Jeff’s Guide to 2016’s Top Photo Resources
2016 – Top Photography Resources on the Web
As someone who’s entire formal academic education has been in the arts , I am a firm believer in a disciplined course of training and instruction for anybody trying to learn anything, whether it’s cooking, car mechanics, photography or whatever. No matter how smart or talented you may be, there’s no substitute for learning in a structured environment from somebody who is an expert.
This is particularly true in the arts, where it’s essential to have a good grounding in fundamental technical concepts and craft knowledge in order to express yourself clearly and creatively. And it’s even more true in a field as technical as photography where technology we use today may not have existed two years ago. The bottom line is, you’ve got to try and keep up and the best way to do that is continuing education.
Fortunately these days we have more options for education than ever before. One problem with this abundance of information is that sometimes the information is not reliable. The websites below are reliable and I personally use and recommend the websites below.
Most of these folks also offer paid training (everybody’s got to make a living after all) but they also offer significant free content or I wouldn’t list them here.
Evaluating Sites – Qui Bono?
Everybody has to make a living. Producing a high-quality website is a ton of work (believe me) and I certainly don’t begrudge anybody their attempts to monetize their labor. However, I think it’s important to understand how sites are monetized as this may impact the information that they give you.
There are basically three ways that photography websites make money:
- Affiliate Income
- Paid Tutorials/Training
Websites earn affiliate income by linking you to sites like Amazon and B&HPhoto. You click on a link, they get a commission or a click-through fee. Advertising is self-explanatory – they receive money for running ads. And then there is the paid training. Paid training is all the rage now because very sophisticated digital imaging technology has never been more affordable. People rush out and spend $1200 at Costco on a D7200 kit and then have no idea what to do and they are desperate to get quick results.
As a result, everybody and his brother is trying to sell you paid training. I think that’s just fine but before you go down that path and invest your hard earned money in somebody you’ve never heard of on You Tube’s training course, I think it makes sense to a) use the free options I will point you to below and b) look at the two big paid training sites first, which offer very detailed, reliable and comprehensive training for a very nominal fee.
Sidebar – Regarding A Conspicuous Omission
You may notice that I do not link to what is probably the best known website and also the highest ranked photography review site according to Alexa. I’m not going to link to it here, but it’s not that hard to find as it comes up on the first page of any Google Search for “camera and lens reviews”.
Hating on this guy is one of the most popular activities on every serious photo forum around the net. Part of that is just jealousy because he’s successful no doubt. But it’s also because he is prone to sweeping generalizations that frequently cross the line between being opinionated and simply giving out bad advice. In fact he occasionally posts information that is just plain wrong and could be highly detrimental to someone just starting in photography, e.g., “just shoot .jpeg, raw is a waste of time” and so on.
The worst advice he gives is to constantly recommend older Nikon lenses over newer Nikons lenses. This is terrible advice! There are some technical reasons for this (advances in lens coating technology, optimization for digital vs film, etc.) which I will address in another lengthy post but you can take a look at Dxomark’s Best Lenses on a D810, one of my recommended sites, for specific quantitative results that make this crystal clear.
You could also do what I did and simply do your own test. I have rigorously tested this myself under controlled conditions and virtually every single older (pre 2010) Nikon lens is simply unacceptable on a modern high resolution camera like a D810, particularly when compared to its newer counterpart. Believe me, as the owner of a LOT of older Nikon lenses, I wish this wasn’t true but, alas, it is. So this person advising newbies to pick up older lenses on Craigslist – as he does – is really counter-productive at best.
I personally look at his site on occasion because he very much has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on and he has tons of useful links, but I’m very reluctant to recommend his site to anyone who doesn’t know enough to know when to ignore what he says because he speaks so authoritatively that – to put it very bluntly – the less informed may take his opinion as fact and that’s a big mistake.
My opinion of him is that he’s in the entertainment business and like other people in the entertainment business, keeping it simple, stupid and inflammatory is a good way to get good ratings. Anyway, just keep that in mind if you happen to visit that site.
The first two (KelbyOne and Lynda) are the two best paid subscription services if you’re in the market for that. They are both extremely affordable and offer a great value in my opinion. KelbyOne is more like a photography trade school, being restricted to photography/photoshop while Lynda.com is more like a community college with courses on a vast number of topics. I subscribe to both and recommend both and the cost of entry is extremely minimal, roughly $25 a month or $200 per year in both cases. They also both have periodic sales so you might want to take advantage of that.
