Flash Websites for Photographers, good idea or kiss of death?

Flash Websites for Photographers, good idea or kiss of death?

Flash is an interactive language used on many photographer websites to bring a level of interactivity and display options that until recently were not possible in HTML. Apple has refused to support Flash in the iPhone and iPad, and Flash has been beset with problems ranging from high CPU utilization to SEO problems.

Yet, Flash can still be found on 98% of personal computers.


The experts chimed in:

allender.jpgThad Allender is a photographer and multimedia producer based in Washington, D.C. He is the former multimedia producer for USA Today and the founder of Graph Paper Press, a web development company focused on creating tools and designs for creatives using WordPress.

There is a laundry list of reasons to abandon Flash.  Everyone knows that it doesn’t work on mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad, but that is merely a result of a bigger problem: Flash is proprietary and doesn’t adhere open web standards.  The web is moving away from it at a rapid speed because of advances in html, css, and javascript.

It’s easy to hate Flash, but in reality, we owe it a great deal of appreciation.  For years, there were few alternatives to Flash on the web: Browsers sucked, web standards were a new thing, and “Google” was a start-up, not a verb.   Flash filled a niche where the capability of web browsers fell short.  Fast forward a few years and now we have HTML 5, which introduces new ways of presenting multimedia nativity in the browser.  Times are changing, and so, we must change with it. 

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Here are a few additional reasons to avoid Flash:

  • Flash websites have terrible SEO.  Flash websites sometimes employ “black hat” techniques in an attempt to accommodate for bad SEO. Google will punish you for this.
  • Flash is a CPU hog and has well-documented security issues.
  • Flash was designed for mice, not fingers.

R.I.P. Flash.

critchlow.jpgWill Critchlow is the founder and chief strategist for the web design and optimization firm Distilled Ltd. He is regularly quoted in a wide range of media on the subject of SEO and internet marketing. Will is a Google Qualified Professional. 

Coming from an SEO perspective, I would counsel photographers (and anyone else) to avoid websites build entirely in Flash. From an SEO perspective, there is no issue with using rich media elements on a page in much the same way that you would include an image on a page, but you should seek to avoid including important text and, crucially, navigation. In short, Flash can provide great benefits within a portfolio, but use it sparingly and don’t make it crucial to the navigation or understanding of your website.

de-luna.jpgRoberto De Luna is an American photographer & photography editor. He has recently been featured in the Dutch art periodical Eyemazing, and also held a solo exhibition entitled “Facing West,” which was reviewed in New Yorker Magazine as “appealingly, deceptively casual.” Presently Mr. De Luna is the Photography Editor of Time Out New York. Mr. De Luna is the proud parent of a black & tan dachshund named Nacho. (photo by by Jolie Ruben)

When it comes to flash, there’s really only one word that comes to mind, and that’s LIMITING. For starters, there’s nothing more embarrassing than taking a photographer’s website to a creative director or editor in chief, and telling them to “Just ignore the TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC flash intro, and click on SKIP…”

If you have an animation style intro, or laboriously animated interface, I’m more apt to pass on this work. It’s not that I have a personal objection to this kind of aesthetic (which honestly I do, but that’s not the point) more so to say that if I can’t get your work in front of SOMEONE ELSE’S face rapidly and practically, It’s going to get lost in translation, or I’m not going to send it at all. It may sound harsh, but it’s the physics and reality of how many hours are in a day. If your site takes a full minute to load, that’s a full minute I could have been discussing your work with the art team.

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Furthermore, it’s just a fact that FLASH does not perform on the platforms I need it to, and on the platforms that creatives use most (iPhone, iPad, mac products). It’s frequent I’m having a meeting on the go with my iPad, and I simply can’t pull up your work, or when I’m at dinner with a creative director. Hate to break the news to you, but yes, I am looking at work @ 3AM on my iphone, and assigning work. And if I can’t see your work, there’s no way I can hire you. Keep in mind that if you have a flash site that you know and love, it’s not that hard to get a DRIPBOOK account, or some similar interface that will allow me to view your work on the go? Something to consider?

haggart.jpgRob Haggart is the former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine. He has received photo editing recognition from Graphis, American Photography, Society of Publication Designers, Communication Arts, American Society of Magazine Editors, Photo District News, and was chosen as part of the creative team of the year by Ad Week. He currently freelances as a Photography Director and runs APhotoEditor.com and APhotoFolio.com, a flash based portfolio service for photographers.

