500px is an online photo-sharing community. It’s similar to the popular website Flickr, but designed by photographers, for photographers to share only their best work. 500px has about 500 times fewer registered users than Flickr—but in my opinion, that’s a good thing. The site has a unique rating system that’s time sensitive. This means that no matter how well known you are your photos’ “pulse” will go down over time; every day new photos have a chance to make it to the top and be seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers. After browsing 500px for a while I decided to register a few months ago. I saw it as a great way to get exposure, to receive feedback on my work, and to be able to learn from others. It’s been fun to see which photos of mine are liked by the community (and to see if my idea of a good photo is matched by my peers!). It’s also been great to see the other amazing work out there. I see images that I like and try to decide what makes them successful so I can apply those characteristics to my own work. You will only get out of 500px what you put in though. You can’t just upload photos and sit back and wait. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to how 500px works since joining and want to share those here.
The rating system.
The thing that makes 500px unique over other photo-sharing sites is its time and popularity-based rating system. Users may comment, like (i.e., vote), and/or favor other users’ photos. Liking or favoring a photo will increase that photo’s “pulse” rating. A pulse starts at 0 and can reach a maximum of 100. (Actually reaching 100 is very, very rare. I only know of two photos uploaded to 500px to ever reach 100. The site’s creators once thought that 100 was a theoretical maximum that would never actually be reached!) A photo gets 27 pulse points for its first like or favor. Each additional like or favor increases the pulse less and less. Once a photo gets in the 90s each additional vote or favor may only be worth 0.1 pulse points or less! A photo is considered “Upcoming” if it receives a pulse of about 75 and “Popular” once it reaches about 80. 500px has a “Popular” page where you can see the day’s most popular photos. It’s not uncommon for the first image on that page to have a pulse of 99.9. At the end of the day though, every photo’s pulse drops by some percentage. If you had a 99.9 during the day, at the end of the day you won’t. This opens up the opportunity for another photo to reach the top of the popular page tomorrow.
One important thing for all 500px users to know is what “end of day” means. 500px is based in Toronto, ON, Canada. End of day is midnight Toronto time (EST). This means that the worst time to upload a photo is just before midnight on the East Coast (you could get some points right away and then have them deducted at midnight!). The best time then would be shortly after midnight, in order to give your photo the most time to accumulate a high pulse. The point deduction doesn’t happen exactly at 12:00, so uploading at exactly 12:01 isn’t necessary. I’ve seen the people at 500px recommend “early in the morning” if you live on the East Coast. But because I live on the West Coast, I’ve found uploading sometime between 9:00-10:00pm PST (midnight-1:00am EST) works for me. This gives my followers on the other side of the planet an opportunity to see my work while I’m sleeping!
Exposure is everything.
You may have the world’s best photograph but if no one sees it, its pulse is going to sit at zero. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get your photos viewed on 500px. Knowing what they are and how they work are important to help your photos get the recognition they deserve. I can count 6 unique ways for your photos to be seen:
- Fresh. As soon as you upload a photo to 500px it appears on the Fresh page, in the order it was uploaded. Lots of people look at the first few fresh pages, so for a brief period of time, you’ll have lots of eyes on your photo. But, as others upload photos yours will be pushed down. Depending on the rate of uploads your photo might only appear on the first fresh page for a few seconds. If you get a few votes just by being viewed on the fresh page, you’re on the right track.
- Upcoming. Once you get a pulse of 75, your photo is labeled “Upcoming” and will appear at the top of the Upcoming page. This works just like the Fresh page: photos appear in the order they become upcoming and are pushed down as more and more photos become upcoming. Generally, the photos on the Upcoming page are of overall higher quality than the fresh page since these photos have already made it to 75 pulse. Upcoming is a good place to go see what’s new and good. You’ll get many more views on the Upcoming page than you did on the Fresh page and your photo will stick around longer as the rate of photos becoming upcoming is less than the rate of photos being uploaded.
