Rifqi's photo

My photographic journey

I’ve been looking for a place to host my portfolio and, while there are a lot of offerings out there, I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options that are interesting and suit my needs.

I’ve discussed this previously on google+ but, since I never really got any feedback there, I decided to bring it up here as well. You should still check out the google+ post, since it brings up some points that I’ll probably forget here.

It’s inevitable that some of the photos you take will stand above the rest and those are the ones you want to showcase in a nice way. I use flickr as my main place to upload photos; it works, it’s relatively cheap and it has a huge user base, which enables you to get some amount of exposure even without spending too much time or effort on it. What flickr doesn’t provide, however, is a sleek and polished way to display your very best work. My best work still gets uploaded there but it gets kind of lost in the sheer amount of photos on display. I’ve remedied that problem a bit by migrating family snaps to google+, which is pretty much the first social network I use (recently deleted my never used facebook account, never liked that place). So I have a place for bulk uploads and a way to share family snaps with the people who would actually care to see them, but a place where my best work can shine by itself is still missing…kind of.

I’ve found two places that I quite like, both with some pros and cons. Let’s have a look at both of them.

500px: There’s a lot to like about this site. The first thing you’ll notice is the quality of the photos here; good work simply gets the spotlight and it makes the whole site feel like a place where quality matters. The next thing you’ll notice, after uploading some photos, is how good those photos look. Simply put, I think 500px displays photos a lot better than, for example, flickr. They are the stars of the show, just the way it should be. However, the main reason I’ve started using this service is for the portfolio page you get. You can check mine out here. With a free account you get unlimited uploads but you’re limited to just one collection and you can’t use all the themes for the portfolio. The way I’m using the site is that I’m a lot more strict about what I choose to upload compared to flickr. Only the best gets uploaded here and of those uploads, only the top picks gets added to the portfolio.

It’s not all good though, there are problems with the site as well. For starters it can be kind of buggy and slow. Actually, those are pretty much the only complaints, but they’re pretty big ones. Flipping through a portfolio isn’t anywhere near as fast as flipping through the lightbox on flickr, there’s a considerable delay. It isn’t just my computer either, I’ve tried on several systems and browsers, it’s just slow. There has also been problems with the portfolios simply not displaying properly. I know they’re working on improving the site but it seems to be slow going. Those are the main issues I have and it’s what’s keeping me from putting down the $50/year to upgrade and get unlimited of everything.

The alternative to paying would obviously be to stick with the free account but, nice as it is, I don’t really like the fact that all my photos are lumped together in the portfolio. I would like to separate some different styles or, at the very least, separate the bugs from the people in different collections.

Carbonmade: The first thing to notice about carbonmade is how extremely simple it is. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword; the simplicity certainly makes it fast to set up and easy to maintain but, at the same time, you will probably wish there were some more options. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t for the cost of upgrading, which is a rather ridiculous $120/year. If the price was around that of flickr, say $25, it would be an attractive offer. As it stands, upgrading is out of the question. So what does a free account get you? It gets you 5 collections, an improvement over 500px, and 35 images, a huge step back, 35 is a pretty small number. Granted, it does force you to really pick your best and only your best shots. However, it would also force me to stick to only my portrait work or only my macro work, which isn’t really what I want. If I stick to only portrait shots, 35 might be enough to show off a wide enough variety while making sure the quality is kept high.

So what does it look like? You can see my portfolio here. I’m not overly fond of the starting page but once you get to the collections, things look better. With an upgrade you can choose to display bigger pictures, which would have been nice (but not $120 nice). One thing I really like here is the speed, it’s lightning fast to flip between pictures, very nice. The speed seem to come at the cost of some quality loss though – the images look slightly softer than they do on 500px.

Those are my main alternatives at the moment and personally I think I’m leaning towards 500px, with some reservations. I’m certainly open to suggestions though, perhaps I have missed some brilliant offerings out there. I’ve looked a bit at smugmug and zenfolio and, while nice, they seemed a bit too complicated for my very basic needs. The attentive reader will have noticed that I have a poll up on this very matter, so leave me your opinion (you’re going to tell me to spend my money, aren’t you?) and let me know what you use for your own portfolio.

More discussion and no photos today, sorry about that.


13 Responses to “A place for your portfolio”

  1. disperser

    I agree with Flicker . . . huge depository of pictures, less-than-attractive layout.

    For what it’s worth, my two favorite right now are SmugMug ($150/year for the Pro membership) and Picasa.

    I really like SmugMug, but yes, the price is a little high. It is primarily a place for someone who want to sell photos, with easy pricing schemes, a choice of two quality labs, ability to customize one’s page, very neat tools for adding/editing keywords and captions, and a bunch of other stuff. I went on it originally because I shot a wedding and needed a place for people to order prints they wanted.

    But, I am not a pro . . . the almost $13/month is probably overkill, except I really like how they show the pictures, some of the privacy features (control over what happens to your pictures), choice of sizes you can choose to show (and sell). Overall I am very happy with it. The caveat of course, it’s within what I am willing to spend for an on-line depository of pictures. It might not be for everybody. Here is the first gallery I set up in it: http://smu.gs/A7DmEU.

