Sunday, February 2, 2014

A few months ago I have returned to 500 pix, a social site for photographs, where viewers vote on pictures posted by the site's members. I became a member myself long ago really, but I haven't paid too much attention to them in the past. They use a proprietary ranking algorithm whereby a brand new posted photograph receives quite a few points the first time it's been viewed, liked, or faved, but, the more it's score (a.k.a. pulse) grows, every new supporter adds far less points to it. When you first upload a photograph, it appears in the Fresh category and on your Friends' pages. When it reaches a rating of 60 (that is, just 5 positive votes for a fresh photo), it moves to the Upcoming. This shows last 7 days of photos, sorted by upload date. Upcoming photos have a great chance to get to the Popular (pulse above 80). Popular contains 50 pages of photos with the highest rating. Currently, it takes a pulse rating of about 84 to get to the last page of the Popular. For more details on the 500px ranking visit their blog. 500px considers scores above 94 pointing at photographic 'works of art'. Actually this is what I'd like to comment about here.

The ranking is quite hard to be tricked, and top ranks point at what the large masses of viewers presumably like. What the masses do 'like' and 'fav' though is not necessarily a 'work of art'. Even looking at a photograph adds points to it.  By definition photographs denoted as 'adult content' and hidden from view are 'asking' to be viewed by male viewers. Not too hard to trick viewers into it. I recently found someone posting the portrait of his dog (an excellent shot by the way) and covering it with the 'adult content' label. C'm on! That's really stupid. 500pix also claim that you can even unlike a picture, and, when you do that, you subtract 6 points from its pulse; I haven't quite seen where one can do this though. Maybe it's been a function in the past. What I often saw however, there have been pictures at the pole position with 99.8 points, which all of a sudden disappeared quite a few pages behind! Maybe the 'dislikes' took care of that, but as I said, I don't see where someone can dislike a picture at the present point in time.

To grow above 94 you probably need thousands of viewer hits. In any case, in its overall rankings 500px is far better than Facebook and Instagram, where pictures are faved by 'friends' and depending on the popularity of the photographer, and regardless how good his/her photographs are, pictures are faved by the thousands of 'dumb' and ignorant followers and 'friends'. I've been 'following' Ricky Gervais on FB for some time, and any picture he'd post would simply attract thousands of 'likes', just because he happened to be comedian Ricky. I reckon most viewers in the social networks are genuine morons as far as photography is concerned. That's why Flickr is still a better network for picture posting.

Back to 500px. You can easily find out what people generally like by watching regularly which photographs make it to the first page or above a pulse of 90 in the 'popular' category. I've done it for some time now, and can report what I found out. But before I do that, I'd like to state that I'm not falling into their trap. I'm not creating images of an imaginary nature, and I will avoid Photoshop as hell as a means of enhancing my work that I intend to post on 500 pix. And I also prefer to show the world in a happy mood, more or less the way I see it. There's no point in creating negative feelings in images. Enough misery and pain around. Creating negative moods is not quite my 'thing'. Also, there is no need to create pictures of a world that doesn't happen to be, on this planet anyway... You rather create a painting instead of capturing images.

Which pictures make it to the top? In general very few photographs, if at all, that have not been enhanced one way or another. It seems that the masses prefer to adore a dreamworld, a world of fairy tales that claims anything but the truth. How do you otherwise explain the popularity of so many landscape photographs with manipulated colours to the degree of plainly impossible? An example is Manarola, Italy, a picture shot always from the same angle of an Italian village by the sea that seems to have been winning top positions in rankings for as long as digital photography has been around. C'm on, there's other places too in this planet. It's plain ridiculous. Déjà vu to the nth power! Landscape photography from Iceland, or the poles is quite popular too. Many use either blurring effects or long time exposures to wipe out ripples from reflecting waters and make them appear more like mist or cloud than plain water. I hate that effect. It's looking at nature the way nature never presents itself to humans and animals with vision. Weird. And the masses love it.

Another popular subject is macro photography. I like this one. Especially when it enters deep into the inner workings of life in animals and plants. Sure thing. I like quite a bit the work of macro photographers, but only those who use normal equipment that you and I can buy. Not fancy microscopes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can only find is government funded labs.

Then there is the 'adult' section. Especially broads from the east and ex CCCP. They seem to have suddenly discovered the likes of our corrupt west, and are gracefully posing with their private parts exposed to attract 'likes' and 'favs' from westerners. And the sex-hungry 'civilised' west falls for it like a rat grabbing the cheese bits off a mouse trap. I remember, I posted once on my Flickr account a nude painting that I created digitally on an iPad, and needless to say, that thing, even in the form of a painted image, has attracted thousands of views. Most I ever had on any of more than 25 thousand pictures I have posted for almost ten years now on Flickr! Go figure... Like some viewer once responded to me: "C'm on, dude. Don't you know yet? Sex simply sells!"  The question is why... Is this because God Himself told Adam and Eve to do so? Kinda 'Go, and have sex, kids'...

