Category "Websites"

Sam Jones talks about his new website and recent award winning Foo Fighters video

- - Photographers, Video, Websites

Heidi: What made you want to create more of a browsing experience for your site?

Sam: First off, let me say I lament the loss of the independent bookstore, the takeover of the pawn shop by ebay, and the overall loss of the tactical experience of searching, discovering, and handling books, records, magazines, and the like.  I am glad I grew up in an era when if you wanted to view the work of an author, photographer, or painter, you went browsing in a great bookstore.  You may or may not have found exactly what you were searching for, but chances are you always stumbled on something accidentally that was equally inspiring.  I wanted to re-create that idea a bit with my new website.

The site has nuances of the ibooks bookshelf. Was that so users would be somewhat familiar to this experience?

I wasn’t really going for that, exactly, but I was trying to create the experience of walking by a display window, and having book covers, magazine covers and other designed elements that catch the viewer’s eye.  It has been an interesting experience trying to design these little icons in ways that make them feel like objects, and also entice the viewer to “pick them up” and browse for a while.  It is an idea I have been playing with for a long time, and I finally realized that users want to have multiple ways to view content, so that they can pick the way that works best for them.  So, the site is designed with traditional drop down menus, and a pretty sophisticated search function.  With that safety net of knowing users could easily navigate the site, I was free to then try something a little different with the shelves.

I think it is important to realize that a website is not a portfolio.  The Internet, whether you like it or not, is like a giant mall.  There may be some non-profit booths set up on the streets, and lots of free performances and conversations, but let’s face it, there are a heck of a lot of storefronts.  I figured, why not make the experience of going to my website more like popping into a gallery, a bookstore, a movie theater, etc.

All are the books on the shelf “books” with the exception of the images that have the grey layers, indicating multiple images?

The general layout is divided into three distinct groups of imagery.  Books, which can be any length or size, and which open up and have page turn animation to be as close to the experience of reading a book as possible.  Galleries, which are a series of large images in a white space that can be viewed right to left or left to right, like walking through a gallery.  And Movies, which include commercials, music videos, short films, movie trailers, interactive pieces, and documentaries.  I can also choose to put a single image on the shelf, if I feel it needs to stand alone.

The idea here was to be able to use the shelf in many different ways.  I can change the display by moving the content of the shelves around.  I can group content together (like placing a gallery of Tom Petty photographs on the shelf next to a Tom Petty music video).  I can put the latest magazine cover I shot on the top shelf, indicating that it is something new.  And I can use it like a blog: It is easy to see that there is something new just by seeing a new item on the shelf that wasn’t there on the last visit.

Because you do quite a bit of editorial, did that influence your embedded “book” style?

Really, the idea behind the books came from wanting a way to show people more pictures from a particular shoot.  On any given shoot, I may try six or seven different set-ups.  Invariably, only two or three get seen.  That doesn’t always tell the whole story.  I like having different options for showing the work.  If you look at the book I made after I did my Elle Fanning shoot for Vanity Fair, you can see that I tried to make it just a little keepsake from the day, like a little journal.  And with the Aaron Eckhart book, there are pictures from multiple shoots over several years.  That book has a very different feel.  And with the Tom Petty Mojo project, a gallery was the best way to show the work, because each image kind of needed to stand on it’s own.

The funny thing is that after creating the site, I realized it is already having an influence on the way I shoot.  I am now thinking about how I will end up telling the story, and displaying the work.  It makes me a better photographer, and it gives me an outlet to be my own designer, and to display the images in a way that brings out the character of the shoot.

Who created the site? Were the developers and the designers from the same group? Or separate?

I had a very talented designer named Ness Higson help me with the look of the site, the type, the layouts, etc.  And his partner Josh Stearns, (who is a tech wizard, and also a photographer) had to figure out how to make all these ideas work.  The three of us went back and forth, debating the merits of the shelf, the feasibility of having different book formats, etc.

How long did this site take to build?

Most of the time was spent on my end, trying to figure out what I wanted.  I would say I mulled over the idea on my own for over a year before I even engaged designers and builders.  Then, once we started I suppose it was about a four-month process before we had a working prototype.  Only then did I realize the massive amount of time it was going to take to “populate” the site with content, entering information, tags, uploading and compressing video, and creating the books.  And I am still a long way off from feeling like it is where I want it to be.

Are the images difficult load and change? how about for  the small books

The beauty of this site is in it’s architecture.  Josh and Ness made the uploading and designing of the elements so easy, and so flexible.  This was crucial for this kind of site because I wanted to be able to easily experiment with different ideas and be able to quickly update the site.  I couldn’t be happier with how it works.

Is this your response to the development of rich media? This interactive site and you being being involved in still and motion?

