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Ok, I know, I know, before you are even going to read my first paragraph you are probably wondering … why in the world am I giving other people, many who are better in photography than me, advice on how to get popular on 500px? How can someone who isn’t even that popular on 500px give advice to others? If you bear with me for a second, I’ll explain myself.
First off, although I may only have about 11 000 views on all of my pictures, it is only spread out among 12 pictures. That gives around 900 views per picture, which is certainly well above the average photo uploaded on 500px. Every photo of mine uploaded has made the popular chart, and all but two of them have hit the 90 pulse mark, with a few of them hitting 95 and higher, all that without having a lot of followers. So that makes me an above average, but certainly nowhere near top, uploader on 500px, I guess.
But no, you won’t be able to hit the 99 pulse mark (aka popular page #1) on 500px in just a few days by following my tips, and I haven’t reached that high myself (yet). You won’t get hundreds of followers overnight either. Let’s be more realistic. Maybe you want to reach a pulse of 80 at least, which is 500px’s definition of popular. Maybe getting popular for you is to hit the 90 or 95 mark. And that is definitely possible with some effort. It’s about consistently getting to the Popular mark in your pictures. So here we go :
1) This is not about spending hours “engaging” with other people’s pictures
A lot of the advice given on Internet seems to turn around the concept of liking and commenting on pictures of others in order to make them get to you. Yes, it does work, but not only are these methods superficial, they are all very time-consuming. Who really has 2 hours to spare every day to comment on other people’s pictures? Also, building a good follower base is, needless to say, important, but the law of diminishing returns is in action. Unless your photos all consistently get to the 95 pulse mark, and you want them to go to, say, 99, “actively” trying to get followers is largely a waste of time for most of us, and hardly worth the effort. Quality content will attract followers slowly, but surely, over time.
2) How 500px works (a quick refresher)
All that being said, what is still worth the effort to do? Before answering that question, let’s do a quick refresher on how 500px works. Every single picture uploaded gets automatically to the Fresh page, which is sorted by date. This is actually hugely important, and is the big differentiating factor between 500px and all other photo platforms. In fact, the global audience system means that anyone, even a first-time user, can get discovered extremely quickly, unlike any other platform. To give an analogy, 500px is the Reddit of photography just like how Flickr is the forums of photography. And if any picture reaches a pulse of 70 or more by votes and favorites, it gets promoted to the Upcoming page (still sorted by date), while a pulse of 80 makes it to the popular page (which is sorted by popularity). And after 24 hours, your pulse automatically drops by 10, and slowly thereafter. Now all that’s out of our way, let’s continue.
3) The not-so-secret mathematics behind 500px’s pulse and Popular
So if every single picture uploaded to Fresh has a chance to make it to 500px’s Popular and beyond, why only a tiny percentage of them does? It all boils down to one thing: exposure (as in traffic). Any photo, if it has enough exposure, enough views, will eventually become 500px’s most popular picture. But of course, it doesn’t work like this. The timeframe in which you get views from fresh is extremely limited. The results from my inaccurate and non-scientific stopwatch test over 5 times of the day shows that the average time any single picture spends on the first page of Fresh is around 3 minutes 49 seconds, give or take. That figure might vary anywhere from 2 minutes to 5 minutes, depending on the time of the day and day of the week, but it is unarguably very short. And every page after the first one, you may lose half as much exposure to your photos, and so on. After 10 pages of Fresh, your picture is essentially dead if it didn’t made the Upcoming or Popular section.
What about Upcoming then? Although I haven’t measure exactly how long a picture stays on the first page of Upcoming, it should be around 15 to 30 minutes according to my experience. Not to mention that a lot more people like to visit the Upcoming pages compared to Fresh, it should be the ideal moment for your picture to gather attention. Most of the really good pictures have already reached a score of 90 while still in the first 2 or 3 pages of Upcoming!
