OlsonFarlow.com and PhotoShelter Integration Explained

First I want to say thanks for all the great feedback and shoutouts about Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow‘s site.

I also received several great leads inquiring about PhotoShelter integration and judging from the inquiries I feel I need to explain at what point PhotoShelter customization and integration begins and where it ends for OlsonFarlow.com. There seems to be some confusion.

First I want to say thanks for all the great feedback and shoutouts about Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow‘s site.

I also received several great leads inquiring about PhotoShelter integration and judging from the inquiries I feel I need to explain at what point PhotoShelter customization and integration begins and where it ends for OlsonFarlow.com. There seems to be some confusion.

At the moment, the bulk of OlsonFarlow.com is a static website hosted at BlueHost and crafted with html, css, javascript and jquery plugins. The home page, individual story grids and the single gallery pages that feature individual stories are static web pages. They are not powered by PhotoShelter.

Where PhotoShelter begins is with the Archives page. This is where I used the manual customization option to code the pages using css to look exactly like the static pages of OlsonFarlow.com. I guess it worked really well!

olson-farlow-address-bar.jpg

You’ll notice that once you get to archives.olsonfarlow.com the browser address bar has the “/c/olsonfarlow” at the end of the url. This is generated by PhotoShelter so as a visitor starts to click on the sub-navigation or the Featured Galleries the url starts to change. This is especially noticeable when a user defines their search parameters and PhotoShelter displays their search results.

Most people won’t notice the difference (which is great) and I felt compelled to explain this more because there seemed to be a lot of confusion about what seamless PhotoShelter integration means…

So to break this down:
Phase 1: Design OlsonFarlow.com. Establish overall look, feel, and determine overall structure. Advise on content. Code the site.

Phase 2: Integrate their PhotoShelter account to look and feel like all the other pages at OlsonFarlow.com. Make it seamless to keep brand consistency and increase value to the experience of visiting OlsonFarlow.com.

Phase 3: Migrate and integrate OlsonFarlow.com to WordPress MU so they can update the content on those pages dynamically and add a blog to increase visibility and connect with their audience.

Ideally if you are interested in using PhotoShelter, you would have a “stand-alone” website where you will be able to create an experience for admirers, buyers and whoever else is your target audience. A custom website would be the way to really stand out from the crowd. Then, use PhotoShelter to allow your audience to buy, download and share your work.

Using PhotoShelter as your single solution also works and it is limited in the way one can present their work. It may work really well for some photographers and may not be enough for others. Again, this all comes down to your goals, the needs of your audience and your budget (very important :).

There are many ways to integrate PhotoShelter for your needs and there is no one “right” way.

In fact, another option is to really use a blog as the main portal and “attach” PhotoShelter to your blog. Blogs and websites are becoming one and the same, if not already so.

In the next few weeks, OlsonFarlow.com will be migrated and integrated to WordPress. This will allow Randy and/or Melissa to update their various galleries and text at their leisure. I’m also hoping to integrate a blog for them too so check back for an announcement!

Hope this helps.

Website Redesign: Photographers Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow

Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow are contributing photographers to National Geographic Magazine. They also happen to be very good friends and we just gave birth to a website together.

I’m proud to announce the Olson&Farlow website:

olson-farlow-website.jpg

Just over a year ago, Randy decided they needed a new website and shortly after completing a very amazing job he was eager to create an online presence that went beyond the typical vanity website.

But after several discussions and a few design ideas it was clear they needed time to sort out what they really wanted from what they really needed.

Then a minor hell happened.

Randy and Melissa were members and supporters of DRR (our affectionate name for Digital Railroad). And as most photographers know, DRR met an untimely sad death last October. In a nutshell, it was a mind-numbing foray into the ugliness of losing hundreds of thousands of images, time and money.

They, like many other photographers knew they needed to find another solution for distributing and marketing their work but after the big burn with DRR, they were understandably hesitant to upload thousands of images to yet another company.

So in October of 2008, we opened the discussion again about a website and the need to secure a place to share, sell and distribute their work. Plus, they were badly in need of a redesign (images of their previous site below).

randy-olson-home-350.jpgmelissa-farlow-home-300.jpgrandy-olson-coverages-300.jpg

The previous versions of their websites used Flash and all the links were going out to Digital Railroad which were no longer active. I also felt their previous site was too simple and that continuing to use Flash was perhaps not the best solution.

Update 5.15.2009: It has come to my attention that my comment about Randy and Melissa’s previous version of their site as being “simple” may have been misinterpreted as saying, “not good” or “bad design”. The thought never crossed my mind and in no way did I mean for this to be anything disparaging or derogatory.

So let me explain: Redesigns happen for many reasons and one primary motivation to do so is because situations, goals and needs change. This is exactly what prompted Randy and Melissa to re-visit their website — their needs changed.

And since the design of their previous site, technology has changed and research has been revealed about the benefits of standards-based web design, blogging, etc. Heck PhotoShelter, wordpress, jquery, etc. didn’t even exist when their previous site was designed!

This redesign was about embracing technology that would benefit them more in the long run and give them a presentation that utilized as much of advances in web design (as a whole) as possible.

