Tag: portfolio

New Website: Zenfolio or SmugMug (or Portfoliobox?)

SmugMugLogo Zenfolio LogoI’ve finally admitted to myself that my website is too much work to keep up in its current configuration. For years now, pride has gotten the better of me as I have done all the design and set-up myself, using Adobe GoLive at first, then migrating, quite successfully, to iWeb. However, with having to do all the “back end” work, the time needed to maintain the site and upload photos is far greater than I have. Lightroom Web module is also a bit disappointing in that to make one minor edit/additon/deletion, you need to upload the whole page – time consuming and inefficient. As well, I know my Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is poor and the site is beginning to look stale. It needs a refresh!

NOTE: If you are considering using SmugMug, please use the referral link at the end of this post. It will give you 20% off any of the services you choose (and it helps me, too = win-win!)

The Options

For the past few months I’ve been scanning the websites of photo portfolio hosting services, examining the myriad options – and there are many. I’ve have them narrowed down to two: ZenFolio and SmugMug, but I looked at many; here’s a summary:

  • PhotoBucket and Flickr: I have a Flickr account and use it regularly to upload recent work, but it is more of a depository for images, rather than a “capital G” Gallery; PhotoBucket is similar. While I like the modern look of both services, there isn’t the level of customization I’m looking for and at times, I’ve found Flickr to be a bit clunky in its implementation of slide shows and full screens. At $25 per year, Flickr a good deal, but not ideal. Photobucket, on the other hand, seems “scammy”, like they are trying to pull one over on you. On their homepage there is no mention of pricing, features or options, just a bunch of irrelevant small thumbnails. When you do get to pricing, it says 10GB, but then you read the small print to find it’s only 2GB, but uploading the app gives you 10GB. To me that’s not straightforward; it’s weaselling. No thanks.
  • Portfoliobox is perhaps the closest contender to Zenfolio and SmugMug, at least from my perspective. I think it’s the European influence of its styling that attracts me as well as its affinity to artists and creative professionals. Portfoliobox also has a no-nonsense choice of two accounts: free or $7.50/month. The only thing preventing me from heading in their direction is the lack of customization. I guess I’ve been spoiled having complete control for all these years that I still want some control, just not all of it.
  • 500px is similar to Flickr in that it is more of a depository of photos, but it has a much stronger “photo community” emphasis. I tried 500px for a while, but couldn’t be on it frequently enough to keep up with the “likes”. While I do some “liking” of photos in Flickr, gaining stature through “likes” as 500px does, is not my thing. Also, when my “Home” page is photos by other people, I can see it’s more about discovering other photos than working with my own. Flickr can be a bit like that, too. I don’t mind seeing other photographers’ work, but my goal with the site is to promote my own work.
  • PhotoShelter is a popular option amongst professional photographers. Even with its cheapest option at $10/month, it offers a complete store-front fulfilment option. But I’m not interested in having prints made by an outside company. I want to maintain the quality of my prints by doing my own archival fine art printing.
  • SqaureSpace has an excellent set of modern gallery templates that are photography-oriented so it caught my eye. But I also noticed it caters to businesses, restaurants and stores, so it’s not focussed exclusively on photography galleries. That’s not bad, I would just rather have the hosting service more focussed. Also, the plan that I would need is $16/month – rather steep when I don’t want the “Sell up to 20 products” option.
  • Now, FolioLink is photography and artist-oriented hosting service that is very modern and has a variety of options. In fact it is perhaps the premier service, but the price starts at $239/year and for your own domain, it’s another $30 – for up to 120 portfolio images. No thanks! My Scottish blood won’t allow it.
  • A note about WordPress. I use WordPress quite successfully for my blog. Yet, there are a number of photographers who use it as their gallery and website. Maybe I’m not flexible enough in my thinking or I just don’t know enough about WordPress, but I feel you should use the right tool for the job: a gallery site for galleries and a blog site for blogs. They have their specialities and I would rather work towards each of their strengths. Besides, although WordPress is free, if you want elegant design, you pay for it by purchasing templates. i would rather pay for the hosting and have the flexibility to change designs without having to completely revamp my website.
  • I also considered The Turning Gate (TTG). They have a series of options available for galleries and sales that work through the Lightroom Web module. Quite clever, actually, but given the limitations of the LR Web module, I have steered away. I also find the presentation of the Gallery page to be a bit “blocky” – not what I was looking for.

