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by Jolanda van der Meer on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/daKQZ8M6T9g

30 years ago in 1988, I permanently borrowed my uncle’s Pentax SLR. Ever since I’ve taken photographs as an amateur, was lucky to have a personal darkroom in my mid-teens, pretty much dropped the hobby during the first years of work and picked it back up with a Canon SLR during 2003. From then on, I’ve taken even more shots and developed a keen liking for the digital and Adobe’s Photoshop.

(Selfie! 25+ years ago when it was called self-portrait, probably not this one though..)

Around 2005; I was a photo.net user but as it become somewhat obscure, I pretty much forgot about photo sites until Instagram which I never quite warmed up to as a photographer. It was by chance one day in October 2018 that I stumbled upon EyeEm while cruising the App Store. I was instantly amazed, started using it and become a loving contributor since then.

(My photos on EyeEm)

This review is about my experience with EyeEm and consequent foray in to testing other photo sites. It is personal, it is biased and it is honest within that perspective. My intention is to share the experience and thoughts of a serious amateur from both artistic, technology and business perspective. I’ve not used all the sites as extensively as EyeEm and I will underline it where appropriate. Rather than taking it site by site, I’ll tackle the relevant photo sites topic by topic. Here it goes..

Community

I define the Community aspect based on (i) estimation of active members, (ii) their level of photo contribution and (iii) their level of involvement with other members.

To this end, EyeEm since I’ve joined is experiencing around 70,000 uploads a day which can be counted from IDs given to the photos. I congratulate them for being transparent on this. For most other sites, it is not possible to get to this number that quickly. However I’ve seen 500px has a constant active uploading community. While EyeEm has its own market, both these sites tend to put the higher quality licensed content out the likes of Getty Images. To this end, comparing them with Alamy, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock doesn’t make much sense. For the latter ones which I will collectively call “Sales Platforms”, the upload activity is naturally much more selective and within that selectivity very active. All of them do a good job of attracting professional to semi-professional photographers.

As for the member activity, both EyeEm and 500px have great communities with photographers avidly following and commenting on each other’s work. There are a lot of subtle workings here as different photographers use the site in novel ways.

For example (with examples from EyeEm):

Naoki Fujihara has only 6 photos uploaded which are all great in technical aspects and he keeps to himself mostly.

Whereas Seth Kunin has 1800+ photos with varying technical qualities and is an avid follower of others’ work.

While Eddie has a dog blog,

ZEworld concentrates on landscapes.

Numerous examples can be given and this variety of users with so much creative and personal contribution provide the long lasting vibrancy for these photo sites. Here again Sales Platforms have more variety but lack the active community participation and because they reject certain photos due to quality and commercial reasons, their community muscle is less developed on purpose. Because EyeEm and 500px both operate as social sites with a licensing opportunity, not only are their members more active but the content they provide is much more artistic as well as personal.

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Ease of use means navigating the site naturally, uploading images hassle free and the general feeling of lightness when dealing with the site.

EyeEm has natural navigation and a simple and effective interface. EyeEm as well as Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and iStock all lack the ability to create a portfolio page which makes individual photos a big mess once over 500 photos or so.

500px does a great job with galleries but it requires payment to access some of the advanced functions such as gallery slideshows, ad free service and uploading more than 7 photos per week which are the offshoots of the subscription method employed by 500px. Because 500px derives its revenue from ads and as a portion of the photo royalties, sub income seems to be a way to complement revenues. However this shuts out a some useful features on 500px which otherwise has reasonably good navigation and statistical data.

Alamy in late November 18 has introduced the Portfolio Page which provides the gallery function. However most of the Alamy’s dashboard design feels dated and loss let intuitive than most of the other sites. I find Adobe Stock not very friendly to use on the Contributor side while its sales side is comparable to Sales Platforms. Shutterstock is a smooth, efficient and business like interface that does not have much warmth but has most of the functionality streamlined.

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(My galleries on 500px)

Support

Support is defined is getting help when you need it. A part of it is the help files but most of it is the direct answers to your questions.

On this aspect, EyeEm with its limited staff does a great job. I’ve mostly dealt with a Community Manager at EyeEm and she has proven to be a direct, helpful and timely employee which to me has improved EyeEm’s image markedly. So I’ve got responses in an acceptable time and most of my problems were solved. However, EyeEm’s help pages are limited in content and their helpfulness varies a great deal from topic to topic.

500px tries to be helpful but its responses are not as natural and response time is lower even in the Pro setting. As before 500px does only provide Priority support to paid subscribers. Like EyeEm, 500px help pages are not always up to date but it has more comprehensive help information on file.

Sales Platforms have most of this more streamlined in the help file section showing greater professionalism. Shutterstock has a remarkable community network where experienced users answer questions and I believe it works decently. I’ve not been satisfied with Alamy’s support and I was surprised at the speed of Adobe Stock’s responses during weekdays.

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Mobile

Mobile is the availability and the quality of the mobile app and/or mobile browsing ease. As a side note, I was only able to compare Apple IOS interface for mobile.

EyeEm is my favorite here — it has a great app which works as well as the site. Near perfect..

500px has a good app but certain aspects such as photo management which links to licensing issues is omitted from the app and their mobile browsing is too clumsy.

Shutterstock has a limited use app but lacks the functionality of EyeEm and 500px. However its mobile browser experience is acceptable.

Alamy does not have mobile and its preferred route is Stockimo which has a different business model and an on average app.

Adobe Stock has good integration through other Adobe programs but is mobile specific upload on IOS is from Adobe Photoshop Mix which is not even a comparable experience to using the Adobe Stock site directly.

