By Stan Sholik
The Adobe Cloud model is here, as it has been for nearly a year, and it doesn’t look like it is going to go away. On March 14, Adobe announced that beginning May 1, 2013, boxed copies of all CS6 applications would no longer be produced or shipped except “under special circumstances.” What these special circumstances are have yet to be disclosed, although Adobe hints that if an internet connection is unavailable on any computer, that may qualify. Owners of the downloaded CS6 programs can request a Creative Suite Backup disc at a nominal cost.
Future Adobe programs that were a part of the Creative Suite will be known as Creative Cloud (CC) desktop applications, and this includes the forthcoming Photoshop CC. Lightroom, having never been a part of the Creative Suite, remains a boxed program for the foreseeable future, although Adobe promises that Lightroom will become available to CC members as well.
Actual membership in the CC is free, and you have access to 30-day trials of any or all programs, with limited access to other CC services. Along with the free membership there is a free version of Adobe Edge Tools and Services and the final version of Adobe Edge Animate 1.0, all for web developers. There are also 500 free Adobe Edge fonts and 2GB of online storage. Not much here for photographers.
So what is the Creative Cloud and how does it affect photographers? What it is not is a system limited to cloud storage of images, although 2 to 20 GB of storage is included when you join. It is also not a suite of web-based applications like Google apps. The Creative Cloud is a subscription-based plan that gives you access, depending on your subscription, to single programs from the previous Creative Suite, or access to all programs in the previous Creative Suite. You join the CC, download the single program or whatever elements of the old Suite you need, and work as you always have. As long as your subscription is active, you never know the difference, other than the advantages Adobe says you have from the CC.
Costs are kind of complex, but they always have been from Adobe. For current Photoshop CS3 or later registered users, the cost is $9.99 per month for the first year, with an annual commitment, for access to Photoshop CC. This offer is good until July 31, 2013. The regular yearly cost for a single program is $19.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $29.99 per month on a month-by-month. You are still limited to installation on two computers, but with the CC, one can be a Mac and one Windows.With a yearly commitment you must still “validate” the program when connected to the internet at least once every 99 or 189 days (Adobe is clearing this up at the moment). This validation can be done over dial-up, tethered, or connected to a mobile device, or at a wireless access point such as a coffee shop.
For access to all CC applications, the cost for existing CS3 to CS5.5 registered users of any individual program or the entire Suite is $29.95 per month and CS6 users for $19.99 per month, both with an annual commitment for the first year. This pricing is also available for a limited time, presumably until July 31, 2013, although that date has not been publicly announced. Regular price of the full CC subscription is $49.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $74.99 per month on a month-by-month basis.
Do you have a box to show for it? No. Are you leasing the software? Yes. Is this different than previous versions? Only in that if the lease expires, you no longer have access to the software. If you read the user agreement of your previous Photoshop software before you clicked “Accept”, you know you were leasing that also. For users who leased a Photoshop CS6 boxed version or who download the program, you have what Adobe is calling a “perpetual license”. Adobe promises support of Photoshop CS6 for at least the next major operating system (OS) upgrade by Apple and Microsoft, and further until CS6 would need to be rewritten due to OS changes. New features will not be added, but bugs will be fixed, and presumably Camera Raw will be updated periodically.
What are the advantages of signing up for the CC to Photoshop users? First is access to Photoshop CC. See Adobe's Photoshop CC Features page for details on the new additions to see if this is meaningful to you, and look for an upcoming hands-on review of the new features in Professional Photographer. Then there is future access to Photoshop CC updates. Adobe announced some tantalizing “sneak peeks” from Adobe Labs at Adobe MAX in May, but time will tell if they are relevant to your work. Adobe promises future updates, but without a set schedule, meaning you won't have to wait 15 months to get new features as you did with the old model.
Next is access to Bridge CC. Bridge as we have known it is no longer shipped as a part of Photoshop CC. Bridge CC is now a free download available with CC membership. At present, the Output Module has been stripped from Bridge CC, but it, too, may be available as a separate download from the CC. MiniBridge is shipped with Photoshop CC, but requires Bridge CC to function.
