Over the holiday break, Evgeny Tchebotarev (founder and Chief Photography Officer at 500px.com) asked a small group of people to be “guest” editors at 500px for the month of January. Being a HUGE fan of 500px for many years (here’s a link to my portfolio there), I was honored and jumped at the chance. See, if you didn’t know, 500px has an Editors Choice section of the site. It’s just another way to kick-start the photo browsing experience when you first hit the site, and its a really great way to help photographers get their work out there.
My only real task as Editor for the month, is to go through and pick photos for the Editors’s Choice section. So far, for the first 7 days it’s been a hugely inspirational experience. It’s really forced me to spend some time going through the photos a couple of times a day, and looking at a lot of different photographers. If you want to see the Editors’s Choice section, you can of course go here. But rather than just show off photos (because 500px already does that really well), I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned so far by looking at the site in a different way than I used to.
1. Naming Photos – I’ve never been one for naming my photos. I see photos all the time with really corny names. Like one time I saw a waterfall photo named “As she weeps softly” (ugh! I’m gonna be nauseous just saying it) 😉 So I’ve stayed away from naming my photos. But as I look through hundreds of photos at a time, I’ve realized that a well named photo actually shows you what to look at. Often, especially in landscape photos, there’s a lot going on. But a simple name can really help the photographer, help move the viewer in to seeing what they want them to see in the photo. Now, I still think “As she weeps softly” is a horrible name. But something like “A Silent Path” (by Takahiro Bessho), really works for a photo like this. There’s a lot to look at, and as soon as I see the title I settle down in the path.
Long story short… name your photos. It doesn’t have to be a very witty or creative name, but “Sunset at Mesa Arch” is better than “Untitled” or worse, “DSC_4032.NEF” as your photo name (yes, there are photos that have the original camera-given name as their title).
2. The Importance of Small Thumbnails – From now on, I any time I post a photo somewhere that shows a small thumbnail, I will resize my photo and look at it at that size. There’s been so many times where I think I’m gonna love the photo (based on the small thumbnail), and I don’t. Then, the opposite happens. I don’t think I’m gonna like the photo, and when I see it larger, I love it.
Also, there’s one huge advantage of seeing your photos as a small thumbnail. It deals more with post processing than anything. See, photographers today LOVE detail/contrasty effects and plug-ins. Dynamic Contrast from onOne, Clarity in Lightroom, you name it. We love to add it. But the downside is that sometimes you get a glow around things. Believe it or not, sometimes that glow is hard to see on the large image. But for some reason when you see the image smaller, the glow appears. I’ve noticed this a bunch of times so far on 500px and I’ve even seen it in my own work. So from now on, I’ll make sure I look at my photo as a smaller thumbnail before posting it.
On a semi-related note, just a few minutes ago I was looking at a conference website in our industry. I noticed the instructor bio headshot were smaller (like the size of 500px thumbnails) and was amazed at how many looked weird. A lot of eyes were over whitened, and skin over retouched. When you clicked to see the larger version you could still tell, but it was way worse when it was small.
3. Details! – You’d be amazed at how many people miss the details like spots and crooked photos. Here’s how I can relate this to you. You know that song that’s out right now by Taylor Swift? “Blank Space”. Everyone thinks she says something about Starbucks Lovers. I know I did at first. But then some one told me what she really says (“Got a long list of ex-lovers”). Now when I hear the song I can’t hear anything but what she says. I’ll be sitting right next to my kid who swears she says “Starbucks Lovers”, but I don’t even hear it now. (please don’t make fun of me for knowing this… I have teenage kids) 😉
Well, it’s kinda the same thing with dust spots and crooked (both horizontal and vertical) photos. Once you “see it” in a photo, it’s hard not to look at every photo again without seeing that stuff immediately. So… my advice to anyone posting a photo (anywhere for that matter).
– Use the Spot Remove Tool in Lightroom or Photoshop – Lightroom even has a “Visual Spots” checkbox that’ll help you see them more clearly.
– Use the Straighten tool on your photos. If there’s a horizontal surface, then drag the tool along that surface. If there’s a vertical surface or object (like a tree, fence, or house) then drag the tool vertically along it.
4. Time of Day – This one is simple. I see so many photos of beautiful places taken at the wrong time of day. I’m looking at the photo and I want to click on my little “Editors’ Choice” button so badly because I know the potential of the photo. But I just can’t because right next to it is a gorgeous photo shot at sunrise or sunset. I know it’s not always possible to shoot these places in the best light, but it really does make a difference.
5. Expression – I don’t shoot a lot of portraits, but I have a huge appreciation for them. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s all about expression. Now, there’s a lot more to a portrait. Lighting, posing, background, etc… But what I’ve learned by looking through a lot of photos is that you’ll tend to forgive lighting that may not be perfect, or something in the background that isn’t quite right, if there’s a great expression on their face. Everything else becomes less important when you see that genuinely happy smile, or that truly contemplative look.
If you’re not already a member of 500px, I’d encourage you to check it out. And make sure you check out the Editors’ Choice section. It is definitely the first place I go to whenever I need a little inspiration for a photo shoot or I’m traveling somewhere. Most photographers not only post photos, but they post a little story to go along with it and you can usually see where the photo was taken.
Oh, and a big thanks to Evgeny for inviting me to be a guest Editor this month. He’s got a beautiful portfolio too so make sure you check his page out.
Have a good one!
Hi Matt 🙂 Some wonderful advice there !! um just a starter and please email me some advice and way to improve my pictures .. and get more followers on 500px.
