Photojournalist Lynn Johnson’s Website Redesign

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. 

Template Limitations

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).

Dream Client

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.

Congratulations Lynn!

Multimedia Photojournalist Janet Jarman’s Website Redesign

Presenting my collaboration with Janet Jarman, Kati McCoy and Alex Kendrick on the redesign of

I’m excited to present Janet Jarman’s new website!

She announced the launch last week but I’ve been so busy with another website project and finishing up the details of my personal branding and marketing course that I just haven’t had the time! It’s all good stuff of course 😉


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.

Reception to her site has been positive — yay!

Content Relationships

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.

HonestlyI 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. 

  1. The URL for the logo cannot be modified to be linked to an external web page
  2. 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.

A Book Maquette Collaboration with 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.

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.

But now that Matt has announced the maquette in his newsletter, I felt motivated to share.

I hope he does find “a home” (publisher) for The Invisible Yoke.

Below are stacks of the printed and bound maquettes. (Thank you Christina!)

I’m DYING to hold one in my hands!

Photo by Conveyor Arts
Photo by Conveyor Arts

Here are some of the book details:

  • Roughly 7×9 in size
  • Binder’s board, Foil stamped
  • Red Gaff Tape for the binding
  • Mohwak 80# Superfine Ultrawhite Uncoated
  • Typeface: Pitch by KLIM and available at Vllge.
  • Printed by Conveyor Arts
Proofs, proofs, proofs!
Proofs, proofs, proofs!

And a few pages from the book.

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 ( 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 🙂

The Invisible Yoke
July 15, 2014–August 30, 2014

The Half King, 505 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

Get some food, a drink and view the photos.


Video: Randy Olson Packs for National Geographic Assignment

National Geographic Magazine contract photographer Randy Olson made this time lapse of himself as he packs for an assignment in Lake Turkana.

National Geographic Magazine contract photographer Randy Olson made this time lapse of himself as he packs for an assignment in Lake Turkana.

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:

Marketing, Branding & Grant Proposals: Notes from the NPPA Northern Short Course 2013

Mike and I are just back from the NPPA Northern Short Course in Elizabeth, NJ. Major kudos go out to Michelle McLoughlin and team for organizing several days of excellent speakers.

Some of the talks I was able to attend included, Alan Spearman, Meredith
, Andrea Bruce, Tim Rasmussen and Jamie Rose. The work of course
was powerful and energizing. We left feeling warm and fuzzy, too.

My goal was to attend as many business-related talks as possible since I teach my students about design, branding, marketing and basic business practices for photographers and designers. So, for those of you who weren’t able to attend, below are some notes from talks about marketing, branding and grant proposals.

Wonderful Machine's Blog
Wonderful Machine’s Blog

Branding and Marketing with Bill Cramer

Bill Cramer is CEO of Wonderful Machine and his presentation was about branding and marketing. Here are a few takeaways from his talk:

  • Specialize: His example was that of a food photographer. Instead of food, why not focus on beverages?
  • Your work: Show the right work and gear your portfolio to what you want to do. What does your portfolio say about you? Show your personality.
  • Graphic identity: Create marketing materials that support your photography Presentation matters as well as your style.

For websites

  • Use for your primary domain
  • Present large images and use 30 images max
  • Keep your navigation labels simple (about, blog, contact) and keep your site easy to navigate. Your website should be intuitive.
  • Ditch the music, watermarks, splash pages and intros. Less is more.

(Hmmm … All of that sounds so familiar 🙂

  • Social media and blogs: Remember your audience and gear your topics to your clients.
  • Don’t get too personal or rant on personal politics.
  • Make it easy for people to find you: There are many clients who have never heard of you. Take advantage of directories, pay attention to SEO (search engine optimization).
  • Seek out your clients: Take charge of your career and think beyond just word of mouth. Focus on which clients are appropriate for you
  • Use direct mail: Print may be more expensive but it is worth it.

Wonderful Machine has some great resources on their How We Help Photographers page. Be sure to check it out.

And, be sure to read Portland, Oregon based photographer Lincoln Barbour’s answers to Brian Stevenson’s questions about Wonderful Machine.

Louie Palu's website
Louie Palu’s website

Grant Proposals with Louie Palu

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.

When people who are not photographers are talking about your work, you are getting somewhere.

— Louie Palu, Documentary Photographer at The NPPA NSC 2013

Below are links to interviews with Louie on writing grant proposals and his work:

Photoshelter's photography guides.
Photoshelter’s photography guides.

Marketing with Andrew Fingerman

Business as usual, results as usual.

— Andrew Fingerman, CEO, Photoshelter

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:

  • Focus
    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.
  • Maximize
    . 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”.)

Marketing is keeping yourself on people’s radar.