    Picasa is both a stand-alone on-line photo storage/sharing site, a program that you load on your computer. The two integrate very well. Picasa is the photo organizer I use the most at home (I use Lightroom for both organizing and editing, but primarily for editing). Picasa has improved a lot in the last few years, and 20GB of space is just $5/year (2GB with a free account). It’s not integrated with Google+, and I’m not sure how all that will shake out. If you share an album via Google+ this is what people will see:


    On that page, if you click on the “Emilio D’Alise Albums” you see my few Public albums. I have many albums which are “limited”, meaning only people with a link can see them.

    If you are in an album, double-clicking gets you the single photo layout/slideshow, with a caption/comment sidebar. Not a bad way to look at photos. I disable photo downloads but people can, if they want, download the preview photo. I wish I could disable that feature as well (I like control of who gets my photos). Yes, I know . . . people can find ways to get the pictures, but at least it’s work, and limited in quality.

    I can’t share the owner’s view of the album, but that allows editing, captioning, fun effects, etc. etc. including making a YouTube movie of your photos.

    However, if I want to do quick edits of photos, I do it before uploading. The PC version of Picasa has simple but useful photo tools, and you can easily sync with on-line albums. And you can upload directly into any of the photosharing sites (including SmugMug).

    To summarize, if you can afford it, I highly recommend SmugMug. Were I entering into it now, I might be inclined to stay with Picasa as my only service. It allows many of the control I like, and offers lots of tools. The only drawback with Picasa is that Google tends to “tweak” stuff. When it integrated with Google+ it changed the way I can interact with photos unless I go in through the Picasa side. And, of course, there is no guarantees Google won’t change or drop stuff that it’s not making money for them. That is a consideration if you are looking toward Picasa as a way to back up your photos.

    Don’t know if this is useful, but there you have it.

    • Rifqi

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a comprehensive reply. Just like you, I’m not a professional, so justifying the full cost of smugmug is something I can’t really do. I know they have other price plans as well though, so it might be something to look into some more. I did create a trial account a while back but I didn’t spend much time playing around with it, which I think you need to do, it’s not as simple as upload and you’re done.

      I’ve used picasa for some family album type stuff and, for something like that, it works beautifully. Quick, simple and easy to share. However, it doesn’t give you that dedicated portfolio feel, you would have to link directly into the lightbox view to get people to where you want them. Another thing that makes it less attractive for a portfolio is the same things that makes it attractive for family albums: the community aspect. Don’t get me wrong, an active community is very important for promoting your work but, in a portfolio, I don’t want comments or other things that distract from the photos, it’s meant purely as a showcase of my work.

      Thanks again for your take on this and I might create another trial account on smugmug when I have more time to sit with it.

      • disperser

        Smugmug can be “upload” and you are done, but there are things you probably would want to tweak.

        Picasa does offer the option of switching off comments, as well as other restrictions (such as sharing). The simple answer would be to have more than one Picasa account; one for casual sharing, the other for the portfolio, where you turn on the option to have them printed, etc. I’ve not looked at their pricing structure (i.e. who they use and how much you get).

        But if I might make a suggestion . . . If you are looking to come across as professional about your work, then you might not be able to get away from having to pay something.

        That said, I think a dedicated picasa/google+ account just for your portfolio sounds like a viable option right now.

        From your main Google+ account you can set up “pages” under another name. For instance, I set one up called Disperser to lock in the name in Google+

        Anyway, it sounds as if you have specific ideas of what you want. My solutions to the common problem may be different from yours because we each have a specific idea of what we want. There are a number of places that give advice on how to showcase one’s photos, but my problem with many of them is they seem to be tied in with the people they recommend.

        I never know if what they are suggesting is a true recommendation or the fact they are getting a benefit for recommending it.

        There is another site I’ve seen that looks interesting and cheaper than SmugMug ($60 a year): http://www.photoswarm.com/pricing

        There are examples of some of their galleries.

        This is a decent article to just find out other places.

      • Rifqi

        Some valid points there and a dedicated google+ account for the sole purpose of a portfolio wasn’t something I had considered before. However, as you say, we might have different views on what we’re looking for. I can certainly see the benefits of tying everything together in that way but let me pose to you a question: from a perspective of purely showcasing photos, giving them as much attention as possible and making them look good, would that approach do anything better (or even as well) than the two examples I presented? Here are the links again so you don’t have to wade through all the text: http://rifqi.500px.com/ and http://rifqisphoto.carbonmade.com/. I realize this is a highly subjective question but I would be interested in your opinion. And an extension of that question: do you think there’s value in separating a public profile – where you interact with the community – from the more professional, business end of things – where you show of your work for potential clients? Of course there will still always be a connection though, otherwise you would kind of defeat the point of the whole thing. For us amateurs that may very well be a completely moot point but I’m the kind of guy who likes doing things in a professional way, even though it will most likely always stay as a hobby (one can dream though).

        Btw, thanks for the links. I think that second one might have been where I found carbonmade at first, at least I know I’ve seen it before.