I think it is a natural evolution.  With first generation photography and film websites, I think everyone was trying to establish a visual identity with varying degrees of success.  Now we all want to find ways not only to reach an audience, but also to keep them coming back.  For me, being somewhat of a schizophrenic in terms of careers (I was making films long before the 5D was in existence), I wanted to find a format where my photography and film could live side by side in a very natural setting.  With the shelf concept, I think I have solved that problem.  When a viewer finishes looking at my site, I don’t want them necessarily to remember whether a particular visual they saw was in a film or in a photograph.  I just hope the whole experience can meld together, and what they are taking away is an understanding of the way my eye works.

I also like the idea that the site is deep, and expandable.  There is no end to the amount of shelves I can have, and that also goes for menu items in the dropdown section.  Additionally, I can use the site as a bit of an archive, by having pictures and films in there that may not show up in the menus or shelves, but if you search by name or keyword, you can find them.

I also plan on adding things as time goes on, such as limited edition printed books that you can get from the site, maybe a music element, and some other interesting sections.

The addition of type on your site is very editorial-minded with captions and chapters.  Was that to allow viewers to be more informed and add to the browsing experience?

I have been a big reader my whole life.  I was always as interested in the captions as I was the images when looking at books.  When I first talked to Ness and Josh, I told them I wanted the ability to write as much or as little about an image as I saw necessary.  So, we created opportunities in each format to write about the visuals.  At the very least, I can give each image and film a title.  And if I want to, I can write a whole book and just slap it up on the shelf.  But the idea is, maybe there is an interesting story that goes along with a photograph, and now I have a way to tell that story.  We tried to be as unobtrusive as possible with the text, and I am pleased with the way it turned out.

Are your printed books just as unique?

I feel like I am still in the infancy of the book design aspect.  I have to say, I absolutely love the art and science of graphic design, and this site gives me an excuse to play with type and experiment in ways that I never had an outlet for in the past.  I used to get funny comments from magazine editors because I would sometimes draw up a layout for a cover or inside spread and send it along with my edit.  But the truth is, design and images are inseparable, and more often than not, I am imagining where the type goes and how the image lays out even when I am shooting it.

Right now, I have two printed books, “The Here And Now,” and “Non-Fiction,” which are both on the shelves, albeit in excerpted form.  As time goes on I will ideally have more printed books and that maybe they will grow out of this website experience.  Or maybe the two formats will merge (I am still trying to wrap my head around a digital version of a photography book—is it the next logical step or the end of our industry?).

Are you disappointed your site doesn’t work on the iPad

We had a big debate about Flash versus HTML 5, but in the end, we decided to go with Flash for a lot of boring reasons I won’t get into here.  But I think an iPad version of my site should be different anyway, because the iPad is a different experience than a computer.  I am trying to wrap my head around how to make something unique to the iPad, and hopefully that turns into another interesting experiment.

You mention this site has great range for your images because it can accommodate any photo you take.

On my old website, there wasn’t a lot of room for variation.  There was a series of pictures that felt like a portfolio.  I found that I couldn’t include too many pictures of one subject, because it kind of ruined the flow of the images.  And I found, for example, with one-off images like the shot of the birds over the ocean in the Rob Lowe book, that there was no place for that image to live. On this new site I have the ability to create individual, stand alone experiences, and each one has their own identity, and their own flow.  And perhaps most exciting, the site is now searchable, which makes finding an image so easy.  I can now accommodate the client who just wants to quickly find one image or film, and also satisfy the person with way too much time on their hands.

Most portfolios / sites are very vertical in the way they are categorized, why did you want yours to be different?

Well, the drop-down menus at the top of the site are designed with the classic vertical categorization style. I wanted versatility, but I also didn’t want to exclude someone who wanted a normal photography website experience, so I made the dropdown menus in that spirit.  I guess you can think of the dropdown menus as the table of contents, or the catalog of the site.  The search function is for those who like to google everything, and the shelves are for those who want to browse, discover, and be surprised.  Another way I thought of it was, the viewer can organize the viewing of the site the way they want to.  The shelves are my personal space to curate the site the way I want to.  That way we can all get along!

I know you just won VMA for the Foo Fighters, have you been having some bad days here in LA?

Ha ha, no…there is no personal message in that video.  But I will tell you, ideas come from strange places.  When I am trying to get an idea together for a video, I do all sorts of things.  I examine the lyrics, I look at the band’s history, I watch films for inspiration, etc.  In this case, I just looked at the title of the song, which is “Walk” and the movie “Falling Down” flashed across my mind, because in that film, Michael Douglas walks across Los Angeles.  That was all it took to start an idea brewing, and I started writing an homage version that would have Dave Grohl just trying to get to band practice.