Andrew also  some really solid case studies:

Washington, DC photographer Stephen Voss's website
Washington, DC photographer Stephen Voss’s website

I love the quote (below). It’s so accurate. You need some kind of greater motivation to light that fire in your belly to go make your next best picture.

Survival isn’t a reason to get out of bed.

— Andrew Fingerman, CEO, Photoshelter

Visit their Free Guides page to download a slew of helpful guides on the business of photography.

The Value of NPPA

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!

7 Website Design Considerations for Photographers in 2013

A new year, another chance to evaluate your marketing mothership.

What are some of the most important web design considerations for photographers?

I get asked this question in various forms because heck, imagine hiring a web designer and ending up with a website that sucks or has nothing to do with your big plans for the new year!

Here are 7 important website design considerations for 2013 to help you make the most of your marketing investment for the long term.

A new year, another chance to evaluate your marketing mothership.

What are some of the most important web design considerations for photographers?

I get asked this question in various forms because heck, imagine hiring a web designer and ending up with a website that sucks or has nothing to do with your big plans for the new year!

Here are 7 important website design considerations for 2013 to help you make the most of your marketing investment for the long term.

1. Focus on Mobile

Seriously. If your site isn’t at least responsive (mobile-friendly), ya better get on it.

Photo by Elmastudio
Photo by Elmastudio

It is and will be worth every penny to invest time and cash to get your awesome content to display beautifully on mobile devices.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to have a mobile-friendly web site.

Why 2013 is the Year of Responsive Web Design” by Pete Cashmore

What does the term responsive web design mean?

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.

Source: Standford University IT Terminology

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

Be sure to read

2. Edit to Your Brand & The Gigs You Want

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.

Now …

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.

But …

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
  • The challenge
  • The solution
  • The results


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

Since 2010, Google has taken page load times as a factor when ranking web pages.

So, keep your portfolio images tight and targeted. Super duper quality trumps quantity any day.

I mean, people are busy!

Are there exceptions? Heck yeah.

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.

Be sure to read:

5. Seduce Me with Your Copy, Too

Your work will not speak for itself.

There. I said it.

Photo by Pierre Metivier
Photo by Pierre Metivier

Work with a copywriter who understands content strategy, audience, branding to help you write some killer copy, a killer tagline, a killer about page, killer navigation labels, a killer 404 page.

Copy is part of an overall content (brand) strategy that extends beyond your website. If you’ve been copy averse, give copy a second chance. 

Your work kicks ass but so does the work of that other photographer.

What makes you different? Why should anyone hire you over them?

The people who hire you want to connect with a photographer who is a person, who has social proof, who clearly spells out what they offer.

Great copy paired with great photography can entice like no other. 

It’s important to have layered content, content that complements each other, elevates message to clearly communicate your brand and the benefits you offer your clients.

Your about page just isn’t enough.

6. Reduce the Clutter & Be Critical of Features

Present and package your portfolio without complexity and lots of doo-dads.

With every cool feature, ask yourself, why?

Why do you need that music? Why do you that animation? Why include all the social sharing buttons? Why use parallax?

With every piece of content, ask yourself, why? Does it really need to be there? Establish clear hierarchy and prioritize. 

Successful design is knowing when to strip away the excess to communicate clearly, effectively, purposefully.

Focus your message, get clear on your audience and you won’t need the extra accessories.

7. Have a Blog or a Tumblr page

Content, content, content.

If you still don’t buy into the blogging thang, all I can say is that dimension is so much more fascinating.

Share your personality. Share your interests. Share the way you think. Most of all, share content that helps people; that serves people.

With content you will reach your people and win fans and heck, Book Yourself Solid.

I mean hey, even Martin Parr has a blog (which honestly has poor interaction design — sorry Martin!)

A blog helps people connect with you. It’s a lot like those case studies I mentioned way up there. (I really am thrilled you are still reading 🙂

Bonus: Have more than just an online Portfolio

Sure the world has gone digital but if you’re like me you know paper can still be a magical experience.

Photo by Jonas' Design
Photo by Jonas’ Design

I once met a few student photographers who brought only their laptops or iPads to show me their work. They eagerly launched browsers to show their online portfolios.

What happened next?

They weren’t able to connect to the hotel’s wireless connection. Boy, did I feel for them

If you have the opportunity to meet with a client, a picture editor, gallery curator or other very important people in person, a print portfolio can make quite an impression sans internet.

Consider strategically editing your work so you offer a teaser of stupendous images online and more in a printed portfolio. It works in the reverse too!

Imagine your digital portfolio and your print portfolio working harmoniously to your advantage. Both can offer unique but complementary experiences, showcasing your secret sauce.

Check out these supreme photographers who use print and digital exceptionally well.

Got any other tips to pass along? Share them in the comments below!

You may want to check out an oldie but goodie, “9 Things to Consider When Planning Your Website