In a recent (and very funny) blog post, The Verge’s Liz Lopatto bemoans the ad-ification and TikTok-ification of Instagram and other social media sites. “Can someone just build a simple photo app that isn’t sleazy and let me know where it is so that my friends can join it?” she asks. And she apparently hasn’t been the only one — it’s gotten to the point where Instagram is starting to walk back some of its changes due to user complaints.
The comments section of Liz’s post soon became filled with various suggestions for alternative photo sites where you could post your cat pix and other cute / funny / beautiful photos and have your friends and family be able to admire and discuss them. I took a look at some of them (and some that I found elsewhere).
Most of the sites listed below have the following in common: they concentrate on still photography (and don’t push you into short videos); they work on a variety of operating systems; and they allow comments. Most have at least a basic free component, although we’ve also included one for-pay site. However, they also have one other thing in common: they are not as well known, and so it is much more unlikely that somebody you don’t know will see and follow your work. This could be a major issue, especially if you are starting out as a creator; it’s often better to hang out where the people are, even if you don’t particularly like the venue.
But, if you’re serious about photography, many of these sites offer a community where you can discuss your works (and the works of others) with other photographers who may provide support and conversation.
Here are a few photo-friendly social networking sites that (assuming you can get your friends to actually come there as well) you might want to consider.
If you’re looking for a good-looking, simpler version of Instagram — in other words, without all the video add-ons — then Vero may be your solution. Vero wants to make itself a place for creators, including photographers; creators can, in fact, get themselves verified (or “verofied”) for enhanced discoverability on the site. Vero is currently ad-free and, it says, algorithm free; an FAQ page explains exactly what data it collects and when. The app is currently completely free for “early adopters,” but it may institute an annual fee for new members in the future.
The emphasis here is on social networking rather than just posting photos. You can create a post using a photo, a link to a site, or an audio file. And you can also create a post based on a book, an app, a game, or a place. You can choose to share your posts with close friends, close friends and their friends, or the public. You can search for and follow “featured users” (Zack Snyder, Madonna, and photographer / influencer Peter McKinnon were featured when I signed in) and for various accounts under categories such as music, nature, and photography.
So, while Vero probably has a far smaller user base than any of the major social networking sites, it may be worth a try if you’re looking for a place to post your best photos (and don’t mind having to steer your friends to a new site).
Do a Google search for an alternative to Instagram, and you’re likely to see Pixelfed mentioned. The open-source tool advertises itself as “a free and ethical photo sharing platform” with no ads, third-party analytics, or tracking. Sounds great — but if you aren’t familiar with its format or that of similar apps, it may take a bit of education to start.
To join, you select one of a variety of Pixelfed servers (or you can create your own using the easy-to-access code). Be aware, though, that the most popular server, pixelfed.social, which boasts 54,200 users, was not accepting new registrations when I signed in. The next English-language server available seemed to be shared.graphics, which, at the time I checked it, boasted a little under 1,250 users.
All that being said, Pixelfed has a very Instagram-like interface (minus the ads, the Stories, and the Reels). If you have the know-how and the inclination to create your own Pixelfed server for the use of you and your friends, Pixelfed could be fun and useful to try. However, if you are looking for a more robust crowd size for social networking, you will probably have to look elsewhere.
Flickr has been around for a long time. It got a bad rap a few years ago when it informed its free users that they would no longer be allowed 1TB of storage space, but it may deserve a second look if you’re searching for a place to share your stuff without having to deal with extraneous features.
The app has two types of accounts: Free and Pro. Flickr’s current Free accounts come with a variety of limitations: you can only upload up to 1,000 items and cannot post what Flickr calls “moderate and restricted content” (in other words — partial and full nudity along with other sexual no-nos). In addition, free accounts are not allowed more than 50 nonpublic photos. And, like Instagram, Flickr’s free account includes ads — in this case, at the top of the page, on the side, and occasionally in the photostream itself.
If you can live with those restrictions, Flickr still offers a nice range of features if you’re into photography. Each photo has not only a comments section but also information on where the photo was taken, what camera it was taken on, and at what aperture — all the details. If the owner of the photo allows downloading (and that can be disabled), you can choose from a number of different sizes and dimensions. You can organize your photos into albums and batch edit the info.
If you want more — unlimited uploads, unlimited nonpublic photos, fewer restrictions on what you upload — it will cost you $8.25 a month, $72 for one year, or $133 for two years.
Degoo is not a social networking site, and, as such, you cannot make your photos public for anyone to see. But you can arrange them in albums, share them with friends, and collect comments. Degoo’s free ad-based version provides 100GB of storage (with bonuses for referrals). You can use it on an unlimited number of devices but can only upload from up to five devices.
You also have to access your account at least once a year to keep it active. Paid accounts include Pro ($2.99 / month), which removes the ads and time limit and gives you 500GB of storage, and Ultimate ($9.99 / month), which gives you a whopping 10TB.
If you’re looking for a place to show off your cat photos, this isn’t it — unless they are really good cat photos. 500px offers pros a place to store, exhibit, and license their work — and get comments. So while you’re not going to get the kind of back and forth you get on, say, Instagram, you may get some reactions to your best photos.
The free, ad-supported plan allows you seven uploads a week. Otherwise, you can try the Awesome plan, which offers unlimited uploads, priority support, no ads, a history of “liked” photos, gallery slideshows, and a profile badge for $59.88 a year or $4.99 monthly. The Pro plan adds a way to display your services and organization tools for $119.88 a year or $9.99 monthly. (You get a discount on your first year: Awesome costs $47.88 a year or $3.99 monthly, while Pro goes for $71.88 a year or $5.99 monthly.)
Like 500x, DeviantArt is more for professional photographers than casual picture takers, although anyone can join for free. It offers visitors a wide range of artist galleries to view, divided into categories such as traditional, animation, and illustrations. The emphasis here is on creating a community of artists, so there aren’t only comments but also new chat features as well.
With a free membership to DeviantArt, there are no restrictions on how much you upload for public access (there is an 80MB limit on photo sizes), and you get admission to DA’s community of artists and art lovers. If you want to sell your photography as well as exhibit it, you can consider becoming a Core Member. Starting at $3.95 a month, you get to sell your art with a 12 percent fee on gallery, download, or commission sales; there is also a $1,000 max price per digital item along with 20GB of private storage space. A number of other levels are available.
VSCO is an online space for photographers to store, edit, and share their work. It is currently rolling out a new feature called VSCO Spaces, which allows members to create shared galleries “around a particular theme, photography style, event, or location.” Up to 15 members can leave comments on the work; nonmember guests can view the work but not see or contribute to the comments. There are free versions of the app for iPhones and Android with a limited number of editing features. If you want to become a member (which offers more robust features such as video editing and a wide range of presets), VSCO costs $7.99 a month or $29.99 a year; there is a seven-day free trial.
Glass offers a showcase for photographers — a place they can create and share portfolios. Originally invitation- and Apple-only, it is slowly opening up. You no longer need an invitation to join, and while you do need an Apple ID, that is (according to Glass) due to change soon. You can also now access it via both iOS and the web. (However, according to the FAQ page, no Android app is currently on the horizon.) Glass costs $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year; there is a 14-day free trial.
Correction August 1st, 2022, 3:40PM ET: There were three errors made in the description of VSCO. First, the free trial for membership is seven days rather than 30 days. VSCO Stories is a blog, not a member feature. And there is a free version of the app for iOS and Android. In addition, the annual fee for Glass is $29.99, not $49.99 as originally stated. We regret the errors.