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Peter Bargh's guide to setting up a website

Peter Bargh's guide to setting up a website - Peter Bargh looks at the various options for photographers.

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Category : Web / Internet
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As a keen photographer you may be considering having your own website. The main purpose could be to showcase your work, although you may also be considering an option to sell a few images as art prints.

Creating a web site to showcase your work is fairly easy to accomplish which is why so many have a go using a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web design program. The trouble is, like any DIY project, you really need some knowledge beforehand and, in many cases, with ISPs, hosts and the black art of IP addresses to contend with, it’s often better left to the experts.

If you just want a gallery you can use a program to automatically create a simple browsing site made up of html code that can then be placed on some free web space, or go to one of the many online photography sites, such as ePHOTOzine, and create a free portfolio. ePHOTOzine, like many similar sites, allows you to build up a portfolio of images and, being visited by huge numbers each day, you’ll get plenty of comments to help you improve your photography.

On the other hand, you may want something a little more advanced. Possibly an online shop, links to other sites, a news page or maybe even a visitor’s data capture option with a stats reporting package. This needs much more thought and probably the assistance of someone in the know!

With some help you can utilise your website to not only showcase your work 24/7, but also to take orders, allow online registration or online quotations and cope with general enquiries, even while you’re in the land of nod!

Going a stage further, you may want to add social events calendar and post up shots from previous activities so your clients can choose and order without you having to make expensive proofs.

Software – DIY route
If you’re feeling brave and have decided to design the site yourself you need to buy a software program. There are several options - some included in image editing programs, some free to download from the web and some that you can buy from software suppliers, either online or through high street retailers.

The advantage of doing it yourself is that you have total control. If anything goes wrong you aren’t in the hands of an expensive design consultant. You can also spend as long as you want perfecting the look, without adding to the costs. The disadvantage is also time - not only time needed to build it, but also the time to fathom out the new software and all the idiosyncrasies of html layout and file structures.

A simply web site to show your photos can be created using your image editing program. In Photoshop just go to File>Automate>Website gallery to create a basic thumbnail view of a selection of photos that can be clicked on to create larger versions. It’s not very sophisticated and will look, more or less, like every other photographer’s site who has used the same process.

If you’re really feeling technical you could build the site using a database structure in MYSQL, but this is only for those who have programming skills and far beyond the depth of this article. If you’re going to pay someone else to do the site they may well build it in a database format and give you an admin system to upload new material.

The better hands-on option is to use a web design program such as NetObjects Fusion or Magix Website Maker, that allows you to be more creative with the look and feel of your site. Check out our Group Test of software packages here.

123-RegOn your own – ISPs and Hosts explained
If you decide to take on the world, you will need to find a reliable ISP and host. You’ll also need a domain name. Look in any internet magazine and it will be full of ads from companies after your business. Some will be familiar names, such as BT, Blueyonder and AOL and many will be unknown. It’s safer to go with a name you can trust. Look for one that offers broadband options. Many companies now offer domain name registration, hosting and ISP packages to put everything in one company’s capable hands. Pipex, for example are an ISP with their sister company 123-reg offering a variety of hosting packages and domain name registration. Other low cost domain name registration and hosting is offered by companies such as UK2.net and easyspace.com

Many of these companies offer a range of products depending on the level of service you need. A basic package will give you a limited number of email addresses, a small amount of web space and basic support. More advanced packages offer unlimited email addresses and huge amounts of storage space and 24/7 assistance.

For a basic site, you only need a basic package, but the more advanced you become the more you’ll need. An e-commerce site, for example, may need a database and a server that can manage the extra demands it will have placed on it by your visitors. Look for a company that offers a range of services, so you can upgrade as you grow.

You may be tempted by a free web host, such as Lycos, or want to use free web space that your ISP, such as BT or Wanadoo, provide you with as part of your contract.

While "free" sounds good, the old saying "you got nothing for free" stands true.

Most hosts offering a free site and make their money from selling advertising space which will appear on your website as a banner or pop up every time your site is viewed. This covers their costs so you don’t pay for the service, but the disadvantage is your visitors may not enjoy seeing ads and some are designed in such a way that prevents search engines finding your site.

Free site hosting also means your URL probably has the hosts name in the address. This means the link will be long and not as attractive or professional looking as having your own personal domain name.

Web space and file type and size will be limited too. While many basic sites don't need more space than is provided, if you start to increase the number of photos in your gallery or load up full resolution pictures you'll soon be left wanting more.

Bandwidth (data transfer) may be limited too. This is okay when you first start out but as the traffic increases the system has to deliver or your visitors may get an “exceeded monthly limits” message.

Try to determine whether the host you're considering is reliable and fast too. It's no good setting up your web site on a sluggish system that spends most of its time not working.

Free sites don't often have an FTP option so page editing is done in the host’s online builder which limits your flexibility.

With these drawbacks it's worth considering a commercial web host. www.123-reg.co.uk, for example, offer the following for just £1.59 per month: 100Mb of web space, 1500Mb bandwidth per month, online file manager and full FTP access, 15 mail boxes, free WebMail, web statistics, unlimited e-mail forwarding addresses.

You'll also find technical support is better with some companies offering 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year around service.

If you intend selling photos through your website, you may want a host that provides a shopping cart and a secure server especially if you are going to collect credit card information on your site.

Email will be an important option and a host that gives you a catch-all email account that allows anyname@yourdomain.co.uk will ensure any messages sent to any email address are received. It also means you can split up and manage messages to sections such as sales@, info@, advertising@ or yourname@. It helps if you can have an autoresponder too, where the person sending a message gets an automated reply back when you are away.