The Finalists

So that brings me to my two finalists: Zenfolio and SmugMug. I must admit to disliking the name SmugMug and preferring the name Zenfolio, but that’s a minor aesthetic point compared to what the two services offer.

But what does my website need? What, specifically am I looking for beyond modern-looking galleries? Here’s a list of “must haves”:

  • primarily, my website needs to host Galleries of images that I create/curate;
  • the site must also be flexible enough to allow keyword searches so that allow users may search based on their own needs and way fo thinking, not mine;
  • the host must offer modern, elegant designs with sizing from large monitors to tablets and phones. To me, “elegant design” means there is very little technology between the user and the website; it must be intuitive.
  • additional web pages with text are also necessary, such as an About page, plus pages describing my workshops and fine print sales;
  • the service must also allow uploads directly from Lightroom through the Publish Services. This is critical, as LR’s Publish Services provide me with a smooth workflow for managing titles, captions, keywords and galleries all from within Lightroom;
  • Most of all, however, the hosting service must be offered at a price reasonable enough to make it all worth it without including a lot of extras I won’t use.

Both ZenFolio and SmugMug offer these options at $60/year – very reasonable. They are actually quite similar, offering significant customization and a variety of pages. Zenfolio comes closer to a ready-made option with a Blog, About and Contact pages in addition to Gallery pages. I also appreciate the tree-style organization of the photos in Zenfolio and the ability to have “Collections” as well as folders. I’ve since learned of the same options in SmugMug, but they are not made as obvious as they are in Zenfolio.

It Takes Time!

This is one of the problems I have found in this investigation – it takes a huge amount of time. If I only went by the posted feature set and price, I could make my decision right away, but that’s what they want you to do, just like buying a car. It’s only when you look under the hood that you discover differences that could either make your efforts worth while or worthless – but yoiu won’t know until you actually work with it in depth for awhile.

For the last two weeks I’ve been hard at work using the free trials available for both services. ZenFolio certainly offers some real functionality and quite in-depth web design options. But I’ve found the interface to be a bit clunky. In particular, to make site changes, you go into a whole different side that is not seamless. SmugMug is similar, however I find the interface for page design more intuitive, once I became oriented to it. It is easy to see when you are making page changes, or site-wide changes. I do prefer ZenFolio’s easy-to-access organizational tree for photo galleries, but SmugMug is a close second.

ZenFolio Site
ZenFolio Site

One area of importance is how good their help is. I’m one to dive in and problem-solve. If I can’t probelm solve, I need to be able to find an answer; if that’s not possible, there needs to be someone available by email to help. I can happily report that I’ve worked with both Help Resources and Help Desks and have had excellent service. This included a rather protracted problem with the SmugMug Lightroom plugin, but it was easily solved and SmugMug extended my trial period.

Decision Time

So, the two services are rather identical except for one thing… The $60/year Zenfolio service is ideal, but I can’t use my own luxBorealis.com logo on Zenfolio unless I opt for the $140/year service. While this service also provides a store front for fulfilling print orders – the major difference to their $60/year service which does not – it’s a service I don’t need nor want. A logo is important, but it’s not worth $80 more.

SmugMug Site
SmugMug Site

SmugMug, on the other hand, for the same $60/year gives me exactly what I need. It has a lovely full-screen interface for my homepage that seems to work better than the Zenfolio equivalent. I also find navigation set-up and website customization much more straightforward. Another advantage to SmugMug is the limitless pages I can create with surprisingly flexible designs. It seems like a frivolous feature, but I particularly like SmugMug’s implementation of a keyword cloud – you will see it on any page on my site by scrolling down. Very interactive; very cool!

So, the decision has been made. I invite you to visit my SmugMug website and take it for a spin. Then, feel free to add your comments, either there at the SmugMug site or back here.

AND, in case you missed the note at the top, if you choose to use SmugMug, here is a referral code that gives you 20% off the service you choose – just click this link.

“It is the final image…that counts”

If you are serious about photography and you don’t read Photo Techniques magazine, you should. It’s not the only magazine you should be reading, but it is an excellent summary of what’s happening in a community of serious photographers who strive to improve their technique and vision on both the capture and processing sides. Here is a quote from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue (p13):

It is the final image standing alone that counts.
How we go there is simply a wonderful story.
— Tom Millea, Photographic Artist

This quote sums up everything I believe in photography far better than any of the thousands of pages of photographic information in books, journals and periodicals and on websites that I have read in my three decades of photography. Many photographers have said it before and I constantly repeat it in my workshops – it’s the photograph that counts, not how you made it, not the conditions you had to endure or the miles you had to hike; not the equipment or the process you used. All of that is technical, chemical and digital – not artistic.

As a simple example, I remember being frustrated in England at the excellent camera club I belonged to in Chelmsford. I always felt that titles were and should always be superfluous to the image and should never – ever – be needed to explain the photograph. Yet, there were photographs whose judgement was clearly skewed because they were made cute by or only made sense with the title. That’s ludicrous.

If the photograph can’t stand on its own then it’s value should not be increased with  the nature of its title or, in the case of Tom Millea’s reference, its process. Far too many photographers place far too high a value on the equipment or process used to make an image. It doesn’t matter if the image was shot with Canon or Nikon or Olympus, 4×5, 35mm or 4:3s, negative, slides or digital; gelatin silver, platinum or archival pigment – as long as the image conveys fully the intent of the photographer and as long as it is archival, all the rest shouldn’t matter.

Howard Bond made a similar statement in a recent issue of the same magazine. He was recounting his incredulity at how his older editions of prints sell at much higher prices than his newer editions. The older editions were more poorly made, yet they were more valuable because they were older, that’s all.

It is well-known that the art world goes through this trend and that trend often linked more to personalities than to substance. This is a serious flaw and it is why many people do not really take the art-types and the art world too seriously. It seems that once a name is made, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the image is, they will sell like hotcakes at least for a while. The same is true with processes. Platinum prints would instantly command a higher price just because they are platinum no matter what was on the front of them.

The art world is fickle. If “they” are rubbed the right way they will respond. If galleries can make money then that is the path they will take irrespective of artistic value. To serious photographers (and other artists) who have always recognized this, we will still create images that convey our intent as artists in the best way we know how and will need to be content in that.

Go to Part Two – “…a wonderful story.”

Making Photo Books with iPhoto

I have had a wonderful experience as of late publishing two books using Apple’s free iPhoto application. It hasn’t been without a learning curve, but what I’ve found is that even simple books are very straightforward. Being the nit-picker I am, though, I’ve complicated my life by wanting details and customization that stretched iPhoto. But I have been very pleased at how iPhoto responded by stretching and accommodating the finessing I wanted. In fact, when I took one of my books to a local printer for a quote, they were astounded with the quality before I even told them how I made it and what it cost to make.

