Luminance 2012, PhotoShelter's conference happening this September, is quickly approaching, and…
Alexandru Vita can tell you a thing or two about designing a PhotoShelter website. An experienced web designer with a serious fervor for photography, Alex is one of PhotoShelter’s four “Certified Consultants” — a select group of PhotoShelter members who know PhotoShelter inside and out, and who can be hired to help you get your website launched, as well. We sat down with Alex recently to talk a little bit about his success as a Certified Consultant, what he feels are the biggest red flags for any photography website, and why he chose to work with PhotoShelter to truly hone his design skills.
“My passion for photography started it all,” Alex tells us. With a degree in computer science, Alex recalls spending many late nights studying things like lighting, composition, marketing, and of course, web design — anything to feed his combined passion for photography and design. He signed up for PhotoShelter in 2008 and hasn’t looked back since. “As a photographer you get the complete package with PhotoShelter: great image management, simple-to-use selling and pricing of images, and good customizable templates, just to name a few,” says Alex. But what really sold him on the service was PhotoShelter’s manual customization capabilities. “How a powerful structure can be modeled into specific designs… this is what really got me,” he says.
Since becoming a part of the Certified Consultant program, Alex has gathered experience working on over 100 unique projects, both small and large, solely dedicated to PhotoShelter members. But it’s his understanding that every project is distinct that has led him to treat his work with the keen eye and attention to detail his clients really want and need. “I’ve learned to not just create shiny websites to showcase images, but to make the needed compromises,” Alex tells us. “My experience has taught me to try to focus on the big picture — to solve any usability problems that may be stopping visitors in their tracks. That’s why collaboration has become such a huge part of how I work now, and I’ve gotten great results.” And with that in mind, Alex makes sure his clients come to him with their full vision, even if it may be accomplished in steps. “When my clients have very specific changes in mind, I recommend they take some time to gather a comprehensive list of everything they would like to see, and then send it over all at once. Batching always helps productivity and usually cuts down significantly on email time, as well as on time spent opening and closing files, software, connections, etc. to make minor changes.”
Given his experience as a consultant with PhotoShelter, Alex has also learned to quickly spot and diffuse some of the major photography website red flags he often encounters. It sounds simple, but one of the first things he looks at is whether or not the photographer’s contact information is available and easily accessible. “Making your contact info hard to find on the site, or missing altogether in rare cases, is a big one for me,” says Alex. “If the phone number and/or email address can be displayed on every page of the site, in the footer or sidebar, it makes it all the more easier to get contacted.” Another issue Alex will rush to correct is poor site navigation. Making sure visitors can easily find what they’re looking for is another seemingly simple tip, but one Alex finds many photographers overlook. This often comes up when a client is either stuck with an older design, or they’ve chosen a template that is too basic for their full body of work and what they want to do with their site. Again, what may seem like pretty elementary things to some — making sure customers can find what they need and that they know how and where to contact you — really can be the make or break for your site and your reputation.
Today, Alex receives about 10-20 requests from potential, new, or current PhotoShelter members every month. Most of these are for full site designs from photographers looking for their first online “home”, or experienced users looking for a website overhaul — those who want to take advantage of new technologies and what PhotoShelter has to offer. But while Alex continues to excel at helping his clients cull that perfect look and feel out of a website, that’s not all they’ll get from him. Alex can be hired to help you with anything PhotoShelter — SEO, ecommerce, basic workflow, even recommendations on which specific PhotoShelter tool to rely on for your particular use-case. And an added perk to hiring Alex? The wisdom he has acquired as both a photographer and designer in his time studying, practicing, and working at both:
“You need a lot of passion to be in photography — it’s hard work! But I see many people very concerned about gear and technique, partly neglecting all the other required aspects: figuring out what their niche is, learning how to properly price, market and sell their images, etc.
This is a business, and I believe photographers need to treat it as such. Even if they’re not large agencies with huge marketing budgets, solo photographers should still learn basic business principles: planning, defining their unique selling proposition, market research, invoicing. This is really hard, too, and may be out of the comfort zone for many. It keeps photographers away from their cameras, but the benefits eventually outweigh the efforts. This is how they will get more and better opportunities to display their photography skills.”
Alex also makes sure to drive home just how important it is to get your site right when starting out. He says a lot of photographers feel like a flashy site with a lot of bells and whistles will help them succeed immediately and solve their problems, but that isn’t necessarily always (or even often) the case. “Photographers should always be armed with patience, of course,” says Alex. “But switching up the website to something that just looks ‘super cool’ isn’t always the right move. I feel minimalistic and clean really is the way to go, and it’s important to get a few things right as early on as you can: display only your best work, clearly explain what you do well, and make sure your contact information is front and center.”
To see more examples of Alex’s amazing website overhauls and PhotoShelter integrations, or to hire him to help with your own unique project, check out the PhotoShelter Customizations page of his website. Alex does a stellar job of outlining his process and exactly what you can expect out of your time with him here.