PetaPixel

Interview with Oleg Gutsol of 500px

Oleg Gutsol is the co-founder and technical director of photo-sharing service 500px.


PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

Oleg Gutsol: Ian and I met during our university years at Ryerson, around 2004. He was in business and finance program and I was in computer science. We both liked photography, travel and motorcycles, so there were some common points of interest. I think we both shared a passion for working on something meaningful, and although then we were not working together, we both were exploring opportunities to start our own business.

PP: What is 500px? Can you tell us the story of how the service came about?

OG: 500px started as a LiveJournal community in 2003. The rules of the community were simple: you could submit a photo for review and a) it had to artistic, b) it had to be 500 pixels wide. The monitors in 2003 were much smaller size and 500 pixels was a good width for a photo. The community gained some popularity and Ian decided to launch a separate website with the same rules, and in early 2006 he did. The website was interesting, but the model did not seem very scalable — it relied on a manual review of all submitted photos, which was difficult to do with any meaningful volume. It was also hard for Ian develop the site, since he is not a software developer.

In early 2008 we talked about collaboration and decided to change how 500px worked and open it to everybody to be able to upload photos. The challenge was — how do we keep the same quality of the photos if we allow everyone to upload whatever they like? We though about it for some time, playing with different options, but in the end we though this: let the community decide which photos are good. So we developed algorithms that would rely on user feedback and interactions. In the process, we scrapped the old system and built the new one from scratch. We relaunched the new site on Halloween night 2009 — I still have a photo of us coding next to the pumpkin head.

From that time we kept adding some features and fixing bugs as the community grew. In the middle of the summer of 2010 we moved all images to the cloud, since we ran out of storage on our server in Toronto. By the end of 2010 we started having problems with server resources and in Jan 2011 I moved the site to the could completely. Since launch 1.5 years ago we grew from 20,000 monthly visitors to 2 million monthly visitors and traffic keeps growing.

PP: What advantages does 500px have over its competitors?

OG: I think the main advantage is the quality of our photos. We also have a strong community of very talented photographers. In terms of products we offer — everybody can build their own portfolio on our platform, and it is very easy to do. Also, you can sell prints of your photos on our site, just turn on the store in the settings.

PP: How large is the company at this point?

OG: Up until a month it was just Ian and myself working on 500px. Recently, we got a salesperson and a mobile developer, we are planning to add two more developers in the next couple of months. We are a small, but dedicated team.

PP: Where is your headquarters located?

OG: We are located in Toronto, Canada. Our office is in the heart of Toronto @ Dundas Square.

PP: How are you funded?

OG: The company is bootstrapped from the very beginning, we cover all the business expenses ourselves. Quoting one of my friends: “Our investments strategy is to take money from customers. Because they don’t expect it back”

PP: What’s your own background in photography?

OG: Both Ian and I like photography, both of us used to do photography professionally for a bit, but both of us are not doing it professionally any more. We like to go on photo trips and shoot with a group of people. You can take a look at some of our photo works on my site and Ian’s site. Some of my latest photo trips were in the jungle of Peru and Ian’s latest photo trip was in California.

PP: What equipment do you use these days?

OG: If you are talking about professional photo equipment, I use a Nikon system and Ian uses a Canon system. I like animal photography, so I use a 70-200 telephoto for this, and a 500mm sometimes. But lately, iPhones and Instagram is our photo equipment for everyday photography. We are both pretty active Instagram users and you can follow us (@cyberguss, @iansobolev) to see what we are up to day-to-day.

PP: How many register members do you currently have, and how many are registering per day?

OG: We have 80K users and we have almost 1000 users joining us daily now. We have doubled the number of users in the past two month.

PP: What are your goals with the service, and where do you see it headed?

OG: We always wanted to create the best photo website, with the best photos and the best services for photographers. This is what we are working towards. We want 500px to be the place for the best photography in the world.

PP: What are your thoughts on copyrights, and do you offer Creative Commons licenses?

OG: I think copyright is great, I think photographers want to keep the copyright to their work, regardless of where they want to share it. Unlike some services online, we do not claim any copyright to our users’ work, it is up to the user to determine how his or her work can be used. Regarding creative commons — we explored this issue and believe that it does not add any value to our users, since it is not enforceable in any country yet. If this changes — we will definitely consider a CC licence.

PP: How is 500px capitalizing on the recent boom in cell phone photography?

OG: In short — we currently do not. But we have a number of mobile apps planned, some will be coming this summer, so stay tuned. Also, we saw several 500px user profiles with photos from Instagram and the like, and those photos looked really great, so mobile photography is something we definitely will explore.