      • disperser

        Without seeing the options which may be available to the owner of the gallery, my first impression is both sites are limiting (can’t get a larger view, can’t rate, can’t comment, etc.), but then that is what it sounded like you wanted. To that aspect of it, it looks both fill your stated needs.

        The question is whether you are showing photos as an example of what you can do, and drive traffic to contacting you, or actually selling from the site. Both of those look like they are along the lines of presenting a sample, and less along the lines of letting users explore the photos, and order copies of them.

        It could also be your purpose is not to sell there, but to get hired for photography. As examples of what you can do, they are great.

        Again, different intents.

        Having seen what is out there I have no illusions about me making a living at photography, or even selling one photo. Then again, I’m not going about it in such a dedicated manner like you are.

        For me it is primarily having others enjoy the photograph I took. To that end I think SmugMug serves my needs well. Picasa nearly as well, but it’s also quicker and better integrated with my PC and other social media.

        Neither of the two sites you are using would suit my needs.

        If you are asking just between those two, I prefer Carbonmade more purely from the organizational standpoint (different categories).

      • Rifqi

        They are indeed quite limited, especially carbonmade, I think you can count pretty much every single option on your fingers there, but that’s also part of the charm with it. 500px doesn’t allow you to customize much either but for a paid account it lets you create collections and it gives you 18 themes to choose from (with more being added from time to time). If we’re looking at just free accounts, then the collection aspect of carbonmade is a very big selling point for me as well.

        As you mention, the intents are indeed different between all the sites. Carbonmade is probably the purest “here are my photos, look at them”, while smugmug offers the whole professional spectrum. One interesting thing with 500px is that it kind of has two faces; on one hand you have the portfolio, which is what I would link to when I want to show people my best work, and on the other hand you have the main profile page: http://500px.com/rifqi. There you get access to a quite lively community and I know they’re implementing a way to let you sell your photos directly from the site as well – though I harbor no real hopes of ever selling anything myself.

        This is a bit like searching for the holy grail, there are some many offerings out there and some of them almost fit your need perfectly, if only they had that one feature from that other site that was so awesome…

  2. [Gm]

    Interesting post, Rifqi. It is interesting because I just set-up my ‘portfolio’ quite recently. Same as you, I have used several places (free), and the most recent ones are 500px and wix. They are somewhat good, but not good enough to my taste.

    But then, I thought of something else. Why don’t I just create another blog at WordPress, but is optimized as portfolio. So, it doesn’t contain posts that is updated daily and such, but only pages to display photos and other information. Comments are off, put a contact form, and utilize the gallery and slideshow options for showcase. Again, it’s not perfect, but so far it’s the best I can get for now.

    If you are willing to spend some money with premium theme (like you are using now), you can get it customized even neater. If you want to scratch “WordPress” from the domain, you can also do that by paying some money :D… So, I think it’s flexible.

    • Rifqi

      You know, I’m glad you brought this up because now I remembered a new premium theme that was released not that long ago that might just fit the bill. Yes, a premium theme costs money but, if it works out, it’s a far better long term investment than having to pay each year for most other sites. Unless, of course, you get bored with the look of the theme. Most other sites give you a wide variety of themes to choose from (once you’ve paid for it). But yes, it’s definitely something too consider, you’ve given me something to think about. One advantage of using wordpress for the portfolio would be that you also have a blog nicely integrated for posting news and such. Hmm…I’ll go and ponder this for a while now…

      • [Gm]

        I would guess you are talking about “Photography” theme. If not, then check it out yourself. I think it’s super nice, and the photos are beautiful too. I would consider paying the USD 68 if I seriously wants to make a professional portfolio. My personal portfolio was actually highly influenced by that demo… although, well, I’m using free theme with free features :D…

      • Rifqi

        That is indeed the theme I’m talking about. The only thing I don’t really like about it is the fact that photos in portrait orientation doesn’t seem to scale to fit the screen, so you have to scroll a bit to see the whole picture. If I’m going for a paid solution, it deserves some serious thought, it’s definitely a contender to 500px. I think 500px displays the photos in a nicer way but in the long run it will cost a lot more and it doesn’t offer as much flexibility if I want to customize and add more info to the site. If only I could get the best of both worlds :p Btw, how about giving us a link to your portfolio? 😉

      • [Gm]

        Agreed… I guess it is best for landscape orientation — well, luckily, most of my photos are in landscape orientation anyways :D…

        My portfolio? Well, it’s still work in progress (too many photos, still need some works on links and stuffs), but here it is: http://martosc.wordpress.com

        Let me know what you think. Thanks.

      • Rifqi

        Looking good, real good. The only thing I would say is missing is a better overview of the different galleries, something like the gallery page template from the photography theme we talked about. I guess that’s possible to hard code with some basic html though, unless you keep adding and removing galleries often, then it would be a bit too much work. Still looks great though.

      • [Gm]

        Thanks for the feedback, Rifqi. Yes, I agree with you, a better overview of the different galleries would be better. As you said, it’s possible to modify it with html code, but don’t think I will do it in the near future.

        Again, thanks for the feedback.

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