Photography Portals (Reviews, News, Forums)
Fred Miranda Major portal with lively forums and a particularly good classified section which is a great place to buy or sell.
DP Review One of the highest ranked photography sites on the internet, DP Review is an indispensable source of up to date information. The forums are very active but as with pretty much all internet forums, the loud voices drown out the wise voices, so bear that in mind. Nonetheless, an essential site.
Photography On the Net Forum A very popular and busy forum.
Photography Life Nasim Mansurov has one of my favorite websites. He maintains an excellent balance between length and technical detail, interesting content and topicality. If you only wanted to look at one photography website, this would not be a bad choice. Highly recommended.
Northlight Images This UK based site run by photographer Keith Cooper is a terrific source of information.
Petapixel.com A magazine style site, lots of good and interesting information.
Fstoppers.com A popular and heavily trafficked site but I find some of the information to be a bit erroneous personally.
DXOMark.com DXOMark’s Lens Ratings has established itself in a few short years as the de facto final authority on lens specs. Within the hardcore photo community there is a bit of fetishizing of the magical “DXO number” but this data is invaluable in separating marketing hype from empirical reality.
And of course it goes without saying, your
Camera Manufacturer’s Websites:
Adobe & Adobe Evangelists
Adobe TV Adobe offers tons of great free content. Take advantage of it.
I also can’t say enough good stuff about their top 3 “evangelists” here. These folks are experts and they are also great teachers and very pleasant to watch or listen to. They all have Facebook pages as well that you might want to add.
These are two of the best free sites:
Karl Taylor’s You Tube Channel All kinds of content relating to photography, from the business of photography to lighting setups. Good stuff.
Strobist Don’t let the fact that it’s hosted on Blogspot deter you, this UK based site is the gold standard for all things related to flash photography.
Good Light Magazine. Crazy German Michael Zelbel has kind of a funny presenting style but he’s got lots of interesting ideas and his website is definitely worth a look.
Turnkey Portfolio Websites
These sites are basically offering you a turnkey portfolio website. The two big names in this space are Smugmug and Squarespace with Photoshelter and 500px bringing up the rear. Both are paid, both offer similar services. I like Squarespace’s templates better and you can port them to your own domain if you want. Neither is cheap but they are very easy. All of these sites offer free trial accounts as well as various premium options. All offer on-demand printing at extremely high prices of which they take a significant cut. (I’m personally too picky about my printing to use these options but I guess it works for some folks.)
The pricing is highly dynamic but generally the fully-featured packages for all of these run $300-$600 a year. All prices below are based on one annual payment at the monthly rate.
If you’re a serious photographer, you’re much better off having your own dedicated website, IMHO.
Smugmug – $25 a month ($300 a year) for the “Pro” account.
Squarespace – $24 a month ($288 a year) for the top of the line “Business” account.
Photoshelter – $50 a month ($600 a year) for the “Pro” version.
500px – $5.25 a month ($63 a year) for their upgraded account. One really good deal they have right now is a bundle including Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan for $10.35 a month ($124.20 a year).
About 500px. Very popular, their related site, 500px Prime, allegedly allows you to license images via their site but they keep 30%. Not sure how well that’s working for folks in reality. It seems to be positioning itself as a kind of vanity site for people who would like to be with Magnum or Getty but aren’t. Limited free account but you have to pay to unlock the much more powerful premium account. Anyway, I don’t know, it’s not for me.
Social Networking Photo Sharing (free)
You know what they are, but here’s a list anyway. I am also including their claimed user base (M=million) but I find these numbers highly suspect personally.
Instagram – 100M users – the big one, owned by Facebook. Don’t forget to apply your annoying cheesy filter.
Pinterest – 12M users. Very popular, skews towards the female demographic.
Flickr – 87M users (really? I think they are just claiming everyone with a Yahoo account). Less important every year. Seems to be on its way out.
Deviant Art – 25M users – I don’t really know who uses this. I guess I just don’t know any of those 25,000,000 people.
Frankly, in my experience, these are a waste of time for the most part. It sort of brings to life the old saying, “those you know don’t say and those who say don’t know.” YMMV. Between people who post horrendously awful photos and are then upset that somebody doesn’t like them to people giving out just idiotically wrong information and to people aggressively trying to sell you something you have zero interest in, it becomes very hard to extract the good stuff from the noise and it’s easy to waste a lot of time arguing with the clueless over stupid stuff. No thanks!