Speaking on Photographer Websites

Last week I was asked by the American Society of Media Photographers to speak about web design, specifically on portfolio based sites for photographers. I was brought in, certainly because of our vast experience creating portfolio based websites for photographers, but also to counter the presentations of our largest competitors in this realm, Livebooks and SiteWelder.

Since I can’t and won’t compete with them on price, I was a bit nervous about the conversation, however, what I could share and what I ultimately did was grab the audience’s attention. And that is exactly the difference in service that we offer. While my colleagues at Livebooks and SiteWelder gave great presentations on all of the technology, ease of back end adjustments, and uploading they offer, the room sat pretty quiet and unenthusiastic.

Guess how the art directors and graphic designers at the other end reviewing these photography websites feel? Equally unenthusiastic.

Unless your point of view and work is as memorable as, say, David LaChapelle’s, sometimes you need that little extra concept, angle, or hook to put your name top-of-mind. Even better, why not be the photographer that art buyers are passing around the office because they want to share this cool website they saw this morning. This is the kind of reaction we aim for.

In fact, the services we offer extend far beyond web design into how you are presenting yourself overall. What do you want to be known for? How are you going to market yourself online, in print, and in person to achieve that? We work with out clients to create a 360 degree marketing plan to achieve those goals.

The example I used in our presentation was a recent re-branding effort we completed for James Porto Photography. Jim used to be known for his amazing surreal photography skills before Photoshop was a household name. When he came to MSLK, his imagery was dark, and often very techy. Young art directors saw him as another passé tech guy. Jim needed to convince them to see him as the visionary creative he is, not just a pair of hands.

We worked with Jim to first determine the types of projects he wanted to land and the things he did best and then gave him an assignment. A fictitious story to shoot that would inspire lazy art buyers to just pick up Jim’s great ideas for their next ad campaign. Our story was called “subway love” and involved Jim’s new-found passion for working with fire.

From there we divided his work into two categories, the Real, which included his work with fabulous theater companies such as Radio City and The Blue Man Group and the Unreal, which included Jim’s ability to create art directors’ fantastic visions that don’t exist yet.

These categories become the fodder for everything that we created for Jim and were reinforced in everything that he touched — from the overall navigation on his website, to the email marketing and direct mail pieces that followed. This clarity of purpose and mission allowed Jim to separate himself from the pack and be known for something.

Deciding whether to make your website background pink or blue, or to put the thumbnails across the top or the bottom will never give you that clarity of purpose. Only integrated strategy and design can make delivering this message look effortless.

The question photographers everywhere have to ask is do they believe in themselves enough to take the leap. Perhaps the price of entry is high these days by comparison. Hell, you can get a website for $250 right? I guess that’s what separates the proverbial men from the boys. We’ve found that the extra money invested in how you present yourself will come back many, many times over monetary, as well as, in interest level in the assignments landed.