Was interested in learning more about the Yosemite Workshop, but the link was bad when I clicked it from both spots on this page.
Hey Ron – Sorry, its sold out.
Matt K .
Are You done photography in Wedding ..????
If i say you to please do in mine so then you will did or not 🙁 …???
Hey Matt, I’ve never really spent much time on 500px and wanted to understand how you or other photographers use the site.
Thank you for the insightful post. I love looking through the photos on 500px. One thing I would really like to see is a note of where the photo was taken. Sometimes the location is mentioned but not always.
I’m with ya. Sometimes it seems the photographer is deliberately hiding it. Oh well. A lot of them do share which is nice though 🙂
Matt I thought we would lose touch with you since your big change. I find myself reading you more now than before. Thanks.
Could you put your trainer hat on again for a minute. How do we process to get a better thumbnail and a good looking full size image? Is it just a matter of too much Clarity or Details? How do you make your images have both good looking thumbnails and full size images?
Hey Joe. I’m not sure you have to process differently. But I think looking at it as a thumbnail may help you see things you didn’t when it was larger. Kind of the same thing as processing an image, going to be, and looking at it in the morning. You always see something different. Same concept. But I don’t think you should process them different. Just reduce the size, take a look and make sure all looks good.
Hope that helps 🙂
Always wondered what, if anything, I could do about thumbnail issues. I always thought any web site site controlled their thumbnails. I hate to adjust my full photo, just so a thumbnail looks good. Is there a way to make your own thumbnail for a site and submit that with your photo? I didn’t see it.
What an amazing opportunity … I can’t start my day without spending at least 15mins scrolling through Popular and Editors choice on 500px. I’ve learnt so much from the inspirational work on their pages and if nothing else a quick scroll through the photo’s inspires me to enjoy a beautiful day rather then get bogged down with horrific news broadcasts.
BTW I added LR5 to my workflow about 3months ago, but was a bit silly during so during my busiest time of year … however your tutorials and help online was a lifesaver (thank you thank you thank you).
Best wishes from one of the most beautiful photo spots in the world … Namibia.
I’m guilty of the Starbucks thing too…just sayin.
A quick comment on #3 Details … you are not alone. I also thought it was “Starbucks Lovers”, but my 10 year old laughed at me and corrected 🙂
By the way, your training videos and blogs are awesome! And of course the pictures too.
Similar tips have been mentioned before, including #6 here: http://www.photographio.com/get-popular-500px/
I learned that cropping/composing your image, is a thumbnail crop, which is very cool.
500px newbie: https://500px.com/JohnMacLean
Thanks for this excellent article and all valid points.
Personally I always check the preview in the Navigator in Lightroom (top left of the screen) but not like you to check for glow but to check for exposure. For some reason some of my landscape shots (or areas in the photo, most of the time foreground) look darker in the preview than they do in the big Development window. And as I know the importance of the thumbnail on sites like 500PX (there is only one chance to make a first impression, hence why everybody should manually set the thumbnail and not let 500PX do it automatically) I want to make sure this thumbnail also looks exposed correctly. That’s why I will change the exposure (or part of it) of such a photo a little so it looks good in both small and big format. Is that also something you have seen and do you know the reason for this (as I guess it is related to the glow you check for)?
I don’t belong to 500px, and I understand what you are saying about thumbnails, but in a different manner. I think that I’ve had some pretty good pictures posted on another site, but the thumbnails doesn’t do them justice. There are 3 ways to view a picture on the site: thumbnail, the picture as posted on your page which is larger than the thumbnail, but you can also view the picture by clicking on “View Full Size” and that is where you experience the maximum effect of the photograph.
I am not a professional, but I do love photography and wherever that takes me is fine with me. After all, it is about the journey we call life!
Your thoughts on this if you will!
Thanks for the writeup, I often have a hard time naming my images as well.
On a side note, do you have any ideas/insight towards composite images on 500px? A lot of users obviously feel that 500px is more or less a place for “pure” photography.
As someone who likes to create composited images, even with CG created elements, I tend to disagree. I have asked 500px directly what their opinon about this is, but never got a response.
Just wondering what your opinion is?
As an example of the type of image I am talking about:
Hi Connor – to me, there is no pure photography any more. An image is an image. If it’s a great image, I want to see it. Whether or not it was composite or not.
The way I think about it is this. I don’t personally like street photography. So I simply just don’t look at it. If you don’t like composites (well, I know you do, but some one else), then simply don’t look. But don’t discount it because it isn’t “pure”. “Pure” photography is gone. We have these tools and people will use them whether a die-hard traditionalist wants them to or not.
Thanks Matt, nice little insight especially with the small thumbnails.
I’ve been looking at selecting the right thumbnail image for a link into photo collection on my own website. I’ve been choosing images a viewer would be intrigued enough to click onto visit the set rather than an image I thought was the standout one from the folio. Its had better results so far analytics wise.
Good point about titles Matt. Putting some thought into the titles for the photos I post is something I’ve paid more attention to this past year. I’m also encouraging the members at our photo club to do the same. If you’ve spent a considerable amount of time making the image and PP’ing it, why not give it the dignity of a thoughtful title.
This is a pretty spot-on analysis, Matt. People just sometimes ignore the presentation. (naming, thumbnail cropping etc).
Thanks Rikk – And I actually don’t think people ignore it. I think it goes back to some just don’t know. Kind of like the first time some one points out lens distortion in wide city photos (where the buildings lean inward). You probably never saw it before then, but after that, you can never see it another way.