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My photography site has long been neglected and it was the cause of much internal anxiety. Through the years my site has morphed and changed a number of times. I started with a simple template site and moved on to a very expensive custom site then went back to a template gallery with a custom blog. You’re going to get sick of hearing about me trying to simplify my life but it’s the damn truth. I need as much simplicity as I can get right now and my website is no exception.

Two years ago I began looking at different portfolio platforms and signed up for a number of free trials to test. I had two simple needs that had to be met.

  1. Images had to run large and look good on various platforms and devices
  2. It HAD to have an integrated blog.

 

Over the years I have run sites and blogs on WordPress and that was fine but something always came up that was a pain in the ass for me to fix. I can’t even spell CSS let alone program it. If a plugin or update broke something I was at the mercy of whoever was available or who I could afford to fix the issue. Sometimes I just let it lay dead in the water because I just couldn’t handle the noise to fix it. DEDPXL is run on WordPress but I have Dan on a monthly retainer to constantly chase down the ghosts in the machine and keep this thing running.

My last site was on the Photoshelter platform and it was a decent enough site but Photoshelter does not have an integrated blog so I had to hire someone to design a wordpress theme that looked like the rest of the site. I’m a big believer in consistency and wanted my blog and my site to be seamless. Many portfolio platforms suffer from this so it really narrowed my choices. If I changed the template in Photoshelter for my site then I would have to hire someone again to change the blog. With Squarespace it all integrates seamlessly no matter which template you switch to.

I’m often asked, “Why not a custom site, Zack? Don’t you want to stand out from the crowd?”

At the end of the day I need a site that showcases my photography. Not my design aesthetic. I’ve talked with countless art directors and photo editors and they really don’t give a shit about custom sites vs. template sites. They tell me they want to see the photography first, blog second, and then have an easy way to get in touch with you. That’s it. Any site that doesn’t nail those three things well is a problem. I have also found that most custom sites lack a simple and easy to use backend to make updating easy and painless. I once had a site that I had to resize images for the galleries AND thumbnails. I know we have progressed beyond those archaic methods but I just needed simple.

The companies that ended up on my shortlist were Photoshelter, A Photo Folio, Format, 500px, SmugMug (I hate their name but their sites are pretty decent), Squarespace, Tumblr (Yes. Tumblr), and finally, The Grid (I’m not even giving them the benefit of a link. Don’t bother with them at all.) At the end of the day it came down to Squarespace for having the best blog integration, most options for layout and design, and simplicity of use.

 

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From updating galleries, to writing a blog post, to tracking traffic and stats, adding e-commerce, and building custom pages within the backend, Squarespace was the clear winner. There are always issues when going with a template service though. The two issues I have right now with Squarespace is I really like the galleries from one template but the blog design of another template. I know there’s a lot that you can do under the hood if you know a bit of CSS and the like and that was one reason I went with them. At some point if I do want something tweaked beyond the options I’m given with drop down menus and sliders I can hire someone to make those changes for me.

Another issue I have with Squarespace is the lack of media management in the backend. I would like the ability to upload media into the backend and then select from there what goes into a gallery or blog post. Photoshelter has that system down. You can upload full resolution images and then add those to galleries and it handles the resizing and all of that. Of course, it doesn’t handle blogging. It’s 2017! Why isn’t there the perfect platform yet? Where Squarespace falls short though it really excels at everything else.

 

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Since I have been shooting new personal work I have wanted two things on my site. One is a simple way to sell prints and the other is to have folks sign up to be a subject for my personal work. Squarespace makes both of those things a breeze to set up. Within ten minutes I signed up for Stripe, connected my site to ShipStation, and created products and shipping options. It was so easy and seamlessly integrated into my site. The second thing was just as simple to set up. I created a blank page and just built a form with text, photos, and intake questions. It’s like building with legos and, so far, it works on every device I’ve tested. You can’t ask for more than that.

