Ever felt like technology is passing you by?
There’s a feeling you get. You have spent days, weeks and months trying to get your head around something. For me it has been anything – and I mean anything – website and web related. I mean, all the hard work has been done for me by coders and marketing people and communities that have been hammering out bugs in newly released software, and yet I struggle to understand the basics.
It’s getting easier, though. I am getting my head around it, and when the only resource you have is the internet itself (and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful beyond words for the vastness of the Interweb) the learning curve is steep and slow. And when it all finally comes together – with a practically audible *click* – I just want to tell everyone and share the giddy love.
So. In a previous post, I was talking all about Photoshelter, and how I was initially happy to to use it as my main website. I am nothing if not indecisive, and so before too much time had passed, I started having doubts. And these doubts were all coalescing around my blog.
Yes, I had a link to my blog on the website. But my blog is where most of my photographic activity lands – at least initially – and so I found myself having to use two links to my work out there in the vastness of the internet. I was dissatisfied with the…well, the messiness of it.
I am not suggesting for one moment that there aren’t a squillion different ways of overcoming this obstacle, but this is the approach I ended up taking. Unfortunately, it costs a little bit more money, but at a $7.00 a month for hosting, it’s hardly a fortune, and I’m pretty sure that avoiding hosting fees is impossible anyway. The feeling of independence is pretty amazing too. A bit like taking off the training wheels and riding your bike for the first time. Instead of paying a 3rd party to use their template site, you get to be the one to see all the folders holding up the infrastructure of your baby. And not knowing how it all works does not impact the smug feeling even slightly. I’ll take the smug wherever I can find it.
My blog had been sitting on WordPress.com for ages (and for free), and although I had briefly looked at switching over to WordPress.org previously, I got scared off by talk of hosting, and uploading to servers, and updating CSS code. But I didn’t want my blog to have WordPress in its URL. There was no getting around it, I had to take the plunge. And man oh man, it was so easy. Honestly, invest an hour or so in reading up on the help topics and recommendations and then just follow the links that tell you what to do.
Basically the steps are as follows:
1. Find a hosting site (I went for Blue Host, number 1 on the recommendation list. Cheap and easy to use.)
2. Download FTP software (I went for Filezilla - you will use this software to copy files from your computer into the filing structure on your hosting site.)
3. Press the helpful button on Blue Host that installs all the WordPress file structure for you (I told you it was easy!)
4. There’s a sticky moment or two about copying your domain stuff onto your new server, but you will get through this bit.
5. Create a new site manager on Filezilla that connects with Blue Host – you will be emailed some login details, you need to set a few things up, but once it’s done you are able to connect to your hosting site at the click of a button afterwards and forever more.
Now that you’ve moved your domain name onto your new server, you want to find the right template for your site. Because you’re now riding without those training wheels, all sorts of template options will now open up to you. My first stop was Graph Paper Press. They’re partnered with Photoshelter, and through the pair of them you can put together a seamless website that incorporates all the things you think you need, and a few others besides. There are some free templates that you can take advantage of, and now you’re in the land of customisation, that means you can start controlling how your blog looks. I’m no designer, but I’ve worked out enough CSS to change colours, and that has been enough for me. A white background and some pretty aqua text and lines, and I fancy myself quite the designer and coder, let me tell you.
My only gripe with Graph Paper Press, is that they’ve set up their business to really push you towards having to pay some money to them. You can’t access any of the forums unless you upgrade from your free account, and right there was where I drew my line in the financial sand. It’s not that hard to work out how to install it all anyway, and I’m happy for now with the integration between my blog and my galleries. If that changes in the future, I will update then. And I’m not really moaning, because what they offer for free is pretty amazing anyway and for that I am grateful. I really am. They also offer some cool plugins that let you link images in your blog back to your Photoshelter website, and while this is quite easy to do manually, who doesn’t prefer it to be at the click of a button.
