Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Photography Website Best Practices

Hi! I'm Lara Swanson, and I'm a couple of things:
These three hats have brought me to an interesting place: I've seen a lot of wedding photographers' portfolios, and I know how to make them better. :)

The Typical Photographer Portfolio
The average wedding/portrait photographer excels at developing an online presence and actively promoting their site across the web.
  • s/he typically has a BluDomain site and a ProPhoto Theme on her blog.
  • s/he connects with her clients by posting personal (often quirky) information in her bio.
  • s/he tweets and incorporates her Twitter feed into her site.
  • s/he owns a rockstar-branded camera or lens bag.
  • s/he has some sense of how many website visitors she gets per month.
  • s/he semi-regularly reads other photography blogs, particularly those who are in her area.
  • s/he has been reviewed on a wedding website (The Knot, WeddingWire, etc.).
  • s/he is working on SEO for her online presence.
  • s/he has a set dozen images that are her absolute favorite images, and posts them across social media sites.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am nearly all of those things. :) And, having seen those things everywhere else, I've decided to combine my web design knowledge and how tired I am of looking at them into some best practices for you!

The Process
As cofounder of a wedding resource for same-sex couples, I look at a lot of wedding vendor portfolios to review them to be on our site. I've inspected three dozen of them in March alone. Interestingly, we have more photographers on our list than all of the other categories combined.

As a web developer, I've studied the user experience, information architecture, SEO, and generally how people use websites. There are a ton of interesting articles to read (like how web users scan websites, they don't read them) but I'll focus on our portfolios for now.

Your online portfolio is something that should get clients excited and inspired, and help them connect to you on a personal level. I've been taking notes of what I've seen - both good and bad - and wanted to share with the community some best practices to follow when building your site that will help you achieve these goals.

The Key
Most of these best practices fall into the same category: don't do something for the user that they didn't choose on their own. Did they ask to play that music? Did they ask to have their window resized? Did they ask for a list of every single city that you work in? If the answer is no, well, read on:
The Best Practices
  1. Organize your images by category. Your portfolio should make it clear to the potential client what kind of work you do; having multiple galleries with a spectrum of work in each will just be confusing. They want to see your aesthetic, and they want to see it based on the type of photography (weddings, portraits, commercial, etc.). If you just do weddings - just have one gallery. Think like the user will think - do they want a maternity session? A session for their dog? Wedding photography? Organize your galleries by what your web visitor is looking for.
  2. Do not resize their screen or force the portfolio to open in a new window. It may seem like a good idea to force the user's window to be as big as it can be, but this is incredibly annoying for the user. Often users really like to be in control of their window sizes, what opens in new tabs, etc. See The Key above.
  3. Do not play music automatically. Turning on music automatically will annoy the vast majority of users, since it's not something they chose, and it's often difficult for them to figure out how to turn it off quickly. If you really want to have music playing, make sure that the on/off button is visible on the page, and the user won't have to click multiple times to get there.
  4. Be succinct on your About page. Well I guess we should start with: you should HAVE an About page. On it should be some brief sentences on who you are and why you do what you love. It should also help you stand out from the crowd - why do people want to work with you? What makes you different? But this page should be no more than two paragraphs long, and definitely shouldn't scroll.

