500px.com – where quality meets simplicity


Remember when you saw Boston.com’s The Big Picture gallery for the first time? Did you like the big format? I did. I also wished more sites went for big bold images. Including photo sharing sites like Flickr, which only added some much-needed functionality like the ability to view large version on black background, last year. But the rest of the site has remained largely unchanged. Which may be bad news for us users, but great news for those who want to create the next Flickr.

Like 500px.com, a Canadian photo-sharing website which has been around for a long time (hence the name – when they started 500-pixel images were considered optimal for web display), but in its latest incarnation – relaunched two years ago – it began attracting photographers with passion, people who put a lot into their photography and people who produce and admire big, bold and good quality images.

The site was born thanks to Ian Sobolev and Oleg Gutsol, who seem to have created a holiday snaps-free zone, an elegant place where photographers can share their work, critique others’ output, but also create portfolios, blogs and interact with each other. No messageboards, no camera reviews – just photography of the highest calibre. I caught up with Oleg, who is also the site’s Technical Director, to find out more about the site, its purpose and plans.

I asked Oleg to define 500px.com’s unique selling point:
There is a number of things, but to point out just one, I would say it’s the quality of the photos on 500px.

The quality is indeed high. Many images look very artistic. Is your site aimed at artists then?
I believe everybody is an artist. Everybody sees the world differently and that vision is unique. Everybody can pick up a camera and take a photo. Our site is for people interested in photography, people who want to share their artistic vision with the world.

I discovered 500px.com a couple of months ago. Since then I’ve noticed more and more people started sharing images from it. Why do you think it’s happening?
Indeed, more and more people visit 500px lately and we are receiving pretty good feedback from them. I think this has to do, in part, with the desire to experience the beauty of the world, see the unknown, the unseen. Humans are drawn to and fascinated by beautiful things, and a photograph is a great medium to capture and convey beauty. Also, people want to share what they see on our site, which can be easily done in our age of social networking, so the word about us spreads fast. The other factor I would mention is the community itself — there is this certain distinct vibe to our site that attracts people, I think it has to do with our users. We have very talented, friendly, loyal, tolerant, open and helpful people on 500px. Also, we (the 500px team) try to keep friendly relationships with our users, we know some of them personally. And we are always approachable and try to help anybody who has questions, problems or concerns. We stay on top of our twitter feeds and emails, at time we get a bit overwhelmed, but we aim to respond to everybody as soon as possible.

The first thing you notice about your site is its elegance, simplicity and large format images. In fact, a few days ago someone tweeted: “I’ve used Flickr all my life and Im still not used to it. I’ve used 500px for 3 days and I am so familiar with it. It’s so satisfying.”
Yes, we want the site to look good and we want the photos to look good. It’s 2011 and photos should be displayed large, not scaled down to a bento box size. Nowadays we have big monitors and cheap file storage, so we can definitely afford to show large photos.

So do you think one day you’ll be bigger than Flickr? Is that your aim?
Flickr is a great photo website and a large successful company. Their team did an awesome job at creating the destination for all your personal photos.Our goal is to be the destination for the best photos in the world, and if that becomes bigger than Flickr — great. My dream is for 500px to become the best and the biggest photo website online. But quality comes first, size comes second. Although sometime ago I put a Flickr sticker on my fridge to remind me daily of the Goliath we are dealing with :)

Explain your voting system. Do you think people vote for the images they really like or for the people they know and like. This is what often happens on other photo-sharing sites.
Our voting system is pretty simple — you can either like or dislike the photo, you can cast one vote for each photo and you cannot change you vote afterwards. You cannot vote for your own photos.
Also, we want to promote positive feedback, so the number of negative votes you can cast a day is limited. Most of our users vote for photos they like, it’s just hard to resist giving a positive vote for a good photo :) There is a small number of people that vote for their friends’ photographs, but the community at large is very well balanced, so if anybody asks their friends to vote up a photo that is not so good — the others will quickly notice and some will dislike it, which will bring the score of the photo down. Very few people try to cheat our system and we catch and stop this activity very quickly.
Overall I can say that if your photo is good — it will rise to the top, even if you are new and don’t have any friends on 500px to help you vote it up. At the same time — if your photo is not so great — it will be nearly impossible to cheat its way up to the top, I have never seen this happen.

You are much more than just a photo sharing site – $50/year gives users so much more. Are photographers who currently use sites like WordPress for their portfolios more likely to switch to 500px.com?
Most of the things we have on 500px are free, but we also offer premium services — our Awesome accounts. They are $50 per year and give you the ability to create you own portfolio website, multiple galleries, various design themes, custom domain, Google Analytics, higher resolution RSS feeds and faster customer support. With our Awesome accounts we want to take away the trouble of designing, hosting and maintaining your own photo website. Periodically, we add new themes to our premium accounts, later this year we will integrate blogs and custom pages into portfolios as well. I think the ease of setting up your personal website on 500px platform may take some people off WordPress.

Are you planning international expansion?
Yes, we want our services to be available internationally. We have already started the translation process and 500px is currently available in English, German and Russian. We are adding French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Chinese translations next.

So where are your current users from?
Our users come from all over the world, the top 10 most active countries are: US, Russia, Germany, Canada, UK, Romania, France, Italy, Turkey and China.

What’s next for 500px.com?
Next is getting a lot of things done :) We recently moved to a new office and are expanding our team. There are many new features planned — new themes, a mobile version of the site, public API, more flexible portfolio customization, export plugins for popular image editing programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture, and many more. Stay with us and you will see for yourself :)

I most certainly will. If you are on 500px Oleg’s fantastic images can be found on his page: http://500px.com/cyberguss, and his 500px portfolio can be found here. Oleg is also on Twitter as is the site itself, of course. My own profile can be found here: http://500px.com/michald.