The truth about 500px

Lately, there has been a stream of negativity regarding the photographic site 500px. I won’t go into details but I wonder why any of this needs to be happening. I think much of the angst relates to people’s want or possibly need to occupy to top echelons of the ever visible front page of popularity. As a long time user of 500px it has been a little sad to see this negativity being spread in such a public forum so I thought I would lay everything out in the open with regard to what I think 500px  is what it all means. In doing so, perhaps it might give some clues as to what positive aspects it can bring to your photography if choose not to let it ruin your self esteem and social etiquette in that race for #1 spot.

How it works: (or at least how I think it works!)

  • The site is a popularity site first and foremost. This needs to be fully understood before one starts making accusations about it failing to live up to its supposed purpose of quality first. Popular and quality do not ALWAYS align but surprisingly ,quite often they do.
  • Your images have a 24 hour lifespan in order to gain its status and garner the attention of the public. Beyond that, it will only be seen through social media links, searches (on its very bad search engine) or if the image is listed as ‘editor’s choice’. The theoretical maximum pulse is 100 for the first 24 hours, 88 for the next few days, 85 after a week, 80 for the next week, 75 for a month and then eventually 60 , then 50. This is the so called pulse ‘decay’ people speak of. Images may also be seen after this time period through your follower’s ‘flow’ page though this is often after the  initial pulse decay has occurred and hence is unable to viewed on popular pages any more.
  • Each image has a pulse which goes up with each ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ but the gains are exponentially less the higher the pulse rises . For instance you may need 100 votes to get from 0-95% but 1000 votes to get from 99.8 to 99.9
  • Images appear on three pages : Fresh, Upcoming (at 70% pulse) and Popular (at 80% pulse). If your image is on the first page of upcoming and fresh, these will get many rapid hits from people viewing these pages trawling for images. Once the image has been displaced by newer images in those sections, there’s a bit of a ‘dead space’ in terms of voting until it potentially reaches the first few pages of ‘popular’. Popular images work from most popular to least (unlike the upcoming and fresh pages).
  • Aside from the three pages listed above, images can also be seen by those who follow you in their ‘following’ tab and in other users’ ‘flow’ tab. Every time you comment, like or fave and image, all your followers may see that in their ‘flow’. Hence an image that gains multiple early votes will potentially start spreading virally though this method and help the image through that ‘dead space’ between upcoming and popular.
  • Once an image hits the upper echelons of popular, it becomes instantly more visible to the viewing public and that’s when it can really take off to that #1 spot.

Methods to achieve popularity (through any means)

  • Vote , fave and comment on as many images out there as you possibly can in the hope that other similar like minded photographers will do the same and increase your pulse through this method. This method is clearly visible with comments like ‘great shot! Please visit my stream’. Interestingly you might click on such users’ profiles and find that their own images are somewhat ordinary but they have 600000 favourites and follow 100000 photographers.
  • Post only at certain intervals and not within one week. (see below for explanation)
  • Troll a famous photographer and hope that they come back with vengeance and comment on one on of your photographs even if negatively. After all, now that they have commented on your images, their 50000 fans will now see your image in their flow!
  • Do reruns of former #1s. Maybe slightly cropped, a few minutes apart, or maybe exactly the same image (I have seen this in moments of dejavu where I thought I was losing my mind).
  • Be polite and attempt to give some meaningful feedback where asked for. Personally, I won’t attack another user’s images because I don’t think 500px is the forum for it. This goes back to my original view that 500px is a popularity site and not a critique site. If I don’t like an image, I’ll tend to move on and not inadvertently contribute to that image’s rise due to my comment spreading that image’s virality. I tend to say a thanks to those who leave a comment beyond ‘great shot’ or for those who repeatedly view our images. I tend to ignore the V+F comments asking for a V+F in return.
  • Produce quality images that will rise to the top based on the quality of the image alone. I mention this point last because some seem to think this is not important and that it’s only through the above ‘gaming’ methods that images reach #1.  Sure, there are certain types of images that are more likely to be popular but one of the reasons that I initially joined 500px was that a more cynical version of myself few years ago decided to post some of our 2010 Iceland images without attempting any interaction. To my surprise, 500px machinations appeared to differ from the flickr game of ‘explore’ and the images found their way into the popular pages through their own merit. Much has changed over the course of a few years but I still believe that quality images will rise to the top no matter the games played by others.
I don't think any less of this image because it reached #1, nor any more photographically. It's just very popular!

I don’t think any less of this image because it reached #1, nor any more photographically. It’s just very popular!

