Online Photo-Sharing Services: My Experience with 500px

As a long time user of Flickr, it is time to look around in search of an alternative 1. I’m looking for a new home to share my photos online and be part of a photographer community. In the last few weeks, I tried the well known 500px photo-sharing service2. This blog post is about my experience with 500px.

My 500px photos
My 500px photos

Starting slow

For 500px, I wanted to start fresh without creating any albums3 and decided not to migrate my stuff from Flickr. Since I used the free tier of 500px to test the service, I couldn’t upload more than seven photos per week. I started at the end of December and continued to build my presence over a few weeks. You can have a look at my profile here: https://500px.com/numericcitizen

500px notifications view
500px notifications view

After three weeks, I became a paying member. Why? Because at that point, it was clear to me that 500px was meeting my needs for an online photo-sharing service.

The photo posting process

Uploading a picture from iOS is simple, and the upload screen is well designed. But the best experience is while uploading photos from a regular web browser on a desktop or portable computer. You get to name the photo and assign tags. 500px apparently uses AI and ML to guess the picture content, and it is really impressive. Usually, most of the labels are good guesses, but you can add your own if you feel some are missing. Remember, these tags will put your photos in people’s search results.

You can select any of these categories while posting a photo online
You can select any of these categories while posting a photo online

500px is more engaging than Flickr, for me at least. Uploading a new photo generates immediate views, likes and sometimes comments. It is refreshing. Eventually, likes will stop or be less frequent. In the following days of publishing a photo, it may or may not get new likes, and people can add it to their own albums. It all depends on the quality or originality of the picture.

Finally, posting in the morning seems to generate more traction than in the evening. Why? Because 500px users seem to be located mostly in Europe, Asia and Russia. I get a few comments here and there on my photos, even if they don’t get too much traction.

One of my posted photo gets upgraded to the Upcoming dynamic gallery
One of my posted photo gets upgraded to the Upcoming dynamic gallery

On photo galleries

Contrary to Flickr’s Albums, 500px use the term Galleries to group pictures together. As a user, you can create new galleries to gather photos you like or for classification purposes. Galleries can be made private, and you can share them. You can browse the gallery’s content in a slide show mode, which is nice.

But, 500px also uses three prominent galleries updated dynamically: Fresh, Upcoming and Popular. Newly uploaded photos will first appear in the Fresh gallery4. Then if the pictures get enough likes (about 15), it will end up being promoted to the Upcoming gallery. If likes keep coming in (about 20) in a short period, photos will be pushed to the Popular gallery. The more a photo climb the ladder, the more it gets exposure. Browsing the dynamic galleries is an excellent way to discover new photographers and their best work.

One of my picture made it to the Upcoming dynamic gallery
One of my pictures made it to the Upcoming dynamic gallery
After a while, the same photo got promoted to the Popular dynamic gallery
After a while, the same photo got promoted to the Popular dynamic gallery

Browsing content

Here are some more observations on browsing content on 500px. The timeline is, in part, built on your recent activities with the service and partly with new photo uploads coming from photographers you follow. There is a dynamic feed view called “Activity” that shows what photographers you follow are liking and which new photographers they start to follow. In this specific case, hovering a photographer’s name will show three pictures from its account, which helps get a better idea of the photographer style and type of content he or she publishes. But this feature is not available everywhere, which proves to be an inconsistent user experience. Otherwise, it is another excellent way to discover who’s publishing what on 500px.

500px is actively curating photos to build interesting galleries around specific themes. It is an excellent way to browse for new content and discover great photographers.

Statistics and engagement

500px offers more extensive statistics than Flickr. Views, likes, comments are among the metrics you get on 7 days, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and a year. Stats are not updated in real-time and can lag behind. I observed the delay to be up to an hour. In fact, I suspect some bugs with them as my statistics don’t always reflect reality. For example, the number of uploaded pictures can be off, this casts doubt for the other metrics.

On the iOS app, the notifications view contains metrics that are always showing zeros. I suspect this is a bug.

Buggy notifications view within 500px app
Buggy notifications view within 500px app

One aspect of the statistics provided is for the engagement level with your photos. The engagement level is named “Pulse” and is calculated by the service with some unknown algorithm. Pulse comes in addition to “Likes” and “Comments”. Trending is also offered as part of the statistics shown here.

Can you see when I became a paying member of 500px?
Can you see when I became a paying member of 500px?

You can also see how users are discovering and viewing your photos. It can be from their Home feed, while browsing the Discovery tab, by looking at your profile or while doing searches.