Do you think it has such great appeal because we’ve all had those days?

Interestingly enough, that film is not as widely known as I thought it was, and yet the comments about the video seem to lean towards a shared unity over bad day fantasies.  I thought when I made it that everyone would get that it was an homage to “Falling Down,” and therefore would understand all the references, but it seems to work fine as a story, even if you have never seen the film.

How many days did it take to shoot this? How is was this different from your previous motion music pieces? Was this more story telling?

The hardest thing about making this video is that it is essentially a trailer for a whole movie, and where Joel Schumacher (the director of “Falling Down”) had two or three months to make this film, we only had two days. I wanted to have representative scenes from the whole film, so we were running around Los Angeles in a panic trying to get to all of our locations.  Luckily for me the whole band is so good and so experienced at making music videos that we were able to nail most every scene in two or three takes.

I think every project, whether still or motion, is unique, and should be approached as it’s own animal.  With the Foo Fighters, I had a real blueprint with the movie, and I spent a lot of time storyboarding and figuring out how to integrate all of the band members in the different roles of the film.  Again, the biggest challenge was time.  Most videos, if you notice, repeat set-ups multiple times in the course of a four-minute song.  This video is six minutes long, and not one scene or shot repeats, so it was a lot of footage to shoot in a short amount of time, complete with effects and choreography.  Preparation was really key to making our days work.

How much did you edit out? Was the Dave Grohl easy to direct?

We managed to squeeze most of what we shot into the video, but there were a few things that we just didn’t have time for, including a funny little bit at the end of the convenience store scene where Dave comes back in for a bite of the Slim Jim.

Dave Grohl was so easy to direct because of all of his experience, and also because he has directed some videos himself, so he knows how hard it can be.  Having someone with experience on the other side of the camera is such a great luxury.  Dave is also naturally funny, so he would find the humor in each scene.  That was important because I never wanted the violence to seem at all real.  I always wanted to play it for laughs, and there is no one better than Dave at doing that.

Music has always been a part of your life, I would image that plays a big role in your motion work?

I have played music since I was very young, and have played in many bands, and it is one of the most enjoyable things I do.  One of the best parts about shooting motion is finding the right music to marry with the visuals, and I have been very fortunate to work on a lot of projects where I get to be really involved in that process.

One of the most satisfying musical projects I have ever worked on is the interactive video for the Cold War Kids.  I have always loved multi-track recording, and I wanted to see if I could make an interactive, visual version of a multi-track recorder.  The end result was that the user could make over 500 versions of the song, by combining different parts played by each musician (go check it out on the site, it makes much more sense to see it than for me to try to explain it).  The fun part for me, besides figuring it all out, was collaborating with the band on the different versions of the song, and coming up with arrangements.  That day was truly a melding of all of my interests, and I just love projects like that.

What is your best advice to any emerging editorial photographer in today’s market?

Don’t do it!  No, I am kidding.  But it sure is a different editorial world than when I started out.  If you can find something that overwhelms you, consumes you, and excites you, then I guarantee good things will come of that.  Find subject matter that really speaks to you, and immerse yourself in it, and the platforms for showing that work will appear.  (And if they don’t, we now live in a world where you can create your own platform).  I think it is important to spend as much time developing your interests as you do developing your craft (which is just a fancy way to talk about the philosophy of substance over style).

What is it about the traditional site that bores you and propelled you to do something unique?

I guess if there was one thing that bothers or bores me it is the traditional, antiseptic, linear site that makes me feel like I am doing research in the basement of the ICP.  I’ve said this earlier in this interview, but the overriding motivation for me doing a new site was to create an experience where the viewer can browse the work like they are walking through a bookstore, or a gallery, and finding things in an organic way.  I don’t want it to feel like work.  Photography should be a breath of fresh air in our busy days, and now that we see the majority of pictures online, it is important to remember that looking at pictures can fun, inspiring, and really motivating.

You have away of opening your subjects up and allowing an unguarded moment to shine, is there a secret?

The secret is I tell them that if they will open up to me in an unguarded moment, and really shine, I will let them go home two hours early!  Ha, no… there is no secret, but thank you for that nice compliment.  I do believe that you have to create the right environment for the pictures you are looking to make.  I try to make things fun, and easy, and have some good food around, and hopefully I make a connection with the person I am shooting.

Bluehost.com Is Suspending Photographer Accounts

- - Websites

I’ve just heard from a photographer that bluehost.com is lying about the unlimited hosting and bandwidth they advertise on the front page and “they have placed a limit of 50,000 files” which mostly effects photographers using it for proofing.