CC members also gain 2 to 20 GB of storage as stated previously. The CC also allows you to synchronize your preferences across multiple computers and share your images on multiple devices, or with clients, or to collaborate on projects. There is also a free membership in Behance ProSite (about which I am clueless) that is normally $99 per year. And you no longer need to worry about serial numbers or activation, and you can reset your two activations to other computers without contacting customer support.
What happens if you join the CC, use Photoshop and Bridge CC and the new features in Camera Raw for projects, and then decide to let your subscription lapse at some point and revert to an earlier version of Photoshop? If you saved your images as flattened TIFF files, they will open in any version of Photoshop, including 1.0, that supports the bit depth of your flattened file. If your images are saved as PSD or layered TIFF files, you will lose access to any features added since the older version of Photoshop to which you have reverted. This is no different than the situation at present if you try to open a CS6 PSD in CS5 with features that were added in CS6.
Will I join the CC? I shot film and resisted digital capture for as long as I could. Now innovations brought on by digital photography such as HDR, focus stacking, retouching, and compositing are profit centers for my business. And I can still shoot film for personal work whenever I desire.
Photographers, myself included, rarely welcome change, and like most humans fear the unknown. But we are creative—we learn to use new tools and techniques and turn them to our advantage, and we quickly adapt to changing situations. While Adobe will be fine-tuning the Creative Cloud for months or even years, it is here to stay. All of the wind in the photo blogs will not blow it away. Adobe claims 2.5 million CC subscribers in the 10 months the Cloud has existed, and it is clear to me that Adobe is honestly not interested in users who are reluctant to upgrade from earlier Photoshop releases. Adobe is interested in the revenue stream from the 2.5M CC members and in convincing you that is a good idea for you to join them. Me? I will take advantage of the $19.99 per month pricing for CS6 users for the entire CC suite of programs for a year and see what happens. If Adobe sticks to its word and updates Photoshop CC, Adobe Raw, and Bridge CC with features I can use, I’m in. If not, I’ve spent about the same as the cost of upgrading from Photoshop CS5 to CS6, and far less than starting with a new lease of a boxed version. I still have CS6 on a DVD.
By Stan Sholik
All images ©Stan Sholik
The latest version of Photoshop, Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud), is being widely discussed on the Internet, but the discussion has focused more on Adobe's new licensing model rather than on what has changed in the application. This is unfortunate because the majority of new features and improvements to previous features are of value to photographers. While the list is not extensive, it may indicate the future development of Photoshop CC: the ongoing introduction of new features and improvements, some significant to photographers and others not at all of interest, to improve the workflow and capabilities of photographers who need the program because its unique features.
Several of the new features are found in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 8.0 plug-in, with an 8.1 update with additional features due out soon after the 8.0 release. ACR 8.0 introduces a new radial filter, a non-circular healing brush, and an automatic leveling and upright tool. New to Photoshop CC itself is the availability of access to Camera Raw through the filter menu. When you access ACR through Photoshop CC, you can easily use ACR with file formats other than raw formats, and apply ACR as a Smart Filter.
New to Photoshop CC is the ability to access Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)from the Filter menu. You can also convert the image to a Smart Image before you edit it in ACR.
The new Radial Filter tool is next to the Gradient tool in the toolbar. Clicking the icon opens the Radial Filter panel. Listed in the panel are the same local adjustments available for the graduated filter, along with a feather slider and the ability to apply the adjustments outside or inside the oval filter shape you draw. You can create multiple radial filters on your image, giving you the ability to draw the viewer's eye to precisely where you want, or the ability to create areas of different color temperature, clarity, sharpness and any of the other local adjustments.
The new Radial Filter in ACR allows you to do everything from creating a simple vignette to applying any of the local adjustments in the Radial Filter panel to the area inside or outside of the shape you draw. Here I have adjusted the exposure, clarity, and sharpening of the lotus blossom.
You can create multiple Radial Filter adjustments. This adjustment sits on top of the adjustment I made to the blossom and darkens, softens, and slightly desaturates the background to draw more attention to the flower.
The Heal option in the ACR Spot Removal tool has two new features. First, the brush is no longer a circular spot removal tool, it is now a true brush. Regardless of the shape of the object, you can drag the new healing brush over an object to completely remove it from the image. Of course you can still use Heal to remove spots and sensor dust from the image. This is made easier with the new Visualize Spots option. With Visualize Spots active, you see a high-contrast monochrome representation of your image. By adjusting the Visualize Spots slider, you can easily see round spots or irregular-shaped dust that is easily missed when viewing the color image, even when viewing at 100% magnification.
The new Healing brush in ACR allows you to paint an area out of your image by dragging over the area as well as do spot healing.
The Healing Brush tool automatically finds an area in the image to heal the selection, but you can adjust the source area manually if needed.
For spot healing, the new Visualize Spots feature presents a high-contrast monochrome image that highlights dust and spots that are easily missed when looking at the color version.
Finally, for anyone needing to straighten a horizon, level a tilted photo, or straighten a building, the new Upright tools in the Manual tab of the ACR Lens Corrections panel makes life easy. There are four Upright options: Automatic produces a balanced perspective without fully correcting horizontal or vertical lines, and also crops the image; Level corrects for tilted horizons; Vertical makes strong vertical lines vertical; and, Full provides full level, horizontal and vertical corrections. Sliders are available for each correction to increase or dial back the effect for full manual control.
The new Auto Upright option in the Lens Corrections panel produces a balanced perspective adjustment and crops the image without totally correcting horizontal or vertical perspective.
The Level Upright option automatically corrects a tilted horizon or a badly tilted photo such as this one.
The Vertical Upright option automatically corrects strong vertical lines to vertical without altering horizontal perspective.
The Full Upright option automatically corrects horizontal, vertical, and leveling, which can severely distort buildings.
The Full Upright option works well to correct images such as this sign that I shot from below and to the side to a flat, straight-on perspective.
The major new feature in Photoshop CC itself, which photographers likely didn't think possible, is the Shake Reduction filter in the Filter > Sharpen menu. Under the right conditions, it can do exactly what its name implies—eliminate or at least minimize the image blurring present if the camera vibrated or you shook during the exposure. It won't help if the blurring is caused by subject movement however.
The Shake Reduction filter opens in its own window, sets a bounding box after analyzing the image, and applies the filter automatically. There are adjustment sliders, but I have yet to be able to improve on the automatic correction, although it is easy to mess it up. There is also a Blur Direction tool in the toolbar that you can use to manually set the blur direction and length.
The new Shake Reduction filter in Photoshop CC is useful for minimizing or eliminating camera shake and vibration. The filter analyzes the image and then applies an automatic correction. You can make manual adjustments and use the loupe to view a specific area of the image.
Used as a Smart Filter, you can eliminate blurring in one part of the image, then use other tools to eliminate any halos or artifacts that may appear if there is a different blur, or no blur in other parts of the image. Now it may be possible to salvage an irreplaceable photo with camera movement blurring that you have been living with or had to deliver to a client. Camera Shake Reduction won't replace vibration reduction lenses or tripods, but I have experienced blurring due to wind shaking a tripod-mounted camera as well as hand-held macro photos, and I welcome this new feature. Its mere existence seems pretty amazing to me.
Another filter in the Sharpen list, Smart Sharpen, retains its previous name, but is completely new according to Adobe. It certainly looks different with an expandable interface and a large image preview window. You can compare the new Smart Sharpen to the previous by clicking Use Legacy in the Additional Options menu. I have found the results are better with the new version, with fewer artifacts and improved ability to control sharpening in the highlights and shadows. Unfortunately, it seems slower in producing the results.
Smart Sharpen in Photoshop CC is all new with an adjustable size dialog box containing a large image preview.
Another improvement in Photoshop CC is intelligent upsizing in Edit > Image Size. As with Smart Sharpen, you can enlarge the Image Size dialog box, and there is a large preview image window in which to view the result. The intelligent upsizing option is available by selecting Preserve Details (enlargement) from the Resample drop-down menu, or by leaving the default option Automatic for Resample. Automatic selects the best method for enlarging or reducing the image without your intervention. To compare the new intelligent upsizing to the previous, choose Bicubic Smoother (enlargement) from the Resample drop-down menu.
Image Size in Photoshop CC also has a large preview image and the upscaling algorithm is rewritten to better preserve detail than the previous Bicubic algorithm, which is still available from the drop-down menu.