 

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The blog is not quite where I want it to be yet but it’s working and is easier to use, IMHO, than WordPress. I still have some tweaks to do and might pull someone in with a bit more knowledge than I have to get it where I want it to be. For now though it feels SO GOOD to have an updated site with updated work and I’m putting new content on a new blog. It felt freeing and liberating to absolutely nuke my old site into oblivion and start fresh. I may have taken a hit on SEO by doing so but I’m not really that concerned about it because I’ve never been that concerned with SEO.

Note that you won’t find me talking a lot about gear or technique on my new site. I look at it like this. I speak to photographers here on DEDPXL and this will continue to be the place where I talk shop with you, my colleagues and friends in this industry. ZackArias.com is the place where I’m speaking to photo editors, art directors, and clients in general. You won’t find settings I used or lighting information or any of that on my new site. That’s all gone. I’ll only speak to things that a client would care about. Things like… “I had this issue come up on a shoot and this is how I dealt with it.” or you might see me mention shooting medium format. I do get hired, in part, based on the fact that I shoot medium format. There are clients out there who do care about certain aspects of the gear side of our work. I won’t go deep into it or review cameras, lenses, lights, etc. That will stay over here.

Again. It feels awesome to have a fresh site. I still have tweaks to make. I still have some editing to do for the galleries. I might try a different font here or there. The blog layout needs some work but it’ll get there. If I kept waiting for the perfect site then I’d never ever ever ever ever launch one. Ever. Don’t wait for perfection because you’ll never find it. Please go take a look and let me know what you think! Which company or service do you think I should have put on my short list? Want to buy a print? Check them out here!

Cheers,
Zack

PS – I am not sponsored by Squarespace and I am not part of any affiliate program they have. I have not been paid in money or services to make this post.

PPS – The last thing I need in my digital life is a simple image delivery system. I’ll be posting soon once I have tested the last few companies and services I have been trying. Who are you using to deliver images to clients?

Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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38 Comments

  1. Vic Román

    Love squarespace. It’s simplicity is what moved me to go with them years ago.

  2. Pablo Puga

    Hi Zack, nice site!!
    Squarespace rocks!

    I’m part of the Squarespace Circle (A community for creative professionals who build websites on Squarespace), let me tell you, that option you asked for media management within the site is something several of us have asked, and they usually listen, may be it’s only to be patient for that. They deploy upgrades and new functions to make life easier for everyone very fast, so may be the missing “things” will come.

    Cheers,

    • Zack Arias

      That’s good to know, Pablo! Glad others are asking for it!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  3. Marc

    Interesting to hear of the move. I’m a long-time Photoshelter user and recently tried Squarespace for a different portfolio. I found the image management extremely limiting for a photographer, especially the inability to ‘share’ or easily move images between galleries. It’s the difference between just having stand alone galleries (SS) or a whole library from which to create stand alone galleries (PS). To me, that difference is huge. Combined with the sales and image delivery options, it’s never been a question that I’d stick with Photoshelter. You’re right, though, perfection is elusive. You noted the limited blog options already, but I’m also wondering when they’ll start accepting video formats, too!

    • Zack Arias

      I get you. I do. But at the end of the day I have two galleries and that’s it. The backend for Photoshelter for the client side was sometimes confusing for my clients. “See that tiny little arrow? Click that.” Services like Pixieset and Shootproof are FAR more user friendly for final image delivery IMHO.

      Don’t get me wrong though. Photoshelter is an amazing company with amazing people. I love them. But Squarespace, for me, is just a lot more user friendly.

      Cheers,
      Zack

  4. Aric Becker

    I love PhotoShelter for delivering images.
    I recently polled clients on how they liked the process of receiving the images and everyone said they loved it and the clients that receive images from other photographers, they said it was the best they deal with.

    I too wish they would update their websites and integrate a blogging feature.

    • Zack Arias

      You found me out! Damn! Call the FCC! 😛

      Cheers,
      Zack

  5. Morgan Roberts

    Real inside baseball. I’m in a transition from squarespace to WordPress at the moment, and it’s purely because of the tweaking. Form and other service integration is so much better there. I can bring both my wedding and “other” work sites over to the one hosting plan this way too. I really do love the simplicity of squarespace, but the locked down aspects really frustrate me.

