I am often asked to look at photographers' web sites, and I thought you might be interested in reading some of my observations. (I am outlining this essay during a Friday night high school football game—if you'll permit me to go off on a tangent. The bands are often playing old songs like Louie, Louie, Hang on Sloopy and Hey Baby. All the kids know these songs, which would be the equivalent of my high school band playing stuff from the 1920s!) At any rate, there are some common problems with many photographers' web sites that, if you have done any surfing at all, you'll recognize.
Poor work: The most important item is rather obvious. The site should show work worthy of being published for all to see. Admitting some subjectivity here, there is an abundance of poor photography displayed on the internet. It would be fine on an informal personal page, but looks overblown on a formal, well designed web site. Of course, the photographer thinks it is good work so we have a conundrum!
Slow pages: You don't need to show everything you ever photographed on one page. Similarly, too many graphics, large logos, etc. all slow the downloading of a page. Pages that require a lot of scrolling should be divided in two unless they are mostly text. People will simply leave your site if it's too slow.
No thumbnails: There are some sites that show screen-filling photographs with an arrow to the right or left at the bottom of the page. You click on the right-hand arrow to see the next image and wait for it to download, then you do the same and wait for the next one, etc. It's far better to see a page of a number of smaller images, and you can choose which ones you want to see instead of creeping through the site one photograph at a time.
Not big enough: When you click on a photograph to enlarge it, it should really be enlarged! Those sites, usually constrained by frames, that only take photographs up to, say, four inches across can't really communicate the detail that is so important to our medium. Also, let your photographs be sharp; some people, for paranoid reasons, soften their work for the net. No one worries about the tack sharp printing in fine photography books, and no one is going to mistake images printed off the net for originals.
Pompous artist's statements: Get rid of those long, rambling poorly written statements that take you days to write and end up saying nothing of substance. The worst offenders are landscape photographers; no one gains oneness with the universe by looking at your picture of a rock. People really say things like this! Most all these statements I read are all similarly metaphysical and preposterous.* Often artists statements are indeed necessary, but sometimes simple facts or biographical information will suffice. Assuming he would hear something profound, an interviewer once asked the late Imogen Cunningham what thoughts go through her mind when she trips the shutter. She replied that she simply thinks to herself, "I got it!"
Some tips: Here are a few quick tips which may be helpful. 1. In the spirit of the above paragraph, keep titles simple and straightforward, like a one or two word description, a place and a date; stay away from the schmaltz. 2. You don't need an expensive image editing program like Adobe Photoshop. I use Paint Shop Pro, and it works just fine. 3. Links are the name of the game on the net. If you have a page of suggested links for your visitors and list a certain gallery, your site will turn up as one of the choices when people run a search for that gallery (some search engines read all the text on a site's pages, and others read a page's meta tags). 4. Visit the Web Sites that Suck site or buy their book. I would like to link to examples of bad web sites the way these guys do, but I don't want to hurt any feelings! On the other hand, for a good example of a photographer's web site, take a look at Kerik Kouklis' site.
In conclusion, having your work and supporting information out there on a web site is an exciting, wonderful form of communication. Keeping your site well organized, pleasant to look at and well linked should bring on the hits. Have fun! (September 29, 1998)
*Below is an entertaining word exercise (which actually can be done for any field of endeavor). To achieve the usual jargon used in these landscape photographer artist's statements, place any three words in the table together, placing a word from the first row first, one from the second row second and one from the third row last.
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