Three years ago I signed up for an account on 500px – an online photo sharing website. I was pleased to see they were based in Toronto and I liked the notion of supporting a Canadian based photo sharing site as I had with Flickr back in 2004. I read their TOS, and all seemed straightforward and uploaded some photographs. Considering how many followers I had a the time, I had a good reception, and one of my photos even had an “editors choice” which gave me some early attention.
I don’t want to give the impression with this list that I hate the people involved in producing 500px, or the users on the site. I do like the layout and manner in which 500px displays its user’s photography, and the reaction to my photography there was generally positive. I wrote this over the period of the last few months, but have hesitated to publish as it’s more of a negative post than usual. The subject of 500px comes up often enough in online conversation I thought it would be beneficial to write down some of the issues I’ve had over the years and communicate why I no longer participate in sharing, voting, or viewing there.
EDIT#1 (October 19, 2015): I have updated this list to include mention of 500px’s new site 500px.me – their Chinese hosted 500px.com mirror. I’ve listed it as #1 here instead of #9 as I feel it might be the most important on the list (the rest aren’t really in any order).
EDIT #2: (December 28, 2015). I’ve had a number of people ask me where I DO recommend hosting photos. If you just want to display your photos on a network for sharing and not selling, Flickr still does a decent job at that. If you want to sell your work, I’d recommend Photoshelter. It isn’t free but their site tools are good and they don’t come with any of the sort of BS 500px does. If you really want to go to the next level I would host your own website with your own domain name. I use Photoshelter along with web host Dreamhost (40% off) for this photography site. No problems encountered with either after many years. On with the list!
1. 500px creates 500px.me (initially vcg.me) and hosts your images in China
In July of 2015 500px announced they had obtained $13 million in funding from China’s Visual China Group in order to expand into China. When the vcg.me site (now rebranded 500px.me) was discovered last week it became apparent that there could be some major issues with the move into China – an entirely new Chinese site written in Chinese and hosted in China. 500px support confirmed with users asking for an explanation that indeed this was a 500px website. My main issue with this is the fact our images were copied onto Chinese servers, but the way 500px handled this is also problematic. Once again they have dived into a new feature or development without sufficiently communicating with 500px users, or determining the outcome of their actions.
A more thorough discussion of my issues with this move to China can be found in the following post:
I wrote this section a few months ago. Since then I’ve read a great post by Sarah Marino titled “Photo Consumption, Conformity, and Copying in Landscape Photography“. Sarah’s post nicely sums up the issues with voting, goals of popularity, and the resulting conformity better than I did, so you should just go read her post. Well, after you finish mine. 😉
I’ll just say that since I left 500px I don’t miss comments simply consisting of “V+F” or the emails I had saying that they would vote for my images only if I would vote for theirs first.
3. Pricing of Digital Downloads
When 500px launched their 500px Market option that allowed users to opt into limited canvas sales and digital downloads I was interested. The canvas side of things seemed reasonable, but it was tied to the digital download, and you couldn’t pick one over the other. The digital download gave out a large file (if not full resolution) for around $3. As I was not willing to give images away for that price, I wasn’t allowed to access canvas sales on 500px. I should point out this was not the same as the 500px Art store I mention below.
4. Launch of 500px Art store (service ending in 2015)
I was not interested in opting into the print store (500px Art) due to the sizes and pricing offered, and 500px wouldn’t communicate where these prints were being produced. I did take a look at their site, and in doing a quick search on it, found my images listed in the results despite my not having opted in. This may very well have been covered by the 500px main site’s Terms of Service but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Clicking on my images in the search results didn’t allow you to actually get a print, so I presume as the store was new they were populating the search results with some images from the 500px main site until their selection improved.
5. Dignity for Photographers: 30% Royalties.
When 500px’s licensing site 500px Prime was launched two statements were made that really angered many photographers. From their blog post (https://500px.com/blog/998/introducing-500px-prime) we have this statement:
“We are pricing all licenses in a way that brings dignity to the photographer, we are not joining the race to the bottom. Our licenses will start at $250.”
While I was not interested in selling RF licenses (I only offer my work as Rights Managed) at least the prices weren’t in microstock range. However, their next statement was this:
“We are giving you, the photographer, 30% for every one of your images that we license. It doesn’t matter how it is bought, who buys it, or under what license, your 30% comes off the top.”
30% = Dignity? You’ll see in the comments on that blog post that many were not happy with the 30% rate. Quite a few photographers negatively reacted to the choice to use the word dignity alongside a 30% royalty. To their credit, 500px changed their stance on this about a month later and flipped the royalty rates to 70% for the photographer and 30% for themselves. However, I think the original 30% royalty betrays their attitude towards photographers and the value placed in their work. This may be close to industry standard rates but I reserve the right to be disappointed by it.
Edit (March 21, 2016): 500px has now cut their royalty rate from 70% to 30% for non-exclusive photographs. Exclusive photos are now at a royalty rate of 60%. Ouch!
6. Free images for Bing’s Homepage
In late 2013 500px offered another opt in program to allow photographers to potentially have their images used as the background to the Bing.com homepage: https://500px.com/blog/736/500px-bing-showcasing-world-class-photography-together . Many photographers were unhappy with this, as placement on the Bing.com homepage was formerly a potential licensing deal. As indicated by Patrick Smith in the comments section – one that was valued around “a couple hundred dollars”.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In one of the comments a 500px employee responds in part with this statement: “This is a free collaboration between 500px and Bing, and I think it is a wonderful opportunity for photographers who would like to get discovered and get more exposure.”
I figure that most photographers desire exposure in order to get noticed by those who may help them make money on their photography. How does decreasing the reward for use on the Bing homepage to $0 work as a first step towards exposure to eventually make money? The logic here makes no sense to me anyway.
7. Rewarding unethical wildlife photography
There have been a lot of popular photographs on 500px showing wild, unfledged baby birds out of their nests and being fed by parents. These initially look like cute photos showing a glimpse into the daily lives of these birds. However, in many cases, the photographer has taken the babies from the nest, propped them up on a branch and waited for mom or dad to come by and feed them. What happens next? Does the photographer place them back in the nest? Either way, a very unethical way to go about wildlife photography. We can add to this example photographs of drugged frogs holding leaf umbrellas, and insects covered in various substances or refrigerated to make them “pose” in a desired position.
This is something that probably happens on many photo sharing networks. The reason this is an issue for me concerning the 500px platform is that these images have been directly rewarded by staff in the form of editors choice picks and promotion on twitter. I complained about this via twitter on a number of occasions. While 500px can be applauded for frequently responding to user and public queries on social media, questions as to why they were continuing to promote these types of images went ignored.
8. Images appearing to be for sale
Some images on 500px, despite not being part of their 500px Prime RF licensing site, show this display below the photographs:
Sometimes these request to license boxes appear below an image, sometimes they do not. I haven’t figured out why these are not constant, but being there at all is the reason this bothers me. I have not opted into the 500px Prime licensing site, and yet sometimes these have appeared below my own images. Last year I had a potential client ask me a few questions about licensing. We had a back and forth about exactly what they required, and I gave them a quote of around $400 USD for a Rights Managed License. They came back to me asking why I was selling the same image on 500px, Royalty Free, for only $250. I had to try to explain that this was not the case and I had nothing to do with the message advertising $250 on 500px. I did not get the sale. I can not say for sure this was due to the way my image was displayed on 500px, but it illustrated a big potential problem for me with sharing images on their service. Of all the items listed here, this issue is the one that lead me to delete over 100 images from 500px.
9. Remove ≠ Delete
I pursue a lot of copyright infringement of my images. In some cases I find these on websites based in countries where copyright is only a faint notion, and I have to pretty much pretend I didn’t see the infringement. Sometimes I have been able to block use of an image if they are hotlinking it from my website. Some hotlink from 500px, as they do from almost every online photo sharing service. However, I did expect that once I deleted my images from 500px (due to item 7 above) they would no longer be available for hotlinking. This is not the case, unfortunately. Photographs may disappear from your account immediately, but are still held in place on the server. I’ll speculate this is to preserve photographs used via the embed feature from 500px. I’ve been told the only way to delete images removed from your profile is to contact 500px and request they be deleted entirely. I have not yet done this but it is probably time that I did.
So these are some of the reasons that I no longer supporting the 500px website. By far the biggest issues for me are the Chinese expansion implications, photographs that appear to be on sale, and the issues around voting, favouriting and the quest for popularity. I understand that for a small startup company revenue generation can be difficult, and that some of the things I have objected to above are the result of their attempt to monetize. While the motivations may be understandable the organization’s attitude towards photography and its customers has lead me to believe their website is not the place for me.
What are your thoughts on these issues? What places online do you share your photography and is it a community that celebrates a variety of styles and methods?