PP: Do you know if a large portion of your new users are coming from other photo sharing services?

OG: Most of our users have accounts with other photo sharing web services. A lot of the talk happens around comparison of our features to Flickr.

PP: Why did you decide to price your upgrade at $50 when other sites are cheaper?

OG: The calculation was simple — our premium portfolios provide a fast and easy way to create your own personal website. Most of the photographers need a way to display there work and have a way for their visitors to contact them. If you were to get the cheapest hosting plan — it would cost you $5/month. On top of that you would need to design, code and maintain your website. So, for less than the price of the hosting plan, we will provide tools to manage your personal photo portfolio. This let’s the photographers focus on their main activity — taking great photos.

PP: How many photographs are uploaded every day at this point, and how much data are you storing?

OG: Currently, we see about 4000-5000 photos uploaded daily. We are storing approximately 750,000 photos and serving around 250GB of photos per day.

PP: Who do you consider your closest competitors?

OG: Our closes competitors in terms of portfolio services are Carbonmade and Virb, and also sites like SmugMug, Photoshelter and, of course, Flickr.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

OG: We love PetaPixel — it is a great resource for anybody interested in photography. If any of you PetaPixel readers would like to try 500px and have any suggestions or comments about the site — please let us know on our twitter or by email.


 
 
  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    I was about to try 500px but the voting/competition piece of it turned me off. The idea of using people’s want/need to be popular as a business model and to drive numbers bothers me. It may work in pulling more people in and getting people to post more images but it turns me off. Flickr Explore has turned me off for years (and yes, I’ve had images on it hundreds of times). Competition and popularity should have no place in the creative arts.

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    I was about to try 500px but the voting/competition piece of it turned me off. The idea of using people’s want/need to be popular as a business model and to drive numbers bothers me. It may work in pulling more people in and getting people to post more images but it turns me off. Flickr Explore has turned me off for years (and yes, I’ve had images on it hundreds of times). Competition and popularity should have no place in the creative arts.

  • http://daleallyn.com Dale Allyn

    I agree with Richard’s comment below. The 500px site is quite attractive, but I hope they’ll choose a different path than the popularity-contest-model. In time it tends to drive content toward over-juiced, over processed images, rather than evocative art. 

    In any case, I wish those involved with 500px success. Building a startup is no small feat. 

  • Andrew Ferguson

    The main thing keeping me from updating my 500px account more is simple: There’s no Lightroom Export plugin.

    It’s a hassle to get photos from Lightroom to 500px.

  • Andrew Ferguson

    The main thing keeping me from updating my 500px account more is simple: There’s no Lightroom Export plugin.

    It’s a hassle to get photos from Lightroom to 500px.

  • Andrew Ferguson

    The main thing keeping me from updating my 500px account more is simple: There’s no Lightroom Export plugin.

    It’s a hassle to get photos from Lightroom to 500px.

  • Andrew Tsovbun

    Олежка, ты умница!

  • http://twitter.com/blindmonk Ian Sobolev

    That’s what Portfolios are for — http://500px.com/portfolio. That’s your site, without comments, competition, ratings, etc. In short, that’s your portfolio :)

  • Oleg

    Lightroom plugin is in the works, we will release it this summer.

  • Oleg

    :)

  • Charcot

    I just signed up with 500px because I was tired of all the BS at Flickr – I am looking for a community – so far it still has my attention and will continue work with it.

  • Traveller

    Yes, 500px should choose a different path. Otherwise it will end up with the photos of same subject from all the 360 degress :))

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752983470 Døugie Jefførd

    I like it ….it’s great …I want to have a “fresh” pic someday too

  • http://twitter.com/AljanScholtens Aljan Scholtens

    I really like 500px! It’s a great community with really good photos. http://Focussion.com is also a nice community, but has a different focus. It’s based around feedback.

  • Pingback: 500px – Photo Sharing for Serious Photographers

  • indiablue

    I got tired of Flickr too. When I started about 6 years ago it was great but now it is just boring and redundant. The UI sucks big time and community is all but non-existent. 500px is good so far but the “dislike” button is a definite turn off. Also, the search is very tiresome. Considering how well the other areas of the site are built, the search function seems from another era. Not at all useful.

    That said I definitely want to support fellow Torontonians :)

  • http://twitter.com/fotki Fotki.com

    Amazing content! Great for portfolio. 

    If you need a good, unlimited and convenient back up of your photo galleries, I suggest Fotki.com. They have the most intuitive user interface and FTP batch FTP upload/download.

