Your Photography Website

This post is for the other photographers – in particular, those in business.

I have had this blog post half written for more than 6 months and could never pull the trigger on the publish button. The topic felt too specific for a generalized statement and because of that, something didn’t feel right to justify a blog post rant. However after an interesting discussion tonight with onOne‘s education manager Brian Matiash, it gave me that needed incentive to complete this post because I’m not the only person who judges ones brand partly based on presentation. There are companies like Brian’s and surely future clients browsing portfolios also judging you on how much consideration was applied to the website.

But first, lets be honest. Everyone is hopefully more critical and focused on the details when it comes to our own industry. Chefs with food, contractors with houses, doctors with health, etc, etc, and designers like myself with websites. We are all trained to care about different things and rely on others to fill in where we choose to focus less attention.

Two summers ago, I had a small presentation at a PPOC (Professional Photographers of Canada) seminar on web technologies to discuss the elements of a reliable website. Although much has improved since then — there is still more work to be done. Poorly implemented websites are still common and with all the photographers in the world so focused on perfecting their images, they often settle for presenting them in a substandard way.

So in a world where art, design and images are so very much subjective, here are some details to consider:

  1. Use a real domain.
    Say no to any services offering http://your-name.their-name.com because free hosting services simply look bad. It is easy to claim your own property of the web and get the domain www.yourname.com for $10 per year. The use of a real domain should then carry over into email so you are not emailing clients from hotmail, etc. I was married last year and during the planning stage, I wanted to quickly write off everyone that responded with a dorky email address.
  2. Where are you located?
    This one drives me insane. I struggle to understand why so many photography websites do not say where in the world they are located. The internet has made the world smaller, but not that small.
  3. Who are you?
    This may sound weird, but I want to see a real life photo of the person behind the website. It may not matter but it adds a personal non-corporate touch and your first introduction.
  4. The power of the about page
    A portfolio of great images could be considered common in todays industry so what makes you better than the next? I personally like to visit the about page before looking at images to learn more about the artist. This sounds silly to say but if pretty images is all I’m after – that can be found at 500px.
  5. Make it easy
    When you realize less is more, writing copy for your website just got that much better. You can be creative but do not reinvent the wheel because if your site requires a manual or directions on where to click, you have already failed.
  6. Flash?
    You better have a real good reason to be using flash in 2013 with the rapidly increasing mobile space who can’t see any of it. The days of full flash websites are over.
  7. Resizing the browser window
    I know you want me to view your images full screen but taking control of my computer without permission is never cool.
  8. Background music
    Yes, it works well in slideshows and YouTube videos when the user has an optional play button but it’s also never cool to assume I want to hear the selection of music of your choice. Especially if it begins to compete with something I’m already listening to.
  9. Best link practices
    The internet is made of links so take careful consideration on how you use targeted links to open new windows. First impressions are good and 3 short visits are better than one long one. The goal is to encourage a second visit and not to create traps in an attempt to keep your site opened longer.
  10. Over using the word passion
    Every photographer has a passion for photography and of those photographers, all of them have been shooting since they were 5 years old. You’re in the wrong business if passion is not a given and stating the obvious is not necessary.
  11. I’m a “Pro”
    Do not include a “why hire a professional photographer” page. It’s incredibly lame and looks defensive right from the start. The term professional is self-appointed and gives you no more credibility than the person advertising on kijiji. Talk is cheap so rephrase it to “why hire me” by not comparing yourself to anyone else.
  12. I own stuff and lots of it!
    If your site is not education based, why do photographers brag to clients what cameras they own right down to the serial numbers of the batteries? Do any of your clients care or even known what a x5D800e APS-C Thing-a-ma-jig is? I know it means a ton to you – maybe even emotionally – but no need to brag how much money you’ve spent.
  13. Confusing a testimonial with a referral
    Have you ever read a bad testimonial? Probably not. I think testimonials are mostly marketing fluff created by a careful selection of positive reviews that may or may not be real. Referrals however, that are posted on other sites and linking back to you without financial incentives are much different.
  14. Portfolio categories
    Some times too much structure does more damage than good. Are you presenting your images as organized stock for sale or are you just wanting to show your best work?

    • Does having a Favourites category mean the others are not as good?
    • Is your repeat visitors high enough to warrant a New Work category? And new since – yesterday, last week, last year? Does it mean all other categories are old and less important?
    • How do you define a travel category? What may be considered travel to you, is local to someone else, so this often feels like a catch all album from a vacation.
    • HDR as a category. Do we really need to categorize images based on Photoshop processes and tricks? The best post processing work is that of which you can’t identify.

    The list goes on but you get the point. Make your categories truly meaningful.

  15. Conflicting Brands
    Are you the photography equivalent to a musician releasing a cd with a mix of country and hard rock music? This is not necessarily a bad thing but how you organize your portfolio will be even more important.

Exercise

As photographers, we spend so much time perfecting our images but then we throw them together with a poorly aligned website. In preparing this post, I took a list of popular photographers that was recommended on a forum post and I opened them all in 140 tabs. I proceeded to quickly close them – bookmarking the ones that caught my interest and taking notes on each sites presentation and structure when something grabbed my attention to stick around.

Make no mistake – strong images are a requirement because in all cases, every single one of these photographers had excellent images that would make an outstanding print porfolio. But when it comes to the web, some photographers are not doing much better than printing on wet recycled newspaper.

Presentation is important. It’s an extension of your brand.

- Stephen

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  1. Scott Dimond

    Great points Stephen. Especially points 1, 2 & 8 (real domains, where are you located, music). Drives me crazy too. Excellent input for consideration on my long overdue website update. Trouble is, would I rather be shooting or writing php? :-(

    Reply
    • Stephen DesRoches

      For sure – create new work instead. None of this was intended to be run out and fix this now because I expected disagreement. However, when it does come time to print, consider the best practices for the best results.

  2. Lesli Cohan

    Stephen:

    This is a great blog, and I am glad that you wrote it! I believe that every photographer needs to come to a decision point and be brutally honest about how they present it. This was, and remains a challenging point for me – I know I have emotional ties to some images yet some do not connect with others. The knowledge and presence to delete and clean is tough, but highly informative. I find that as I progress as a photographer, my images and composition are also growing – so why would I keep old and tired things on my website! Edit, Edit, Edit! Thanks again for a very informative and honest piece!

    Reply
  3. Shirley

    Thanks, Stephen. Very good points and just what I needed to read to get me to make the changes I’ve been putting off for ages.

    Reply
  4. Erik Fullerton

    Great post! Had me going over my Site again to make sure that it was up to par after that! haha

    (Nice shots from ACIAS 2012… maybe see you at the Air Show in Miramichi this Summer?)

    Reply
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