A Different Way to Display Images

Since this blog began in 2007 I’ve had thumbnails to show a smaller version of a photo so things fit in the space the blog provided. All of my older posts currently work this way – click a thumbnail and get the larger version in a lightbox with a caption. This came with limitations though. First, the visitors to this site (unless on a cell phone) have to click on a photo to see the larger version of it (which always looks better). Second, I had to create all the thumbnails and the larger versions too – which adds to the time it takes to make a post. Below is the newer way I’m thinking of doing these things for everything that isn’t a panorama, or maybe even the vertical images. Oh, and no sidebar on an individual post, maybe.

fall foliage at the beaver pond in gatineau park

Fall Foliage at the Beaver Pond in Gatineau Park (Purchase)

The photograph above is from my trip in October to Québec’s Gatineau Park and some of the great fall foliage I saw there. As it isn’t a blog post in itself, I thought I’d use it to illustrate an image without a thumbnail. Clicking on the image now takes you to my Image Library instead of to a larger version. I figure I’ll still display some panorama images with a “click to enlarge” like before, as those are sometimes still a bit small at 950px wide.

If you think this new way of doing things is some manner of travesty let me know in a comment!

New Theme On It’s Way!

After 10 years of wrangling the old theme I’ve had on here it is time for something new. The old one did well, and then when it didn’t I put in my own responsive code so it would work on tablets and mobile as well as desktops. However, a lot has changed with WordPress in 10 years, and how themes work in general, so it is time to move on. The new is mostly new behind the scenes, but is much much faster than the old one.

If you see something broken here in the next day or so I am probably working on it. There will be a few small things I need to change as they don’t elegantly collapse when the window is resized, but this may not actually affect any visitors here. Something I’ll change after this theme is implemented. After that I’ll begin working on the front page of the website and edit that to match the new style of the blog.

500px Now 100% Owned by Visual China Group

   Here I thought I had written my last blog post about 500px. I’ve written two in the past. First I outlined “9 Reasons I No Longer Use 500px” back in 2015 (would be 25 if I’d kept up with it) and then followed up with “500px Creates 500px.me – Hosts Photos in China” later that same year. Today it was announced that Visual China Group (VCG) bought 500px outright. People are now rightly concerned about their intellectual property. Honestly though – the warning signs were there years ago.

   This reminds of something important that I think more photographers and creatives should be doing. If you give a damn about your art, your intellectual property rights/copyright etc… then you should look before you leap. Yesterday the frenzy over a new (3 year old) social network really rose to a fever pitch and invitations, discussions, and complaints were flying around the internet – especially among photographers. I’ve asked a few times if anyone had read the Terms of Service (TOS). “No, who does that?” was the most frequent response. Well – YOU should. If you care about your work – then don’t place it in the hands of anyone until you know what they say they can do with it. I’ve read the TOS for G+, Flickr, Twitter, IG, Facebook, Ello, 500px, and every other social network I’ve ever joined. I did not enjoy reading them – slogging through that language is not fun. Why read it then? So I can have at least some idea (not being a lawyer) if it is a safe place to upload my work. I’m uncomfortable with the TOS on Twitter and FB so I don’t directly upload my work there (but do use the networks extensively). So if you’ve signed up for a new social network in the past few days and haven’t read the TOS – why not? Likewise have you re-read the terms on sites you’ve been on for a long time? Are you sure they aren’t acting like another 500px and have changed their TOS along the way?

Deleting your Work on 500px

   So rather than list another litany of 500px’s transgressions I’ll offer some suggestions to the photographers that have determined they don’t want their work any more. Deactivating your account won’t help you – your images will remain in the hands of… whoever. From my experience many years ago I would proceed to try to delete your work on 500px as follows:

  1. Determine the urls (direct to jpg) of a handful of photos you’ve uploaded on 500px. They likely start with “https://drscdn.500px.org/” or something similar.
  2. Manually, individually delete these images. I believe that is a 4 step process but I don’t have any images on there to test this for you.
  3. Check to see if that jpg is still on the site. Spoiler alert: it probably is (remember that part about allowing people to embed your image on websites around the world – the one in the TOS?).
  4. Contact support at 500px (which I’ve heard is just one employee at this point but hopefully there are more) and request your images be deleted for good. This might work, it might not. I’ve read it has for some, but not for others. In my case I know of four of my images still on their servers and no amount of requests, DMCA takedown notices (to their US based servers), and more emails/requests have removed those files. I do hope you have better luck.
  5. If the above works I’d do that for all of your photos on 500px. I realize now some of you are just now panicking about your photos going to China etc, but the process to remove your work from 500px may take some time. I encourage you to keep after them if that is what is required.

So what now?