“Bluehost is shutting down everything….website, blog, email until the owners remove enough of the files to be under their new limits.”

You can read reviews of the downhill slide in service (here).

Inexpensive Website Hosting For Photographers

- - Websites

UPDATE: 3 days and Joerg is still down. He’s got a temp site up (here).

Joerg Colberg’s weblog Conscientious has been down for over a day now and I wanted to let any of his regular visitors know that he’s down but not out. Apparently his webhost is MediaTemple which kind of surprises me because they have a good reputation and charge you more than most for the ability to handle traffic spikes. Still, things do happen and even a 99.9% uptime guarantee means you could be off the air for at least 9 hours a year

My experience with the cheaper hosting has always been that you will see outages from 15 minutes to an hour now and again but never anything like a day unless they have a fire or flood or some “act of god.” The bigger problem with cheap hosting has always been that they can’t handle the traffic spikes when you get mentioned on one of the big aggregator sites like slashdot, boingboing or digg. And, it’s not just your site that’s susceptible either, because you’re in a server with hundreds of other websites so if someone in your box gets “slashdotted” you’re going down too. Incidentally they way to prevent a server crash from too much traffic is to make an html page of whatever it is that people are linking too and serve that up instead of the usual pages which probably have 10 or 20 elements that need to be delivered for each visitor.

If anyone has suggestions for good cheap hosting I can make a list. I’ve used bluehost.com and know people using godaddy.com and both seem decent.

BlueHost $7/month
GoDaddy $5 – $15/month
Oditech $10/month
Yahoo Small Business $10/month
DreamHost $10/month
Tiger Tech $7/month
Site 5 $8/month
NearlyFreeSpeech Pay as you go
HostSite $10/month
ICD Soft $6-10/month
Certified Hosting $5/month
Host Papa $5/month
PowWeb $8/month
HostGator $15/month
WebHero $7/month
LaughingSquid $8 – $14/month
Pair $10 – $30/month
SurpassHosting $4 – $15/month
Eleven2 $6 – $21/month — Maybe not good. A commenter is having serious problems.
LiquidWeb $15 – $25/month

PDN 30 Photographers To Watch- 2009

pdn30cover

PDN just published their annual list of 30 photographers to watch. See it here or go get a copy on the newsstand. This annual list has always been something worth checking out for photo editors looking for new talent and new approaches to old ideas. What makes this list great is there’s no entry fee. Someone with influence nominates you and then from the pool of nominees the editors pick 30. Some years the list is stronger than others but it really depends on the pool of people they are pulling from.

The only gripe I have with this and all the other contests out there as far as this goes is with the way they present the work online. Photo editors have been using the internets for quite awhile now so why don’t they take the lists of photographers and present it in an easy to use format. Getting published in the magazine is all well and good but the real value is in the potential to land jobs from it.

I’ve decided to do it for them this one time so you can see how useful it might be. I added my own keyword descriptions just to help people quickly find what they’re looking for although I need to find a better way to parse the term “Fine Art” and documentary or photojournalism because those terms cover too much ground. I would add reference photos but I think PDN might not like that.

New York
Kathryn Parker Almanas- Clinton, NY [Fine art interior/still life]
Lucas Foglia- New York, NY [People in landscape with a fine art influence]
Wendy Ball and Dara Albanese- Brooklyn, NY [Traditional travel]
Martine Fougeron New York, NY [Fine art youth lifestyle]
Chiara Goia Brooklyn, NY [Color documentary with a fine art influence]
Flora Hanitijo- Brooklyn, NY [Dense color, fine art people and places]
Cornelia Hediger- New York, NY [Fine art self portrait interiors]
Victoria Hely-Hutchinson- Brooklyn, NY [Fine art color people and places]
Jared Moossy- New York, NY [B/W and color photojournalism]
James Pomerantz- Brooklyn, NY [Color documentary]
Fernando Souto- Brooklyn, NY [B/W Documentary]
Lucas Zarebinski- New York, NY [Food and product still life]

California
Chloe Aftel- Los Angeles, CA [Lifestyle with a snapshotty/polaroid aesthetic]
Cole Barash- Oceanside, CA [Snowboard sports and lifestyle (Caution: Music)]
Melissa Kaseman- San Francisco, CA [Fine art objects, people and places]
Lisa Wiseman- San Francisco, CA [Fine art people]

Oregon
Corey Arnold Portland, OR [Rich color documentary with a fine art appeal]
Toni Greaves- Portland, OR [Color documentary with a fine art influence]

Argentina
Alejandro Chaskielberg- Capital Federal, Argentina [Fine art narrative with rich color and shallow depth of field]
Emma Livingston- Buenos Aires, Argentina [Fine art color landscape]