For Mac users with the latest Retina displays, Photoshop CC provides support for the application and many more plug-ins, such as Liquify, Safe for Web, Merge to HDR, JPEG2000, Vanishing Point, Adaptive Wide Angle, Lens Correction, and Filter Gallery. ACR 8.0 is not enabled for Retina displays, but ACR 8.1 is promised to be when released.
There are a host of other major features included in Photoshop CC and even more minor improvements and minor updates. Many of the major features are related to 3D, with type-handling upgrades and rounded rectangle shapes for designers. Adobe promises that it will support Photoshop CS6 for the foreseeable future and that ACR 8.0 and later versions will be compatible with CS6. However, the new ACR 8 features for Photoshop CC will definitely not be included in the CS6 versions of ACR 8.
Not included in Photoshop CC is a version of Bridge, showing that features can be removed as well as added in the future. Adobe promises to have Bridge CC available for download, including the Bridge Output module that reportedly was not included in early versions of Bridge CC.
For photographers who find the new Photoshop CC features of value, and who need 16-bit file support, layers, blending modes, and other Photoshop features gathered together into one program with which they are already familiar, then joining the Creative Cloud is their only option. Adobe has the market penetration to make this change in its licensing model. Whether this is right model for you depends on how you use Photoshop in your business.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His new book, "Photoshop CC: 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks" (Wiley Publishing), will be available this summer.
By Ron Dawson
Every now and then you see one of those films that is a total gem. A film that makes your jaw drop in awe and your heart pound in anticipation of watching it again. “Last Day Dream” [below; brief explicit language] by commercial director and photographer Chris Milk is one of those films for me. It was made four years ago for the 42 Second Dream Film Festival and shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with Lensbaby lenses.
Lens-what? That’s what I thought when I first heard the word Lensbaby. Was it a lens for tiny cameras? Was it a sort of training-wheels lens for kids? Most of you reading this probably have at least heard of Lensbaby. The best way I can describe them is as a kind of funky-looking, tilt-shift lens.
Like a tilt-shift, the Lensbaby has a selective focus, creating a dreamlike blur around the perimeter of the focus spot (or sweet spot). It’s a great lens to use if you want to add a dream-like aesthetic to your photography, or if you want to draw attention to a particular part of your image.
Shooting with Video
As you can see from the Chris Milk film, the Lensbaby can achieve an ethereal effect that takes the look of your video to a different level. In using it for video though, keep a couple of things in mind.
First, how does the use of the lens contribute to the story? The selective-focus, dreamy look can easily be over-used and veer into cliché. But as long as you’ve given thought to your story, the Lensbaby can truly enhance it.
Filmmaking story scenarios where you might use the Lensbaby:
Flashback or flash-forward
Showing a character’s imagination or what they’re thinking
An exaggerated shot of character's visual point of view (e.g. a guy in a club zeroes in on a woman he wants to pick up; a sniper on a building top zeroes in on her target)
Illustrate a character’s disorientation
Creating an “otherworldly” experience
The second thing to keep in mind is controlling where the sweet spot is when shooting a moving or tracking shot, or shooting a moving subject. If you’re shooting a still image this isn’t an issue. You adjust your camera settings, find your sweet spot, then shoot. But once you introduce motion into the picture, you as the director need to be mindful of how that motion affects your sweet spot. If at all possible, use an external monitor to facilitate monitoring your image and the sweet spot location.
In-camera vs. In-computer
Some of the effects created with Lensbaby can actually be created in post production—Photoshop for stills or a non-linear editing system like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere for video. So you may ask, “Why do this in-camera if you can just add it in post?” That’s a fair question. There are three reasons why I think it’s better to create these effects in-camera.
Focus on Story. As I mentioned before, this (or any) effect in a film or video should be done with a purpose in mind. Creating the effect in-camera forces you as the director to be mindful of that purpose and to compose your shots and direction accordingly. If you wait to do it in post, you’re apt to get lazy, or you may discover that you’ve shot it in a way that makes adding the effect in post less effective due to distractions in the shot that take away from the effect.
Realism. I think shots composed in-camera look more realistic than when something is added in post. They have a more organic feel that subconsciously translates to authenticity. I liken it to shooting slow motion. If you shoot at a higher frame rate (60 frames per second) then convert to a slower frame rate in post, your slow motion looks more smooth and realistic than having the computer create “fake” slow motion.
