Last week photojournalist and National Geographic contract photographer’s new website was launched. Squarespace was the platform I used to give we online portfolio and presence a complete refresh.
The standard for most photographers in the 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s was to build a website using Flash. I remember LiveBooks being super popular along with BigFolio and a few others. Most photography website companies back then offered Flash-based templates. Oh, how presentation and marketing has changed!
Lynn’s former website served her well and she felt it was time to finally update. So when she engaged me to redesign her website I was excited and of course extremely flattered.
Every website I work on starts with research. I have loads of questions so we discussed a lot of options: budget, structure, content, marketing and maintenance; all of which overlap and how I determine the best solution. Time is precious and she wasn’t keen on spending a lot of it updating software, plugins, backing up her site, security, etc. Naturally she wanted to focus on people and stories — her passion.
Note: Of course there are ways to automate backup, security, etc. but those require additional and typically on-going costs.
Squarespace was the best option and after several rounds and tests of the various templates they offer, we moved forward with the Fulton template. CSS was used to tweak the template.
We ran into a few frustrations or “not crazy about” aspects of working with a template but both of us did our best to come to terms with those limitations. Designing websites can be a tremendous challenge because it is often about working with constraints. There is always the dream scenario but in most cases, that is not an option. Still, the best part of the job is figuring out creative ways to get around constraints.
The one section where I had to compromise was the “Library”. It contains an archive of selected stories that she has published over the years. It is quite a body of work and I wanted to give it the real estate it deserved.
I started in one direction but realized I was making it too complicated for her to do on her own. Working around the built-in functions to present the content differently would require too many steps. So, the best option was to stick with a baked-in format. It’s a bummer that we’ve already had some feedback that the Library section is confusing so it’s my hope to revisit after we do some training, review the analytics and do some training. Perhaps it won’t be too complicated (crossing fingers).
Working with Lynn was incredibly satisfying and flat-out fun. She placed a great deal of trust in me and that felt great. It was a true collaboration; my favorite type of relationship.
Janet, her assistant Kati, our developer Alex and I worked on the redesign for nearly two years. Gasp if you will but Janet has been pretty damn busy working which naturally shifted her focus to making pictures; something she cannot afford to not do! It was a bit like ships passing in the night but we finally made it happen and I’m excited for her and proud of what we were able to accomplish.
A website redesign of course is not without its challenges. In terms of design and development, Alex and I had to figure out a way to present her video and still photography in a way that met her requirements: one type of media format needs to takes priority over another but there could be a situation where only one type of content was published.
Meaning: If say a video for a story was the featured format type but she had a still photo gallery version of the same story, she wanted the video to be presented first and the still gallery presented second. It could also be reversed or there could be only a video or only a still gallery.
Honestly, I was super confused at first because when I hear the term “related content” I immediate think “related stories or articles”; content that could be related in terms of topic but not the same story in a different format. You know, like “Other Stories You May Like”.
Our language while the same meant different things! So it took awhile to hash it out since we were working primarily via email and Basecamp. Alex is based in the Midwest, Janet in Mexico and I’m in Syracuse!
But, because the content also drives the direction of development — a reason why development or developers should be involved in the project as soon as it begins — it was critical to reach an understanding. I was trying to avoid was the possibility of a major CMS implementation nightmare.
We eventually created 4 different templates which I believe works but it was an intense point of discussion since the actual presentation of secondary content was purposefully designed not to be consistent.
Janet’s new website is fully responsive thanks to Alex’s mad skills. Mobile use surpassed desktop last year and it will continue in that direction so building a responsive website was one of the most important requirements. Her previous Flash-based website wouldn’t even show up. A mobile-friendly website imho is a non-negotiable for website owners.
We used a BEAM template to create the archives section of her website and we had a few limitations.
The URL for the logo cannot be modified to be linked to an external web page
Templates have a lot of customization limitations.
The first kinda drives me bonkers. The second I can live with. In the end it was a decision based on priority. We went with mobile-friendly over customization. So, it isn’t an ideal set-up but as always you gotta work within constraints and I personally do not feel that every section of a website or web page these days needs to be feel like an exact match.
What I Love Most
Perhaps it is bad form to share what I love about my own design but I feel like I gotta say how glad I am that it has some warmth and texture. It feels approachable just like Janet.
At last, I’m posting a few photos and details of a maquette I designed with Mike Davis and photographer Matt Eich.
At last, I’m posting a few photos and details of a maquette I designed with Mike Davis and photographer Matt Eich.
I asked Matt awhile ago about sharing some pages from the maquette and he gave me the go ahead but you know how it is, something else comes up that requires your attention toute suite and that blog post you were supposed to write moves down the list.
The maquettes are available for purchase from Matt:
Five copies are made available for sale with an 11×14 limited-edition print, five copies will be sent to select publishers in the hopes of finding a home for this work. Send me an email (email@example.com) if you are interested in acquiring one of the five copies available.
PS: Matt has an exhibit of the work at The Half King (an amazing space with a yummy salmon dish I might add 🙂
Every time I see Randy prep and pack for an assignment, I’m quickly reminded how many times he and so many other photographers take so many risks to bring home compelling images that move and inspire us as individuals and the world.
