As you can probably tell, things have changed a bit around here.
Just to give you the new 'lay of the land' here, I've created a new menu item ('Resources') that will lead you to my ongoing 'Photography Guide(s) to Alaska' and other tutorials. On the 'Photographs' pages, you can now view my entire (and ever evolving) photography catalog, and purchase prints from within the galleries. On the 'Downloads' page, I've placed my Fine Art Print Catalog and made it available as a free download, as well as download free desktop/tablet wallpapers (backgrounds). I've also started a new page, to show of my 'Recent Photographs' - it's been a busy year, and I'm really happy with what I've produced thus far:)
As with any new site or technology, there are likely to be growing pains, so I ask that you be patient with me while I iron out any kinks to be found. In fact, you can help, if you feel up to the challenge:) Just leave a reply in this blog post if you encounter any weirdness herein:)
FELLOW PHOTOGRAPHERS - If you are interested in what spurred this transition to a new website, and the platform it is built on, continue reading below:)
Over the past week, I have been working on this entirely new website. It started out as an experiment - I honestly didn't think a changeover would happen so quick.
For nearly 6 years, I've been designing my website off of the Wordpress platform. Wordpress is widely known for its flexibility. Similar to Photoshop, with Wordpress you are limited only by your own creativity.
Unfortunately, nearly "limitless flexibility" comes with its own set of challenges. In a platform that allows anyone to design plugins for niche uses, often times those plugins 'don't play well together'.
Sometimes, they don't even play well with themselves.
For photographers, plug-ins allow things like galleries, e-commerce, stats/analytics, video integration, etc. One thing I learned over the past 6 years is that plugins can make, or break, your website.
I got tired of them breaking mine.
I liked the built in stats/analytics features of Wordpress's own Jet Pack, but it frequently slowed my site down to a crawl. What does it say for a platform, when the core developer can't make its own plugin operate efficiently?
I liked the promise of Graph Paper Press's Sell Media plugins & extensions. They offer ecommerce-ready galleries and sales tools. Designed specifically for photographers, by... wait for it... coders. Now, they had good idea, but the delivery lacked on several fronts. Customer support and response, in my experience, was dismal. The plugins were only partially functional for my needs (not flexible enough), and were not user friendly at all. I simply couldn't wrestle that bear.
Around the same time that I was looking to sever myself from Graph Paper Press, I also ditched GoDaddy as a host. I had been with them for around 8 years (using Dreamweaver for website design prior to the Wordpress CMS (content management system), and my sites had always performed well. But suddenly, several months ago, my website got slower. Much.................slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwerrrrrrrrrr...
I used GoDaddy's own Wordpress plugin (1 of my 27 plugins...) to find out that the cause of the slowdown stemmed from three things: 1) the Jet Pack plugin, 2) the Sell Media plugin, 3) you guessed it - the server my site was hosted on was dragging my website down. Yep, GoDaddy's own plugin told me that GoDaddy was sucking the e-life out of my website. So I moved my hosting over to HostGator. I had been wanting to ditch GoDaddy for some time anyway - never liked the fact that the CEO of GoDaddy (Bob Parsons) is a frequent African hunting safari participant. I understand, and fully acknowledge the need for subsistence hunting & hunting for food, but trophy hunting (or hunters) will find no support from me. I'm seriously considering printing a series of bumper stickers: Have a small penis? Try trophy hunting! But that's a whole other rant...
Next up, I tried Photocrati. Truth be told, I had a very functional website with them. They offered the e-commerce solutions I was looking for, and a one-time buy-in (no subscription fees). I'm different from a lot of other photographers (different from most, probably), I was not looking for an all-in-one gallery/hosting/printing service, such as SmugMug. SmugMug produces some beautiful websites, but they don't offer two very important things (at least at the time of this writing): blogs or the ability to 'self-fulfill' print orders. They partner with online printing companies who handle the printing for everyone that uses their platform. I just happen to own one of the best printers on the market (the Epson Stylus Pro 9900), so why would I want to outsource my printing. For me, printing is another step in the process of creating my art. A step that I can't let someone else handle. Other photographers prefer to have someone else handle the printing of their photographs, and it works great for them. It's just not for me.
But Photocrati had its quirks too. Primarily there were some coding issues that displayed parts of the e-commerce 'shopping cart' incorrectly. It was still functional, but I didn't like the mis-information, and their support staff (which was quite good, by the way) never could get it solved perfectly. The other issue was in the site's appearance. It just looked a little dated. Like a website built 3 years ago. Our websites make a big impression. I didn't want to be held back by an aged design.
Two weeks ago, I decided to look around. Just to see if there were other options available. A friend had asked me my thoughts on SquareSpace, at dinner several weeks ago, and I really didn't know much about them. I had seen a few ads on tv lately, which I honestly thought was a bit odd... a website company advertising on tv? Weird.
But remembering my discussion and limited knowledge of SquareSpace, spurred me to look at their site. I was really surprised by what they had to offer! Yes, SquareSpace is a subscription service, and I'm not a big fan of that typically. But the functionality and the great themes quickly moved me past that hurdle.
What comes with a SquareSpace account? Well, pretty much everything I need. Blogs, e-commerce, gallery options, flexible themes, fast websites (so much faster than my wordpress-based sites!), SEO-friendly sites, social media integration, mobile friendly experiences, great analytics (and you can further track with Google Analytics) and they host your website on their servers. They have 'cloud' hosting, which is scalable, and (like everyone else that offers hosting) promise 'No Downtime'. It's still early on in our relationship, so we'll see if that turns out to be true. So far, so good.
I was able to start with one of their themes (Aviator), and build my new website, from the ground up, in less than 3 days. That impressed me. The administration-side of my site (the 'backend') was really easy to learn, and I love the simplified layout. The themes are really customizable, and for the first time ever, I am truly happy and proud of how my website looks. Sure, there are things I need to tweak, but that is true of any labor of love.
Since SquareSpace is not an open platform like Wordpress, there are no conflicting or poor performing plugins to worry about. All updates happen behind the scenes, and are taken care of by SquareSpace. All I need to do, is create and share. SquareSpace is similar to Apple computers in that respect. Apple builds their computers to work with their hardware and their software. It just works, and it's more efficient that way. For my use, anyway.
Here's what really sets SquareSpace apart though. Their customer service is extraordinary. Mind-boggling awesome, comes to mind. I had a few questions while I was designing my site, so I contacted them via their support ticket system. In every case, I had a full, friendly, and awesome response back in less than 30 minutes. That even includes the times I was working on the site at 2 am. It's 24/7 support. They are super helpful. Heck, when I was trying to navigate the nether region that is the GoDaddy account settings to set up domain forwarding/masking, I asked my customer support person at SquareSpace (Dave L.) if they'd be willing to look at my GoDaddy settings and fix my errors. Within 1/2 hour, they had checked my settings, found my errors, and had my domain fully forwarded for me. Thank goodness for competent support staff!
So, if you are a photographer that needs a self-fulfillment option, a beautiful & full-featured website, with amazing customer support, I honestly can't recommend SquareSpace highly enough!
Let me know if you have any questions, I'm happy to help. :) Cheers everyone!