if you're just barely starting out with an account at Snaptured then it's not that big of a deal.
Like I said, they're pretty new to the game, but I'm excited to see how this site grows and evolves over time. They also do quite well at featuring their users by awarding high-quality images in the community the rank of "Editor's Pick," which is just that much more incentive to make sure you're uploading and sharing quality work. Snaptured is worth checking out because I think there's some solid potential with this website and I hope they become a well rounded photography community as they continue to grow. Personally, I'm still trying to figure out how to exactly make the most of Snaptured, but I'm hopeful it continues to turn into something awesome as they evolve.
Really, the opportunity to continue education, to grow and expand as a photographer, is all up to you. Formal classes are great, workshops are great, purchasing quality tutorials is fantastic, but don't miss out on these other opportunities that exist. Simply being active in these communities can yield some excellent opportunity for growth and education from other professionals and peers in the industry. Be sure to comment below if you have found any one of these platforms to be beneficial to you, especially if they've been helpful to you outside of the ways that I have outlined above.