The amount of time they get in the field has been reduced dramatically due to disruption and yet they still deliver despite the realities of working on assignment for The Natty G.
As he says, “It’s an art.” packing for a variety of conditions and situations. Check it out:
I really enjoyed both of Louie’s talks. He’s a great example of a photographer savvy about business, brand recognition and the value of his work. It was pretty obvious that his confidence gives him the freedom to do work that is important to him and it seems, do it his way.
Here are some highlights about packaging a grant proposal:
When writing a grant proposal, include what is required. Highlight the criteria and make sure to get the basics into the proposal.
Show evidence of access. Include images that show you do have access; that you can do what you propose.
Be persistent in getting funding. Just because you aren’t awarded the first time doesn’t mean you can’t be in the future. Don’t give up on any project before you begin.
Include a budget estimate. How will you use the money? Be clear and transparent.
Do your research. Provide supporting and contextual information (maps, graphics, etc.) Strategically add supporting information in your captions. Bridge the connection between history, current events and data.
Publish and sell your story as a package. Don’t sell single images. You’ll minimize or lose the chances to get additional funding.
Create and manage your brand. People are watching you and making notes about you. First impressions matter. Your personality matters.
The big takeaway for me from both of his talks: Position yourself as an expert.
Below are links to interviews with Louie on writing grant proposals and his work:
I’m a big fan of Photoshelter
for many reasons but the big reason? The people who make up the company.
So, when I learned Andrew would be speaking I made a point to catch his
talk about marketing.
Andrew’s take on marketing was fresh and so useful:
on audience rather than clients. Your audience is larger than your
target client pool. Your audience is anyone who wants to consume content
and rich storytelling.
Create an ecosystem. Make it easy for your audience to connect the dots.
Specialize. Don’t be afraid to be hyper focused.
Partnerships. Develop relationships with like-minded organizations to maximize exposure.
Increase discovery. Where can you be discovered? (Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Facebook, Quora, Vimeo, etc.)
Brand advocates. Help your audience spread the word about you.
SEO. Increase organic search results with a search-engine friendly
website. Use keywords and tags where possible. Layer keywords in your
headlines and blog posts. (Note: This is why blogs are so important and why using Photoshelter for your images is a step in the right direction)
Personality matters. It’s your brand. Be consistent and show who you are as a person.
Provide solutions. Cumulative efforts will pay off. Provide helpful, useful content. (This is typically referred to as “content marketing”.)
The NPPA is making a concentrated effort to bring great content to the photography community. Their recent website redesign, this conference and many other changes are worth supporting. Don’t let the word “Newspaper” scare you off. Sign up for membership and show support for your fellow photographers.
“Newspaper” is being redefined. That, is exciting!
A website that responds to the device that accesses it and delivers the appropriate output for it uses responsive design. Rather than designing multiple sites for different-sized devices, this approach designs one site but specifies how it should appear on varied devices.
Basically, your website would adjust to various screen sizes at “break points” so you don’t have to create a million different sites for a million different devices. The industry-standard practice for accomplishing this is to use “media queries”.
Believe me, it is way more cost effective than developing a native app. A responsive website is also better than a website template that merely serves another stripped down template to show your work on a smartphone or tablet.
Why? There’s more to mobile design than just getting content to show up.
A responsive site (properly coded and thought-out) will:
Be respectful of content
Be easy to navigate
Be respectful of context and offer the best experience
Display and maintain your brand
Maintain the beauty and seductive visual qualities of your website
You worked your ass off creating that image. You know, that image you just can’t bear to edit out of your portfolio.
Ask yourself: Are you attached to that image because of what it took to capture that image? Are you attached to that image because of who is in that image? Are you attached to that image because your mom loves it?
Go back to your criteria for what makes a kick ass photo. Show photographs that truly reflect your overall brand story and business goals.
Hire a picture editors like Mike or Jasmine. You know, objective awesome people who will give you honest and helpful feedback.
If you want travel assignments, show images that will help get you travel assignments. If you want sports assignments, show images that will appeal to clients who need sports and sports-related photography.
Makes sense, right?
So … what about editing images to themes or emotion rather than literal categories? Risky? Go ahead, take a risk.
If you don’t know who you are or what you want to do or what you value (hello, your brand), editing is going to be tough.
3. Have a few case studies
I tell my students to have a few projects in their portfolio that present their thinking.
What makes this gold?
Your clients get to know your thought process and view you as a problem solver and not just a technician.
Here’s a working format (below). Take what you want, leave the rest.
Name of Project
Name of client
You could also add publication date, credits, locations, etc. but remember to keep it short. If you want to add more detail, write a blog post and add a link at the bottom of the case study to that blog post.
Set yourself apart.Differentiate yourself from others by sharing how you think or how you approach an assignment, project, photo shoot.
Beauty and brains. Love!
4. Mind Your Page Load Times & More Pictures isn’t Better
Wedding photographers. Brides LOVE looking at images of other weddings. Give ‘em what they want but make sure you can live with what you show.
If you have a lot of images, look into getting an Amazon S3 account and using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) like CloudFront or MaxCDN to save some money, have a back-up of your website assets and deliver content faster.