Creating a photo website - part 1

Whoa, what gives? Yes, you are absolutely reading about a Wordpress-based photography site on a blog that is no longer based on Wordpress. I seemed to get a fair bit of traffic on my site from people wondering how to do this, so I am leaving these posts here for posterity. That said, the internet world has evolved quite a bit in the last four years, so I now use a system that is simpler in some ways, but immensely flexible. So read about this newer flat-file CMS approach as I document it over the next few months.

This is part one of a series of posts I am going to make about the process of creating a website for displaying photographic work. I have had a live website for about five years, and the one you are currently viewing is about release level 3.1. I am going to spend a little time upfront here talking about some of the considerations you may want to take into account if you are in the process of creating your own website. This is primarily composed of a list of needs and wants and desires for a photographic oriented website. The software world would call this a requirements document.

The requirements

First, it needs to look good. Photography is a visual art, and if your visual art is displayed in a framework that is inappropriate for the work you want to showcase, the viewer will experience a little cognitive dissonance at best, and outright irritation at worst.

Second, it needs to not look too good. The purpose of the website is to highlight photographs, and an overly complicated or visually rich site that demands more viewer attention than the work itself is a mistake. Think of the website design as being similar to a frame in which you would mount a physical photograph: it needs to be appropriate and consistent with the work being shown, but at the end of the day, it is a carrier, a framework in other words, and should be visually subordinate to the work.

Third, it needs to be doable. By this, I mean that the website has to be simple enough to be created by the photographer. Now, if you are a superstar photographer with your own ‘web-presence’ staff, this requirement is not needed. How many of those have you run into lately? Short of that exalted state, you will want your website creation approach to be reasonable for a knowledgeable computer user, but does not require someone who is a javascript/php ninja code-monkey.

Finally, it needs to be maintainable. Your website should be easy to update by adding photos and galleries as you do new work. You should be able to understand how the site is constructed, and have a streamlined process for adding content, no matter if it is visual work or merely verbiage. Finally, the approach needs to fit your level of involvement. Just as you would not take an Abrams tank to the Sonic Drive-In for a shake and burger, you really don’t need an large-scale industrial website approach that might be appropriate for an online merchandiser if all you want to do is share a few pictures of the grandkids with your friends.

The alternatives

From my point of view, there are really three broad approaches that are available:

  • Upload work to one of the great, easy-to-use photo-sharing sites such as Picasa, Flickr, Shutterfly, Photobucket, DevianArt, or any of the other similar sites that straddle that line between a social networking site and a portfolio landing spot.

  • Create a dedicated, hand-coded, HTML/CSS site.

  • Adapt blogging software such as Wordpress or Textdrive to create a CMS (Content Management System) to display your work.

categories:  web design, presentation, portfolio, marketing