Render time and quality. Last is the practical consideration of render time and quality. If you achieve your effect in-camera, the computer doesn’t have to render it. Also, depending on the computing power and graphics card you’re using, a lot of heavy effects rendering can result in muddy looking video.
It is very important to learn how to use a Lensbaby correctly. The first project I ever used it on was a short, edgy documentary film about celebrity wedding photographer Joe Buissink back in 2010. I was using the Composer and noticed that it came with this little magnetic thingamajiggy connected to a round doohickey. I had no idea what they were for and didn’t bother to find out. So on the day of the shoot, which was a very hot and bright day in Beverly Hills, CA, I started shooting with it and noticed that there was no aperture adjustment on the lens (and naturally you can’t adjust aperture via the camera, which at the time I was used to). So I ended up shooting the Composer scenes wide open and I just increased my shutter speed to compensate. Lucky for me, the high shutter speed combined with the dreamy look actually worked out quite nicely. (It was a perfect example of a happy accident).
Later I opened the round doo-hickey and found a stack of metallic rings with holes in them. The rings were numbered: 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, etc. This is where I slapped my forehead and exclaimed a loud, Homer Simpson-esque “Doh!” The aperture was controlled by dropping the metallic rings into the front of the lens using that metallic thingamabob. Lesson learned.
Nowadays, there is no excuse not to learn all you can about using a Lensbaby. They have a full set of instructional and inspirational videos on their site. After you’ve watched the videos, you should practice. The more the better. It really takes getting used to hitting that sweet spot correctly, especially if you’re going to tilt the lens. With your early tries you may want to avoid the wider aperture settings to keep a deeper depth of field. The wider the aperture, the smaller the sweet spot and the harder it is to find.
The Swivel vs. the Squeeze
There are two primary types of Lensbaby lenses: one where you focus with a traditional focus ring and one where you squeeze the lens. The Composer and Composer Pro (below, with Sweet 35 optic) have the focus ring and are perhaps the most popular. Once you focus, you can move the sweet spot by tilting the lens up, down, or side to side. Once you have your sweet spot, you can lock it in then let go of the lens. So the Composer lenses are great for shooting videos.
The Spark and the Muse (below) are squeeze lenses. You focus by squeezing the lens toward or away from the camera body. Once you get the focus you want, you can adjust the sweet spot by tilting accordingly, but you cannot lock in that sweet spot. You have to manually keep it in place. This may be a good way to grab some quick and experimental still photographs, but it’s a terrible combination for shooting video (unless your story calls for the focus spot to move around sporadically). For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend either of these for video work.
Lensbaby has a whole line of optics to enhance your user experience. While shooting a short film about Jerry Ghionis this past March, I had an opportunity to try the latest Composer Pro using the Sweet 35 optic. Without this optic, the Composer and Composer Pro have a 50mm focal length and you adjust the aperture by inserting the appropriate metallic ring (the optic used in place of the 35 is the Double Glass optic). With the Sweet 35 optic, the focal length drops to 35mm and aperture is adjusted with a 12-blade aperture ring that ranges from f/2.8 to f/22 (in full-stop increments). Remember to keep crop factor in mind if you're shooting a camera with an APS-C size sensor instead of a full-frame sensor. So a Composer with a Double-Glass optic on a 60D, for instance, would have the angle of view of an 80mm lens when factoring in the 1.6X crop.
Depending on the optics you use, with full-frame cameras like Canon’s 5D Mark III or Nikon’s D800, you may get varying results. For instance, with the 12mm fisheye optic, you’ll get a nearly full circular image on a full-frame camera, while on a smaller-sensor camera you’ll get some vignetting around the edges. These two looks would render a very different feel when used in a video. Again, it's about the story you want to tell. I could see using the fisheye lens on a full-frame if you want to emulate someone looking through the peephole in a door. The same lens on an APS-C sensor might create a more dreamlike look and feel.
Motion Picture Mounts
Most Lensbaby lenses come with EF-compatible mounts for Canon cameras and F-compatible mounts for Nikon cameras. Now that more filmmakers are using these lenses, they’ve created PL-mount versions that you can use on digital cinema cameras like the RED, Arri Alexa or a PL-mount version of Canon’s C300.