Now you’ve picked the new template that you want to try out, there are a couple more easy steps:
1. Save your chosen template onto your hard-drive somewhere and unzip the file. (They also come with some simple instructions regarding how to do this)
2. Copy the unzipped folder onto your hosting site using your FTP software (check out my techno-speak!)
3. Move it into the plugins folder
4. Activate the template in WordPress
Et voila! You have your website, with your own domain and oodles of options for how you want your site to look. And that’s before you start attempting to play with any coding.
Which brings me nicely to the real bounty with WordPress ‘proper’. Plugins. Oh lordy, I never knew. There are approximately a gazillion out there right now, and as I type this they are almost numbering a tetrazillion. That is definitely a technical term for lots. For this photographer, these are all the presents I need this Christmas. For example, I’ve found an awesome plugin that works with my Photoshelter galleries to automatically update with my new work. See over there on the sidebar? I’ve just started with it, I have big plans for that baby, let me tell you.
I’m only a week or so into all this, so as and when I find fun and useful things that work for me, I’ll keep shouting out about them. Watch this space.
The thing is, I don’t know the first thing about building a website. I’m a photographer, not a web designer. I have had a web presence in one form or another for over a year now, though, and during that time I’ve sweated and struggled and googled myself half to death, to find the way to get all the pieces of my online identity all together in one home.
This is what too much googling does to my face.
There are all sorts of resources out there aimed squarely at me (and maybe you), so I thought it might be nice to share some of the hard-earned knowledge. My main criteria has been how to do it without spending too much money, but to look at least coherent and independent. Saying that, it is inevitable that you’re going to have to spend some money if you want a good and functional photography website. So that means online galleries and portfolios, ways for clients to access your images, and probably a blog that holds it all together.
My starting point was Photoshelter. I think I’ve mentioned them before, but the fact remains that they are simply awesome. There are different pricing structures depending on how much you need from the boundless options to choose from.
And man, is it easy to use. There’s all sorts of archiving, and gallery-ing, keywording, storing, sharing, embedding and slideshowing up for grabs. And working out how to do it all is just so easy in a drag-and-drop sort of way.
If you’re interested in seeing a bit more about what they have to offer, click on the Photoshelter badge at the bottom of this post, and you get an introductory discount. They’re offering, so I’m just passing it on!
Now, this is where it may start to get confusing. I really want to try to explain some of the hurdles that had me stumped along the way. It’s a bit boring though, it’s about hosting and domains and….well, I don’t really understand it still. The point is, I’ve worked out how to make it work for me without needing to understand too much, and surely that’s an achievement worth sharing. I will plow on.
When I first started using Photoshelter, all my stuff was sitting on www.cathytopping.photoshelter.com. This was a problem, because when I typed in www.cathytopping.com into my web-browser, I ended up in the online equivalent of no-man’s land. And www.cathytopping.photoshelter.com just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’ve got a funny name already, it certainly doesn’t need complicating. And how are all my old boyfriends going to find me to see what I’m up to these days?
It was a bit tricky to work out how to do this, and in spite of what I’ve been kind of threatening, I won’t go into the technical details (mainly because I simply can’t remember). What I did was email the nice Help people at Photoshelter, and tell them what I wanted to do. I wasn’t the first (surprise!) and so they have an easy-to-follow instruction email complete with links to the exact page in your website that needs updating.
Technophobe note: it does involve going back to your domain registrar and working out what they’re talking about when they say “DNS” and “CNAME”, and copying and pasting some gobbledegook code in a few places. Don’t get blindsided with the technical terms, just keep asking for help. Actually, this post should just be entitled “How to email for help from the people smarter than me”.
What I ended up with was a front page portfolio sitting at www.cathytopping.com and lots of ready-made links to my galleries and blog, Client Area and About Me page (hello old boyfriends!). I was very happy and pleased with myself. For a while.
OK, this post is getting ridiculous. For the sake of all our sanities, I’m going to finish these thoughts in a second installment. I know, I know, bated breath and all that.
Here’s a monkey, wistfully waiting for the second installment to arrive, wherein I explain all about working out a proper WordPress blog and related dorky plugins.