It’s hard to beat Flash for showing off photography. When I worked as a Photography Director I looked at thousands upon thousands of websites and I was always wowed by how well flash displayed photography. I also never heard anyone complain about it. That’s why I chose it as the main language for the sites I build now. It allows you to easily scale images, embed high end magazine and advertising fonts (legally), video playback is flawless (plus they can’t be easily stolen) and it’s compatible with older Internet Explorer browsers that are still extremely common. Additionally you can achieve the same search engine results with a flash site as you can with HTML (backlinks are the key here, not HTML).

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I’ve also seen HTML websites that are well done and look nice, so I’m not saying Flash is your only choice as a photographer, it really just depends on who your clients. If your clients are Photography Directors, Art Buyers, Art Directors, Creative Directors and Design Directors then you can expect that the majority of the sites they are looking at are built in Flash and they are not using google or iphones to hire photographers. And while the convenience of a one size fits all website might be appealing to many people, making an impact on the desktop in the competitive world of commercial and editorial photography should be your highest priority. In a recent interview photographer Andrew Eccles says ” I think if someone is seriously considering hiring you they’re going to look at the computer screen. I certainly wouldn’t hire a hair and make-up artist, or a prop stylist just by looking at their stuff on a phone.”

So, this leaves photographers who want to utilize the power of flash on the desktop only one choice when it comes to Apple’s iPad and iPhone: build dedicated sites for those devices. And, if you read between the lines, this is Steve Jobs intention with the ban on Flash. The devices are small, don’t have much bandwidth on ATT and have a unique touch screen. Websites on those devices should work differently if you want to give the users the best experience you can.

Regardless of your stance in HTML vs. Flash this is a wonderful time to be creating websites, because both camps are pushing each other to become better and new exciting devices for looking at photography are finally available. Until one emerges victorious and stays there long enough for the majority browsers to be updated, I’m staying in the middle.

sanschagrin.jpgGrover Sanschagrin is Vice President of Business Development and co-founder of PhotoShelter. An industry veteran, Sanschagrin, who started his career as a photojournalist, has vast experience with online productions including major roles with SportsShooter.com, ChicagoTribune.com and the Quokka Sports Network (including NBCOlympics.com and FinalFour.net). He has spoken at numerous industry conferences and universities with one goal: To educate photographers about the importance of building a successful online marketing strategy that will result in more assignments, more image sales, and less time in front of a computer.

A photographer website built entirely in Flash has become a liability, not an asset, and should be avoided. Photographers with Flash-based websites should start formulating their evacuation plan now, because those with these websites will soon find themselves losing ground to those who don’t.

The evidence is clear. Flash-based websites suffer SEO penalties, run slowly on some computers, don’t run at all on iPhones and iPads, are statistically proven to attract fewer inbound links, are nearly impossible to conduct image archive searches and e-commerce, and are much more expensive to design, produce, and change. In an attempt to get around some of these limitations, elaborate work-arounds (like “shadow HTML sites”) have been implemented.

These workarounds clearly prove that, on it’s own, Flash is not a sufficient solution for the needs of a photographer today.

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Times have changed. In the old days (circa 2007), we designed and built websites for humans. Photographers wanted to inspire other humans (an editor, a bride or a parent), to pick up the phone and a give them an assignment, or buy an image. Today, we need to build websites for humans AND machines — search engines. The same site must serve both.

