design project

Eselar, the photography community for growth

Derek Meer

Derek Meer
Posted on 19 Oct 2020 · 9m read


Eselar, the photography community for growth

I enjoy taking pictures when I'm out in the wilderness. I'm by no means an expert photographer, but I think I'm decent. The people who bought my photos online agree with me (thanks, mom).

I've tried posting and selling my photos on various platforms: Shutterstock, Instagram, 500px. None of these apps appeal to me because they don't give me strong feedback. Affirmative one-word comments and lots of likes give that dopamine rush we all crave, but doesn't count as strong feedback.

Strong feedback should explain where you succeeded, then gently point out where you made mistakes. It should give tips to develop your skills and push you to be better. It should create value. I couldn't find any strong feedback on Instagram, and I couldn't find it on 500px, which promised "valuable feedback on day one."

Strong feedback comes from a limited source: people who know what they're doing. Professional photographers quickly recognize where others can improve, but their knowledge and time understandably costs thousands of dollars. Amateur photographers have less knowledge, but can more readily provide feedback.

Given this limited access, us amateurs should learn to give each other strong feedback and help each other grow. To foster this growth, I designed Eselar — a photography community I would join.

a sample of 500px comments HOW does this help me improve?

Branding

Eselar's brand is reflected throughout the chosen fonts and colors.

Eselar's logo and brand elements ESELAR's logo and brand elements

Fonts

I chose Aileron for the main font, and Roboto Mono for data.

Colors

Eselar's theme color is a bright, cool green. Green represents growth, matching Eselar's goal for its users: to grow. Green means "go", as in "go out and take pictures". This color is used sparingly, though. Good photography websites focus on high-quality images; giving the other elements a grayscale color palette relegates them to a supporting role.

Inspiration

Eselar's layout was inspired by 500px and Unsplash. Those photo sites have nice browsing experiences; they let the content speak for itself and get out of the way.


An Active Community

After a user signs up for Eselar, it prompts them to select photo tags representing their specialties, e.g. nature, wildlife, portraiture. Users can change their specialties at any time on the account page.

Eselar's first section of onboarding SPECIALTIES help Eselar provide relevant photos to users, increasing the likelihood of good feedback

The app then gives them a list of photos from that field, prompting them to leave feedback, add photos of their own, and watch photos. To avoid confusing users with unfamiliar terminology, the app takes the time to show them how watching photos works by example. Other measures to prevent confusion are explored in the what does "watching" mean? section.

Eselar's second section of onboarding ESELAR encourages users to watch and give feedback to photos as soon as possible

Strong Feedback

Eselar has no "pulse", "likes", or "shares." Those don't measure a photo's quality. All photo comments, called feedback, are longer-form and thoughtful critiques from accomplished amateurs or professionals in that area. They point out where a photographer succeeded and where they could improve. The app emphasizes the importance of feedback: it takes up much of the screen estate.

Eselar's photo page ESELAR's photo page; note how the feedback section takes up a lot of the page

Pages besides the Photo page encourage giving feedback. The home page shows photos without feedback first, and shows how much feedback a photo has received on hover. All Photos applies the user's specialties by default to help them find photos they can properly evaluate.

Eselar's home page ESELAR's homepage

Unintended consequences

Popular photos might encourage hundreds to submit feedback, many of which would repeat comments or critiques. Since we want to keep feedback focused and original, Eselar implements a duplicate feedback checker similar to Discourse or StackOverflow. Besides checking for duplicate feedback, the site limits users to one piece of feedback per post. Once users submit a piece of feedback through the Leave Feedback form, they can edit it through that same form or from the Feedback page. These countermeasures might not provide enough incentive, though, and I'll need to consider others.

Additionally, I'll need to consider language barriers, and how the site can encourage detailed feedback to and from photographers who speak English as a second language.

Scores

I considered including a quantitative element to each review. It would look similar to the Awwwards scoring system and evaluate the photo from the following angles:

Each angle would receive a score between 0 and 10.