Australia
Adam Ferguson- Newport, Australia [Color photojournalism]

Germany
Julian Faulhaber- Dortmund, Germany [Fine art graphic interior and exterior with patterns and everyday subjects]
Susanne Ludwig- Hamburg, Germany [Fine art people and empty industrial interiors and objects in patterns]

Ohio
Nathan Harger- Cleveland, OH [Graphic industrial fine art]

Washington DC
Jeff Hutchens, Washington, DC [Color and B/W documentary with a modern aesthetic]

Pennnsylvania
Justin Maxon- Philadelphia, PA [B/W and color photojournalism]

Egypt
Dominic Nahr- Cairo, Egypt [Color photojournalism]

Japan
Kosuke Okahara- Yokyo, Japan [B/W documentary]

China
Ryan Pyle- Shanghai, China [Color documentary]

Singapore
Darren Soh- Singapore, Singapore [Traditional color industrial and modern natural landscape]

Wonderwall – Navigate By Photography

- - Magazines, Websites

Finally some real progress in magazine-like website design. Wonderwall is a new celebrity tabloid site created by MSN and it’s no surprise if you’re familiar with MSN’s history on the web (Brian from Media Storm used to work there) that they’ve innovated the logical next step. Reproducing magazines online requires using photography in a big and powerful way and I really don’t think anybody realizes the role it plays in navigation, as an entry point to the stories plus most importantly how it sets the tone of your publication for the readers and advertisers. Regardless of how you feel about the celebrity tabloid genre this is groundbreaking. More please.

wonderwall-1

Photojournalist Finbarr O’Reilly

- - Photographers, Websites

Photojournalist and World Press Photo 2006 winner Finbarr O’Reilly answered questions sent to him live yesterday in a feed setup by Reuter’s. Really worth a listen as he’s well spoken, tells what it’s like to be a photojournalist in conflict areas with great anecdotes and answers the following questions:

Where do you draw the line between observation and action?
How do you get into the hot zones without putting your life on the line?
I wonder what you think the international community could do to improve the lives of the people of the DRC? What lies at the root of this conflict?
Is shooting sport a welcome break from your other work?
Have you had to apply different skills in Congo as opposed to other places you’ve worked?
How easy is it to work in Congo as a freelancer… costs for transportation, translators and fixers?
Are you intense?
Do you have any hope for the future of Congo based on your experience there?
When everyone has a camera on their mobile phone what is the future for professional photographers?
Isn’t it frustrating that the news gets less media attention?
How has my formal education prepared me to work as a photojournalist?

Visit the Reuters page (here).

Steven Klein’s Website

- - Photographers, Websites

Not sure how new this is but it’s certainly unusual for a fashion photographer of this caliber to have a personal website this comprehensive (here).

This growing trend among top photographers I attribute to google searches that will turn up all kinds of strange and possibly unwanted results (and other steven klein’s of the world) if you don’t have a site dedicated to your work online. Also, growing the fan base is always a good idea.

From Steven’s artist statement: “Portraiture in the past has been regarded as a documentation of a person but for me it is a documentation of the encounter between myself and the subject. It is not meant to reveal them, nor is it meant to subject them to an X-ray; it is a departure from that.”

Most newspaper Web sites just aren’t very good

- - Websites

I’m enjoying this blog Recovering Journalist and found this post on newspaper websites spot on (here).

“…But that’s the problem: They’re usually putting out online versions of printed papers. They’re still pasting newspapers onto a screen–and the state of the online art has moved way past that.”

“Spend some time with an online newspaper–and compare it to leading Web sites–and you know what I mean. Most newspaper Web sites have a gazillion links on the home page; the eye has no idea where to look. They’re ugly, overstuffed and foreboding. They’re trying to do way too much. The most successful Web sites, by comparison, usually are minimalist, and designed for quick scanning and visiting. Believe me, there’s no fast read when the “National News” header on a newspaper Web site sits atop 10 or 20 small-type headlines. Snore.”

“There’s more: Newspaper Web sites still are organized like, well, newspapers. They follow the traditional News/Sports/Local/Features model from print. That’s not a bad organizing principle, but it may not be well-suited for the Web, where readers are used to quicker, even simpler organizational schemes. (Check out Google’s home page, which is still all about pretty much one thing: search.) Focus on what readers want, not on how your print newsroom is organized.”

He’s even got solutions.

Hopefully someone will listen.

Single Serve Websites, A Cool Trend

- - Websites

Andrew Zuckerman has a great new book coming out called Wisdom and instead of just announcing it on his portfolio site he created a whole new website for the book (here). In fact he’s done that with his other projects as well: Creatures (here) and High Falls the movie (here).