    Quirky here is fine - it's what engages you with your prospective client. But don't put things that others put in their bios - look around at your competitors to see what they said. Empty phrases like "I love what I do!" don't help; give concrete information ("I am also an EMT", "I love grasshopper pie").
  5. Make sure the Contact page is clickable from any other page. You want people to be able to get in touch with you. I also recommend that you include your email address and phone number directly on that page, and don't force users to always submit a form to get in touch. This breaks too often, and it's good to provide a backup in case one of your current clients has lost your contact information.
  6. Make sure a link to the homepage is clickable from any other page. This is one of the most basic pieces of usability - people are trained to click a logo in the top-left corner of a website to return home. Make sure it's there, or they'll exit.
  7. Your navigation should be easy to use. This is a more subjective guideline, which you can test by asking a few people to check out your site on their own and giving them goals. How difficult is it for them to get to your second gallery of images? How difficult is it for them to find information about you or your prices? Do the colors of your links blend in with the background once they've been clicked? (I've seen three this month that become unreadable!)
  8. Use gender-inclusive language. What if a groom is perusing your site, and finds language about how this is the bride's day, how you make bride's dreams come true, and you request the bride's name on the contact form? There are many grooms out there whose responsibility it is to find their wedding photographer. Similarly, same-sex couples may value the effort in inclusive language. Use "clients" or "couples" - they flow just as nicely as "my bride and groom".
  9. If you don't include your entire pricing information, mention where your pricing starts. This is an item that's up for much debate, but potential clients will value having at least an estimate of what your price range is. I've heard from a lot of couples that they won't contact a vendor who doesn't give any information just because it makes them work for it. (When thinking about usability, remember "Don't Make Me Think"!)
  10. Don't write obviously-for-SEO language. If you start getting keywordy, you start looking spammy. Plus, search engines will notice anyway (in a bad way) - they value content that is obviously written for your user to read. This means listing out every state you've photographed a person in, using the phrase "destination" everywhere, etc. I've written other articles on good SEO for photography portfolios if you're not sure where this leaves you.
Those ten best practices will yield a usable portfolio and a very positive experience for your prospective client. Be sure to also track the number of people who contact you after you implement them, as well as the visit length and depth (number of pages per visit) so you can make informed decisions about how to make your portfolio the best it can be!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 Essential Facebook Tips for Photographers

We received a great guest article from Nikole Bordato Photography , sharing her essential facebook tips for photographers!  Check out her quick & easy tips:

1)      Get a fan page instead of a group. Fan pages (now known simply as "Pages") are a place to share your latest news, events and promotions. Fan pages also publish new fans and content to news feeds. But the biggest benefit over a Facebook group is that fan pages are fully indexed by Google. You can never have too much search engine optimization opportunities.

2)      Secure your unique username for your fan page. Once you have your first 25 fans, you’ll be able to register your unique username which will allow you to personalize your Facebook URL. To register your username visit www.facebook.com/usernames.

3)      Insert keyword-rich text throughout your fan page. Because fan pages are fully indexed by Google, there is an opportunity to increase your search engine optimization. Make sure you have you taken advantage of all the places to enter text – write your bio, fill out the information sections and put tons of keywords in that little box under your profile picture. Also make sure that you are updating your page regularly to keep the content rich.

4)      Create a profile picture that will utilize your available space. As photographers, our profile pictures will be an important contributor to positive first impressions. To help create a profile picture that stands out utilize the entire space. The ideal size for a Facebook profile picture is 200 pixels by 600 pixels. Your Facebook avatar will be a teeny tiny subsection, so you may need to play with the picture to get a photo that works as a profile picture and your page avatar.
5)      Import your blogs posts. Use the Notes application to pull in your blog feed. This will help automate posting new content to your page and will be published in your fans new feed. Notes will also allow your fans to read and comment on your blog posts without actually checking your site out. This is handy because people who log on to Facebook every day, may not be checking your blog daily (the horror!).

*Please note: Facebook is CONSTANTLY changing, so please check with facebook FAQ for the latest information.

About Nikole Bordato: "I am a reformed program manager who loves to wrangle light and help people understand how photogenic they really are. If I have spare time, I spend it thinking about trips, books, more photography and Halloween"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Love Affair Workshop

Please note that this review is from the February 2008 edition of the Love Affair Workshop, which was the second week of the very first workshop. As with everything, workshops change over time, so my review is only from my previous experience.

