Thursday, April 30, 2009

Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup: Intro (Part 1 of 6)


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THIS ARTICLE HAS BECOME TOO OLD AND OUTDATED. I now use Zenfolio exclusively for my personal portfolio and now only points to my Zenfolio site. Click here to read my Zenfolio review and learn why I feel it’s the best service available now.

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There comes a time in a photographer’s life where you get enough positive feedback that you have the thought that you might actually make some money with this hobby that has done nothing more than go through your money faster than a <censored part about Vegas>. While any real pro will tell you not to quit your day job and that there’s no money in Photography anymore, that doesn’t keep people like you and me from wanting to hang our shingle out to the world and announce that we are real photographers. However, to do that we need to look and act professional, and a good place to start is a proper presentation of our photos in a professional looking online portfolio.

Now some of  you may be thinking, but I already have a Flickr Pro account. Well, I suppose if you are good enough that might be fine, but I would suspect that your odds are better at being treated as a professional if you look professional which means building a proper professional web site.

The purpose of this blog is to offer some choices on how you can get that pro look based on your commitment level. To some of us we’d rather commit time to save money, and others would rather commit money so we can dedicate our time to photography. This article will address both and simply present some choices I researched in my own quest to build a professional online portfolio.

In this 6 part series, I’ll examine the following portfolio hosting sites:

liveBooks Sitewelder
  • liveBooks – Name your top 5 most respected photographers, now go visit their web site. Odds are, you’ll notice somewhere on one or more of their sites a powered by liveBooks logo. These guys are the industry leaders. liveBooks offers a Flash based web-site that focuses on building anything you want – for a fee. (examples)
  • FolioSnap – The best way I can describe FolioSnap is as the anti-liveBooks, but I mean that in a good way. They avoid using Flash which means there code will run on just about anything that can render HTML, and even on my iPhone I was able to get a live slideshow – something no other site reviewed here could offer. (examples)
  • SiteWelder – One of my top favorite 20 photographers first told me about SiteWelder and the great customer service they offer. As I spoke with the great folks at SiteWelder I quickly learned why pros trust SiteWelder for their online portfolio needs. Their site offers a huge selection of templates with a reasonable amount of customization without you ever knowing anything about HTML or Flash. (examples)
  • Smugmug – This is where I currently host my personal portfolio as well as many of my blog photos. I’ve written about Smugmug before, and I’m a huge fan. However, they have the reputation for being a personal web site, not a pro web site, despite some compelling features and a great price. In this review I’ll try to determine if Smugmug can hang with the big boys, or if it’s out of its league. (examples)

Preparing yourself for the big time

While this article won’t be a “how to go pro” article, there are a few things that you should consider if you are about to begin this process:

  1. Only show the best - Your pro portfolio should only contain your best shots. If you can get a pro mentor to help you select photos, great, but if not then try to solicit opinions from other DSLR photographers because it’s easy to get wrapped up in a photo that might not be worthy of a pro portfolio.
  2. Focus on what you do best and be brief - Your site should focus on what you do best, and then show the best of the best. You shouldn’t plan to have 10 galleries with 50 photos because no potential customer will ever look at all of those photos. In fact, you might only get a few minutes of a prospective customers attention so you need to show your best and be brief. Consider a dozen or less of your best photos in approximately 3 galleries when you get started.
  3. Simple is good – Your photos, not some fancy flash animation, should be the center of attention on your site. Keep it simple, clean and fast.
  4. If they can’t reach you they, can’t hire you – These days people might find your site on a PC, Mac, iPhone, SmartPhone, or some other device. Your site shouldn’t exclude these different platforms or only target specific browsers. In addition your customer may find you on the web, but they still might want to talk to you on the phone. Be sure to not only include an email address but also a phone number where you can be reached quickly.
  5. Know that millions of others are doing the same thing – Everyone that has a digital camera occasionally gets a good shot, and those who get a collection of good shots that are admired by their Mom, wife, and friends sometimes begin to think that they can make it in the Photography business. Well the reality is that the competition is fierce, so simply having a photo published on the National Geographic web site isn’t going to make you a shoe in to make a good living off of Photography. Do your research, and understand the business.

I look forward to having you join me next week as I roll out an article on each of the sites featured. In the end, I’ll publish a final article that discusses which service I chose to host my site and why. In the meantime, you can see what Scott Kelby went through when he decided to build his own site in this article as well as the follow up article which featured reader feedback. I think it is very informative to see how people responded to his fancy flash site.

Other articles in this series:

  1. Professional Web Hosting Roundup: Intro
  2. liveBooks Review
  3. FolioSnap Review
  4. SiteWelder Review
  5. Smugmug Review
  6. Conclusion

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