“Dare to be different” we have all heard this statement before. I think the first time I heard it was when I was about 13 years old and there was this weird kid at school. He moved in from another district and he dressed differently, talked differently and was just a little weird until you got to know him. His name was “Taz,” or at least that’s what he wanted to be called. He was a good student, never started trouble, but he would sure end it if it came to him. He was only in our school for about a month and then he left, it was that parents going through divorce thing.
I remember when people troubled him about the way he dressed, talked or music he listened to, he would always smile and say “dare to be different.” He even said it to a teacher once and I think that was the day it really stuck in my head. Of course, since then I have heard the saying many times, but I always remember where I first heard it.
In terms of photography I have heard it over and over to the point it is more or less a giant cliché and I jokingly loathe photography clichés. I loathe them because most often they are coming from a photographer who is trying to sound so prolific. There are thousands of YouTube videos with photographers boasting about photography lighting and say things like “I see light in f/ stops” or I love this one “its all about the light.” And then every so often the “dare to be different” comes flying out (audience gasping and bowing to the higher power of this photographer). Somehow a when a cliché is released it is supposed to be akin to a wizard releasing a ball of fire, he just conjured up out of thin air.
Now with all that said; If we are told as photographers “Dare to Be Different” and the word coming from some great photographer who is greater than us… Why the hell do they want you to have your website look like the next guys website? Apparently when it comes to photography websites, we are supposed to follow a format and this great format will bring you all the fames & fortunes you desire. However, this whole bag of hogwash comes with a discount code followed by “just follow the link below and head on over to” Squarespace or whatever the latest flavor of hosting is that month.
Of course, I am being a little cynical here, but I am also being serious. If an artistic field where “dare to be different” is the mantra and I really whole heartedly think we should try to be different to some degree or another, why should all the websites have this formula-based rule for appearance?
I designed my own website from scratch and I have no formal education in web design. I did however sit down and spend some time reading and watching videos about the do’s & don’ts of creating a website. I also looked at many other photographers websites. I took notes on the things I liked and the things I didn’t like. I decided “I can do this” and the biggest reason I can do this is because I like to create… and it would be cheaper than having someone else design it lol. But the feeling of creating it myself I think is what had me most excited.
I didn’t follow a lot of website building rules, and unlike the rules of photography; website design rules are always changing. However, the very first rule I did follow was, to ask myself “what do I want my website to do or say?” “What is the core purpose of this website?” After thinking about that for a while I decided that my website would be just a simple place for me to convey that “yes I am a photographer and here is what I do.” That is all I really need, although the powers to be say differently.
I think a lot of it is common sense, things like, use a good easy to read font, use colors that are easy on the eye and don’t clutter up the space with unnecessary graphics and other distractions. Put up content that really describes who you are and what you do. Most important is: all the content should be you and nobody else’s unless it was a collaborative project, definitely no stock photography. Also, you should most certainly have your own photo on the site as well as links to your favorite flavors of social media.
I say you should have a photo of yourself and I think this is really only for anyone who wants to be hired as a photographer. If your photography is strictly a hobby then a photo of you is optional. This was one of the things that bothered me when I was looking at photography websites and it still bothers me, that many so called “working photographers” have a website and they have no photo of themselves. You are a photographer and you don’t have a photo of yourself? I think anyone who is a working professional in a service or craft that deals with people up close and personal should always have a headshot or photo that represents them. This advice goes for medical professionals, insurance agents, attorneys and yes, photographers.
Creating my website was a lot of fun because I turned it into a personal photography project. I have posted here in the past that I truly believe in the power of personal unpaid projects. As long as you treat them as if they are a real paying job. Put importance on the project and a deadline. After the layout for the site was completed, I now had to decide on content. Again, all I wanted this website to do was let people know who I am and what I do. But I also wanted decent content. I had some decent content, but I wanted more. So that then became an ongoing never-ending project in and of itself, to come up with new and fresh content.