   No matter what networks you share your work to – having your own website and making it the center of your activity is a good idea. It is only on your own website that you can truly control your content. Buy a domain name if you don’t already have one. I host mine with Dreamhost.com, though there are a lot of other great hosts out there. Research them before you sign up – and get the level of hosting you require. I also host my Image Library on a site called Photoshelter. If you just have a few photos online at this point you could start with a some basic WordPress galleries and get some experience with that platform.

Good luck!

Moving my blog to a new URL

   You might have noticed that the url of this photoblog has changed. The old url of photoblog.mrussellphotography.com has changed to:


   Just over 9 years ago I started this photoblog as a place to share my photography online. Back then I did some research on the SEO benefits of using a subdomain vs. a subdirectory. At the time a subdomain was the better place for something like my blog over a subdirectory. A lot can change in 9 years on the internet, and for several years now subdirectories have been better for search rankings. So I’ve moved the photoblog from my old subdomain (photoblog.mrussellphotography.com) to the /blog subdirectory. Hopefully this location remains a solid SEO choice because I always find moving a website to be a bit of a pain, especially wordpress and databases in the mix.

   I have also added https to the site as that is another factor that is now part of search result rankings. Your browser may soon start to kick and scream a bit if a site you are visiting isn’t https, even when not submitting important info like usernames and passwords. This time it didn’t take me years to catch up to the new way of doing things at least!

Adapting to changing (web) technology

   As technology moves forward, the manner in which we display our photography on the web has had to adapt. It was not long ago I was instructed that the largest screen size I could safely code for was around 800 pixels wide. At the time, 1280 pixel wide monitor resolutions were current technology, but many people were still using older monitors, and you had to have a website they could use too. As monitors became larger and larger, the size one could safely build a website for slowly increased. Then came the cell phones…

   I’ve enjoyed gradually being able to show my photos larger and larger on my website (though not fullscreen). My first website had larger images at only 480 pixels wide. Now it seems we are being pulled in two directions at once as we need to support both the larger personal computer screen resolutions (ie. retina displays) and cell phones simultaneously. Early in 2014 around 5-10% of my site users were on tablets and cell phones. Now that number is approaching 40-50% – and the current website here doesn’t play nice with smaller screens. Usable on a tablet but not very pleasant to use on a cell phone. Now that Google is changing their standards for search – those who do not have mobile compatible websites will often be left out of search results entirely.

   So with this development, and the percentage of mobile users that have been getting a poor experience on my sites, I’ll be learning how to convert to a responsive design that adapts to whatever platform is being used. I already have a prototype for my main site that doesn’t change the layout (for desktops) and works fine on a small cell phone. This blog will be more difficult to adapt, as will Photoshelter – if I don’t simply change both to a pre-existing mobile supported theme. So you may see some changes here and things won’t look like they did before, but I’ll likely work towards having all 3 of my site areas (site, blog and image library) looking as similar as possible – and mobile friendly!

   Stay tuned!

9 Reasons I No Longer Use 500px

   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:


2. V+F

   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.

Read more

Blog Template Changes

screenshot of my old blog template

Old Blog Template
-click to enlarge-

   Late last year I redesigned my overall website and started using Photoshelter for my gallery, replacing the older gallery I had programmed myself. However, there were a few problems:

a) visitors clicking on my blog link were transferred to my photoblog but it looked very different than my overall site
b) visitors landing directly on the photoblog didn’t really have an obvious way to discover my overall website

So I setup a test blog to try and fix this and asked my Twitter and Google+ followers what they thought. Thank you for your responses btw! I always use a testing blog because I never want to have a catastrophic code botch on a live site! Not that this would ever happen of course…

 So what I am hoping here is that:

  1. The photoblog now fits in a lot nicer with the website and image archive. It shouldn’t feel like you are going to a whole different site anymore.
  2. The text has been enlarged slightly on the posts now so hopefully that is a bit easier to read.

Let me know what you think!

New Website, New Gallery

mrussellphotography logo

   This week I launched my upgraded website: mrussellphotography.com complete with a new Gallery and automated print and licensing purchasing – and lots of new photos!

   A year ago I completed a very drastic redesign of this site. Unfortunately the mysql/php gallery I wrote did not allow me to easily update with new images (lesson learned: also focus on the UI of the admin section!). I sought something a bit easier to maintain so I would actually update the site. I would have enjoyed spending a few months redesigning it but I never could have made it as full featured as the Photoshelter Gallery I am using now. I also would rather spend that time actually taking photo! My old gallery will remain up for a while, I may yet have a purpose for it.

   Now the work turns from configuring and building this site to adding even more images from my archive. Keywording and editing! As with any website launch there could be a few problems here and there. If you have noticed and issue or have any other feedback I’d love to hear it. 🙂