My take on the accusations and myths out there

  • Your success as a photographer is based on your ability to hit #1 on 500px. Mostly FALSE. Your ability to hit #1 on 500px reflects your success as a photographer able to hit #1 on 500px. Just like a flashy power dunker is not the most successful basketballer , he certainly does the eye catching stuff in the public eye that gains attention. Having said that, remember that 500px is a popularity site with quality and skill as an afterthought. If your photography career is based on popularity predominantly (and some photographers do operate that way, particularly on Instagram) then the answer to this point is TRUE.
  • #1 is not important. You can judge me on this if you like but I think this is FALSE. Our images which have received publication (without soliciting) have largely been through 500px and largely through the images which have made it to #1 or close to. Editorial staff from all kinds of sources (print companies, magazines, journals, blogs) all seem to trawl 500px. It is not a blight on you to achieve #1. I’m being blunt now, but I suspect that some of the rage going on out there is related to an underlying but suppressed desire to be #1 but having failed to get there. Here’s a quick self test : you put up an image on 500px of personal value that you don’t expect to be popular. If it happens to reach #1, do you really feel that it’s all of a sudden a trashy, overprocessed image typical of the ‘rainbow vomit’ that reaches #1? I suspect you would actually be quite chuffed and don’t be so glum, embrace that achievement!! I find that there are actually few #1s that are absolutely terrible.
  • I am being penalised by my popularity. TRUE and FALSE. The more followers you have, the more views your images will have when you first post them. Having said that, the weighting of votes for followers who have recently ( I am guessing the time frame of about a week) voted on your images is less than for new followers or those who have not visited your images for some time. What this means is that for those with a legion of followers, it takes more votes to get to a certain pulse but you are almost assured of getting some votes and possibly enough to make it into the first few pages of popular alone. On the flip side, once you are there, it takes many many more votes to get to #1 spot . For instance, I have seen images reach the hallowed 99.9  with about 1500 likes. For some reason, short of 2500 votes, none of our images will get past 99.8. (boohoo you might say lol!)
  • Gaming the system can be successful: TRUE . In 2014, a group of landscape photographers decided to attempt a friendly ‘take over’ of the front page of 500px. We would all post an image entitled 51 at the same time of day, we would all vote and favourite and comment on our images and as we all had a reasonable following, these images would become visible on the feeds of all of our followers collectively. This resulted in the front page filled with images titled ’51’ which prompted support forums to be filled with questions asking about a bug in the system. This isn’t a hearsay story, I was involved and am reporting what actually happened! So yes, voting circles can definitely get images up to top spot but I must credit 500px for their attempts to rectify this by introducing what I believe is the explanation for pulse penalty as above. Do any of us really want to reinvest the time to do this again? I doubt it very much but I do believe that some people are partaking in this method of popularity chasing.
51 ver 3

Project 51

Final Words:

Now that I have presented my rather sad depth of knowledge of 500px I would like say a few words in an effort to ease the conflict. I think it all boils down to agenda. We all have different agenda for presenting our images on 500px. I suspect that for those who game the system, it’s all about popularity and feeding self esteem. Many such users may not even be interested in producing quality work, just variations of themes which have been proven popular in the past. There are those who know they produce quality work and want to maximise the exposure of that particular image and so, partake in some form of manipulation in order to achieve this (for instance, by spacing uploads no sooner than one week apart to maximise pulse gains). There are those who simply want to share their images and upload whenever they like, popularity be damned! Many are full time photographers trying to make a living and utilise 500px to gain more income while most are likely amateurs or part time photographers who just want to get their images out there in the public domain.

Why should we judge others based on the agenda by which they may be presenting their images? If an image of seemingly poor quality rose to #1 through gaming methods how does that remotely impact on what we do? Sure it’s not a pleasant sight to see ridiculous images filling front page but I find that most of the very popular images do have some kind of appeal. Ultimately , poor images won’t get snapped up by magazines, travel agencies, online bloggers requesting interviews etc etc. Why should we attack another photographer for a composite image, an enlarged bird, an enlarged moon, fake reflections? When I see those images, I come to my own conclusion about why that photographer may be doing this. What purpose does it serve to say ‘AHA, I caught you out!’. I’m not talking about stolen images, images where the caption is deliberately misleading or where there is blatant misinformation. I’m talking about an artistic direction one has taken where another has disagreed. This is the basis for a public forum war? really?

500px: see it for what it is and use to your advantage. We all have our interpretations of what it should be but lets face the fact that it is a site about popularity first and foremost. Our in-fighting over this race for popularity only reflects badly upon ourselves as landscape photographers in the eyes of the public. Chill pill everyone?

Now I’m going to wait for another week before my next upload ! See you then!