This image of Nicole was my flagship photo when my site first loaded. I love this image, it is a little over processed, however that is the look I was going for. I started the website in 2014 and kept this image up for almost two years. Then came the day I realized that I cannot keep the photo up forever and I need to create something new. So now I try to create something new every six months or so.
My opening home page has a gallery of about 12-14 of my most favorite images that I feel is a great representation of what I do. For the most part I mostly photograph people and I do a fair amount of compositing in Photoshop, so the opening gallery is just that, people and only people. I also have it set so you can advance to the next photo by using left & right arrow keys and it will default to a slideshow on its own.
I have a direct link to my Instagram that is very visible in the upper right of the slideshow and no other social media icons on the home page. I want people to know IG is where I like to hangout. But I do have one whole page of the website dedicated to my all my social media accounts and it is simply titled “Social.”
My “about me” page was very hard to write because I didn’t want it to come off too corny, so I had a good friend write the page and I really feel this was the best way to go for me. Maybe not for everybody, but for me it works. I have a wonderful photo of my wife and I and I am holding my camera. The photo was actually shot by a friend using her mobile phone and I really loved the photo, it works.
I try to keep the site clean and to the point, if you land on the home page and you’re ready to advance, from left to right at the top of the page is “Portfolio.” This page is simple with a gallery that has 42 of my nicest images and just below is a small gallery of the most recent wedding I shot. I update the wedding gallery with every wedding I shoot. I do not advertise to shoot weddings; however, I do shoot three to four wedding every year. Not too bad for somebody who doesn’t advertise to photograph weddings lol.
Next is the “About” page, then the “Contact” page. I feel this would be the most logical order if someone came to my page to hire me or at least contact me.
I land on the home page and I see the gallery of images, it has captured my interest so I will now click on the portfolio. I scroll through the portfolio page and now I think it would be time to see who this guy is and I click on the about page. There is a photo of the photographer and there is a very short statement in my own words. Then there is a more detailed statement about me, but not too long. If I were a viewer of my site and I was still interested then next logical move would be the “contact” page and if I was just browsing and wanted to poke around, well, then I have all the other stuff like a link to this blog, another gallery page, video page ect…
I do have a page dedicated to my copyright policy, here again is something nobody ever really talks about. Posting your copyright policy in not required as far as I know, but it sure can’t hurt. I think it would be extremely helpful if your images are ripped of and you end up in court to recover damages that are certainly due to you. After all I have all my copyright data embedded in the meta data of my images. In that meta data there is a web address that leads to my website.
When I look at my website, I truly feel it has everything I need to convey about what it is I do. I test this every so often by asking a friend or an acquaintance to go to my site and see if it does what it is supposed to do. Most often I get great feedback and sometimes I get constructive criticism and that is ok too.
I think the most people who come to my site are people who have received my business card. I know when I receive a business card from someone I want to go to there website and see what they do. I find this very interesting because I come from a time before the internet. In the old days someone gave you a business card and all you could do was save it and call them later. However today I feel as a photographer your website should directly relate to your business card. I even use the flagship image of the home page on the back of my business cards. In this day of “everybody is a photographer” I want people to know I am a serious photographer and I have put thought into what I do and how I am perceived.
While your website is a place to find out who you are and what you do, it is also an important piece of the many pieces that make up your brand and for this reason you do want to put some thought into the overall message your website is saying to the viewer. Your website is your digital ambassador of sorts and as we know first impressions are lasting ones. Another thing you need to be mindful of is “how fast your website loads” because nobody like to type in a web address and then have to sit and wait for the site to load.
I keep a constant check of my website, but in a subtle way. I use Chrome for my browser and I have my website set to be one of the opening tabs when my browser first opens. Once I see it, I know everything is good and I move on. Also, every few months or so I will run through the site to make sure all pages and images are loading properly and I will check that there are no broken links.
I use a Google Voice number so I never worry about having my phone number on the web. I have used this number for years and have never had a problem.
So, in closing; again, I would like to “dare to be different” make your site yourself. Think about it, but don’t overthink it. Keep it simple and to the point.