The Price is Right
Lensbaby lenses are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $80 for the Spark to $380 for the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic. The PL-mount versions are considerably more expensive though: $1,200 for the Composer Pro PL and $400 for the Muse PL. If you’re only going to selectively use the lenses for various projects, consider renting.
Lensbaby lenses can be a lot of fun to use and—in the hands of a competent director who knows her story, has taken the time to practice, and has a creative imagination—the results can be magical.
By Ron Dawson
Perhaps one of the more challenging issues photographers entering the world of video face is compression for the web. It’s one thing exporting a jpeg. When it comes to creating videos for the web, it’s a whole different ballgame. There are so many different considerations.
No doubt the majority of you are editing high definition videos: 1080p (1,920x1080) or 720p (1,280x720). For a majority of the work I do, I edit in 1080p then export at 720p for the web. If the site I’m uploading to will support it and the visuals would benefit from a higher resolution, I may export a 1080p file.
Bits and Bytes
The next decision, and perhaps the most important, is what data rate to set. Most of the data rate figures you see will be in megabits per second (mbps). The capitalization is important, because if you write MBps, this traditionally stands for megabytes per second, not -bits (eight bits make up one byte). Don't be surprised if you ever come across an article using MBps, but meaning mbps. You'll know by the size of the number. Here are some common numbers to give you perspective.
● The .MOV files in popular Canon DSLRs are compressed at approximately 45 mbps.
● The .MOV files in some of the most popular Nikon DSLRs range from about 14 mbps to 24 mbps (depending on the quality setting)
● The popular Apple codec ProRes 422 is about 145 mbps
● Standard Definition DVDs range from 4 to 8 mbps
Most compression programs will give you the option to do constant bitrate (CBR) or variable bitrate (VBR) compression. CBR will compress the entire video at the same rate. If you're not concerned about file size, this may be a good option as it's faster and takes less processing power. With VBR, the computer will compress different parts of the video at different rates (you will enter some target or average rate). So high motion parts of the video will get a higher rate than sections where there's no motion at all. That way you can better optimize the video.
There are a few different formats to consider when exporting for the web: mpeg4 (which includes .mv4 files), mpeg2, h.264, wmv, etc. These are all different codecs. Codec is short for "compression-decompression." It's the algorithm used by the computer to compress large video files into something more manageable. All major video sharing sites will accept all the popular formats. So whether you're a Mac or a Windows person, the format you export can yield a video people will be able to watch, regardless of operating system or browser. It should be noted that .MOV does not represent a codec. It's the suffix for a QuickTime video, but that video could be any number of codecs. You can have an h.264 .mov file, a ProRes .mov file, an MPEG-2 .mov file, etc.
The Perfect Recipe
There is no "best" combination of settings. It all depends on things like audience, upload destination, length of video, and such. Here's my usual recipe (using Apple’s Compressor):
○ AppleTV codec, h.264
○ 1,280x720 resolution
○ 4-7 mbps (depending on varying factors)
○ Frame rate (source, which is usually 24 fps)
○ 128 kbps
Video compression is two parts science and one part art. With practice and time you’ll come up with a recipe that works best for you and your clients.
By Jen Basford and Nancy Nardi
For many photographers, getting started with a new website—or updating a current website—can be overwhelming. But when looking at where to start, you have to consider much more than choosing a design. Being clear on your requirements and planning for ongoing management are key to the success of your site.
Creating (or updating) a website should be something you put a lot of thought and planning into. If done correctly, this can be a very smooth process and can give you exactly what you are looking for in a timely and cost-effective manner. So before you start flipping through website themes, let's look at four key things to have ready before you begin.
1. A Clearly Defined Brand
Too often photographers begin the process of creating or updating their website by searching for a template or site that has a design that they like. How a site looks is important, but if it doesn't fit with your studio brand then it's not going to work no matter how nice it looks. So before browsing through website templates you need to be sure you have a clearly defined brand.
A brand is more than just a logo and some pretty colors. Put some time and effort into defining your studio's brand—it is the foundation of your business reputation. Developers and template services cannot create your brand or content for you, and asking them to do so is like asking your home builder to decorate the interior of your home. They are great at constructing and building based on the architectural specifications, but they do not know your taste in decorating and how you want your home to feel.
