The fact that all photographers are in need of a website is a constant. What varies is the moment when you actually start considering the idea seriously. It is very unlikely that you think seriously about a website immediately after learning how to turn your camera on, but eventually, the idea will arrive. Today I want to share with you a story – the story of how I was able to build a website that I could be proud of sharing with the world.
How It All Started
I began shooting frames a little bit more than 10 years ago now, and back in those days, Flickr was the thing (well, actually I started posting my images on DeviantArt, but that's another story).
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Since I'd never had a Facebook page I was somewhat biased against posting photographs on social media. I only wanted to post through photography oriented social platforms, like Flickr. I remember then Flickr had the “regular” profile and the “Pro” one, some of my peers actually “invested” in the “Pro” option but I didn't see the point of doing that.
After Flickr, I stumbled into 1X.com, a beautiful platform for that time, but quite elitist and hugely exclusive. I even started hypothesizing that unless you became a paying member, you would never get featured in their galleries. Honestly, looking at my shots from those days, I was just way below their standards, so there was definitely no conspiracy there (just some ego). While dwelling between those photography oriented platforms the “personal website” bug started picking at me.
I was taking a lot of street photography-based images, but I wasn't aware that I wanted to dedicate my life to this genre. So I didn't know what I actually wanted out of my photography and all those existential crises that will happen when you don't have clarity started.
Although I was kind of confused by how the digital world worked, I knew one thing, I wanted something that offered me some autonomy and that was able to be shared with others as a professional asset.
Before going nuts with a paid service, I tried hard with some free solutions, but they all came with an annoying price to pay, the service-based domain name. This shuts down the professionalism in my opinion, but it was a fair price to pay.
The best solution I found next was Tumblr. It was highly visual and filled with weird characters (this was prior to Yahoo getting its claws into it of course), and they also had some sweet free templates that worked perfectly for me.
Then some other platforms like 500px and a fresh-looking version of 1X.com appeared. I was in for all of them. I even built an Ello profile for crying out loud. But there was still something missing, the huge benefit of having a properly built website.
My First “Paid” Website
I used to work as a hydraulic-parts-salesman between 2012 and 2014, right after that I changed jobs and began working for a branding and animation studio. The studio also built websites from time to time. Selling websites in Latin-America is quite a challenge, and with the delivered site we also gave our clients CMS (content management system) access for them to manage their own site. For display purposes, they asked me if they could use some of my photos, and I said “yes, but when the time comes, I'll have my website for free“, and so it happened.
I woke up one day in 2017 with an idea for my own website, so I “called in the favor”, and they just asked me to hand them my design. Even though I consider myself a pretty visual human being (and perhaps with a mildly educated sensibility), I don't have design skills myself. In academic terms, I have always been closer to the social sciences fields rather than the design world, but I had an idea of what I wanted. So, I designed the visual of my website (landing page and internals) in Microsoft Excel (yep). The site was developed in a week or so, and I couldn't be happier, the site looked gorgeous!
The Problem of a Poorly Written CMS
The CMS worked well, but it had some issues like “mysterious bugs”, “no further development” and some “suicidal tendencies”. The thing that made me move to a solid paid service was a problem this locally based service had after some dumb hack. Out of nowhere in December 31st 2017, some of the sites were “infected”, and some clients freaking out since some of the content and photos I previously sold them were redirecting their traffic to “malware” – yep crazy disaster. So, I started 2018 with a fresh new website that I built like in 2 hours prior to New Year's Eve dinner. I won't sponsor them by saying who they are, all I can say is that they “build beautiful websites”.
And since then, I couldn't be happier since I can actually share my highly curated portfolio through a website that makes me smile each time I hit my own URL.
Website ≠ Social Media
Social Media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become so popular that people actually think that they are the Internet and therefore they don't need a professional website for showcasing their work. This is absolutely wrong for so many reasons, but the main one is because a website is an asset, and assets should be in our hands rather than third parties. We don't know if Mr Zuckerberg will decide to cancel Facebook and Instagram tomorrow. We should be the owners of our content and there is no further discussion about it.
So When Should You Build A Website?
I don't advise people to build a website right after learning how to expose correctly. Personally speaking, I think that the best moment for building a website is right after you've found your own style and it can be showcased in a consistent way. Before that, you should be more worried about finding your own voice than showing it to the world.
Is it Worth It?
Absolutely, our portfolios are our most valuable assets, and being able to showcase them through a website that responds to the logic of photography is absolutely priceless.
I hope that this personal story is useful for many photographers out there. It isn't the best road to take but is my personal experience about why having a website you can be proud of is important.