I also noticed that Phil Toledano does the same with his projects, Phone Sex Operators (here) and Days With My Father (here).

Finally, Anthony Georgis showed me his new project called Blood Makes The Grass Grow and it has its own url (here).

Emerging trend or passing fad?

I’m into it. I don’t think it’s necessary to hang everything off the same url anymore. The better search becomes and the more that people are talking about photography and photographers online the less likely people will find you by simply typing your url into the browser. What I really like about it tho is how easy the work is to pass along now and how it suddenly doesn’t exist as just a portfolio piece but instead becomes a finished product. This is how things spread and turn up in unlikely places and get discovered by people who otherwise would never know your name.

This is the hardest thing for media companies to understand. They think about the brand and about making sure everything is in one place where it can be controlled, but that actually ends up preventing people from running into you in unlikely places and therefore prevents casual readers from discovering a piece that’s relevant to them. The casual readers are who’s leaving magazines because it’s just not worth the effort anymore for the 1 or 2 stories that you found interesting and because it’s more convenient to find them online. You can capture them back again if you are willing to let the content go free and roam around unlikely places to be discovered.

Anyway, it makes me think about the lists I make and the projects I’ve done with photographers. I think it would be cool to do a few things and then set them free and see where they turn up, who runs into them and how popular they might become.

SEO Is Not Just For Wedding Photographers Anymore

- - Websites

I know that for a wedding photographer or a local portrait photographer, SEO (Search engine optimization) may be one of the most important things for their business after the images. What could be more simple for a potential client than typing city and state plus the word photographer in google? I’d never given it much thought for editorial and commercial photographers because there are better ways to find those people and the results google used to spit out were never that great. Well, I think times are changing and when I see Dan Winters buying keywords (here) I know they’ve changed quite a bit (several years ago he didn’t even have a website).

I think about SEO a great deal now, because I build websites for a living, but the thing that struck me the other day was how many times in the past I’ve typed into google the name of an advertising campaign or a story in a magazine that I saw somewhere but forgot who shot it and never, ever, found what I was looking for. This will and probably has already changed as a new generation of photographers blog about their shoots and those of us blogging about the industry in general report who shot what for whom. There are other reasons photographers want good search results of course but the amount of times I’ve tried and failed to find someone this way seems like a good reason for everyone to think about it.

Anyway, now I’m business partners with Erik Dungan, someone who’s spent many years helping wedding photographers improve their search results and building websites that are SEO friendly, so I thought I’d ask him some questions about it.

Can you tell me the biggest SEO myths and how they came about?

The biggest myths tend to be outdated information from the web 1.0 (or earlier) days. For some reason, this bad information keeps circulating into the hands of new photographers every year–like a bad email forward.

The biggest myth is definitely that meta tags provide any meaningful impact on your search engine rankings. People learned long ago that it was easy to game the system with meta keywords. Search engines haven’t given the keywords any significant weight for a few years now. The meta description affects how your result is displayed–but it too has little (or no) weight on your position.

Second (especially for photographers) is that Flash-based websites can’t be optimized well. If you embed your Flash correctly, provide alternate content, and use links appropriately, Flash sites can be optimized just fine. I’ve done it for several sites. Adobe’s recent announcement could make things even better–but even now, getting a Flash photography site on page 1 is possible.

I’ll throw in another myth regarding searching behavior. For some reason, photographers often worry about how their site ranks when searching for their name. Trust me, if a potential client knows of you by name, they won’t have a problem finding your website. Worry about your market and areas of expertise. Optimize for those searches, provide appropriate content, and the long tail of search terms will fall into place.

I’ve always thought of SEO as stuff you do to the code of your site, programmer stuff. Are there really things photographers can do on their own without mucking about in the code?

Definitely. One of the biggest is blogging. Good blogs naturally use layouts, page elements, links, and URLs that search engines love. Setup a blog and make sure you have links between it and your site’s home page. Then, blog at least once a week about the jobs and projects you’re working on. Search engines love content, so make sure you’re blogging about photography. People love tutorials and behind-the-scenes stuff. Regularly blogging about photography builds appropriate content and improves the chances of getting quality inbound links. Who cares if no humans read your blog. The search engine benefits alone are worth it.

Also, many websites include a CMS of some sort, allowing you to adjust elements of the site without getting your hands in the code. For example, your browser title is an important ranking factor and many control panels let you adjust that.

On the other hand, I always encourage photographers to be brave and get into the HTML code for simple things. It’s not for everyone, but c’mon–if you can calculate exposure values in your head, I hope you can edit a TITLE tag without doing any major damage.

And what about in the code. What should photographers make sure their website designers have done?