Then, there's many pictures with pets, and animals of all sorts that seem to also be one of the preferred subjects of the masses. I'm sick and tired of looking at pets, however, I have less of a problem with wildlife, especially National Geographic style. But not many of us are blessed with the opportunity to travel to the jungle for shots like these.

Then, there's portraits of older people from all over the world. They rarely make it to the top, but they usually get good rankings. It's the type of photography that I simply adore to shoot. Usually in monochrome. The texture of someone's skin, the expression in the subject's eyes, their hands and wrinkles tell volumes-long of the plot behind their life. These are photographs with character. The best photographers of the world had the skill for good portraits in spades. From Bresson and Karsh to more recent ones, like Platon and Vanfleteren. Just love it.

Then you have architectural photography of impossible buildings and angles of view, reflection photography, whereby the reflected part is entirely manufactured by copy/paste/flip vertical and ripple blur (pathetic), exotic landscapes from countries one has never had and probably will never get the opportunity to ever visit (only the lucky ones), flower photography, and a myriad of classic deja vu techniques and framings used in B/W and colour.

Hereunder I'm posting a screen capture of the top 8 shots as I am writing this ( on Sunday, Feb 2nd, 12:47 CET):

The only one I personally like here is the Snowy Bisons at a Yellowstone National Park. The cygnes we saw in Valentine cards a trillion times, Big Ben is presumably a tiring subject, and with long exposure times, you get perspective lines from passing vehicles (big deal), the broad has got an awfully ugly nose and she's posing kinda funny, the frozen bench, fine, it's interesting to see for informational purposes about places everybody wants to see once but nobody wants to live any near, same for the 'sleeping boat' and the 'amazing cloud' seems cool at first, but I wonder how much of it happened in real, or it was tricked above the horizon as a Photoshop layer of some sort. And it goes like this.

I have loved photography from the time I was a toddler. Not always however was I able to say what I liked or disliked in other people's photographs or mine. In the years that followed I bought me dozens of cameras and photographic equipment! I learned to develop films and print paper enlargements in analog on all combinations. From B/W to colour negatives as well as colour diapositives (Cibachrome). I have used small compact point and shoot cameras, (D)SLRs, medium format bodies and field cameras. I owned and used equipment to enlarge and print 24x36 up to 4x5 inch negatives. I worked with Adobe image processing software for more than 20 years. I seen it all. Been there done that.  No kidding. However... there is a huge 'however'. Despite what I did in the last forty years in photography, it is only the last three years that I started learning what photography, as a human endeavour, is all about. There are many fortunate individuals among us, who have the talent of grasping photography from early on in their lives. Not me. I belong to the masses, notwithstanding the fact that I can  practically shoot pictures of good technical quality (sharpness, colour, contrast and composition). I was fortunate though to have recently found such an expert to help me out. Thankfully, in the last three years I have been monitored and trained by a far and away friend, who studied history of arts in her twenties in one of the known UK Arts schools, and after seeing my pictures in 2010 for the first time, she decided to help me understand good photography, learn to appreciate my own work and learn what the photographic craft and art is all about.

I so learned things about implicit emotions photographs create inside the psyche of the viewer, about composition and the framing of objects, about the depth of colours and forms, and the role of perspective in the dimensionality of the photograph, and above all, how these elements translate into human emotion. I have to say, her ability to distinguish a great from a bad or average photograph is remarkable. My daughter, who happens to have earned a Masters degree in Photography too seems to possess a similar capacity for discrimination of bad from good. With an outstanding speed, mind you. In a heartbeat. I envy so much such people. They are able to see 'art' where the rest of us plain mortals merely see just a simple event being photographed. Amazing.

I can now humbly pretend that I nowadays understand more about other people's and mine photography. Looking at many of my past pictures again, with my new 'vision', I often feel embarrassed... Anyways. A dog is never too old to learn new tricks. Better late than never, I say... BTW, if you wondered what this picture of the man drinking tea at the top of this post is doing here, well it's my latest post on 500px that I bet to myself that will touch a pulse of 90. I'm trying to prove a theory that one does not necessarily need unreal worlds in order to grow in pulses above 90 in the Popular category. Linking to that picture will show you my latest score. Right now it has touched 88.5 with 152 views and 24 likes and 7 favs. Another shot I posted yesterday with a simple door handle after the rain has so far enjoyed a max of 91.8 and still growing!

1 comment:

Vince Lane said...

Great comments VJK.
A couple of additional comment. Maybe it's just that I'm not adept at assessing excellent photographs, but I am amazed by the numbers of views ('000+) and ratings (90+) that some photographers receive for nearly all their photos, even those that are quite mundane, dull even and/or supersaturated in colour and manipulation. I haven't looked at this in any detail but perhaps the explanation is (i) nearly all their shots are outstanding and I'm a poor judge; (ii) they have heaps and heaps of followers: and/or (iii) I'm jealous.
I have tested this once myself, taking an OK shot and then saturating and introduced impossible colours, and guess what: it got heaps and heaps of views and likes!
On a positive note, I've found a quite a number of photographers at 500px who have terrific images across a whole range of subjects. They don't have huge ratings and thousdand of views and followers, but they do have stimulating photos, so I'm happy to look at their stuff.