  • Anonymous

    Krásné záběry:_!

  • Tor

    “Competition and popularity should have no place in the creative arts.”

    I disagree. Competition and popularity is what gets 500px the best photographers and makes it easy for users to transparently find the best pics. 

    Just like in other professions photography (and creative arts in generals) needs and thrives off competition. 

    That being said a sharing site should not only be about competition. On 500px due to the MIA of groups and the poor search algorithm it is only about the best photos. I can’t even imagine special interest photos on 500px (i.e. the classic car group). Portfolios do not quite compensate for this as they are hard to find and not integrated into the 500px experience. 

  • Tor

    “Competition and popularity should have no place in the creative arts.”

    I disagree. Competition and popularity is what gets 500px the best photographers and makes it easy for users to transparently find the best pics. 

    Just like in other professions photography (and creative arts in generals) needs and thrives off competition. 

    That being said a sharing site should not only be about competition. On 500px due to the MIA of groups and the poor search algorithm it is only about the best photos. I can’t even imagine special interest photos on 500px (i.e. the classic car group). Portfolios do not quite compensate for this as they are hard to find and not integrated into the 500px experience. 

  • Skye Nott

    Please add Groups to 500px, closed group discussions are the only reason I’m still on Flickr.

    It’s kind of unfortunate that your Popular and Editor’s Choice photos are the same old cliche crap (in my opinion) as Explore, but I guess that’s what the masses want.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5QLPFI2PPQBYRWQMTMR7YMBEY4 Eloy

    As I read this article, I am blown and quite turned off by the fact that none of the photos have credit or link back to their 500px page. (As much as we love to criticize flickr they did that right)

    I mean really. No credit?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Hi Eloy,

    Thanks for voicing your concerns. All the photographs were taken by Oleg himself. We wouldn’t use other people’s images for an interview :)

  • Pingback: 500px.com – Flickr’s First Real Competition? | m r h | b l o g :.

  • Anonymous

    I just recently discovered 500px and so far I like that it’s not cluttered with too many photos. Haven’t gotten into the voting thing, but never did get many comments or views on Flickr either. Guess I have to tag and join groups, but that’s not what I want to do.

  • bob

    Agreed.  It’s just another place for oversaturated “bokeh-rrific” photos to find a home.

  • Pathikso

    Is lightroom plugin ready yet?

  • David

    No Lightroom plugin comming? See http://regex.info/blog/2011-09-20/1852

  • Shaftinaction

    Are you working on a Lightroom plugin yet? It is very frustrating without one. So many people have asked for it and you give no straight answer about it. 

  • Frustrated

    Please hire someone that knows what they’re doing to rework your API. The existing API is poorly documented and is a joke compared to flickr’s API. Plus, you guys pissed off Jeffrey Friedl, your best ally who would have developed an “awesome” (sorry, couldn’t resist) plugin for Lightroom, for free.

    While you’re at it, hire someone who knows something about maintaining highly available and scalable web sites please.

  • Sebastian Vieira

    Is it ready? I haven’t seen it.. I’d love to be able to use it

  • http://vaneeesa.com/links/ Vaneeesa Blaylock

    I really wish 500px offered Creative Commons licensing. Oleg’s comment that, effectively, we’ll ignore CC as long as possible and only if it’s such a global force that we can’t avoid it will we ever give users that control over their images is a disappointingly OLD media attitude.

    Oleg may well be right on in estimating his users interests. In surfing cyberspace I’ve definitely found communities that focus on sharing and those that focus on locking use down. As pro or aspiring pro photographers, perhaps your users aren’t interested in sharing.

    Speaking only for myself, I love 500px, it’s a wonderful site that looks great. And everything I create is licensed Creative Commons Attribution. I often feel that that license is a more important part of my art than the “art” itself. CC licensing really represents the world I want to build, the community I want to live in.

    500px is for sure more elegant, but flickr offers a lot more traffic and more user choice in licensing. Even if the majority of 500px users want ARR licensing, there’s no harm in offering the choice. As it is now, every picture I post with you displays terms that are the opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish.

    —–

    If the ARR licensing is because “we’re too pro to share” then I have to agree with many of the commenters above, that the Voting on images is kind of cheesy / amateurish. I get that “audience participation” is good for websites and probably does help with engagement / retention, but a popularity contest does seem like the wrong tone for a “serious” photo site.

    Anyway, it is a great site. Thank you.

  • http://dldx.org Durand

    Yeah, I think CC licensing is essential. I hate the fact that they disable right clicking on images even though I wouldn’t mind if people did that..