Once you hit the Popular section, your picture is hopefully still in the first few Upcoming pages, and thus getting views both from Popular and Upcoming at the same time, which means a rapid boost in Pulse. Unfortunately, Popular alone won’t be much help since it is sorted by popularity (obviously), not chronologically. But if you have already reached the Popular section, most of the heavy work is already done. By far the hardest thing is to get your photo from Fresh to Upcoming before your views die, and the only way to do this, to get popular on 500px without a lot of followers is to make your picture stand out from the crowd.
4) Good content is king on 500px
This may sound cliché, but the first thing you need to do is to post quality pictures only. Leave the cute cat photos to other platforms, please. 500px is NOT a website like Flickr or Picasa where you are encouraged to upload a large amount of pictures at a time. You may do it, but you will be quickly discouraged by the 20 picture weekly limit and by the fact that most of your lesser quality pictures won’t get any views. To put it in other words, it is better to post great pictures occasionally than to post average pictures regularly. Not only does the pictures have to be of a high visual standard, but the editing should be too. I know, sometimes post-processing can be excessive on 500px, but you have to fight fire with fire. Not editing or poorly editing your pictures among a whole page of nicely post-processed ones is a surefire way to not get attention. Good post-processing is of a critical importance.
5) Not all content is created equal
Making pictures stand out from the crowd while still in Fresh usually means getting landscape shots or portraits of attractive women, so the top pictures in Popular have these two themes vastly overrepresented. When people only glance each picture for a few seconds, street photography shots or sports shots are just too similar to the junk posted by some 500px users. Leave these for Flickr, your blog, or someplace else where people might appreciate them for their just value. From my personal experience, vivid landscape shots (not panoramas), water reflections and long exposures (of all kinds) are the categories best suited for 500px.
6) No one ever mentions this, but crop carefully
You can select a custom crop area for your picture on 500px, and you should definitely use this feature, instead of letting 500px automatically select the middle of the shot. Maybe some important element of your picture is in the edge of the frame, or there is a particular element that you want it to be left out. Whatever the reason, always do this yourself and try at least to make your thumbnail the most attractive possible, especially when people will likely only spend seconds looking at it. Yes, you may change your crop later, but it takes a while (15 to 30 minutes) for the server cache to respond and you definitely don’t want this. And that is also the reason why panoramas are not recommended for 500px. You simply lose way too much of the frame when cropping that 4:1 ratio to a 1:1 square.
7) Timing is key to success
Maybe even more underestimated than a good thumbnail crop, the timing of your upload is nothing less than essential. This whole article has focused on how to get your picture to stand out by looking better, but what if you could make other’s pictures look worse? When you upload a picture, be sure to fill out everything and take a look at the Fresh page before clicking the upload button. If you upload while the Fresh page already has many good pictures, your picture will likely get a lot less attention, and vice-versa. The Fresh page refreshes every 2 to 5 minutes, so just be patient. Ideally, you should upload right after some guy unloaded a chain of 20 crappy pictures, and that happens a lot more often than you think. My best rated picture, Castle Mountain, had a 98 pulse rating, putting it smack in the second page of Popular, but it was in fact a reupload. The first time I uploaded that picture, it barely got to Popular with a pulse of 81. This shows how timing can wildly influence your pulse.
8) What does all that mean concretely?
If you have followed all my advice given above and want to get a picture, a picture by the end of 15 to 20 minutes following its upload should hopefully be already in the Upcoming section, and it should reach the Popular mark after no more than 1 or 2 hours after. Remember, even the Upcoming section has a limited timeframe, so the quicker the picture gets to Popular, the better it is. Remember, you want to maximize the amount of people who are going to see your picture in the following 20 or so hours remaining.
I hope all of the tips given above have helped you getting more exposure from your 500px pictures, and if you don’t, keep trying! Remember, quality, content, crop and timing are all essential things to look for, and persistence will eventually pay off. But if you aren’t involved in 500px or in any other photo sharing website and are still reading this, you may ask, why am I even writing a whole article? Well, people obviously want to get more views, likes, and favorites, but there is more than that. To borrow a few terms from the financial industry, it is about bringing undervalued photos to its just, intrinsic value. Get the attention your good pictures deserve to have.
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