Update – November 2016
Whenever a new photo-sharing site emerges I always sign up with a sense of optimism for the future, hoping that this site turns out to be ‘the one’. What does that mean? Basically I’m looking for somewhere with a real sense of community, that doesn’t offer rip-off stock photo services that devalue your work, that doesn’t reward those with the most clicks with the most exposure, that places quality over gaming-the-system, that has a meaningful premium service that offers genuine and concrete benefits to users, that has a good interface with a pleasing photo-focused design and that has a visible management team who make logicial upgrades to the site. I thought that site might be YouPic and I was wrong. I was also wrong about 1x, 500px, the Flickr reboot and countless other photo-sharing sites including Google Plus, Viewbug and the myriad others that I’ve joined over the last 20 years.
YouPic have now fully launched their premium service and, like so many others before it, it’s extremely disappointing, not to say irrelevant to most photographers. For a pricey $119 (one year) or $19.99 a month (yes, that’s $240 a year) you get access to photography courses, priority curation, photo albums, boosted exposure, faster level-up and cross promotion on social media. In other words YouPic has become yet another site that throws quality out of the window and rewards those who pay with vastly improved site-wide exposure – money wins, photography loses. As to the other premium features – the photography courses I’ve seen are mediocre (I’d far rather pay for Lynda.com or take my chances on YouTube) and while photo albums are nice to have, they’re hardly a luxury feature.
It took my all of three seconds to decide that I wouldn’t be signing up for YouPic Premium. I’ve also pretty much stopped uploading to YouPic completely since there are zero benefits to me. It has very limited worldwide exposure and I have all the storage I could possibly ever need on something like Flickr. Nobody other than photographers use the site so there is zero chance of generating print sales from the site. And now that the whole ‘level’ system can be gamed by paying for the honour, the levels are completely meaingless. So, in closing, nice job YouPic, you looked so promising for a while there and then, like so many services before you, you blew it.
The search continues …
Original sparkley-eyed article continues below …
One of the most popular articles on my little website is an entry I wrote about 500px and why I was so disappointed in it (you can find it here if you’d like to refresh your memory). In that article I laid into 500px pretty heavily, but not without justification. I had thought 500px was a place where photographers could hang out and show off their photos in a collegiate atmosphere., but in reality it was a fairly vacuous emporium of, often sub-standard, photos in which it was easy to game your way onto the front page. I had very high hopes for 500px and they were cruely dashed – the enduring popularity of that article proves to me that not only was I right two years ago when I published the article but that I’m still right now.
Anyway, since that article I keep getting asked if I’ve found an alternative – somewhere other than Flickr, DeviantArt, 500px or indeed Facebook where snap-happy photographers can upload their photos and share them with like-minded folks. Up until relatively recently, the answer to that question was a resounding no. Everywhere I tried, and believe me I tried ’em all, ended up being a let-down in one way or another. Either there was no community spirit or there was no way of getting your photos noticed or the interface was crap or they were charging an arm and a leg for something you can get for free on 50 other photo sites.
One site, however, kept popping up in people’s recommendations. Have you tried YouPic they’d ask. How does YouPic compare to 500px they wondered? Had I tried YouPic yet and what were my impressions of it? So about a month ago I decided to get set up on YouPic and upload a few photos and see if I could get a feel for the place. While I haven’t moved in fully yet (I only have 50 photos up so far) I’m pleased to say that I haven’t been this impressed with a photo sharing website since I first discovered Flickr more than a decade ago.
So the first thing to say is that, so far, YouPic is free. There’s no ‘pro’ membership, no ‘premium’ account, in fact there’s no hard sell whatsoever. It’s a fucking refreshing change, let me tell you. Am I averse to paying for services like this? Absolutely not – but it’s got to be something worth paying for. Will YouPic start charging further down the line – almost certainly – at some point all websites have to pay their way. But for the time-being YouPic is free – just create an account and start uploading.
Now when I first went to YouPic I wasn’t blown away by the design, but it goes to show you first impressions are often wrong. The simple fact is that YouPic has one of the cleanest, cleverest designs I’ve encountered anywhere on the web. It’s an absolutely joy to use this site – it’s clean, it’s quick, it’s instinctive and it gets out of the way so that we can enjoy the amazing imagery uploaded by its user base. The whole fully responsive site design is full of knowing little touches that make navigating around the place a real joy.