What I like about iPhoto…

Tanzania - a book of fine art photographs by Terry A. McDonald
Tanzania (Dec 2009)

Now, before I go too far, I should warn Windows users that iPhoto is only available to Mac users. It’s a shame, really, because I have yet to see a free photo library/catalogue app for Windows that even comes close to the capability of iPhoto. In fact, I have yet to see an inexpensive app (less than $75) that does what iPhoto can do. Furthermore, building on the success of iTunes, Apple could easily offer “iPhoto Windows” as a $10 or $15 app for download only. Anyway – back to the main event…

Lake Superior Provincial Park iPhoto book

I wrote an earlier blog about the usefulness of iPhoto here, but in summary I find iPhoto great:

  • for easily and quickly finding photos;
  • for cataloguing photos using events, albums and keywords;
  • as a repository of high-quality, high-resolution jpegs of all my fine art and family photos;
  • for creating engaging slideshows directly through iPhoto or seamlessly integrated with Apple’s Keynote;
  • for creating photo galleries uploaded to my MobileMe site (which you may already have for your iPhone)
  • for creating photo pages usingApple’s free iWeb app then uploaded to my website;
  • for emailing photos or uploading to Flickr, PicasaWeb, Panoramio, JAlbum, etc.
  • because I can have multiple Libraries for different uses and world locations.

There’s a whole lot more, but this is a good summary for now.

"Modern Lines" theme from my iPhoto book Tanzania

Now – about iPhoto Books…

The advantage of iPhoto books versus online books is that you can work on them without being online: waiting for files to be uploaded, waiting for pages to load, etc. Some online photo book sites have mini apps you download to help prevent this, but I have yet to find them as smooth, seamless, versatile and customizable as iPhoto. With iPhoto, I am not limited to pre-determined fonts and sizes – I can use any font and most sizes up to about 72pt for titles and even 36pt for text. I can also have hard cover books with custom dust jackets – very professional looking! And all of this comes at a very reasonable price: USD 29.99 plus 6.99 shipping (for the first book of  multi-book order) for an 8.5×11 20-page, hard cover book with a custom dust jacket (front back and both flaps).

Ordering is a snap using my Apple Account (the same one I have for iTunes music downloads). Shipping is via FedEx. I thought this would be a problem for me here in Canada with merchandise crossing the border, but there are no extra shipping, brokerage or duty charges (SSSHHHHHH – don’t tell the government, but they aren’t even collecting PST and GST!!). And get this – books I upload on a Sunday afternoon arrived at my door here in southern Ontario on Thursday around noon – talk about FAST! I can also track the books online from their origin in the Memphis, Tennessee area. Amazing, truly amazing!!

Making a Book

Books can be made as easily as:

  • selecting the photos in iPhoto;
  • clicking on the “Book” icon at the bottom of the iPhoto window;
  • selecting the size and style you want;
  • clicking on Autoflow for iPhoto to assemble the photos automatically;
  • adding a title and captions;
  • clicking on “Buy Book” and inputing your details.
"Formal" theme - from my Lake Superior book

While all of this can be accomplished in as few as 10 minutes, you will need to spend a while longer to truly take advantage of all the custom features. This list will give you an idea of the work flow I use in creating a book:

  1. Select a few photos and click “Book” at the bottom of the iPhoto window;
  2. Add more photos by selecting and dragging them from the iPhoto window to the icon of your book in the left panel;
  3. Click on the book icon in the left panel. Place each photo into the book by dragging them one-by-one from the top “filmstrip” view and dropping each onto an image placeholder(s) on each page.
    • Be sure to put the photos into a chronology or in an order that tells a story;
  4. Choose individual page layouts and a cover layout;
  5. Choose page background colour or  full photo background which can be left as it or lightened to go behind text;
  6. Edit & crop photos as needed (by double-clicking or selecting “Adjust” at the bottom of the window);
    • I tend to edit (colour balance, enhance, drop etc.) all my raw files in Adobe Camera Raw then convert them to full-resolution, highest quality jpegs for import into iPhoto, so they already tend to be optimized.
    • If you are shooting jpegs, be sure to shot at maximum size and resolution (minimum compression) so that they may be used as full-sized images in a photo book or calendar.
  7. Tweak the size and/or view of photos using the pop-up window or by Ctrl-clicking (“Fit photo to frame size” or not);
  8. Write and format descriptive text for the captions, dust jacket, title page and/or  chapter pages;
  9. Select the font style and sizes for the titles, subtitles and various text elements:
    1. Click on “Settings” and a whole host of global options is provided; or
    2. Use Command-T to bring up the font palette – this extremely powerful for setting title and sub-title fonts, font colour and drop shadows (BTW this is a feature not given in iPhoto, but built into the Mac OS yet available for iPhoto);
  10. Tweaking the descriptive captions;
  11. Proofread;
  12. Proofread again (preferable by someone else and/or from back to front);
  13. Proofread and check for the last time (seriously – any errors are forever!).