This was never about diminishing the work of another designer because at that time, the designer worked with the tools available and what he/she felt was the right approach for Randy and Melissa’s needs/goals at that time. And, it worked well and looked great: Clean, modern, easy to navigate and showcased their work very well.

Just because I trade in my car doesn’t mean I didn’t love my car. Or just because I get a new computer doesn’t mean I didn’t find my previous computer helpful. I needed to get another computer because it offers more power and features for what I need to accomplish today.

And the purpose for showing a before and after is just that. People like to compare and see the difference. Just like home makeovers.

So my sincerest apologies if I offended anyone. I love simple, minimalist design.

So, we had big discussions about Flash and why it would work for some things and not most. We had big discussions about goals and organization of content. Who was this site for? Why does it exist? Why have one? What did they want their visitors to accomplish? Who was their target audience? (Most of this discussion done via email in mad spurts between their travels.) Determining many of those key questions were important before deciding on the technology.

With Flash websites being the norm for most photographers, the decision to not use it was a bit of a stretch initially (for them) since doing something different is sometimes hard to see, especially when all the cool tricked-out websites use Flash…

What I used to build this site

css/html: I love it. It is incredibly flexible and powerful.

jQuery and jQuery Plugins

Cycle: Used for the sequence of fading images on the home page. The cycle plugin is a staple in my toolbox.

Lightbox: This lightbox by Leandro Vieira Pinho is my favorite lightbox. It’s easy to implement and easy to customize.

Expander: Expander was created by Karl Swedberg and Karl seems to be a super nice person. He has a great tutorial blog (Learning jquery) where he and a couple of other good people teach people like me jquery.

Truncate: Created by Brian Reindel, Truncate is different from Expander in that it preserves html! I was so glad to have paragraph breaks.

PhotoShelter: It took awhile to commit to PhotoShelter. This has got to be one of the more powerful and easily customizable ecommerce/marketing solutions out there for professional photographers. I’m not an expert on the topic (my due diligence included SmugMug, ZenFolio and Lightbox Photo) and this is one that I felt has great functionality and features specifically geared toward making a photographer’s website do more.

But a couple of things made tweaking PhotoShelter complicated:

1) The use of tables for layout. Being a float girl, it took me some time to wrap my head around which parts were in tables and why there were tables within tables…

2) Inline styles. I couldn’t adjust them and that frustrated me… But, thanks to Firebug and Safari’s Inspection Palette, I hunted for what I could tweak and made it so.

Designing and coding Randy and Melissa’s site was a great challenge and exceptional learning experience. I know their archives and stories almost as well as they do 🙂

They seem really happy with the results. I hope so.

PhotoShelter: What Buyers Want from a Photographer’s Website

Last night at LinkedIn I discovered a post from Andrew Fingerman, VP Marketing, PhotoShelter about PhotoShelter’s 2009 What Buyers Want Survey in the Photography Industry Professionals Group.

It’s about time someone did some research (thank you PhotoShelter) and as a buyer in my previous life as a magazine art director, the results are not surprising.

Last night at LinkedIn I discovered a post from Andrew Fingerman, VP Marketing, PhotoShelter about PhotoShelter’s 2009 What Buyers Want Survey in the Photography Industry Professionals Group.

It’s about time someone did some research (thank you PhotoShelter) and as a buyer in my previous life as a magazine art director, the results are not surprising.

The very comments that most buyers share about photographer websites today are the very same thoughts I’ve had for at least the last few years.

My husband and I have a lot of photographer friends. Ask any one of them about a conversation they have had with me about photographer sites and they’ll tell you I can deliver a nice rant. I can’t help it.

I care about the health of my friends and their business. I care about and love photography. I’m married to it.

Most photographer websites look great; beautiful even. Most suck in terms of speed and functionality. I’ve been harping about this for years.

Pay attention to this word: Busy. Busy, busy, busy. The last gig I had an art director, I worked somewhere between 45-80 hours a week. I didn’t have assistants or a photo editor or a director of photography (gawd what a luxury!).

The last thing I want to do is listen to music and wait for some splash page or some fancy schmancy intro a designer thought would be cool.

And making the window fill my screen? Sorry, major annoying. That has got to be one of the more crappy features ever created. Someone must be thinking that I don’t have any other software programs up at the same time and that I have the luxury of devoting prime screen real estate to your website. Wrong.

PhotoShelter made a smart move getting out of the stock biz and focusing on helping photographers make the most of their assets and archives.

I’ve had a small peak under the hood of their system (working on a photographer’s website to integrate into PhotoShelter in the near future) and it is very flexible. I can’t wait to dive in and really take it for a spin.

If you are a photographer and haven’t read the survey, better get on it since any business owner benefits from a better understanding one’s audience. PhotoShelter did the grunt work.

There’s a bonus: You get a nice little discount at the end of the PDF.

Flash. It may be the standard for photographer websites but I say no more! CSS/HTML/JAVASCRIPT can do amazing wonders and with the speed every buyer would love.

Remember, try and place yourself in the buyer’s chair. Small type and fancy flash animation may be cool for you but I can tell you for sure that most buyers want to get their job done and go out for a drink rather than waiting for your photos to load.

Yea, all this pent up frustration is working toward doing something about changing minds about photography websites.

Coming soon: More detail about my pet peeves about photography websites and alternatives to Flash.