Related to my above point, the more you can control aspects of your site (via a CMS or control panel), the better. That goes for SEO changes or simply keeping your site fresh with new images. The days of having a developer build a site from scratch and having to call/email him for every minuscule update are over.

If you’re building a Flash site, there are some additional questions to ask. You want to make sure your Flash is embedded properly–using OBJECT/EMBED tags is not ideal for SEO. You want to make sure your Flash content is embedded with JavaScript and that it’s mirrored as HTML content in one way or another. If this paragraph doesn’t make sense to your web designer, it’s time to find a new one :)

I’ve heard a few pitches from SEO companies where they’re basically saying they can game google or that they work closely with google. Is this a scam?

I’m hesitant to call anyone a “scam” without hearing the pitch, but I’m leery of most SEO pitches–especially if they’re cold-calling you. Be skeptical of any monthly subscription offer. Any of the following pitches should also throw up red flags:
“we will guarantee you #1 ranking or Y amount of traffic” (no one can make guarantees like that)
“we have a partnership with Google/Yahoo! and we can put you at position X” (I’ve heard this one myself … organic searches don’t work this way and its easy enough to do your own ad campaigns)
“we will submit your site to all the major search engines for $x per month” (since that’s not necessary anymore, it’s not something I’d want to pay for … especially monthly)

There are more, but in the end … real SEO pros don’t seek you out–you seek them out.

Ok, give me you best tips for getting higher and better search results.

Ok, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll toss out 10 tips that will help photographers here rank higher. I wont go into too much detail, but I’ll keep an eye on the comments and try answer any questions people may have. You can also find more info just by searching around.

Establish a baseline

1. Make sure you have web stats installed on your site and your blog (Google Analytics or Mint)
2. Install the Rank Checker plugin for firefox. Plug in any keywords or phrases that are important to you and see where you rank now. Check it every 1-3 weeks and add new phrases as you see them in your stats.

Blogging

3. Set up a blog (WordPress if you want it on your own site; SquareSpace, TypePad, or WordPress.com if you want a hosted version) and start blogging once a week.
4. Make sure your blog links to your site’s home page and vice versa.
5. Collaborate with 3 industry peers. Link to their site and/or blog (on your blog’s sidebar) and ask them to do the same. NOTE: I don’t advocate huge, convoluted link-trading schemes. I’m talking about peers that you actually know and work with.
6. Submit your blog to Google Blog Search and Technorati. You only have to do this once and some blog systems will do it automatically.

Site updates

7. Edit your browser title, making sure that it contains at least 2 keywords/phrases that are important to you. This is easily the biggest “bang for your buck” update that you can make.
8. Update your About/Bio page. Don’t just write about how you fell in love with photography after your dad gave you his old Rollei. Write about what you do, where you do it, your specialties, and past clients.

Local search

9. Submit your business to Google’s Local. It takes a few weeks to get in there, but it’s worth it.

Inbound links

10. This tip is a bit general (and related to #5), but inbound links (links to your site from other sites) are crucial for SEO. Contact peers, mentors, agencies, editors, clients, or local publications that you have worked with and have a good reputation. The goal is to get a link to your site. It could be from a “recommended photographers” page, a blog post, or just a simple credit/byline. When it comes to local publications, be creative–offer to write a how-to article or take some headshots.

A Photo Folio- New Website Design Company For Photographers

- - Websites

I’m happy to announce the launch of my new website design company for photographers:

APhotoFolio.com

It was 6 months ago, when I had assumed that not working in New York meant not working in the photography industry, that I decided to pursue internet related projects, so that I could stay engaged. A Photo Folio joins the blog as the income producing part of what will eventually be many different products and services for photographers and photo editors, some free some not and I promise, not all beginning with an “A.”

I feel blessed and lucky to have met two talented, hard working guys who build websites on the wedding photography side of the business. Erik Dungan and Mike Caston started BigFolio.com in 2004 and have grown it into one of the top destinations for wedding photographers seeking web portfolios. From me, they have endured endless stream-of-consciousness emails, philosophy statements, wouldn’t-it-be-nice missives and all manner of inside magazines jargon and handled it all with aplomb.

We built two designs, a kick ass control panel (so you can go change everything around) and a home site to house and sell it all. The price is fair, the designs are contemporary, clean and built with a clients eye (just show me the pictures and no music please). They display photography beautifully and are easy to navigate. Additionally, I’ve added consulting on the portfolio edit and logo design (with a typography expert) as an important component to building effective websites. If these designs don’t appeal to you now every few months we build a new one, so you can let me know if there’s something you’re really looking for.

Ok, that’s the only sales pitch you’re going to get out of me. I hope some of you who are in the market for a portfolio will consider ours.