Take for instance, following someone. This is exactly what it sounds like – you see a photographer whose work you like and you decide to follow them so that any new photos they post show up in your feed. But how can you be sure that you’ll genuinely like this photographer’s work instead of that particular image that caught your eye. Well if you click on any photographer’s name on YouPic you get a cool pop-over of their profile page showing their other uploads and other key bits of information. If you like what you see, then click the Follow button. If you aren’t blown away, then just click off the profile and continue exploring.
The Explore tab enables you to drill down to the kind of photography you’re into and find kindred spirits. Whether it’s landscape or astro, nude or street, you can click on individual categories and get to know its residents. Beyond the 40 or so sub-categories there are also three mixed tabs for Inspiration, Newest and Hot. If you want to see what’s commanding people’s attention then you can have a look in the Hot section, but the key difference between this and the way 500px handle it, is that Hot is not the default view – so rather than viewing just those images that are already getting a lot of eyeball action, you see your feed first.
The Inspiration section is a nicely conceived feature – it’s a stream of all the new photos that received an inspiration star. How do you get an Inspiration star? Simple – everyone that’s reached Level 5 gets one star to give away daily to curate photos and nominate them to the inspiration flow. As your personal levels increase, you get one additional star per level up to level 14. So think of it as a tip of the hat – when you see a photo that inspires you, award it a star. Alternatively you can ‘love’ a photo or, if you’d like it to appear in your own curated feed of others photos, ‘repic’ it.
If you feel so inclined you can leave further feedback on any image on the site. When you lick the ‘love’ icon, a drop-down list appears with tick boxes for composition, creativity, technical ability and content. If you feel the image particularly fulfils one of those concepts then you can put a tick next to it and it all goes to further build up feedback for the photographer.
Uploading photos to YouPic is a refreshingly simple affair. No five page form to fill in – just drag and drop the photo, name it, give it a couple of tags and click the upload button. You can also upload in batches and there’s a simple but useful Lightroom plugin that enables you to transfer photos directly from your LR Catalog to YouPic without having to save it out first.
After you’ve built up a few photo views, the stats section of the site makes for some interesting reading. All of your feedback is displayed along with any site awards you’ve won. Your photos views are shown in a bar chart and pride of place is given to your personal rating. This rating is a bit like levelling up your characters in a role playing game. It’s pretty easy to get through the first few levels, but once you hit level 7, the margins grow much larger and the requirements more difficult. How do you level up? Simple, put your photos in front of people and see if they award them or, as YouPic themselves phrase it – You Inspired, You Admired, You Improved.
The site has a range of value-added features, such as contests, a blog that highlights the work of other photographers and an in-site mail system that enables you to reach out to other photographers directly rather than via the comments sections. All things considered it’s a great package, particularly considering that it’s all completely free.
Now if you’ve read my article on 500px I reckon you’re probably wondering if it’s possible to fiddle the system on YouPic like you can on 500px to increase your visibility. The short answer is a qualified yes; the slightly longer answer is that it doesn’t matter. Yes, by liking every photo that appears in the feeds you could probably cultivate a large following and rise up the index rank, but all that gains you is a place on a leaderboard that’s actually tucked away in one of the quieter areas of the site. Photos by someone with just a couple of followers can get just as much coverage as those by someone with thousands by being awarded with inspiration stars and it’s the Inspiration feed that is prominent on the site.
You can also get a feel for a site fairly rapidly and YouPic seems like a far less frenzied place than 500px where everyone strives to appear on that front page just so their photo can get some eyeballs on it. 500px sucked the soul out of photography by turning it into a meaningless race. On YouPic it’s considerably more democratic, with the site’s rising stars rubbing shoulders with the newcomers. Even the layout, which randomly assigns some photos a larger thumbnails than others is designed to smooth out the views across the entire userbase and not just an elite few.
So I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be keeping my presence at YouPic up to date because I think it’s the site that the amazing hobby of photography deserves. I suggest you make an account yourself and start uploading some images, liking some cool photographers, exploring the many genres of photographs that are on the site and see if it’s to your liking too. I suspect it will be.