    • Morgan Roberts

      Oh, and as a wedding shooter I love pixieset for delivery.

    • Tim

      This describes my current situation to a “T.” I’ve been experimenting with a WordPress site hosted locally, and I’ve found the Photocrati template (not a plug–at least not a paid one) give me what I want my site to look like much better than Squarespace.

  6. Marco Venturini Autieri

    Hi Zack, nice to read you back.
    I believe if you wish to simplify your life you should give up a blog and a website and sell all your gear and purchase a Nikon FM2n together with a bunch of wax candles to work with artificial light.

    • Zack Arias

      Hahaha! I still have kids to feed, Marco!

      Cheers,
      Zack

  7. Douglas I Levy

    I’m a photoshelter fan (I blog via Tumblr). I think the image proofing/delivery system is perfect and too good to give up, and the template is good, and does what I need (the things you mentioned)

  8. Wil

    Hi Zack!

    Great new site, love the design and especially your personal work!

    I also use Squarespace, and http://cloudspot.io for online contact sheets and file delivery. Quite happy with them, they keep updating features (e.g. also Stripe). They give you your own client-gallery domain, which I just added as external link to my site.

  9. Bo8

    I’m in the middle of starting a new site and I’m going with SquareSpace over PhotoShelter specifically because of the blogging feature.

    No idea why PS can’t get this together…

  10. JJ Casas

    Nice site refresh! Re: image delivery, I use Pixieset (http://pixieset.com) for my clients. Straight forward pricing and galleries that are more pleasing to the eye [I switched from Zenfolio after 7 years].

    • RJ Bradbury

      Hi JJ Casas,

      Can I ask what made you switch? I am looking in to image delivery options and have eyeballed Pixiset and Zenfolio so far.

      I need a clean simple gallery layout that will be a good match/fit for my square space site and stripe integration.

      Thank You

      Rick

  11. Daf

    Hi,
    One minor/techie suggestion – the title for the RSS feed of your blog starts:
    “Photography By Zack Arias • ATL • 404………”

    I collect and read a lot of photography blogs in Feedly. With that title, it gets truncated to “Photography By Za” in the left hand panel (list of blogs).
    So I’ve manually renamed it. It’s in my photographers folder.

    To make it easier for others – you may want to change the title to something like “Zack Arias Photography • ATL • 404………”.

    I’m a photographer/IT techie though – so might have different usage/needs from a potential client.

    • Zack Arias

      Thanks! I’ll look into that.

  12. Tim

    This post has great timing for me. I’m considering leaving Squarespace in favor of a Wordpess site. I love the Photocrati theme so much more than anything Squarespace offers. I just keep thinking with it just being me who is in charge of my site, the ease of Squarespace makes up for any faults it may have.

    The biggest thing that bugs me about Squarespace is that it doesn’t have a true alt-text field when you upload a photo. Squarespace uses the caption as the alt-text. The next biggest thing is that depending on the template, you don’t have the option to NOT show a photo’s titled, alt-text, etc.

    All of that can be configured in WordPress, but I just get the feeling I’d spend too much time working on the site instead of on photography.

    • Zack Arias

      I know WordPress if far more powerful but I have zero desire and zero knowledge how to get under the hood and make it do what I want. Utmost respect to folks who do. Squarespace is like using a Mac for me. Just turn it on and go to work. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Zack

      • Paul Gero

        yep! the perfect analogy..

  13. Chris Dowswell

    Hey Zack! The new site looks SWEET!… Clean and flows well.
    I’ve been using Pixieset for image delivery… Lame name, but it looks clean, is simple for clients to select images for retouch/edit and finally download. I know a bunch of wedding shooters who use it, but it’s worked well for myself and others who shoot other things.
    Welcome back!

  14. Jeremy Hall

    Love the new simplicity and even as a guy that does website design I consider templates or services when they fit the need. In your case the revamped site and purpose sounds like the right call.