APA Panel Discussion on Websites

- - Websites

Last night I gave a presentation and sat in on a panel discussion on websites for the APA San Francisco chapter (website). It’s always nice to get out from behind the computer and have a discussion about photography with fellow art buyers and photo editors and of course meet photographers. I certainly enjoy talking shop.

On the panel with me was Zana Woods, the photo editor of Wired Magazine who was previously and art buyer at Foote, Cone & Belding and Debbie Mobley the Senior Art Producer at Venables Bell & Partners.

I loved hearing the different approaches we all have to working with photographers and I thought I’d highlight some of the interesting things that came up.

Zana prefers to see a book over a website and in fact bases all hiring decisions off looking at books. That was a refreshing point of view for a panel on websites. The website is not an end destination or even the place where decisions are made about hiring photographers.

Debbie leads the typically busy life of an advertising art producer. Websites are tools for quickly looking at portfolios to see if the photographer has the look or skills you need for a project you’re working on RIGHT NOW. She catalogs photographers by the printed and emailed promos photographers send her and when it’s time to find photographers for a campaign looking at websites is efficient and fast. She almost always uses printed books when discussing photographers with creatives and *never* shows a website to a client (they’re too literal).

When I was presenting all the different parts of photographers websites that I use when making a hiring decision (bio, personal work, tears) Debbie was looking over at me like “are you crazy, how in thee hell do you have time to look at all that stuff” and so we talked about some of the big difference between how commercial and editorial clients view photographers websites. In advertising it really is “all about the photography” and you can be a complete a-hole but if you’re photography matches the creative for the campaign. You’ve got the job. Additionally she never deals with the “I need a photographers in Canton, OH who can shoot a portrait for $4500. Monday.” So, she does way less crystal ball gazing on websites than I do. On editorial shoots the photographer and subject need to match up or you can have serious problems and on most shoots there’s nobody on set so you’ve got to make sure this is the right person for the job. In editorial, shoots fail, in advertising, never.

At one point we were talking about Matt Mahon’s website (here) which I’ve mentioned a few times here as something I find very entertaining and proposed a theory to Debbie that creatives might champion a photographer who they find interesting and entertaining at which point she whipped out an email where she asked her art directors what websites they particularly enjoyed to which they replied how much they dislike photographers who think they’re flash designers. “We just want to see photos, you’re photographers for crissakes, not designers.” Theory debunked.

I really enjoyed Zana’s point of view because she works on a national magazine but doesn’t live in NYC which was my experience for many years. She kept talking about this guy Andrew Hetherington (here) who’s some kinda hot shot photographer who shoots for Wired (had to bust your chops on that Jacko and yes she brought you up several times). Since she’s worked at Wired since 1999 she’s built a group of trusted photographers that she likes to work with, keeps a wish list of photographers she’d like to work with and uses the traditional methods (mailers, other magazines, contests, photographers recommendations) to locate new talent and call in their book. It was interesting to find out that she never reads email promos unless the subject line or email is personal and that they keep a database of all the photographers they’re interested in that’s searchable by location and shooting style.

Much of the conversation with Zana came back to this idea that she enjoys looking at websites but uses them to call in books. It’s never the place where decisions are made about hiring people. This is how many photo editors use websites and it’s important to remember that.

The panel really showed that everyone uses a photographers website differently but first and foremost for everyone was finding your portfolio and viewing the images cleanly and quickly. Some of your clients will continue on to check out other parts of the website some will call in your book and others will catalog you away. I think it may be disappointing for photographers to discover that a slick website and nifty features won’t really increase your chances of getting a job. I’d be willing to bet that changes in the future… just not when.

Your Website on the iPhone

- - Websites

Apple announced yesterday that the iphone will not support flash (here).

A reader asked me awhile back about optimizing websites for the iPhone which I immediately dismissed as ridiculous and then, what do you know, I was out of the office later that day and tried to access a photographers contact info by going to their website on my palm phone because I didn’t have it in my database and couldn’t do it because of the flash so I thought ok, maybe there’s something to this.

In the larger scheme of things nobody will ever receive or lose a job based on the ability of their portfolio to render on a palm phone or iphone but more and more I find myself using google as a phone book instead of carefully entering photographers contact info into my database like I used to do.

It looks like a company called MoFuse (here), (TechCrunch report here) has a free and paid solution to the problem I’m just not sure how well it works with image galleries.

Photo Rank Back Up

- - Websites

A hacker used a loop hole to dump users and spam in to the system of every website running pligg open source software that I used to create photo rank. I put spam blocking software on the comments and now you have to respond to an email to register. It’s crazy how easy it is for robot spammers to quickly wreck everything. I suppose if I actually had an IT guy this wouldn’t be a big deal. Live and learn.