A Toronto-based company is getting attention for its elegant photo portfolio site. It offers free and premium options, and here’s how you can get started.

500px aims to be ‘Flickr for pros’

Photographers who feel like they’ve outgrown casual photo sharing sites like Picasa, Flickr, or SmugMug should check out the new social photography service in town, Toronto-based 500px Inc.

This elegant looking site is aimed more at hobbyist and professional photographers who want to show off their portfolios than people posting casual snapshots. The site is still in its infancy, but it’s emerging as a great place to get exposure, find inspiration, and connect with other photographers.

Who is it for?

Many people have called 500px a “Flickr alternative,” but the sites are actually aimed at different audiences.

At a Democamp presentation in Toronto, founder and technical director Oleg Gutsol says he’s not looking to compete with Flickr, but create a community of the best photographers and the best pictures. “The product is very simple,” he says. “It’s the best photos in the world.”

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So far, 500px seems to be a gathering place for more artistically inclined photographers, and it’s clear that the community uploading to the site is highly skilled and even professional. Subject matter, however, is widely varied. While browsing 500px, you will find beautifully composed shots of everything from sea life to streetcars.

Anyone can be a voyeur on 500px, but to become an active member and share your own images, you’ll need to sign up for an account. It’s simple and fast; you only need to enter a username, password, and valid email address. The site offers two account types, free and premium. Free accounts have unlimited hosting, but are limited to one collection (or album) and 20 photo uploads per week. The premium account costs $50 a year and includes additional features such as unlimited photo uploads and collections, the ability to link your portfolio to a custom domain name, premium portfolio themes, and customization options.

Viewing

To browse pictures, choose from a set list of categories, including Popular, Editor’s Choice, Favorites, Upcoming, and Fresh. You can also search by keywords or look up specific people. Photo thumbnails are displayed as columns of fairly large squares, with the title and photographer name clearly labeled on the bottom of each. Clicking on an image takes you to a larger view with a description that includes metadata in the right sidebar.

The whole point is to make it easy to create good photo portfolios, Gutsol says. “Photographers want exposure, but face a lot of pain in trying to get good Web portfolios.”

Socializing

One interesting aspect of 500px is that it integrates a number of familiar social media features to help create a sense of community. Like most photo sharing services, users can comment on each other’s photos and share them via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

In addition, 500px users get a free blog (powered by Livejournal), a wall not unlike Facebook’s, and the option to follow and friend others on the site.

There’s also a popularity contest going on. Each photo is attributed a 100-scale rating, based on the number of Like and Dislike votes it receives from other members. The higher the rating, the more likely a photo will show up on the 500px Popular stream. (There’s nothing like friendly competition to whip up a sense of community.) Even if an image doesn’t have an above-90 rating, editors still promote great photos through the 500px Twitter, Facebook, and Livejournal accounts.

The natural stalking of social media also persists; each user’s activity is readily viewable, so it’s easy to know what photos your favorite photographer likes or when he or she uploads a new collection. Since the site is still in its early stages, not all of the social features have taken off (only a small portion of the users seem to post to their blogs and walls).

If you’re looking for a new way to share your photos, check out 500px. It’s easy to use, good looking, and already filled with talent.

With notes from Brian Jackson

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