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.
- Images had to run large and look good on various platforms and devices
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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?