DeviantArt is one of the most popular art websites on the Internet... but what does it have to offer photographers, other than a vibrant community, free unlimited photo upload, contests, and publicity? Quite a bit, actually. Here's an overview.
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People who are already DeviantArt users will note that a lot is being left out of this review. Frankly, DA is a big place, and there's no way that a single article can really cover the scope of its features, users, and of course, art. So if I happen to miss your favorite (or least favorite) bit about DA in this review, feel free to add it in a comment!
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DeviantArt, known by its users as DA, has one of the most vibrant art communities on the web. Indeed, one of its strengths for photographers is having so much exposure to artists of other mediums. While you can limit yourself entirely to photography while on DA, chances are that you'll end up stumbling upon a watercolor artist whose delicacy can inspire you next time you're out photographing flowers, or a comic whose style of humor makes it way into your next time out on a shoot, or an idiom in some poem that finds its way into your street photos... The interchange and interplay between the mediums is nowhere more apparent.
Many “deviants", as DA users are known as, are incredibly open to discussion of their techniques. Just asking the artist how they created a certain effect in an image is almost guaranteed to get an honest response—from “I photoshopped it" to a discussion of a DIY filter to whatever else the photographer has up their sleeves. Almost all photographers on DA are willing to share their techniques with others, and to help others grow.
DA can be as personal or impersonal as you want—you can make lifelong photography friends on the site, or you can stay distant and apart from the community, or anything in between. The sheer size of the userbase means that no matter your interests as an artist, you'll be able to find people to discuss it with.
DA is all about learning—it's up to you to have your eyes open to it. Representative of this attitude is the “critique" feature of DA, which allows artists to make full-fledged critiques of each other's works—we're not just talking one-liner reviews here. Reading through these responses can teach you almost as much as the picture itself.
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The layout of DA may be a bit confusing to newcomers, especially as they continue to add on features. While they attempt to guide new users to the wealth of features, in the end you'll just have to suck it up and figure it out over time.
All pages include a toolbar at the top, where you can log in and view messages, see if your friends are online for a chat, and a few other odds and ends. Below this is the general DA toolbar, through which you can search either all of DA or a specific category, be it Abstract Photography, News, Journals, or some other section of this sprawling site. Users can also submit new artwork, edit old, create journals, edit their user information, or anything else they might desire.
Each individual profile can have a number of widgets, through which prints, specific galleries of an artist's works, journals, contests, news articles, pretty much anything that the user wants can be posted on their profile, making each one unique and perfectly suited to the user's needs.
On each “deviation", or photo, there are a number of options for the viewer, from favoriting or collecting the picture to downloading the full size image (if enabled by the artist.)
An especially nice feature for photographers is the ability for other photographers to see the exact settings your camera had at the time of the posted photo, including ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focus and more. This can be a powerful learning tool. Commenting and other features are also available, including the level of criticism that the artist desires. Artists also have the option to use a variety of Creative Commons Licenses for use of their work.
So, while DA is definitely fully featured, the sheer complexity of the site may prove baffling even to long time users as they slowly work their way through all of the features.
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Check out the next page for an overview of DA's "Print Store" and "Portfolio" features, as well as a discussion on how DA makes its money and the quality of photography on the site.
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DeviantArt also offers its users, for free, a print store that it manages for you that you can make a small profit on, though without much control. DeviantArt also offers a Portfolio features for artists to feature their art, and only their art, on a page isolated from the rest of DeviantArt. DA does not attempt to wrangle money out of you, as the site is more than enough even without paying for a subscription, and is largely ad supported. The quality of art at DA varies from outright beginners who join the site because they want to improve to professionals who use the site to advertise gallery showings and sell prints for a livelihood.
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One of the more attractive features of DA is how easy it is to set up your own print store. It's quick and easy to set up, requiring virtually nothing out of the photographer other than the input of your own art. What's more, there are a host of options that allow a variety of sizes and finishes to the print. Even coffee mugs and mousepads can be sold through the print store!
There are many problems with this feature, as you might imagine. You don't get to set your own prices, and DA takes a cut of the profit. Because this is standard, unusual prints, like with rounded edges or abnormal sizes, just can't be done.
Also, don't be expecting to strike it rich with the print store. Even established photographers won't be making a living off of DA alone. At best, it can be a handy way to pay for your photography supplies, or provide a stepping stone to setting up your own online store or selling in the Real Life.
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A recently unveiled feature of DA is its “Portfolio". This allows you to have your own subdomain within DA, in which you can feature your photos—and only your photos, without the mess that your profile provides. While this isolates your photography, it also provides a handy link if you want to show off your photos to any potential buyers without having your latest blog right next to it. This will likely only have limited usage, as by the point a photographer needs to be showing off their portfolio they'll likely have their own site to do it from, but it's a useful launching pad.
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A common complaint is that the quality at DA is no good. Considering that many professional photographers post their pictures on this site, this argument seems a bit silly. The site does have a number of amateur photographers on it, yes—photographers who are posting so that they can receive constructive criticism from their fellow photographers and improve, whose work makes up the majority of the site. However, if you don't feel like spending your time going through such pieces, then it's easy enough to filter by popularity, or to take the editor's picks or other means of finding the cream of the crop. If you want quality, there's quality.
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Where They Make Their Money
Alright, so what's the catch, if all of this is free? The answer: ads. If you're logged in, between viewing deviations you will be subjected to ads, and even while logged in as a unsubscribed user, you will be seeing some ads you browse through the website.
Another place is through subscriptions, where users can pay a small amount to upgrade their accounts. This unlocks a number of features, such as being able to browse through hundreds of photos at a time on a page as opposed to a mere 24, as well as having an ad-free site and some other small things. While it's nice to have a “sub", it's by no means a necessity to enjoy the site to its fullest.
Again, DA also takes a portion of the profits from print sales that its users make. This is appropriate, considering they're the ones who do all the real work with creating the print and sending it out to the buyer. DA also has a shop where users can buy DA-related items, from tshirts to bags to even plushies.
What sort of profit DA makes is unknown, but doubtless most of the money they earn goes towards upkeep of the site. Having so many users and so many pictures online is an expensive thing to maintain, let alone while hiring programmers to keep the site clear of bugs and constantly improving. So, DA deserves its money, and none of its means will hinder a photographer on a budget by any means.
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All in all, DA is a wonderful site to get involved at. The huge community, the myriad of free features, the opportunities to grow and expand as a photographer—these all make it a fantastic site to join. Just be prepared to spend a bit more time on it than maybe you were planning on!