Leave it to the experts!
All the above may seem like a daunting challenge and if you want quality and speed it’s probably a good idea to play it safe and let someone else look after all the technicalities. With someone taking care of domain name registration, bandwidth issues, server costs, IP set up, storage space, email forwarding and all the coding and site build, you can get on with the fun bit of taking photographs.

There are many companies offering a vast range of services from those with simple off-the-shelf template systems, which create a site shell for you to fill, to those who develop custom built sites with your requirements as the blueprint.

The latter is obviously much more expensive.

The downside to employing someone to create a site for you is that they usually want to host it for you. This means you have a monthly or annual fee to pay them and this usually works out more than if you’d done it yourself. Also it’s sometimes more difficult to move to a different location should you decide to part company with your developer. It pays to check the small print before you commit!

Here are four suggested routes to let the experts look after you:

Upload your photos to a community based photo site
While many sites allow you to create a gallery on their server, nothing beats creating a portfolio on a purpose built photography site, such as ePHOTOzine. ePHOTOzine has over 30,000 registered members and 270,000 visitors each month, so your photos will be seen by thousands. The system allows you to upload a photo each day to build up a strong portfolio. You can ask for advice, share ideas and comment on other members’ photos, all instrumental in helping you improve your technical skills. You can create a profile too, so other members can learn a bit more about you and your interests. Even if you decide to create your own personal web site in the future, it pays to have a folio here and link to your web site for free.

Taking things a stage further you could join the exclusive e2 section. This allows 1000 pixel uploads and the ability for your photos to be modified by other members. Here you gain valuable visual guides to improvements you could make to your photos. You can also see stats to show how many people have viewed your photo and how many have clicked to say they like it. This and many other benefits is just £29 per year.


Choose the bloke next door
You may know someone at the local pub or a work colleague who has experience in web design who can create you a site. The benefit here is it may cost very little as a favour and the content will be totally unique, unlike the budget package deals. Ex Photo Monthly Editor, Dan Lezano, asked a colleague to create him a site. Luke Marsh of Macmonkey, has used his knowledge of the internet and skill as a graphic designer to create a clean, minimal look. He ensured Dan could take advantage of freespace offered by Virgin, without having to display the clumsy links, such as http://freespace.virgin.net/daniel.lezano/bible.html, which are now hidden behind a standard, and more professional looking domain name. The site is simple, but effective, which was exactly what Dan required.

Buy an off-the-peg solution
An option that ePHOTOzine member answersonapostcard went down was to go for a shell scheme style approach with her site Dandelion Photographics. There are hundreds of companies offering this method of web development system where a few basic designs have been built and you choose the one you want, select a colour and fill it with content. Two of the best options are clikpic, created by ex photography marketing guru, Tim Hunt and Photium, created by ePHOTOzine's web developer, Will Smith. After spending many years with leading photographic magazines/websites Tim and Will both have a feel for what photographers desire and have created simple, easy to use products that you can sign-up for and have up and running in hours. The companies help you buy a domain name, set you up with a template scheme and then manage the site for you on their servers.

You are provided with an easy to use content management system, which means you don’t have to have any knowledge of web development, just post up your photos and write some good content.

There’s an annual charge, which allows you to upload a number of photos and delivers technical support by email. Both companies offer a pro service too for an additional fee.

Other options: www.photogalaxy.co.uk, allwebcodesign.com

Custom site by the professionals
Without doubt one of the leading web development companies for photographers is Amazing Internet. Their core business provides high-end web, technical and design solutions for those involved in the arts. They have created sites for some of the leading photographers, such as Simon Marsden and Michael Busselle, but also sites for the writer Graham Hancock and the specialist Nikon retailer, Grays of Westminster, amongst many more.

They also produce off the peg solutions with their Portfolio Series and Amazing Photostore, giving those who can't make the leap to a full custom site yet the chance to use the benefit of their design and experience with helping photographers get their work on the web.

The ideal solution for photographers is the portfolio package which delivers a fully updateable website that looks good, works fast and is easy to use for the owner and visitors.

The cost is £250+VAT per year and includes domain name registration, an updateable multi-page website, a gallery of 100 or more images, e-mail forwarding and hosting.

Add the Amazing Photo Store for £45 + VAT per month and you can have unlimited client galleries and a maximum total of 10,000 images making it a huge commercial opportunity.

Other options: www.thirdlight.com, www.catamatic.com, www.xpose-gallery.co.uk

Glossary

  • ADSL Short for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. This is a broadband connection technology using existing copper wired telephone line to deliver between 10 and 40 times faster speed than a standard 56k modem. This is essential for viewing graphic-heavy web sites and also ideal for speedier up and downloading when updating your web site.
  • Bandwidth the amount of data you can send through an Internet connection, usually measured in bits-per-second. The higher the bandwidth the more data you can send. You will need higher bandwidth when your traffic increases.
  • Domain name The individual identity of your space on the web. It’s the bit that follows www and ends in .co.uk .com etc.
  • ftp The method used to update files/pages on your web site. An ftp program, such as Smartftp, gives you password protected access to your online folder structure, so you can up and download pages.
  • Host The company that provides you with web space to hold (host) your web site.
  • HTML Hyeprtext Mark Up Language is the universal code used to build web pages.
  • IP Internet Protocol. A series of four numbers separated by dots that uniquely identifies your computer on the internet.
  • ISP Internet Service Provider. The company that provides you with access to the internet, using a standard phone line and a modem.
  • Server The computer that your web site is stored on and usually managed by your host.
  • Traffic a term used to describe the visitors and their activity on your site.

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