In addition, humans have also grown to expect more from a website. They want to be able to view your content on their own terms and chosen format (not just a web browser, but an iPhone, iPad, with an RSS reader.) They want to be able to share your content on social networks – yet I know how pissed off I get when trying to link to a photo in someone’s portfolio, only to see it bears the same URL as every other page on your website. And then, a website without search and e-commerce capability is loaded with wasted opportunities…its just window shopping.

Flash is no longer a requirement for a beautiful website, and those who lock themselves inside of a Flash-only world have a website that’s the equivalent of an online time capsule from 2007.

Dump your Flash website.

schmidt.jpgMike Schmidt is psyched about storytelling, graphic design, motion graphics, interactive design and video production. When he’s not building interactive multimedia audio and video graphics packages for clients like the New York Times, and the Open Society Institute, he can be found teaching the next generation of visual communicators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he lectures as an Adjunct Professor. Mike worked as a videographer, editor, production manager, television producer, motion graphic designer, web designer, flash animator and multimedia art director before launching his own studio, Mohawk Street.

Photographers should avoid using Flash in their websites most of the time. Flash is great for immersive experiences and interactivity, but bad at search engine optimization and mobile devices (an obvious growth area on the web). A photographer’s website should not be an immersive experience like the Jim Carrey Site: http://www.jimcarrey.com/ because the goal of a photographer site is different. You want to show your photography in a way that the user can both meander through your work and hunt for a specific image at the same time. Users should see how awesome you are and want to hire you or license your work … so navigation, SEO, and image search become paramount.

The thing we used to use Flash for primarily on photographer sites was slideshow players and creative navigation solutions. At the time there was no other option for slideshows. Now there are many. As for creative navigation, research has shown time and again that users are easily confused when you deviate from basic navigation standards. Unless the navigation is the thread weaving a story together, the best way to get viewers to engage with your site is to present great content in a familiar framework.

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What about originality? Design can convey mood and emotion, our brains are hardwired to respond to color, texture, type and image and derive an emotional response. Your images are going to be the driving force in the mood of your site, so the design should support the images, not compete with them. Good design on the web is not dependent on Flash … instead it is the skill and execution of the designer. The originality should come from your work.

So when should you use Flash? Flash is still best for interactive content that goes beyond the slideshow or navigation. For creative storytelling that combines images, video, type, information graphics and interactivity, use Flash. Then stick that Flash content into your HTML site. But don’t stop there! Make sure you have a transcript or abstract written up that sits in the HTML next to the Flash content, so the search engines can find it and the mobile users will bookmark it to come back to later when they are on their computers.<br><br><br>

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This article was written by

Product Manager at PhotoShelter, photographer at chrisowyoung.com

There are 19 comments for this article
  1. peakaction.wordpress.com at 3:12 pm

    I have the benefit of looking at this situation from the three angles that matter most: as a web designer, as a photographer, and as a viewer, and all three of my professional opinions agree that it’s time for Flash to go. Yes, we owe Flash a great deal for doing its part to make the web more dynamic, but the technology is obsolete. When you get down to brass tacks, there are simply better and more efficient ways of doing the same thing. Web-based gaming is probably the only area where Flash is still King. Flash sites are horrible for SEO, processor intensive, and depending on their designer, usually do a pretty good job at wasting the viewer’s time with unnecessary animation and — well — flash. I happen to agree completely with Steve Jobs’ well-publicized opinions about Flash and support his decision to not allow Flash on iPhone OS powered devices.

  2. J at emilie inc at 3:33 pm

    Pretty limited and biased view here. Should be about properly designed websites, instead you jump on the beat up flash bandwagon…too bad. A properly designed flash site suffers no SEO drawbacks that we have seen: search Maine Wedding Photographer and we are on top of page one—we get a ton of inquiries daily because of that, as well as other key searches. Our html site didn’t even do that back in the day. The site is also able to be navigated intuitively by visitors, who spend almost 6 minutes on average looking around. Embedded video players help with that I think…as it grabs their attention and keeps them. OH…and the site looks great on an iPad and iPhone!! Hit the plus sign and add it to your apps! On it’s own right now HTML5 isn’t even seen on all browsers?! It may be the way to go down the road, but I agree with Rob’s last sentence: “Regardless of your stance in HTML vs. Flash this is a wonderful time to be creating websites, because both camps are pushing each other to become better and new exciting devices for looking at photography are finally available. Until one emerges victorious and stays there long enough for the majority browsers to be updated, I’m staying in the middle.”

