6 Facebook alternatives for photographers


If, like me, you never publish your pictures on Facebook, or you simply want to make your photography more social using other platforms, this post is for you.

This is part of a presentation I made on social tools for photographers during my monthly photographers group meet-up, where I focused on several alternatives to Facebook. The presentation assumed a minimal or no knowledge of these tools, hence the basics.

If you interact with many photographers on Google+ or Tumblr, you’ll be forgiven for thinking everyone knows these tools. In reality, many photographers actually don’t venture out of their safe Facebook zone or post their images outside their portfolios.

There are virtually endless possibilities, platforms, apps and networks a photographer can use. But who has the time to update – in a meaningful, i.e. engaging and not automated, way – twenty or so different networks?

So before you choose a site, app or platform for your photography, answer the following questions to help you decide which networks would work best for you:

- Who is your intended audience? Your peers? Prospective clients? Future models? Or maybe just family and friends? What do they expect? Where are they likely to spend more time?

Establish your goals – who do you want/need to reach? What or who do you want to promote: yourself, your services or just your images? Are you more about showing off or educating? Or do you just want a simple portfolio? If so, do you want just the images, or do you want to have a blog and a space to sell your images too?

- Are you able to devote a chunk of your time – daily – to manage all this and be social? The old cliche – “It’s called social for a reason” – still applies. If you don’t manage your presence, joining so many networks is pointless. Also, if you don’t engage – talk to people, post comments, reply to others, promote and reshare – you’ll become one of many dull, link-spewing bots. There are already too many of them.

Also, always – always – read the Terms of Service for each site. It’s important. Be aware, but don’t get paranoid about the details.

I need to stress that the following networks, sites and apps have been chosen for two reasons: their popularity and my experience with them. This is a subjective choice, I admit, and if you’re a seasoned social networker your mileage may vary. But for most photographers considering their first steps in the social media maze, this should be a good starting point.

Also, while some of the sites below may be and are often used to create a portfolio, I’ve assumed you already have one central place for your photography and you are using Facebook and/or other sites to promote it.

500px (500px.com)

Launched in 2011 and quickly became popular among high-profile and high-quality photographers. Great portfolio tool. Not really a place for your holiday snaps – creativity, quality and originality are rewarded. (Read my interview with one of the co-founders here.)

Pros:
- Focus on large, high-quality images.
- Can be used as a gallery, portfolio, blog or a combination of all of them.
- Can link to your own domain.
- Works with Lightroom through a plug-in; also a very good iPad app.

Cons:
- Unlike many sites, it allows users to ‘dislike’ a picture. Many see this as a redundant feature for trolls.
- Allows image embeds, which has proved controversial.
- The “Awesome” version ($50/year) doesn’t really offer that much more.

PINTEREST (pinterest.com)

One to watch: an emerging platform, barely a few months old,  which serves as an online pinboard (or to be more precise, a collection of themed pinboards, where you decide how many pinboards you want and what to share on them). Initially perceived as very heavily female-biased, but as it’s focused on specific interests and can be very granular, many people, including photographers, discover its benefits already.

Pros:
- Image-led, very little text, very easy to use.
- You can create separate albums (boards) for various types of stuff.
- Other users can ‘like’ or repin your posts, ultimately driving traffic to your site/images.
- An iPhone app.

Cons:
- Currently cute pets, crafts and fashion do really well. This is likely to change as the platform expands. Persist.
- There’s a lot of content duplication in the general stream, which creates a lot of noise and clutter – can be off-putting at times.
- Potentially bad for image theft, but probably not worse than Tumblr.
- Very new and experiencing some teething problems.

GOOGLE+ (plus.google.com)

A social networking site by Google, which combines elements of Facebook and Twitter. Quickly adopted by photographers, including some high profile names. Very robust galleries, sharing and permission management.