Image of Awwwards scores THE AWWWARDS scores from which I drew inspiration

I intended this system to help reviewers frame their feedback in relevant contexts. But it created questions I could not sufficiently answer:

I decided to forego the scores and instead create a readily accessible page teaching users about giving good feedback. All users will see this page on signup, and they can access it from the Leave Feedback modal — via a noticeable button — or the page footer.

Image of the finalized feedback form LEAVE FEEDBACK form on the photo page

Copywork for photography

Creatives will copy the elements of expert pieces as closely as they can as an exercise. This helps them "improve their eye" by making the same adjustments and decisions as the experts. We call this practice copywork, and it's one of the best ways to grow your skills in a creative field.

Eselar helps you "copy" good photography by extracting and showing you the photo's metadata. Metadata provides insight into how a photo was captured — from the camera and lens settings to the weather at the time. The app extracts this metadata when users upload a photo.

To protect user privacy, all metadata is optional, and users cannot upload location data if they do not consent to sharing it publicly.

Image of the photo upload page ON UPLOAD, the app extracts a photo's metadata, which the user can correct or remove — it's all optional

With a location and a timestamp, Eselar can give you the next time a photo's conditions will occur. Mimicking these conditions could mean all you need to do is frame the photo and take the shot yourself. There are limits to its effectiveness, since nature may not cooperate with you or photographers may edit their photos to achieve certain effects. But using Eselar can greatly increase your chance of having the "right conditions" for a good picture.

image of the Watch button on the Photo page WATCHING a photo adds you to Eselar's notification system

To sign up for Eselar's notifications, users can watch a photo. Eselar encourages users to watch photos by drawing attention to the "Watch" button on each photo's page. Clicking the "Watch" button notifies the user to check out their Watchlist.

The Watchlist

Eselar checks each photo at the same time every day. When it detects a reasonable chance that the photo's conditions will repeat, it sends a notification to all users watching the photo, which they can check through the Watchlist.

Image of the Watchlist THE WATCHLIST tells you when a photo's conditions will repeat

When users receive these notifications, they want to know:

Thus, the Watchlist shows two elements for each chance: a percentage (which Eselar calculates) and the calculated date/time range.

Image of a chance's time range and percentage likelihood EACH CHANCE has a likelihood (%) and a time range

Users can configure how far in advance Eselar notifies them, since it might take time to reach a photo location. They can further configure Eselar to send them notifications for any chance or narrow it to the most likely chances.

Image of the watchlist filters FILTERS include chance likelihood and advanced notice timing

What does "watching" mean?

Eselar introduces the concept of watching a photo. Since this terminology may confuse new users, the platform includes several directions to help them get acclimated. First, they receive an overview of watching on signup, a process which they can revisit from the Account page. Second, they're directed to watch photos by the empty Watchlist. Finally, they receive a notification to check out the Watchlist when they click "Watch" on a photo page.

These measures feel sufficient; user testing will determine whether I need to add more.

Image of the empty watchlist THE WATCHLIST, when empty, tells users how to add to it

Get out and practice

The watchlist encourages users to practice regularly. Each item in the watchlist includes what you need to get to the photo spot (Take Me There) and what to do once you get there (Check Notes). Beyond that, when preparing for a good photoshoot, knowing the conditions boosts your confidence for success.

Note that "conditions" apply to nature photography; other incentives to get out and practice should be explored in the future. Since my specialty is nature photography, though, it's a good start.

Unintended consequences

Although Eselar intends to be a small, professional community with an appropriate barrier to entry, it might grow to thousands of members. Telling all those people about a photo opportunity could create a human deluge, overwhelming natural areas and causing irreparable damage. To mitigate this, we could distribute notifications on popular items randomly.

How would moderation work?

Users submit content to Eselar, meaning the app will require moderation. Although good moderation practices are out of scope for this writeup, I did write about them in my Humane Communities article.


If you're a photographer, would a community like this interest you? Are there any unintended consequences I missed? Let me know and I'll do my best to address them.