Sunday, December 16, 2007

Website Basics for Photographers

One of the most common questions fellow photographers ask me is how I make/manage my website. I have been doing some updating to my site in the last few weeks, and thought that this would be a good time to share a little of the behind-the-scenes info...

Outdoor Photography Website

I originally started my website using a program by Apple called iWeb. It comes as part of the iLife suite of programs, and is a WYSIWYG HTML program. Basically, you drag and drop different images, graphics, and text on a page, then hit publish, and voila!, instant website. Of course, nothing is without it's drawbacks, and iWeb has a few. The three things I found annoying are as follows:

1) Updating your site means opening up the software, making the changes, republishing the entire site (you cannot do one page at a time), adding meta tags (see #2 below), then uploading it to your webserver via FTP. Not the end of the world, but a pain nonetheless.

2) Pages made with iWeb don't have Meta Tags of any value. Meta Tags are important to search engines and help get your pages found by Google and other search engines. I did find a way to do this, using a find-and-replace software called MassReplaceIt, which has become an invaluable piece of software for me. You can use it to replace meta tags, links, file extensions, etc, on multiple files all at once. Great tool, but a pain to do each time I exported the pages.

3) The last big drag about iWeb is the pages it produces do not work well with Internet Explorer, which is unfortunately the browser of choice for over half the users on the internet (I have no idea why, I think it sucks). Pages elements are improperly displayed, colours and links are not right, etc. Not the best thing when you are trying to look professional.

These problems left me frustrated, and searching to find a new solution. For those of you starting out, and have an Apple computer, I'd recommend starting with iWeb. You can have a site up in an hour or two which is pretty amazing, given what it took to make a website even a few years ago. But it's not the magic answer; it has some issues.

My current website is made up of three main components. The main basic HTML pages, my Blog, and my stock licensing section. I will go over each section here, to give you a better understanding of what each does, and how I made them.

My main HTML pages

I now use a free HTML text editor called Smultron to make the bulk of the pages on my site. It is a text based HTML editor (Mac OSX only), but has some very powerful features. As I tried different options for making my website, I picked up some basic HTML along the way, and I can now edit my own pages reasonably well. I originally bought a few books on the subject, but as with most things, I learned better just by doing it. I found that looking at the source of web pages was very useful, and would copy and paste HTML code from other sites I liked, and then modify it to fit my site. In most browsers, you can view a page's HTML code by accessing the "View" menu, then choosing "View Source".

I use Adobe Photoshop CS3 to make the graphics of all my pages, and the same goes for all the images I use on my site. I use PS to crop, downsize, colour correct and otherwise prep them for the web.

For my portfolio pages, I opted to use flash based slideshows embedded in a standard HTML page. I found a great little piece of software called SWF 'n Slide Pro by Vertical Moon software to make the flash slideshows.

You can see samples of pages made with Smultron (just basic HTML) here:
My Homepage
My Portfolio
My Bio

You can see samples of my portfolio pages made with Smultron and flash shows by SWF 'n Slide Pro (just basic HTML + Flash) here:
Nature Portfolio
Lifestyle Portfolio
Sports Portfolio

My Blog

I chose to add a blog to my site for a couple of reasons:

1) I really enjoy sharing my knowledge, and have made it part of my business goals to do so as much as I can.

2) Blogs are great for search engines. Google and others index blogs faster and more thoroughly than other basic pages.

3) Sharing and teaching helps me to reinforce what I already know, making it stick, further enhancing my grasp of a subject.

Though there are a number of blogging platforms out there, I chose to use Blogger for a couple of reasons. Blogger is now owned by Google, meaning they will a) probably be around in 5 years, b) it's free, c) Google indexes it very quickly and d) it integrates very nicely with other Google tools, which I'll get into shortly. I use a modified Blogger template (again, basic HTML) to make it look and feel exactly like the rest of my site. This helps with branding my site to keep a constant look and feel.