- Popular. Unlike the Fresh and Upcoming pages, the Popular page is sorted by pulse, not by time. So, even though a pulse of 80 will make your photo “popular” it’ll be buried at the end. The higher you get though, the more visible you become. And this is why the photos that end up on the first few popular pages end up with hundreds or thousands of votes. I’ve not made it to the first popular page (yet!). However, you can limit the popular page to show just one category, and I have made it to the front page of the “City and Architecture” page a few times with a pulse of around 95. I often view just one category to focus on a particular type of photo so the popular page can get you views even without a 99.9 pulse.
- Your public profile. By commenting, voting, and favoring others’ photos you’ll get more visits to your profile page. When I see that someone has commented on or liked one of my photos I usually take the time to check out their photos too. Leaving a comment is probably the best way for this to happen as your name appears right under the other user’s photo. You can set 500px to notify you by e-mail when someone favors a photo, but not when a photo is liked. The iPad and iPhone apps can also notify you when someone likes a photo. Users may or may not have these features turned on though. So a comment is really the only certain way for another photographer to know you visited their photo and hope to get them to visit you. (This said, it’s an unwritten rule that if you leave a comment saying that you like a photo that you actually click the like button too. More on this later.)
- Being followed. When a user “follows” you, chances are high that they’ll have eyes on your future uploads. I’ve found a number of photographers that consistently upload images that I like so I’m following them. Every day I visit my “following” page where it shows me the most recent uploads from everyone I’m following (it’s like the Fresh page, but it only shows me photos from the people I’m following). This is great! It’s highly likely that I’m going to like these photos since they are from photographers that I’ve already decided upload images that I enjoy. On my own photos, I typically see the same names commenting, voting, and favoring. These are my followers. They see my images every day on their Following page if they miss it when it was Fresh or Upcoming.
- Being liked. That’s right! Just having a photo liked, favored, or commented on increases your visibility. Everyone has a Flow page that shows what your followers are doing. So, even if I’m not following you, I may see your photo on my Flow page because someone I follow liked, favored, or commented on it. I check my Flow page just as often as I check my Following page as a way to find great images from different photographers.
- 500px promotion. There are a number of other ways that your images can be seen by being promoted by the editors of 500px. First, there’s an Editors’ Choice page that shows images hand-picked by employees at 500px (you’ll also see a little ribbon icon near the title of your photo if it’s chosen). There are relatively few Editors’ Choice images so this is great visibility. 500px also has a blog where they feature a weekly theme-based contest. They pick a theme, you tag your photos that you feel fall in that theme, on Monday they pick 12 winners to feature on the blog. (My reindeer photo was chosen in the “longhorn” contest!) In addition, the 500px blog will sometimes feature images the editors have enjoyed or users that have a great, consistent body of work. Don’t forget to check out the blog when browsing the rest of the site!
My tips on getting the most out of 500px.
Everyone will find their own way to experience 500px based on the amount of time they have or want to put into it. For those just getting started, here are my tips:
- Don’t upload all your images at once. Since ratings are time-based, if you upload everything at once you won’t have time to build a follower base, your photos will be up and off the Fresh page in a blink of an eye, and basically, no one will see your work. When I first started, I uploaded 2-3 images a day for the first few days just to get some images up, but now I upload only one image a day and may occasionally take a day off if I’m busy. I have a number of years’ worth of images to upload, so I can maintain one image a day for a while. Once my inventory starts getting low or I’m relying on new stuff, I may only upload one image a week. Many people in the community work on the assumption that the latest image is the most important. That’s the one you’re working to get a high pulse on. If I see that someone uploaded 2-3 images a day, I’m likely going to pick the one I like best to vote on. Had that same person uploaded one image per day, they might have gotten three votes out of me instead of just one.
- I’m uploading my oldest work first and working my way up to the newer stuff. This was a personal decision. Generally, I feel that my newer work is better than my older stuff, so I want to build my follower base with my older images so my newer, better ones get more eyes. The profile page is sorted by the date uploaded; there’s no other way to sort it. Having my newer images first makes sense to me. Also, had I joined 500px years ago, this is the order my photos would be in.