  3. Johan at 3:52 pm

    No expert here but, cant you combine them and have the best of both worlds? I respect Nick Onkens work and love his almost new web site and I think he is using some kind of combo where he utilizies flash mainly of course, but he frames it somehow inside a standard page using various scripts. I would assume by having both flash and html you get some SEO at least. Also, you should notice that if you combine your Flash with a blog somehow you also get good SEO. A really professional flash site with no stupid intro stuff always beats a standard blog / html anyday. Just my 2 cents.

  4. Dan at 2:58 am

    Have you many Flash components in this site, or not? I think Steve Jobs has a lot of interests to destroy Flash, nothing else. Apple is (generally) the most closed system, the most expensive and the less efficient… worse then Windows. That is not a small thing.

  5. Ken Kaminesky at 3:12 pm

    A good site is a good site and Flash sites can have good SEO especially if combined with an HTML blog that is updated regularly. Getting your blog to lead traffic to an easy to navigate and well designed Flash website in my opinion is using both technologies to their fullest potential. Find a designer who understands a photographer’s needs and don’t be wowed by bells and whistles that many Flash designers want to incorporate into a site. Your site should be a showcase of YOUR talent as a photographer not a showcase for your web designer’s “mad” skills. Flash gets a bad rep because of the fact that too many people use those horrible flash intros that no one wants to sit through. But just because you use Flash does not mean you need to have slideshows or intros. I have to agree that a combo of both HTML and Flash like Nick Onken’s beautiful site is perhaps the absolute best way to go but I’d like to know how much it cost. I’m very pleased with my Flash site. It is easy to navigate, the photos are scalable, the thumbs are easy to read and there are no animations or intros. It makes my photos look like you could walk right into them, I don’t think this could have been done with an HTML site. http://kenkaminesky.com/ http://kenkaminesky.com/blog/

  6. herrylusy at 4:23 am

    Here Information regarding flash which is provided to the users creates interest but if you add something more then it is best in its own. Just like websmartz which provides the users with effective flash designer which design awesome flash websites in seconds..

  7. Patrick Cavan Brown at 11:30 am

    I use a combo of both HTML and Flash. I designed and built my own site. I laid it out in Photoshop… Sliced it up and imported it into Dreamweaver. The galleries are built using SlideshowPro in Lightroom and imbedded into the webpage. My SEO is OK, though there are a lot of other things I could do to bring it way up. I wish Apple wasn’t so damn cocky and cared about their clients a bit more. Remember the days when photographers, designers and illustrators were their biggest fans, and Apple actually treated us with resect? Long gone are those days… the glossy displays and nose-up to Flash are proof. Boooooooo to Apple. Check out my website and tell me what you think: http://patrickcavanbrown.com http://shadowdetails.blogspot.com PatrickCavanBrown.com

  8. marlonrichardson at 3:21 pm

    A well designed flash site will not only rank well with search engines it can engage an audience better than a more static HTML5/CSS/javascript/Canvas website. The bias insinuation that all flash sites have long intros and lengthy animation for navigation is a bit sour grapes. Thousands of photographers have Livebooks websites and I’ve never noticed any of the complaints some of the contributors mentioned. They auto generate an HTML version of the website and Iphone/Ipad app for mobile users on the fly. Both of the later options provide an even better experience then an HTML website that “just works” on that device. I am a strong proponent of an open standard for the web based content – but not if it causes the total web experience to go backwards. HTML5 is no replacement for flash at the moment. Other than the video embed HTML call, we can’t do anymore in HTML/Javascript than we could do a year ago. For artists, flash websites seem to work better because of it’s uniform rendering of images and smooth transition loading that don’t seem to jerk around as much HTML rendering. I would say that websites with tons of content – i.e. Olson & Farlow, look and work much better in HTML. But websites that are meant to look simple – i.e. Brian Smith work more simply and smoother in Flash. FWIW – When I switched to flash website my traffic doubled, users stay on my site 3 minutes longer, and I have more inquiries.

