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Let's talk about that one photo

4 min read

In 2013 for the first time I went on vacation by the Baltic Sea. It was also the beginnings of my fascination with photography, so a monopod, a DSLR and a bunch of lenses took a lot of my luggage space.

That was a pretty turbulent vacation for various reasons, but I have good memories of chilling and breathing fresh sea air. Since I took all that photography gear with me, well, I took some photos. And by ‘some’ I mean two hundred or so.

None of these photos survived to this day. Until 2014 I was quicker to format my disks than to establish reliable archiving discipline.

Except that one silly snapshot

Around 2012 or 2013 I signed up for a 500px profile and started posting my photos there. Among the oldest is one I did during that vacation by the sea.

There was nothing particular or interesting about that photo. I didn’t use a monopod, so no fancy water smoothing with long exposure. The RAW file looked incredibly dull. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to keep it. There was nothing interesting inside the frame. Why would I want to snap sea water at all?

When I opened it in Lightroom, I gave it my usual treatment: slight cropping, applying a color preset that looked the least sucky on my cheap uncalibrated screen, adding a lot of contrast and clarity, and sharpening to the point of disgust.

I posted it on my 500px profile, expecting absolutely nothing.

Photo of Baltic sea in the summer

And then the unexpected happened. The photo ‘clicked’. 500px algorithm installed a rocket engine on it and asked me to stop smoking.

Over the years 500px lost its prominence as my primary place for photography but I kept checking it every so often. On every single visit, I saw at least one interaction with that particular photo. Someone liked it. Someone added it to their collection. Someone commented.

And that was happening for the rest of 2010s.

Fast forward to 2023

In September 2023, I finally sat down to move my photos from the old and dusty Zenphoto website to a new and shiny Eleventy static site. Several people were interested in seeing it live, so I posted the link on social media, sent it around over various instant messengers, and talked about it with someone on a voice chat.

The feedback I received was… interesting.

"Love the ocean one, with the rocks?"

"Absolutely fantastic website! I specially loved the sea photo on the Varia section, so beautiful!"

I can’t stress this enough: those two people didn’t know about each other.

And that person on a voice call noticed that photo too.

And it’s not that they saw it immediately after the page load.

As of October 2023, that silly sea snapshot on 500px sits at whopping 66.7K impressions. Due to lack of better statistics, I consider it my most viewed photo of all time.

In the grand scheme of things, these are rookie numbers. But I never expected to do numbers on something that is merely a hobby. So that 60-something-thousand views still blows my mind.

In 2023 I’m in a different place. I own a Nikon mirrorless, a bunch of fast lenses and a second-hand Eizo monitor that calibrates itself every once in a while. I’m back to photography after a hiatus since 2019 and I tremendously enjoy it.

I even had a vacation by the Baltic Sea this year. I’m trickling my vacation photos into Pixelfed, Instagram and DeviantArt. I’m not audacious enough to say I take better photos, but I’m more particular about what I aim my lens at.

I also learned something about colors and composition. They both can be photography subjects by themselves. And apparently, people simply like nice things, even if they happen by sheer luck.

Yet I have no idea when (if?) any of my contemporary images would ever come close to numbers I made with a silly snapshot by a cheapo DSLR and a budget prime lens.

Or maybe I peaked early.

Originally published on by Łukasz Wójcik