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(My mobile upload of Uçhisar on EyeEm)

Licensing

Licensing score covers the availability of sales channels, ease of uploads for licensing, review times for submitted images, model release management, denial response quality, remedy options for not accepted images, extent of reviewer preferences and general functioning of the licensing process.

EyeEm distributes through Getty Images for the higher quality content and has its own market. EyeEm’s Getty Images presence is very strong and priced decently at the Getty Images’ high quality standards. EyeEm’s market has limited exposure but its pricing is decently high and provides an even better return if a sale originates there. EyeEm does not require exclusivity and does an equal split. Uploading to EyeEm is very easy and keywords are partially automated with very good results. EyeEm has the best model release system fully digitally managed and very efficient. EyeEm’s reviewers are also more tolerant of creativity over stock images. On the other hand, EyeEm’s review times takes longer than all other photo sites and EyeEm does not provide any feedback on why an image has been rejected.

500px distributes through Getty Images and Visual China Group. Its fee split is 30% to contributor for non-exclusive and 60% for exclusive images. 500px does not have its own market anymore. Uploading to 500px is practical and its software can read metadata. However keywording and other options for preparing the image for the license is a bit cumbersome. Its reviewers are relatively more flexible like EyeEm’s but the internal distinction of Prime Collection and Core Collection is confusing. Ultimately what is means is that the Core Collection images go for a lower sales price. Its model releases are still physical document uploads like Shutterstock and Alamy which is a big drag on the process. 500px provides rejection reasons but some to me did not seem adequately accurate.

Alamy is a distribution channel itself and a good one at that. Its fee split of 50% is best among Sales Platforms. Its reviewers are slightly more open to experimentation that the other Sales Platforms. Its pricing range is good and more suitable for creative work. Its upload system is not at par with EyeEm and 500px. Its rejection rules are on the site but its account freeze is a novelty that warrants special attention. If Alamy rejects a photo from an upload batch, the whole batch fails and depending on the rank of the contributor, uploads can be frozen up to 10 days. None of this is explained properly. Alamy completes reviews in no later than 2 days during weekdays. Alamy provides limited rejection reasons.

Shutterstock is a distribution channel itself and good one for microstock. Its reviewers are stricter and tend to favor images within the guidelines while leaving the latitude for Offset.com which is the invite only curated creative offshoot of Shutterstock. Shutterstock has a Premier section which I didn’t look in to as yet. Shutterstock’s software works fine, its keywording while not accurate is comprehensive. Its model releases are one of the most cumbersome I’ve encountered. Its review time is satisfactory. Its pricing range is on the low end and mostly high volume repetitive sales of professionals can make decent return on Shutterstock. Shutterstock provides rejection reasons comprehensively albeit in a generic manner.

Adobe Stock is a distribution channel itself and a good one on average for both micro and mediumstock. Its Premium Selection while invite only has more interesting pieces but gets sort of diluted among all the images. Its review time is on the slower side and its software didn’t feel easy to use to me. However, after EyeEm, Adobe Stock is the only other site that uses digital model releases. Its system is inferior to EyeEm due to multiple party confirmations but provides a good alternative to the printed version. My feeling is that its reviewers have a similar approach to Shutterstock in selecting images that fit the microstock expectations.

Note that the licensing scores reflect my experience and are clearly biased toward flexible, creative and less rule bound photographic style.

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(Link to my Alamy Photos)

Conclusion

My personal choices are (i) EyeEm for the community, access to Getty Images and the ease of use combined with very decent mobile performance and (ii) Alamy for being able to provide a separate sales channel that offers much better prices than microstock subscription packages that tend to favor stock photography.

I think 500px is wasting a lot of potential with the subscription model by limiting exposure and the reducing the variety of the uploaded content. This could very well mean that if a site is not able to have a market revenue of its own, it will need supplemental income either through subscription (500px) or some outside funding (Earlybird Capital for EyeEm).

Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are good quality but their main collections are too professional to the level of being sterile. There are great photos for sure but only with Offset (Shutterstock) and Premium Collection (Adobe Stock) their true gems are revealed which are both curated and inaccessible at will. While I find them strict as opposed to being artsy, both of the main sites are great for the microstock professional.

As for the photo variety and quality, I felt that EyeEm, 500px and Alamy has the greatest variety as their allowance for creative stuff. This is where Alamy stands apart from Shutterstock and Adobe Stock. On a different note, 500px’ subscription model seems to be limiting the buildup of content as opposed to EyeEm which both have somewhat more comparable community styles. While communities are vibrant, the Sales Platforms have the numbers with tens of millions of photos each and Alamy itself announcing north of 150 million images.

A special kudos is reserved for Saatchi Art which has a brilliant display of good photography by a limited number of artists. This is not a digital upload and display site but for a showcase and/or a sales channel for those who will print & ship. However, the curation is nicely done, ease of use is satisfactory and the digital promotion of the final print is professionally handled.

Also I’ve neglected to mention iStock which is an upload platform for Getty Images as I have not personally tried it. Combined with Getty Images, iStock works more like the microstock platform with Getty Images the premier distribution channel.

All in all, these are all great venues and provide a fine example how digital can build upon analogue to develop, propagate and extend the reach of a way of communication which is photography. As a footnote, most of the Sales Platforms have extensive video and illustrations coverage and Getty Images also extend in to music with a broad coverage.

Links to the Mentioned Photo Sites:

EyeEm

500px

Alamy

Shutterstock

Offset.com

Adobe Stock

iStock

Getty Images

Saatchi Art

Investor, Strategist, Business Developer, Management Consultant, Writer & Photographer — hotabak@gmail.com

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