Posted on May 15, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Spot on post, couldn’t agree more about 500px. I enjoy posting there and seeing what sort of reaction I get but I don’t take it as a accurate reflection on my photographic ability. People seem to forget about how it’s social media and popularity they’re posting to ! Enough with the hand ringing already, get out there and take more photos. 😉

  2. Thank you and such true statements.

  3. Yup, i think you have nailed it DT, good write up on it, all of the reasons why i avoid it like the plague, jeez all i thought you had to do was have some ideas/forethought and planning, and nail a great image.. Apparently you gotta go through all this BS as well… Good luck to those who choose this sure its pretty soul destroying for many who choose this path and don’t get to No1. Each to their own… My preference is 1X when i get the time to participate..

    • I think the best images still speak for themselves without having to go through this process. It’s just a shame that by going through this process, certain not so good images can rise to the top.

  4. Lesley S Blevins

    Very well said, I do believe you’ve nailed the essence of 500px.

  5. Smashed it mate!. not that my images could ever reach number 1, but i know from a close mate that doesnt want to get involved in all the brown nosing groups that he feels exactly the same way.

    • I think its worth posting anything there – if it rises, it rises, if it doesn’t well it never did any harm. All power to you if you have time and dedication to brown nose but I reckon I have more productive stuff to do in the little time I have available these days lol

  6. I totally agree on this! Great article… it sums up almost all my considerations about 500px.

    Well done.

  7. I’m late to the party, but this article explains a frustration I have with 500px, what I call the “Popular wall”. I don’t game the system and I don’t have many followers, but I’m still able to occasionally get photos into the “Popular” category, but as soon as a picture does, it stops getting “Likes”.

    For example, earlier today I posted a picture that got into “Upcoming” at 13:21, then into “Popular” at 13:26 — and then almost completely stopped getting any likes at all. Turns out it’s because I don’t have enough followers to get votes viraly, so I depend on my picture getting seen by 500px visitors the good old way — except as soon as my picture becomes Popular, it goes to the last page of that section, where nobody ever sees it. I’m not really chasing after that coveted #1 spot, but it’s rather frustrating for my photos to lose all of their popularity as soon as it officially becomes Popular :-/

  8. It is just a game of fun. It will just be a frustrating make work project else. Hitting ‘popular’ is the death of your image exposure unless you have the thousands of willing collaborative followers. That means to the majority that your work has a life expectancy of just over one hour. Kinda harsh if you are taking this seriously. Many, many images die at the foot of the ‘popular’ mountain that are far better then some at the top of the tree. It is a pity that some of the good images do not get the visitors just because of the sites algorithm / gaming / followers shut out. But, do not worry it is just but a game of fun.

  9. I started to be really frustrated about 500px and thinking about delete my account.There is some dirty things going on lately.There are many users with rubish photos and have like 100 000 followers.I guess they pay for it or something.For example every time I log in 500px and check photos of people I following I allway find some users I have never followed there.And usually is some portrait photographer with really bad portfolio ,but with massive amount of users.That is something weird to me.I wrote few times about it to 500px how is possible that they are in my following list without I have followed them, but with no answear.There is many good photographers which we dont see ,because they dont have massive followers and them photos dont get enough faves.

    • hi Peter , though I have benefitted from the ‘suggested’ user list (that is what you are seeing ) , I also disagree with it. Because for some reason I’ve been boosted by its effects, I’m still active on the site but if it’s not working for you, you have to ask whether it’s worth your time and frustration. What’s your goal for being there in the first place?

  10. Excellent review ! I have been with 500px for a few years and now I have a good following that I am proud of. My advise is to be persistent and never giving up. Keep posting high quality pictures that you enjoy and others might enjoy and praise. Keep voting for pictures of others that you like. Success will come in due time.

  11. Question ! Why you suggested to wait for a week each time to post a new picture ? I could not find the answer in the article as promised.

  12. Thank you for the article. I’ve been using 500px for about 6 months now. This explains a lot. What website would you suggest for actual honest _critiques_ of photos? I’ve been steadily improving, but it really does help to have outside opinions. Thanks!

  13. Just like to thank you for this article as I’m new to 500px. It’s certainly helped me understand more on how it works and the purpose of this site. Personally I haven’t the patience with all the game playing but understand why people do this. Being new to photography I’m more interested in getting constructive criticism to help me improve, otherwise so far I’m enjoying my time on there.

  14. Over the years, I’ve been uploading my photos to various spaces and social medias. This has become less and less frequent though, as I find it time consuming and honestly quite exhausting trying to keep up with it (I like to engage with the community that I’m uploading in). I’ve decided that I need to start cutting back on where I’m sharing, and focus on a few platforms that are worth it, and where I can spend more time engaging. Where are your favourite places to share your work? (PS. I first discovered you on deviantart years ago!)

    • Sorry I missed your comment! These days I tend to post on instragram flickr and 500px (There’s a new platform vero that I’m trying out – I love new platforms because I get to rework old images!)

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