If this isn’t enough customization, you can even switch themes if the one you’ve chosen is not working for you. Before you do so, though, I would suggest duplicating your current book (select the book in the left column of iPhoto > Control-click to get the pop-up menu > choose “Duplicate”). That way if layouts or type are messed up in the change (due to differences in layout from theme to theme) you won’t lose the hard work you’ve put into the book thus far.

The trick with iPhoto is to spend some time playing so that you get to know all the possible features. In fact, I would suggest choosing 20 or so photos at random and creating a “Practise Book” first. Make all your mistakes there while learning the skills to produce a truly beautiful book. Good luck and have fun! The results will be truly rewarding.

Tanzania Book – just in time for Christmas!

Tanzania - a fine art book of photographs by Terry A. McDonald

I’m just putting the finishing touches on my new book: Tanzania. It is a fine art book of photographs portraying the grandeur of Tanzania, its wildlife and some of the people who live there. My Introduction reads:

Using words alone, I find it impossible to accurately describe a wondrously complex country like Tanzania. While the photographs in this book portray the “Northern Circuit” they are representative of much of the country.

In every way it is a beautiful place, but it is also depressing, straight-forward yet enigmatic, inspiring yet frustrating, challenging yet easy-going. The romantic in me celebrates the wide-open landscapes and wildlife that are little changed in centuries – what Canada once was. The realist in me sees a people hampered by challenges much greater than their economy can solve. Yet Tanzanians are filled with the joy of community and friendship and a joie de vive unparalleled here in Canada. I lament the rapid changes fraught with conflict and tension, yet I yearn for Tanzanians to live their lives free of the afflictions that cause such hardships.

As a writer, this is as far as I go; I hope my photographs can more clearly reveal the grandeur of this great and wondrous country.

– Terry McDonald
November 2009

Tanzania is a beautiful, limited run, 8.5 x 11.25″, 46-page hard cover book with dust jacket and costs just $115 – including delivery  – an ideal Christmas gift for anyone who appreciates great photography and the wonders of Africa.

Featured in the book are images Mount Kilimanjaro, Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, the Rift Valley including Ol Doinyo Lengai and Lake Natron, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. As well, I’ve included photos from the bomas of our Maasai friends Kalanga and Baraka showing their extended family. This was a very special time and place for us as their homes are in the real porini (wilderness) north of Monduli near Kitumbeini and the Matisiwi Escarpment – a spectacular area.

Anyone who has travelled to Northern Tanzania would not only recognize the places shown, but will begin to see these wonderful lands in a new light.

New Web Gallery, sponsored by Oxycodone

Last week I returned from 10 days of backpacking with Kerry Little in the Gargantua area of Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, all thanks to oxycodone. I love northern Ontario: the rock, the trees, the lakes – spectacular! We didn’t hike far, but it got us away from people and into that picturesque beauty of the Canadian Shield.

Every time I go hiking, I like to take with me, among other things, some oxycodone pills. I’ve learn in time that it always comes handy to have them. Oxycodone is a painkiller that not only helps like tylenol with minor pain, but it also helps a lot to fight nerve pain or even a broken bone pain. I like to carry it with me because you never know when and accident could happen. If you are wondering where can i buy oxycodone online, just click on the link for more information about the uses of oxycodone and their payment methods.

Now – have a look at my Web Gallery and feel free to leave your comments below.