The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

An Avenue to Grow: 1x.com

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/02/2014

Ever since Flickr involuntarily “volunteered” me to beta test their latest round of so-called improvements, I’ve been looking for alternate sites. I got a year’s membership on ipernity and loaded my better photos from Flickr onto my photo stream there, but after a few weeks of using it I realized it wasn’t really what I was looking for, either. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want another photo sharing site. What I wanted was a site that would force me to grow as a photographer. I wanted critique.

Critique is unfortunately where most photo sharing sites and photo clubs fall down. Show and tell? No problem. Accolades? Got you covered. But hard-core, cutting critique? Most clubs won’t go there because of the ill will it can cause between members. And most photo sharing sites really aren’t set up for it. Instead they rely on statistics like the number of views or the number of favorites a particular photo gets. These are readily available metrics, so they’re easy to use.

Unfortunately neither is a fair measure of a photograph. To date, some of my most viewed photos on Flickr are the contents of my first aid kit and a photo of my amputee cat. It’s not because they’re stellar photos; they’re not. It’s because they are well keyworded using keywords people search for frequently. Some of my better photos, at least in my mind, lag far behind these in terms of numbers. And when comparing photos between two photographers, the numbers depend more on how many followers each of the photographers have and how many groups they belong to than on the merits of the individual photographs.

Real critique requires people to look at a photo and tear it apart. Where does it succeed? Where does it fail? What could have been done better? What was over-done in the first place? Can the photo be salvaged by re-processing? Or does the photographer have to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, to create a better photograph from scratch? It’s a tall order. I’ve occasionally provided this service to other photographers, and have occasionally asked for them to do so for me. But a whole site that’s set up this way? Does one even exist?

It turns out one does. My search led me to 1x.com, a site that was designed from the beginning with critique in mind. Photographers can post whatever they like to their own photo gallery on 1x, and other photographers can view the pictures and comment on them, just as they can on Flickr or ipernity. At that point, however, the similarities end.

On 1x.com a photographer can also submit their photos for critique. These show up in a special critique gallery. Other photographers are encouraged to view, judge, and critique the photos they find there. (“Encouraged” is a kind way of saying: If you want to submit one of your photos to critique, you have to provide three substantive critiques of your own first.) Moderators read through the critiques to cull the useless ones: “Great pic! Faved!” or “U suk, bro!” The result is that when you submit a photograph to critique, you typically come back with real feedback you can use to make your photo better. I’ve been on 1x.com for about three weeks, and in that time I’ve submitted four photos for critique. I received some really useful feedback that led me to re-work two of the photos in response to the comments. After posting the new verisons I received additional feedback that led me to re-work one of them a second time. I can honestly say that the new versions are much stronger than what I started with.

Having your photos critiqued and providing critiques for others forces you to think about light, composition, color palette, leading lines, tonality, message, and everything else that goes into a photo. You learn to look at your own work more critically, which is both a blessing and a curse. Photographs you used to think were great may not look as good any more. But others you might not have invested much time and effort into begin to look like diamonds in the rough, worth a second look. Even better, you start to think about these things while you’re working in the field. Critique trains you to see as an artist.

1x.com offers one more level of feedback: curation. The site maintains a curated gallery of photos that have been hand-picked by the site curators. A photograph is only considered for curation once the photographer submits it, so only a small percentage of the photos on the site are ever judged this way. Of those, only about 3% make it into the site gallery. So the competition is quite fierce, but the results are worth it. The caliber of the photography in the site gallery is excellent.

The curation process is a little more convoluted than the critique process: Photographers are asked to provide curation comments the same way they’re “encouraged” to provide critique, and they’re asked whether they would publish the picture or not. This results in additional feedback to the photographer who made the photo, and results in a “popularity vote”. The critique process doesn’t actually depend on the popularity of a photo, but if the site curators are on the fence about whether or not to publish a photo, they may look to see how popular it is or what comments have been left for it. Ultimately, though, the decision is in the hands of the site curators, not the other photographers on the site. I’ve only submitted two photos for curation so far. Neither got in.

The level of membership you have on the site determines how many photos you can submit for critique or curation per week. My level of membership allows me to submit one photo per week in each category, so I’ll have to wait before I can submit any more. Not having my photos make it into the site gallery is honestly fine by me. It means I have room to grow. And that’s what I came to 1x.com for: to grow.

– Tom

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4 Responses to “An Avenue to Grow: 1x.com”

  1. Tom, I gave 1X a go. I offered over 3 weeks my best work for curation and had 2 out of 3 shots rejected with no reason given, not happy with that. end of experiment for me!

  2. Tom Benedict said

    So far I’m zero for curated photos. Mostly I’ve been using the critique feature, which is completely separate. In curation your fellow photographers can leave comments, but aren’t required to. The site curators don’t leave comments at all. In critique, on the other hand, people do leave comments. Not all of them are that great, but you do get some good feedback that way.

    As far as photos making it past curation, few do. A couple of days ago I was going through the photos of one of the site curators. Out of over a hundred photos, only three of theirs made it in. It’s tough, even for the curators.

    But I understand the frustration with not getting any comments. I’ve had a couple of those. Some photos I put through critique, re-worked to the point that all the comments were positive, submitted it to curation and… no. With no feedback. It really is discouraging.

    I think the worst, though, was someone who thought one of my aerials was a creative edit. They described it as “unconvincing”, I think. I brought this up with the folks who run the site, but I don’t really know of a way to fix it. They objected to labeling a photo as straight photography since the photo really should stand on its own merits. But if it’s being judged as a heavily edited montage when it really IS a straight shot, that’s not right, either.

    Anyway, I’m glad you gave the experiment a try. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, and understand your decision. I’ll keep plugging at it.

    Tom

  3. marcel Duchamp said

    “I was going through the photos of one of the site curators. Out of over a hundred photos, only three of theirs made it in. It’s tough, even for the curators.”
    Which raise tthe question of their abilities and qualifications. If they can’t even make it through the process they are applying to others at their own discretion, they are not better than the average Joe on the site. So what qualify them to be curators?

    • Tom Benedict said

      Having done some editing for 1x.com, I can say that one of the biggest qualifications for any job on the site is copious amounts of available time. There may be better candidates out there, but if they can’t devote the time to the site, it doesn’t matter.

      But to answer the question you’re asking, not every brick and mortar gallery curator is an artist in their own right. It doesn’t make them less qualified for the job of being a curator. It just makes them less qualified for the job of being an artist. By the same token, some of the best artists in the world would make terrible gallery curators.

      The point I was trying to make in that statement is that 1x doesn’t seem to be as popularity based as some photo sharing sites, and the curators get no more consideration than anyone else on the site. Look at 500px and it’s quite clear that social networking and popularity carries far more weight than the actual merits of the photography. 1x doesn’t follow that model. I’m not saying it’s perfect. There are plenty of open debates on the 1x forums on that topic. But it’s better than a lot of sites I see.

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