    As much as you don’t like the name, I do my photo file delivery through Smugmug. That said, sometimes my corporate clients prefer Dropbox because that’s where they have their business account and they just slurp in the shared folder there. In the end, most clients (in my experience) don’t care how pretty it looks except the wedding world, and that’s not my world. They want it easy to review, get the files or make orders. Most of my print orders are local, so I do that local as well with a printer I can walk in the door and review the prints.

  15. Tamara Ott

    Thanks so much Zack! I had this on my list of things to do, SquareSpace, WordPress, and Wix were on my short list. I kept putting it off because too many choices puts me in a spin I can’t stop. it was just too much. I’m will be getting on Youtube and watching turorials for SquareSpace tonight. Thanks again for a nudge in a direction (any direction). I use SmugMug for client delivery but will be watching your next posts on the subject.

  16. Bruno Ribeiro

    The 3rd image of your personal work, you need to do a tutorial on how you approached the image in post-processing, would love to see that coming in a near future, i´m glad you are “back” on the road, super glad to see some new of your stuff man, all the best for you.

    Bruno

  17. Altamash

    Thank you for sharing your experience bud ! I am in a similar boat, but I’ve still got both my photoshelter site ( which im using as a strict portfolio for my clients ) and I’ve managed to pay someone to make the squarespace site a blog on a subdomain – it is not as ideal as having a FULLY intergrated site but its close, maybe ill have the guts to nuke the portfolio site at some point like you did haha, but at the moment, it’s fun to explore squarespace and see what kind of content I can produce outside of just pretty images !

  18. Paul Gero

    Zack…Nice looking site…I love Squarespace too…not perfect, but nothing is…but I find that their back-end is the easiest I’ve found.

    For photo delivery…check out Shootproof.com right in your neck of the woods.

    Best,
    Paul

  19. Dave Pluimer

    I’ve used SmugMug for a few years to deliver content. From small web-only all the way to full resolution. I really like their lab integration, too.

  20. Matt

    It’s alive!!!

    I’ve been using Pixieset now for a solid 3 years and am loving it- especially image delivery.

  21. Jim

    I recently considered switching from Zenfolio to SquareSpace but didn’t because I like being able to upload large and even RAW files and store them on Zenfolio. However, I feel that SquareSpace has more and better template options and integration with other services. If I could store my files on SS I’d switch in a shutter click.

  22. Rick Lohre

    SEO had me like…whaaaa on WordPress but switched to Squarespace about a year and a half ago before I went on a 3 month overseas photo assignment. I have to tell you it was like night and day with maintenance, design etc. I L-O-V-E-D what WordPress had on SEO, but the ease of use of Squarespace while traveling was awesome. About 4 months after the switch my SEO started to catch back up and even exceed where it was before. That said, Squarespace made it easy to focus on it where I had not necessarily done so much with WordPress. Now I don’t blog so much anymore…but if I do, it does make it easy.
    In agreement with a central repository for photos etc. Seems silly to have to re-upload a photo that’s already in use on the site in a gallery for a blog post or vice-versa…but eh…whatever. Small ticks versus the large ones like updating WordPress plugins and themes every other week!
    All the best and glad to see you emerging from the cracks to chat with us all again.
    Cheers, Rick

  23. Scott

    Zack, I’ve been using zenfolio for almost a year and am really happy with it. In the balancing act of features I need v features I want they came out top for me. Simple portfolio site (they need to get in the retina game though) integrated blog, and also proofing and selling.

    Is there any reason they wern’t on your shortlist? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers

  24. cainie81

    Has anyone tried Format (https://www.format.com/)? I’ve only just come across these guys – apparently designed by photographers, for photographers. They boast portfolio themes, integrated blog, online store, proofing and a Lightroom plugin (if that’s your thing) – and maybe a cherry on top if you ask nicely.

    I’ve not tried them yet, but thought I’d throw it out there – FYI. The reviews I can find are very positive.

    Cheers

  25. Steven

    Thanks for this post. I didn’t sign up to the grid, but followed it very closely as I believed they were offering just what you describe. I was disappointed when I saw some examples of what could be done. Underwhelming doesn’t come close. Needless to say they have disappeared into obscurity just now.

    I must take a look at squarespace as WordPress is very clunky ….