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Refrakt Platform for Photographers by Sam King
Reading time: about 8 minutes
About this platform
Refrakt is not a photography series, it is a new platform for photographers built by a photographer Sam King, a photographer, designer and code artist based in Brighton, United Kingdom. He wanted to create a proof of concept on the platform and build it primarily for photographers. The web app was initiated in early 2023 and is still in beta, because Sam King is building it all by his own.
The definition of Refrakt is refraction of light, which is the redirection of light waves as they move from one medium to another. Lenses refract light, the human eye refracts light.
“I know how important is it to be able to see a photo, to sit with it, and see it in it’s entirety. There should be as little distraction as possible. That means being very careful about screen real estate, and doing things that show the work off in the best way possible.”
Refrakt is a sleek and snappy minimalist portfolio/community site for photographers to share their inspiring work. The site truly impressed me with its wonderful minimalist design and seamless user experience. The clean layout effortlessly showcases the photographer's work, allowing the images to take center stage and speak for themselves. Navigating through the site felt intuitive and enjoyable, making it a breeze to explore other photographer's portfolios and appreciate their artistic vision and stories.
There’s a link to join the waitlist at the end if you want to join the platform and you’re interested in what Sam King is building for creatives.
To start, can you talk a bit about your background as designer, photographer and coder?
I got into photography when I was about 14. I used to take photos of my friends riding BMX bikes and fell in love. I got a Nikon D60 and a kit lens for my birthday and that was it, I was hooked. Over the next few years I did a bunch of work for BMX magazines and brands, going on trips around Europe taking photos of various teams and riders. This was around the time the internet started to really take hold and a lot of magazines didn't know what to do, and many started going under. At the time I was changing my own portfolio website every week, looking at other peoples code and making my own changes. Unknowingly I was teaching myself design and coding. After realising I could have a more stable income in tech, I eventually landed a job at a startup in London where I worked primarily as a designer. I worked at various start ups in London for the next 10 years, still coding in the evenings, making little apps for myself related to photography like a golden hour calculator that worked anywhere in the world, a film logging app for recording analog EXIF data, an Instagram template designer etc. At the start of 2022, I was burning out and I later found out I'm autistic and that's probably why I felt the way I did. I took some time off to rest and think about what I wanted to do next. I decided to go freelance so I could also work on my own projects more often, and that's where I am now.
What does photography mean to you?
It's hard to answer this without sounding cliche, but it means everything. Reflecting on when I started, I was a very shy kid and photography was a way for me to express myself and meet people. People liked what I was doing and invited me along to document things. I would have found it really hard to ask to come along socially, so photography was my avenue to making friends. I loved seeing peoples reactions when I showed them the screen after they landed a trick they'd been trying for hours, that was a great feeling. Now it's about being calm and at peace. I'm happiest when I'm alone in the woods with my camera, or exploring a new area and trying to capture it as I see it. I don't think of myself as a good writer so recording with photographs is perfect for me. I also think photography has this very unique ability to make you really feel like you're there. It's different from paintings or drawings, it's a real moment in time that actually happened and I think there's something very special about that. I'm very grateful for my mum for supporting me and saving for my first camera, and my art teacher at school pushed me to pursue it.
What is your intention while building this platform for photographers?
I want Refrakt to be a platform where people can go to get inspired by other photographers without getting sucked down an unhealthy rabbit hole. On today’s platforms, it’s all too easy to continuously consume content. Or you constantly compare yourself to others based on the number of likes and followers someone has to the point where it’s demotivating to get out and shoot yourself. I miss that community feel that Flickr and photography forums used to have, and I'd like to bring back that feeling to Refrakt. My ideal platform is a place for photographers to share what they're working on, foster a community of supporters, and open up another revenue stream for them. A healthy platform that doesn't rely on ads or selling data, and where the users are the customers, not the product.
How do you want to encourage people on Refrakt?
There's a couple of ways but the most obvious one is allowing photographers to offer subscriptions, a bit like Substack, Patreon, or Twitch. It won't be a requirement to use the platform, but I think it's a nice way to show support to fellow photographers. I also want there to be other ways to show support of each other, things like community pages and discussions, curation, and collectibles, but those are less defined right now. Bottom line is that I want to foster a community of closer connections between photographers.
Can you talk a little bit about the onboarding process?
Right now, Refrakt is in beta so you'll need to be on the wait list or have an invite code to sign up. You log in with your email, and you get sent a code to sign in. There's no passwords which is nice for security. Once you're in, you can create your profile and start posting you work.
How does it look like when you’re registered. What about photos?
The idea behind Refrakt is to keep the interface as simple as possible, and really put the emphasis on the work. Photos are never cropped, and you can use any aspect ratio you want. We try and keep the feeds minimal in terms of information shown, and the detail views show the essentials up front with the option to expand to show things like comments and camera information etc.
On your profile you can have all the classics of social media like an avatar, bio, and a few links to external sites like your website, Instagram, Twitter etc.
Right now, you can create single photo posts, or a series of posts that you can build up over time. Series are still in beta so they might change a bit, but the core photo sharing concept is pretty solid for now. When you add a photo, it automatically pulls in any EXIF data like camera information, titles, descriptions, copyright information, keywords etc. The idea is you can keep that information in Lightroom for example, and when you upload to Refrakt, you barely have to fill anything in. You can choose to hide the EXIF and location data before you post. There's also some visibility settings so you can make posts private to you, only your followers, or visible to the public.
Once posted, your work will appear on the main feed and your profile. All feeds are in a reverse chronological order, no algorithms. I have some ideas to allow for a more curated experience later which you can see on the Roadmap, but for now there’s a following feed for accounts you follow (seems obvious), and a public feed for all photos shared with the visibility set to “public”, and a Discover feed which is manually curated by myself.
Can you give a short outlook on what’s coming?
Yeah, the best place to stay updated is by checking out the Roadmap. In the short term it's finishing up the Series work to make it more integrated with the rest of the experience. Then the next thing will likely be subscriptions. I'd also love to start work on community pages and custom feeds but those are a little more involved. If there's something you'd love to see from Refrakt, then you can make a suggestion on the roadmap and I'll take a look.
If you join the wait list, Sam King will get an invite sent out when it’s ready.
Here are 4 exclusive invites for the DRAWLIGHTS readers on a first come first serve basis: Invite #1, Invite #2, Invite #3, Invite #4 – I have created an account on Refrakt as well, once you’re onboarded you can follow me here if you want.
Sam King started out his journey with a camera in 2007, mostly shooting the action sports scene in the UK. When the magazines started going online, King moved into a career of design and coding, but kept shooting for himself. His photographic interests have since moved away from the action and towards the stillness of landscapes and environments.
King recently took a break from his design career and he’s getting back to making photo work more full-time. Currently he’s exploring his heritage, and also how the world can feel to an Autistic person like himself.
Photos copyright Sam King
DRAWLIGHTS | 1/1 – one post/one photographer, weekly. Off-chain and on-chain. By Peter Nitsch, lens-based artist, a member of NFT Now 🌐, Jenny Metaverse and lifetime Member of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand.