“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Images
November 23, 2012

Goodbye Flickr Goodbye 500px

Popular photo sharing sites like Flickr and 500px have lost their appeal and it might be time to say goodbye to them.

Today I’m getting rid of both my Flickr account and my 500px accounts. I had a Flickr Pro account (for five years) and a 500px Awesome account, but decided not to renew either when they came up this year.

The Thrill Is Gone

500px really caught my attention last year and I had high hopes for the platform. But, I lost faith in the changes they made, especially the way the site became score driven. I don’t want my photos displayed next to a popularity score, especially one that prone to being manipulated and driven by a secret algorithm.

I’ve already written at length about what went wrong with Flickr. Although I had planned to delete my account in April, it sat on my to-do list for so long because I once had such an affinity for the service. On a previous version of this blog I had a Flickr sidebar and it was the response I got to images I shared on Flickr, back in 2009, that helped fuel my move into serious photography.

Everything Changes

While Flickr had a lot of fond memories for me and I had high hopes for 500px. But, as I wrote earlier this year, The Price Of Social Media Is Endless Adaptation. I don’t believe it makes sense to try and be on every platform out there and given the way things change, we have to make choices about where to invest our time (and money).

“There are just too many services out there. It takes too long to manage all those profiles. And, having a dead profile on a service is, in the eyes of many tech-savvy people, worse than having no profile at all.

It’s now just as important to jump off platforms that are dying or, depending on how you view things, too mainstream. Like the old saying goes, we are known by the company we keep; except now we are known by the Social Media company we are co-branded with!”

The reality was neither service was meeting my needs. I could spend hours trying to rework my presence on either site, but the simpler, cleaner and faster solution was simply to delete both accounts.

The Lure Of Validation

In many ways, I’ve started to question the value of social photography, which is my way of describing services that allow you to both share photos and also comment on, discuss and vote for images. Flickr originally started as an online gallery service; we used it to host images and share them with friends and family. But, over time, it became more social, as the forums grew, commenting on images became more popular and we started to “meet” other photographers there.

As a beginning photographer, this can be a deeply rewarding process. I can remember being thrilled if a photo attracted 100 views and really soaking up every positive comment. But, what starts out as welcome encourage can feed an unhealthy obsession with validation. As I mentioned last week, choosing who you listen to, becomes increasingly important as you seek to improve your photography.

And, I believe this whole dynamic is worse when the validation is clearly a numbers game, as it is on 500px (and to a lesser extent on Instagram).

The Hobbyist Or The Photographer

Some photographers have told me about the sense of community they find on Flickr and to a lesser extent on 500px. While I see evidence of that, it very much feels like a hobbyist community. When I use the word hobby, I don’t just mean doing it part-time, or occasionally. A hobby is more like an obsession; the hobbyist wants to hang around with other hobbyists, talk about the hobby all the time, obsess over its details.

As much as I love photography, I don’t want to spend all my time talking to other photographers. Sure, it can be fun to share stories and compare experiences. But, get any group of photographers together and eventually someone will start talking about chromatic aberration, focus-shift or barrel distortion. Too much shop-talk can give you a very insular outlook on photography and really take your the big creative prize.

“The technician always kills the artist”
– Peter Reardon

I firmly believe finding your voice as a photographer involves learning to communicate visually with non-photographers. This is a skill few books or blogs ever discuss and no workshop I’ve attended ever really addressed. It’s a skill that will broaden your appeal and help you find work and, I believe, it’s a skill that can be easy dampened hanging around online photo-hobby communities.

Where To From Here

While I’m going to keep my Instagram account, I won’t be hosting my main photographic work on any other sites for 2013. I have a small gallery on this site and there’s plenty I can do to improve here. Overwhelmingly, the photographers I admire showcase their best work on their own sites. Take a look at how Chase Jarvis, David duChemin, Ami Vitale and William Ellis do it.

Responses
Toni 7 years ago

Interesting, and thanks for posting this.

Following on slightly from the conversation over at TBOTAM regarding social media and photography, one of the interesting aspects of the now defunct Lightbox.com was that the interaction was almost entirely social – discussion of lenses, shutter speeds and apertures was almost entirely absent, and it carried a caring community feel. But I’d also agree about the number game, getting the first 100, then 1000 ‘likes’ was thrilling, but crossed over to competitive and made one tailor images to obtain ‘likes’ instead of being good images for themselves.

Your quote about technicians and artists has strong resonance with music too, where some try so hard to be both.

I’m wondering if it’s time to start creating our own galleries and spaces again: maybe hosting images elsewhere, but being responsible from how our own gallery looked instead of simply ‘hanging’ images on walls created by automated temples. There have long been sites that linked photographers galleries, often based on specialisation, but I wonder of there’s a niche for a social-style network to link galleries and photographers together.

Or maybe the whole ‘image marketplace’ is just overcrowded now?

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Toni – the ‘image marketplace,’ as you put it, is overcrowded, but it’s also confused. After all, the MP3 player market was crowded when the iPod was launched, but that didn’t mean it was a good market.

    Once upon a time, the compelling argument for sites like Flickr was the cost of storage and bandwidth. That’s not a compelling argument anymore. So rolling our own galleries makes a lot more sense, especially if you really do care about how your images are displayed.

    One thing I like about using Twitter with Instagram as a sidecar is the ease of sharing images. If I can work a way to get larger images shared on my own galleries to work the same way, it would solve my needs.

fotoeins 7 years ago

Hi, Fernando. I’m struggling about what to do with my FlickrPro account; it’s been useful, and I have a few months left before I have to renew. As for 500px, in my view it’s an interesting sort of “popularity contest”, but I spent my time instead on the blog; no regrets there! I still have doubts about upgrading my free 500px account, though I often feel I should go with a photo-storage account elsewhere. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Fotoeins – glad the article was helpful. I agree 500px has pushed the popularity contest front and centre.

raquel 7 years ago

Hi 🙂 Wouldn’t it be interesting if the ‘scores’ did not go public? Well, it’d not be very popular to the strong egos around or else but… if maybe platform gives this option to the user? Never understood e.g. why on twitter or others i have to know how many ppl follows this or that person.. as basically i thought we should just read/follow/listen to what feels interesting to us instead to what it looks popular, red carpet style… Numbers, scores, likes, dislikes, badges… creates so much waste..
But yes, thx for this post!

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Raquel – I’m happy with the idea of not having any scores & numbers out there. Let people judge on the basis of the work I say.

bookjunkie 7 years ago

I’m using the Flickr account more as a private one to share with family and as a backup. But I wish there was a free option where I could upload videos. I love that Shutterfly is still free but no video uploading on the free account. Is there any new site out there I’m missing? How do you back up your photos?

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Although I’ve never done it, my understanding is you can use YouTube to share private videos.

    I should probably write a post soon about photo backup. Put simply, I use Apple’s Time Machine to constantly backup my current work and I save my photos once a week onto two hard-drives, one of which is stored off-site. I also use BackBlaze, which is a paid service, to back everything up in the cloud, overnight, every day. When I travel, I make two copies of every photo at import and carry three copies of my current working folder of images, on on my mac, one on an external drive and one on a ZipDrive I carry with me, or leave in a safe.

bookjunkie 7 years ago

Thanks for the detail…I need to look into BackBlaze and other options you’ve mentioned. Very eager to read your post about photo backup. I think what I’m doing is pretty insufficient. I worry most about family photos and videos.

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