- Only upload your best work. I cannot stress this enough. 500px is not the place where you upload your entire memory card. It’s meant to showcase your best work. Only upload what you think has a chance. Often times I see a great image and go to check out the rest of the photographer’s work. I’m ready to follow this person because the one image I saw was so great. Then I see that the rest of his/her work is just not the same quality: mediocre photos of the family cat, a snapshot taken on Christmas morning, and a poorly lit breakfast taken with an iPhone. There could be other amazing photos on that photographer’s page, but I’m not going to see them because the browser window has already been closed and I’m on to someone else. Be consistent in the quality of work you upload.
- Upload images in the first half of the day in order to get the highest pulse. As I mentioned above, the clock resets at midnight EST, so upload your images after midnight or early in the morning East Coast time, not in the afternoon/evening.
- Leave meaningful comments. There are so many photographers on 500px who leave the same comment on every photo. They’re doing it only to gain visibility and want to comment on as many photos as possible in the hopes that they will get lots of return votes. (Sadly, this actually works. I see many photos with a high pulse that don’t deserve it and only have it because they’ve commented on every photo uploaded that day.) This just hurts the community as a whole though. I leave a unique comment on every photo that I vote on. I rarely give negative feedback, but instead, focus on what I like about the photo.
- In your comment do not add the words: “Please check out my latest work!” This is implied. I’d rather have had this person say something about why they commented on my photo instead of making me believe that they only did it so I would vote for them. In order to do my part to try to correct this behavior, I typically do not check out this person’s latest work if I see that comment.
- If you comment and say that you liked a photo, please also click the “like” button. If you just leave a comment without liking I know you’re just out to self-promote. You’ll often see that someone adds “V” or “V+F” to a comment to let you know that they either “voted” or “voted and favored” your image. I don’t really feel this is necessary and don’t do it myself but it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me are the people that write “V+F” but don’t actually vote or favor the image. That’s just rude.
- Only vote on photos that you actually like, not just because someone else voted for you. It’s great to look at the photos of users who liked your work, but if you really don’t like theirs, that’s ok! Now, if an image is borderline I’ll go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt if they also voted for my images, but if their work really doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t vote. Remember, the people that follow you can see the images you vote on (on their Flow page). I actually stopped following certain users because they were cluttering my Flow page with images I really didn’t like by voting for everything trying to gain exposure.
- Favor images that you truly love. Both voting and favoring an image essentially gives that photo two votes. A lot of people vote and favor like it’s one mouse click (presumably hoping you’ll do the same for them) but I’m more careful about what I favor. I might like 25-50 images a day, but I usually only favor about 2-4 a week. It’s a bit of a personal preference, I understand. But I like it when I visit my Favorites page I have a small collection of images that I think are the best of the best. When deciding to follow someone I usually check out what photos they’ve favored to see if we have the same taste. If I see that they’ve favored a lot of mediocre images, or types of images that I don’t really like, I’m less likely to follow them.
- Download the mobile apps. I have an iPad and iPhone and the 500px apps are excellent. The iPad app in particular. You actually get higher resolution images on the iPad than you get on the website! You can do almost everything you can do on the website on the mobile apps.
- Upload high-resolution images in the sRGB color space. 500px will resize your images to fit different display resolutions on the web and mobile apps. Using the sRGB color space will ensure your images look as you intend on all web browsers.
There you have it! I hope these tips can help new users make the most out of sharing their photos on 500px right from the start. Despite some of the users abusing the self-promote system or others uploading entire memory cards at a time, I really haven’t found too much to complain about with the service. I love getting feedback on my work and being able to find other photographers to inspire me. The 500px team answers questions and responds to feedback quickly and it seems that they’re always trying to add new features to better the experience for the end user.
If I’ve left out any topics that you’d like to see addressed, leave your questions in the comments!
Update 9 July 2013
Since posting this back in March, the team at 500px has made a few changes and as a result, some of the things mentioned here are no longer true. I don’t want to confuse new users who may come across this, so please take a minute to read “My thoughts on 500px’s Pulse 2.0” for all the updates!