Five Tips for Designing Your Photography Website

In Monday’s post, I discussed the tendency of photographers to create websites that have lots of bells and whistles, but that don’t necessarily put the priorities and interests of their audience first. Here are five tips for designing a website with your customer in mind:

1.   Mimic the real world.

If you are a wedding photographer, the look and feel of your site should be similar to a wedding album. It should have the softness and warmth to reflect that event. If you are an artist, your site should be similar to viewing images in a gallery. The backgrounds should be clean and non-distracting — just as if you were viewing photographs on a wall. Remember, your audience is used to looking at images in a particular way and you do not want to make them uncomfortable looking at your work.

2.   Transition is important.

The transition from one image to another should be simple, quick and non-distracting. Soft blends or dissolves are fine. Wipes, smears, revolving boxes etc. interfere with the viewer’s tempo. It is also important that the time between one image and the next be minimal. A dissolve should not take more than a second. A quick cut has a somewhat brutal effect and should be used with caution.

3.   Flexibility is vital.

Going from one image to the next is important, but navigation is key. Most buyers, gallery owners and clients like to flip back and forth between images. They do not always go in a straight line and your site design should consider this.

4.   Plan site architecture first.

The site architecture should be considered first as part of your initial design process. Your navigation bar, page set-up, and flow should be planned from the start. Professional designers do not always have a clear picture of how the navigation and flow should work in your specific business. They need guidance!

5.   Different browsers show different pages.

My browser is set up to show my fonts as Verdana 12 point but my neighbor’s may be set up to show them as Times 9 point. My fonts on a Mac show up smaller than if they were seen on a Windows system. It is important to test your site on both operating systems and with as many browsers as possible. If you want your site to look the same on all platforms, make sure you or your designer knows how to use cascading style sheets. It’s not that difficult to learn, but it sure helps if you want consistency.

This should get you off to a good start in designing a website or working with a designer. You don’t always have to follow all the rules — but make sure when you break them, it’s for a good reason.

11 Responses to “Five Tips for Designing Your Photography Website”

  1. "They do not always go in a straight line and your site design should consider this."

    Unless I'm misreading your intent, this is _very_ difficult if not impossible. Yes, you can put a set of thumbnails to one side and people can click on any thumbnail to view the photo.

    But if you have more than 10-12 thumbnails, the page gets extremely unwieldy and it would be even more unwieldy to have links to every photo on every page.

    As to different browsers, that's why we have CSS. You can not achieve the identical look in every one of them, but you can specify fonts and elements that will look close enough to not matter.

    I do agree about transitions. The vast majority of free or cheap slideshows concentrate on showing how clever their programmers were - carousels, snapshot walls, revolving photos... It's simply awful. People come to your site to see the photos, not to watch them revolving.

    And here's another tip: find a slideshow that pre-loads the photos. There's nothing worse than clicking on Next and then waiting for the next photo to load. Depending on your server and the file size, the wait can be irritating enough to chase the people away from your site.

  2. Good advice. I just updated my website and figured many of these things into it's design. It took me many hours and a crash course in CSS but I think it turned out OK.

    Sometimes I also feel it's good to inject a little bit of your personality into it.

  3. I was always taught the principle of "don't make me think". If someone has to think about how to navigate your website then it's failed. Also, inject some of your personality into it. If you like what you see then you'll attract clients that see things the same way as you.

  4. Also, don't use Flash, no matter what they tell you.

  5. Mr. Saxe, what on earth made you feel qualified to write not one but two articles about photographer specific web design. Your website is an absolute disaster lacking good design principles, style, and organization.

    You should have hired an experienced designer to build your website and interviewed some expert designers before writing these articles.

    How do expect anyone to take your advice as credible with the way your site looks?

  6. Nice Flame. My two articles were specificaly directed to the mechanics of web design. I usually avoid all refrences to specific design principles from a visual perspecive because i think such comments are presumptous. I always avoid referring to specific designs or designers because i believe such comments are in bad taste. I hope you have a better day tomorrow.

  7. Mr Saxe, I am glad that you have a great blog that is reaching an audience, but I would like to say that your web design advise belies your knowledge base on web design, based on your own personal site as an example. I think your website does not exemplify what's good about a website.

    There are a good number of things that I can point out to illustrate my point. To start, the navigation of your site is poor and the design of the web space is poor. Those are just only two basic weaknesses of your site. I can go on, but I will not.

    I think that if you are going to offer advise on this sort of thing, your site should at least exemplify excellence in the areas that you mentioned.

    I think an audience would be better served by you explaining the process and the approach or the mindset that they should have when considering a website. Tell them what clients like and what they dislike, so that they can think strategically about web design.

  8. @david. listen to the voices of your audience. don't just shrug it off. if people are saying the site isn't designed well and it's a little ironic to present such an article on here.

    Anyway, back to your points, and I realise I'm echoing what others have said, but.

    "If you are a wedding photographer, the look and feel of your site should be similar to a wedding album. "

    I disagree. wedding album designs tend to be worse than websites, and taste here is subjective.

    Regardless, there is no reason that websites should mimic books or other physical objects or pre existing presentation methods. This is a computer, not a book or a gallery wall.
    For too long websites have been about replicating the experience you get on gallery walls and books, now is the time to break free of that broken system and look to present images in a new way and give people a new experience which they can't get elsewhere.

    Flash did come about as part of a tool to help this, but sure it's been overused and is now simply no longer required when you have java script frameworks which are able to bring much of the animations that flash could.
    and now the only reason to not use flash is it's lack of support on a good proportion of devices.

    "My browser is set up to show my fonts as Verdana 12 point but my neighbor’s may be set up to show them as Times 9 point."

    This i'm afraid is simply a thing of the past. whilst I agree that you should test the site on multiple platforms, a good site design will specify fonts for the browser to use and should never be left to pick up whatever the default font is on the users system. this is quite sloppy design work. Fonts are an integral part of the process and should be treated with as much respect, rather than forgotten.

    "Most buyers, gallery owners and clients like to flip back and forth between images. They do not always go in a straight line and your site design should consider this."

    This is a strange note. earlier you said "the sequencing of your photographs is of utmost importance" and now you're saying that this doesn't matter and you should allow people to create their own order?

    Lets face it, before you do any of this, you need to work out who your target audience is, what the purpose of the website will be, what it's goals are, how it will achieve it's goals.

    All of this is more important than design. seriously, most photographers get a website because that's what other photographers have, and they are likely to try and mimic the designs of those same sites.

    But once you understand these things you can create a website which is more fit for it's purpose, you can create navigation which minimises user clicks before they get to key content, you can design it so it fits with the desired aesthetics of your target demographic.

    this may sound very business minded and this level of thought is what is missing for many.

  9. I do listen to the “voice of my audience” with great interest but I shrugged them both off (Marlon and Garfield) because those two flame artists not only happen to be Facebook friends (Wow! what a surprise!), but their criticism was negative and unspecific (and in the latter case poorly written). I would strongly suggest to them both, that if they presume to be experts on what constitutes good design, that they contact the editor of this blog and propose an article of their own to back up their statements or otherwise keep quiet on such matters.

    There is good criticism which is specific and addresses particular points, (such as yours) which I may or may not agree with but never-the-less I respect, and negative criticism (such as theirs) which I consider useless, self-serving and uncalled for. However it does serve one positive purpose in that it has given me a topic for my next post. I think I will write an article on criticism.

  10. Great advice. I need to redesign my site.

  11. Wonderful read David and great information. I think the key to a successful website design is functionality and easy navigation.

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