  9. Stefan at 7:28 am

    @J at emilie inc: Your livebooks-website is not only flash-based for browsers that can display flash. livebooks too generates a html-based ghost page in the background (and since few days a new version for iphon/ipad) for browsers that can’t display flash, like iphones. That’s what you see at the iphone, not your flash-website. So your website isn’t a real flash-based site and the most of your ranking is generated by the html landing-pages in the background of your site.

  10. Gerald Holubowicz at 6:48 pm

    “Dump your Flash website.” Great post! Sure there’s still a place for Flash, but since Apple is working on an alternative, I’m not sure it’ll last for a long time from now. What about the photoshelter Flash player. Are you working on a JS slideshow? I’m more more a “No Flash on my webiste” photographer.Css3 is great, HTML5 is coming, jquery is becoming more & more powerful, I really don’t know why I should rely on an unsecured technology, to display my work.

  11. j amethe at 7:10 pm

    I was always against exclusively flash websites, but as a tool flash is useful, and of course Apple refusing to use flash because “it is not an open standard” is the very definition of hypocrisy.

  12. Ron at 7:28 pm

    I was quite dissapointed at the largely one-sided view in this post. More than anything else it made me question PhotoShelter’s ability to thoroughly weigh all options before making a business decision.

  13. Helder Cervantes at 10:47 am

    This is BS as far as I’m concerned. If you want one size fits all, just post your pics on Flickr. And don’t tell me recent html+css can achieve the same effect flash does because if you do, you don’t really know each technology’s capabilities. Plus, moving to HTML5 means dumping older browsers. Just move 1 version back on IE or Firefox and immediatly your site will look buggy. Did you see Alice for the Ipad (if not search youtube)? Great huh? I can do that whole thing on Flash in a week or less, and have it running on every windows, mac, linux, and android in the world, ONLINE!!! Because Stevie wants to turn the world against flash, it’s an AMAZING Ipad app that makes it (the ipad) the coolest thing in the world. You can have flash WITH SEO and look cool, you CAN deeplink if you do it right (which most out of the box photographer sites do), and you CAN have free alternatives to make sure your work gets everywhere, just by using flickr, facebook, whatever. There are simple solutions for everything these guys say about flash’s limitations. Done properly it’s not a CPU hog as you say it is. I say it’s still an extremely valuable tool, where you can make very cool things that you just can’t make anywhere else.

  14. marlonrichardson at 3:50 pm

    @Stefan in regards to J at emilie inc: Your livebooks-website is not only flash-based for browsers that can display flash. livebooks too generates a html-based ghost page in the background (and since few days a new version for iphon/ipad) for browsers that can’t display flash, like iphones. That’s what you see at the iphone, not your flash-website. So your website isn’t a real flash-based site and the most of your ranking is generated by the html landing-pages in the background of your site. —- You could not be more wrong. A properly coded Flash website can easily be indexed by google. I don’t have an alternate HTML version of my wedding photography website and I show up on page 1 for all the keywords I target. Many photographers all over the world have good flash websites that rank very well. In fact I would say almost all the photography websites that rank high seem to all be flash these days.

  15. Angel at 4:56 pm

    Anyone can write an article citing 90% of sources that back-up their point of view. It takes a big person to write an article looking at differing view points and achieving balance. It is no secret that Photoshelter hates Flash (saying it is very bad for SEO so, so frequently). Alas, the facts don’t bear this out. In addition, Flash makes it harder for images to be stolen. This fact alone would make this worth reading…yet it is mentioned nowhere. Could have been a great article….

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