I also use Blogger's FTP publishing, meaning that instead of having all of my blog pages hosted on Blogger's servers, I get it published to the same server that the rest of my basic HTML pages are hosted on. This keeps the web address constant for visitors. Instead of going off to bcoutdoorphotographer.blogspot.com, visitors just go to www.joshmcculloch.com/blog.

To learn more about my blog, go to Josh's Blog Basics 101

My Stock Licensing section

I wanted to be able to have searchable image galleries on my website, and e-commerce was another feature I had on my list. These two things came together in the form of Photoshelter. Photoshelter is an online archiving, file delivery, and e-commerce solution developed exclusively for photographers. My account allows me 35GB of storage space, and 20GB of client bandwidth per month (My own uploading, downloading, general web traffic, and image licensing bandwidth is unlimited), and all this costs me $30 per month (plus Photoshelter takes 10% of all sales I make, which is better than the 30-80% some agencies take). They have dual, redundant data centers on the west and east coasts to make sure my files are safe. I can make unlimited image galleries, and can set the visibility of those galleries (public/private/password protected). I have automated Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free images available 24/7. Clients can search for a file, price it out for the usage they need, purchase it, and download it all within minutes, and completely automated. I can be out shooting and making sales at the same time.

I use Photoshelter's customization tool to make my Photoshelter archive look, feel and act like my site, just as with my blog. As there are some advanced features, I opted to have the good folks at Photoshelter perform the customization, as it was out of my HTML league. I paid $400 US for the customization, and it was done within a week.

Have a look around my stock licensing section to see what it can do: Josh McCulloch Stock Collection

Google Tools

As I mentioned above, I use some Google Tools to analyze and publicize my site and site traffic. They are:
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics
Feedburner

These tools help me find out what pages are viewed most often, what keywords people are using to find me in Google and other search engines, where my visitors live, what browser and screen resolution they are using, etc. Check them all out, they are worth using, and like Blogger, they're free. I've said it before, and here I go again: Google, you rock.

Other Miscellaneous Info

For my web address registration, hosting, and e-mail, I use Go Daddy. They are cheap, and pretty helpful.
For my FTP uploading to my webserver, I use Fetch.

Questions, Comments? Fire 'em below, so others can see and learn from them...


Cheers, Josh



6 Comments:

Blogger AC said...

Great post!

I am looking to integrate my photoshelter account with my site as well. Like you the personalization seems a little bit out of my league.

I have a personal site which I would like to feed my other work into.

Your site really looks great.

Allen
www.offwingphoto.com

April 10, 2008 at 9:52 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Hello Josh,
You have provided some valuable information, thank you for sharing it.
I've read your article well over a year after you wrote it, so I'm interested to learn if things have changed much since writing it. Specifically, I wonder if you have any comments about Photoshelter vs Smugmug. Your reasons for choosing Photoshelter are nicely explained in your blog post, but could Smugmug have filled the bill also? Might Smugmug be a contender, or would it not even be in the running?
Cheers,
John

May 19, 2009 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Josh McCulloch said...

Hi John,

To be honest, my opinion of SmugMug is that it is geared more towards the amateur than the pro. A few things that annoy me are the "PhotoRank" flyout menu that occurs every time you hover over an image (that will drive most image buyers nuts), and the lack of true customization of your pages and galleries. Lastly, SM does not offer RM licensing, just RF - a deal breaker for me.

Cheers, Josh

May 20, 2009 at 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Josh
I am looking into using justhost.com instead of godaddy. It seems to have a little bit more for the $. Unlimited everything and $3.95 per month. Do you know anything about them and do you think they would fit the bill for hosting a photographer's site?
Thanks again
Jonathan

June 1, 2009 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Josh McCulloch said...

Hi Jonathan,

Sounds like a good deal, but I haven't dealt with them before. Make sure you can add a robots.txt file (some hosts don't allow this).

Cheers, Josh

June 1, 2009 at 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the answer I got from justhost.com:
Hi Jonathan,
1) We haven't any limitations for image size.
2) Yes you can add robots.txt to your website.
3) $3.95 is a locked fee.

June 1, 2009 at 10:18 PM  

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