Pros:
- You can create and share ‘circles’ of contacts – good for growing your audience and ‘selective broadcast’.
- While many people don’t want to make the switch to G+ (“I don’t know anyone there!” *sigh*), the photo community on there is very active.
- Great galleries, you can share/comment on whole galleries or individual images. The gallery/lightbox interface offers a much better photo experience than Facebook.
- Easy to control permissions and make them as wide or as narrow as you want.
- Integrates with Picasa and can potentially be used a a free, unlimited backup/storage solution (image size restrictions apply); also comes with a basic retouching tool.
- Lightroom plug-in for Picasa; iPhone/iPad apps.
- Google intergrates G+ more with search, your images are likely to surface in search results in the future.

Cons:
- Unlike on Flickr, you can’t add one picture to several albums, you need to make copies, which is a bit messy and means you can’t have all comments for the same image in one place.
- Google continues to integrate G+ with other services – which may be annoying for some.
- Take-up among ‘ordinary’ users is still low.

TUMBLR (tumblr.com)

A micro-blogging platform that makes it easy to share content and follow people. It combines blog functionality with Twitter-like stream of updates.

Pros:
- Really simple to set up and manage.
- Can be customised easily, there is a wide selection of free and paid-for templates.
- It has some advanced functionality too, but even in its basic form it’s more than enough for most.
- Hugely popular, easy to reach a large audience – and most people on it reshare rather than create.
- A powerful mobile app allows users to post on the go.

Cons:
- A lot of images get shared without credits or links – often it’s unintentional (people may drop the original credit while re-sharing), but may be an issue if you don’t watermark images but want to be recognised as the original creator.
- Can be really spammy.
- Audience largely used to quick fixes, looking for easily-shareable, ‘cool’ stuff.
- Not ideal if you want to grow your site and have some flexibility (see WordPress below).

POSTEROUS (posterous.com)

Another micro-blogging platform, like Tumblr, it’s very easy to set up and use. So easy in fact that you can start blogging by simply sending your first post by email to post@posterous.com.

Pros:
- Very simple to use – you can post by email and/or online; you can easily import an existing site from elsewhere.
- Emailing several images at once automatically creates galleries.
- Easy customisation, you can set up multiple blogs.
- Daily digest email sent to subscribers.

Cons:
- Tumblr has probably a bigger audience.
- Not powerful enough if you ant to add e-commerce or have more advanced features.

Both Tumblr and Posterous lack the commerce tools or robustness of platforms like WordPress (see below).

WORDPRESS (wordpress.org if you want to host and manage it yourself or wordpress.com if you don’t)

The ultimate blogging platform. Can easily be expanded to go beyond blogging – it’s a content management system, which allows you to build everything – from blogs and portfolios to e-commerce sites. You can  manage forums, create robust portfolios with or without blogs etc.

Pros:
- Expandable, with a huge choice of free and paid-for templates.
- Versatile and suitable for almost all needs.
- Can be self-installed and hosted if you’d prefer to install it on your own domain (wordpress.org has all the files and support) or you can use the managed version (wordpress.com).
- Integrates easily with other social networking sites/tools.

Cons:
- If you want to host your site using WordPress, you need to have a domain and pay for hosting.
- The managed version (wordpress.com) is limited in terms of its flexibility compared to the self-hosted version.

*****

AND THE REST

Flickr - the ‘original’ photo-sharing site, a bit stale and with limited functionality compared to many newer platforms. But the Flickr community is active and the library is gigantic. Owners, Yahoo!, promised to invest in new features in 2012.

Ephotozine – one of the oldest photo communities (active since 2001) online, still doing relatively well. The usual features are all here: portfolio, photo critiques, forums. It’s UK-based and seems to have a loyal, if moderately-sized, fanbase.

Twitter – great for building an audience and following people you *want* to know, rather than those you *do* know. Good for posting links to own images elsewhere, but stay away from third-party image apps.

InstaGram – a smartphone app which most people use to grab mobile images, tweak them and share with their followers. A lot of users however upload their DSLR images to Instagram and – while annoying many IG ‘purists’ (including me) – get another outlet for their photography.

Have I missed any obvious sites or apps? Let me know in the comments below.