Website: LoveAffairWorkshop.com

Presenters: Millie Holloman, Davina Fear, Lauren Clark, Kelly Moore

Dates: February 25 - March 1, 2008

Location: Bald Head Island, NC

Price: $2750 (as of 4/6/10)

Included: Transportation to & from island, shared room (private available for additional cost), breakfast, lunch, & dinner each day, workshop classes, models & directed shooting opportunities, critique sessions, and one-on-one mentoring time.

Bonuses: Availability of all marketing and promotional materials from presenters, a take-home book with images and camera settings, fuzzy robes, a journal, finale night of girlie indulgences.

What I Expected: An all inclusive retreat to help me relax while exploring different angles on my photography business.

Expectation Met? Yes.

Summary: The location was absolutely gorgeous and we had pretty much free reign of the island with our own golf carts for exploring due to the fact that it was February on an island typically reserved for summer getaways. Waking up in the morning to the sand and ocean on your porch is a pretty awesome way to wake up. All of the presenters had different things to offer, and their abilities complimented each other very well. Millie's strength was in running a business efficiently and organizing a team of people. Davina's strength was in creating a life balance between work, family, and personal time. Lauren's strength was in using in-camera settings and photoshop retouching techniques. Kelly's strength was in creative posing and lighting.

The schedule for each day was loose enough to allow plenty of socialization among attendees, yet with just enough structure so that everyone was able to participate regularly in some kind of structured activity. Of course, no one was forced to attend or participate, and with just around 40 attendees, you rarely felt someone's absence unless you'd developed a close friendship with them. There were about 6-12 people in each house, depending on the size of the house, and after a night or two, certain houses became known for staying up late and "partying" well into the night. For the most part, the houses had enough separation between the social areas and the bedrooms for this not to cause many problems.

There seemed to be some difficulties with the golf carts and some of the management on the island that was communicated a few times, which seemed to make things a little difficult on the presenters. I imagine this is why the workshop is now held in hotels which are a bit more suited for conferences and workshops of this type.

I'm pretty sure there were sponsored giveaways throughout the workshop, in addition to the workshop bonuses, however I don't recall winning anything personally, so I'm not sure I could tell you what they were.

The one-on-one was the most valuable, and since my one-on-one was with Millie Holloman, she had done her research on me and what I was about before I met with her. I had heard from other attendees that not all presenters had looked into their one-on-one person before meeting. I honestly didn't know much about Millie's strengths before I attended the workshop, but after a few days of learning more about her, it was clear that she was able to answer quite a few organizational and business management questions for me. I think that I was assigned a mentor, rather than being able to choose one. If I had ended up with someone else, it might not have been a good fit, so I'm glad I was able to get what I was looking for during my one-on-one.

Outside of the scheduled workshop activities, shooting times, and planned meals, the presenters were scarce. Perhaps they were planning for the next day or just getting some alone time for themselves to take care of business, but it would have been nice for just a few more unstructured encounters. I don't think this in any way took away from everything they offered, but rather it would have been a nice added bonus.

This is not a workshop for men, and men need to stop whining about that. Women have unique challenges in their lives and feel more comfortable expressing them when there isn't a Y chromosome in the room. While it may be discriminatory to host an all female workshop, there is also something truly unique about it that allows women to be more open to who they naturally are. There were quite a few mentions of "Faith" and "Prayer" throughout the workshop, however it wasn't overly Christian in nature and it seemed to allow room for multiple faiths and forms of meditation.

Recommend? Yes. While the price may be higher than most, the all inclusive experience was well worth it, as well as the quality of instruction and quality of other attendees at the workshop. Each workshop has a different audience and flavor, but I felt like this was a good fit for the place I was in my business at the time. Beginning photographers may find it to be a little too fast moving and not enough hands on, while more experienced photographers may find it to be a little redundant and pedantic, but you'll get that with just about any workshop that doesn't qualify its audience to be in a certain part of their business first. However, what it does succeed in, is providing a little something for everyone no matter what stage of your business you're in, and giving you a rich experience that you can act on when you return. I liked it so much, I wouldn't mind going again.

Note: Feel free to add your own comments about the workshop!!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.