Photo view sources
Photo view sources

Compare these stats with my Flickr dashboard. The winner is 500px.

This dashboard is available to paying members only
This dashboard is available to paying members only

Miscellaneous features put to test

Private messaging

I used the provided messaging feature for two different use cases, and it worked very well on the web and in the iOS app. First, I got in touch with one of my friends. Second, I did use it to congratulate a few photographers with great photos and a general style that fits my taste. In general, I get a response.

Group discussions

I had a chance to test the group feature. I joined the “500px feature requests”. The group seems dead with only 611 members, 234 posts, most of the posts being a few months old. There are other groups, though, but I didn’t spend too much time there simply because they pretty much all look like ghost towns.

Challenges

I submitted two photos in a challenge, called Quests, to experience the gameplay and maybe compare it to the GuruShots photography game (see “GuruShots Tips, Tricks and Cheat Sheet” for more information on that online game). I don’t expect much from this, though. The results are due in the next few days.

Members directory

There is a member directory for paying members with Pro status. You can find photographers in specific cities. This is a great way to discover photographers close to you.

A few missing things to know about

Online photo-sharing services are not perfect. This is undoubtedly the case with 500px. Here are a lot of things that I find are either missing from the service or that could be improved.

On 500px apps
  • 500px mobile application takes longer to load compared to Flickr. I suspect it is related to the more complex layout of the initial view.
  • 500px has an Apple TV app that I wanted to test, but it doesn’t work. This app hasn’t been updated since its initial release in 2015. Too bad. Unsplash, Flickr and SmugMug are winners here.
  • The iPad version of the app is buggy with layout issues, and screen space usage is not optimal, in my opinion.
  • The mobile app doesn’t support all the features of the web site.
  • 500px doesn’t support rich notifications on iOS, which is a bit sad in 2020.
  • it is not possible to upload photos from locally stored files on iOS, only from Apple’s Photos library, which is not in line with what pro photographers need.
  • I would like to be able to enable notifications for a specific photographer when a new photo is posted online. This would increase engagement toward the service.
Other glaring ommissions
  • It is not possible to use automating services like IFTTT because 500px does not expose any APIs. Cross-posting is, therefore, not possible to my knowledge.
  • Browsing Popular, Upcoming or Fresh feeds for great photos can lead to users with no pictures on their profile page… bug? Trick? Weird.
  • 500px doesn’t make a distinction between galleries that contains images from other photographers and my own. I have to name my galleries that include only my images distinctively. We should be able to create personal photo albums in addition to galleries.
  • There is no plugin for Adobe Lightroom to help publish photos online. This is bad. Flickr has one. I don’t understand this decision5. Providing a plugin would facilitate the consumption of the service.

Finally, you may be interested in reading “9 Reasons I No Longer Use 500px”. This article is a bit old (2015), but reading it will help you get an idea of some objections by previous users. Things have changed for sure. 500px is now operated by a Chinese company but still based in Toronto, Canada, according to the About page. I do feel that something has changed since the beginning of 500px in 2009, though. And it doesn’t feel it is for the better.

Concluding thoughts

After more than a month on 500px, my overall feeling about this service is very positive. I feel comfortable with my decision to leave Flickr behind and start from scratch on 500px. Engagement is higher; the community provides more new high-quality photos and my experience managing my content and building my presence on 500px is a very positive one.

There is something very stimulating in posting new photos and seeing how people react to them. Be warned, 500px can be addictive. Much more than Flickr. This is one of the reasons why I’m done with Flickr.

I'm done with Flickr
I’m done with Flickr

That being said, caution is advised here, and we must keep an eye on signs of a declining photo-sharing service. Like Flickr, 500px does have some areas in need of attention. The mobile app is good but needs some fixes and new features to stay competitive. The Apple TV app isn’t working and has not been updated in years.

Stay tuned for my updated photo workflow, which will reflect my go-to place for online photo-sharing.

Are you a Flickr refugee looking for a new home? Have you experienced 500px in the past? Feel free to leave a comment and engage discussion!

  1. I’m keeping my account but downgraded to the free tier. I won’t add new content there as I want to focus energies on more successful platforms.
  2. I have a 500px account since a few years but barely used it.
  3. 500px uses the term Galleries.
  4. There can be some spamming content in the Fresh feed but we can report photos as needed.
  5. Be sure to read the forum to see how angry people are about this decision to remove support for the Lightroom plugin.

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