Without a brand your site and studio have no personality or identity. So before you begin looking for a site, or for a service that will setup a site for you, be sure that you have a logo, brand colors, font selections and graphics ready to go. Ideally you will have a brand style guide with these items already, and this will ensure a consistent brand identity.
2. Know What You Are Looking For
Have you ever gone shopping for something and you don't really know what you are looking for? You end up wandering around the store (or the mall, or the city) for hours looking and looking until something jumps out at you (if it does at all). But once you get it home, you find it wasn't quite what you wanted and you aren't as happy as you could have been if you'd taken the time to figure out what you wanted before you went.
Deciding on the look of your website is the same type of process. If you take the time and effort beforehand to research and define what your wants and needs are, then the time involved in getting what you want is greatly reduced. Take a look at different sites around the Web (especially outside of the photography industry) and make notes about things you like and don't like. It can also be very helpful to create a sketch, or a mockup, of what you want your site to look like. It will save a lot of time and money to have a design ready that includes your page layouts (what pages and links you want on your site), features, and other things that you want to include on your site.
3. Have Your Content Ready To Go
I know what you're thinking. You need a website now. Can't you just get one up and add things to it later? This isn't a good idea for many reasons. This can hurt both your brand and your credibility to start with. There is no sense in spending time on a website if you aren't ready to fill it with content. You are merely adding more time and pressure to yourself (if you are doing your website on your own) or to your developer (if you are using a service), both of which mean delays and increased costs to you.
Content is one of the most important keys to a successful website, and yet it is one of the most often overlooked parts. Content includes things such as copy, images, videos, graphics, page titles, names for your navigation bar, email signup information, contact info, and more. Spend the extra effort needed up front to have all of this information ready to go and you will save both time and money on the back end.
Whether you are using a template and setting up your website yourself, or hiring a professional to do this for you, you will need to know what your budget is and be able to realistically work within it. There are costs associated with your website other than the fee for the service or template itself that need to be factored in. Branding, SEO research, hosting, domain registration, maintenance and updates need to be accounted for and factored into your Web budget. And don't forget to set aside finances for ongoing maintenance and updates once your site is live.
OK, I Have Everything Ready So Now What?
By having everything ready before you start looking for a website (be it a template or a service) you will save both time and money. If you are looking to purchase a template and do it on your own, you will have a clear vision for what it is you are looking for. This will allow you to find a site that lets you customize the areas you need to fit the look and feel of what you want. If you are hiring someone to do your site for you, handing them your well-defined brand, a mockup of what you want your site to look like, and your content will cut down tremendously on the time involved to set up your site and will allow them to give you a more cost-effective quote for getting you up and running.
Saying to a website developer or service “How much does a website cost?” or “Call me, I need a new website” is similar to saying to a home builder “I need a house, how much?” Until they know exactly what you want and have the content and branding needed for your site, they do not have enough information to provide you with an estimate. This causes enormous delays while going back and forth trying to get the information, which can add to your time and costs. Do yourself a favor and have this ready beforehand. You will save yourself time, money and a lot of unnecessary frustration.
A Few Final Things To Consider
Remember the saying that you get what you pay for? Well this holds true for Web services as well. You can setup a site for less than $100, or spend upwards of $5,000, but what you are getting is vastly different between the two, specifically in the areas of support and customization. Don't expect to purchase a $79 website and get personal attention or on-call service and support. What you save in price you will pay for in time and by having to handle a lot of the work and issues that arise on your own. Some companies offer support via forums or support tickets, but don't expect an immediate response or a phone call. The typical turnaround is 12 to 48 hours for these companies to be able to keep costs affordable to many clients. Keep in mind that “cheap” and “inexpensive” often come with hidden costs in the form of both time and money.
And finally, be sure to set realistic expectations by allowing enough time to plan and work on your site. A little planning and preparation will go a long way, and will also cut down on costs dramatically. As small business owners, most photographers do not need to go through the time and expense of a custom Web project. Would they benefit? Of course. But I think you will find that a unique and customized theme will give you everything you are looking for if you simply put the time and effort needed into the planning process up front.
Jen Basford owns 3 girls photography in Edmond, Okla. She is a PPA Studio Management Services mentor.
Nancy Nardi, a former studio owner, is the founder of Hi-Fi Social Web, providing website design services to photographers and other creative professionals.