Friday, June 13, 2008

What I Use: Part III


Once we have captured the photograph with the camera and processed it in our software of choice, we usually want to display the fruits of our creative labor in some way. Today I will discuss what I currently use for presenting my photographs and images.



As we are in the digital photography age, there are quite a few ways in which we can display our imagery. Prints are of course the long standing method of showing our photographs to people as are slide shows. I remember watching shows of photographs that my father had taken on slides with his old Yashica SLR/Rangefinder. I have a particular fondness for the slides taken from the Kennedy/Canaveral Space Port. That was back during the Apollo age when space exploration was an exciting event that spurred the imaginations of children.

Of course there are also new ways we have of displaying our images. Online sites like Flickr have expositionally expanded the potential audience of our imagery from family members, close friends and co-workers to anyone with a computer around the world. Here are the services and ways in which I’m sharing and presenting my images.

Online Storage and Gallery

My primary gallery is located at Zenfolio. When I started taking digital photographs a year ago, I looked at several of the common photography sites. Flickr is by far the most popular. It is as much a social site as it is a photographic gallery. However, I found that I didn’t like the fact that everyone’s galleries seemed to look the same. Sure the photographs were different, but there didn’t seem to be any way to individualize the look of your site or a particular gallery. So I looked to other options.



What I found were a group of sites that positioned themselves as more about presenting your images in a creative way than simply making them available for on-line viewing. Sites like Pbase, SmugMug, and Zenfolio in particular caught my attention. These sites distinguish themselves from Flickr by trying to be a little more upscale or professional in their presentation. As such they do not generally have a free storage option. Thus, you have a small annual subscription fee for a certain amount of storage capacity. I didn’t find that their subscription fees were particularly unreasonable for the service provided, so the fact there was a fee didn’t immediately put me off of them. I am not one of those people that thing everything on the internet should be free. If someone creates a good service or product that fulfills a need, then I feel they deserve the right to make a profit for their labors. Of course, it can go the other way as well as there are those that try to make too much of a profit for the services they provide.

As I researched the galleries of photographers on these sites, I really liked the overall style of the Zenfolio gallery templates and services. There seemed a good variety of gallery styles, layouts, and access controls. The basic subscription rate was $25 US per year for unlimited storage. Some of the other services had limited capacity for a similar price. Zenfolio didn’t have the social features of some of the other services such a commenting on galleries and photographs, but that wasn’t a feature that was particularly important to me. Thus, when I weighed the pros and cons of the services, Zenfolio came out ahead. I have been using them for about a year now and have been very happy with them. They have provided regular updates to the gallery features and expanded the types of services available through them. For example they now have a higher subscription level, the “Professional” level, which allows the photographer to sell prints through their printing partner with mark-ups. In other words, it can now be used as an e-commerce site by professional photographers to sell their prints world-wide. Zenfolio has also expanded their offerings with their printing partners so that a wide range of print sizes and framing styles are available to potential buyers. Which leads me to the next sections …



Prints

There are two ways of getting prints of your digital images. The first is of course printing them yourself. I have an HP Photosmart C6180 all-in-one printer at home. I have been quite happy with the prints I have gotten from it. Most of the prints have been on HP Premium Plus Photo Paper, High Gloss. The main reason I got this printer was because it was a wireless all-in-one unit. The only cord I have attached to it is the power adaptor. It connects to the home network wirelessly via the wireless router. This allows both me and my wife to use the printer without one or the other computer having to be left turned on or getting bogged down due to processing the spool-queue. The printer uses six individual ink cartridges one of which is a large black cartridge for text printing. It has printed very nice, full page images (8.5 inch by 11 inch).

While the HP printer is handy, if I want larger print sizes I need to use a lab or printing service. For that I use Mpix.com. They are Zenfolio’s primary printing partner. I have gotten 12 inch by 18 inch prints from them that are stunning. They have three types of Kodak paper to select. The Kodak Metallic Paper is absolutely fantastic for photographs with a lot of rich colors in them. The metallic sheen really makes the colors come to life. Mpix.com has a variety of mounting options from just standard prints, to mounted on matting boards, to framed, and even gallery wraps. Zenfolio has recently expanded their partnership with Mpix.com to include all of Mpix.com’s offerings. Mpix.com also takes orders from their website, so I highly recommend trying their services. My orders have been delivered timely and the quality has been superb.

Blogging

It might be strange to discuss the blogging platform I chose, but it is an equally valuable part of presenting digital photographs. I chose Google’s Blogger/BlogSpot as it seemed the simplest to use, the most widely used, and the most likely to still be around in a few years. Plus, it is free. You get a lot of service for the money. When I was first setting up the blog, I did have some initial issues. Chiefly, I had to research how to add the “jump” feature so that only a post’s introduction would appear. I knew that I can get wordy at times and I didn’t want long posts clogging up the front page. The “jump” link I had seen on so many other blogs was something that I knew I would use. The problem is that there isn’t a “jump” feature built-in to the Blogger templates. I had to research on the Blogger support site to find out how to do it. The process involved hacking the CSS HTML/XML. Luckily, there are a couple of Blogger power users that have good posts to walk non-coders through the process. In the end though, I suppose that it does help to know how the unseen, code-side of the blog is structured.

Others

As I take a lot of photographs of family events and trips, I also will make CDs/DVDs for family members. I have even given CDs of school events to my son’s teacher and school for them to use as well.



I hope this post was helpful to get an idea of the services and products that I use to share and display my images. The services which I selected are the ones that have appealed to me the most and provided the service level that I have expected. Therefore, I feel safe in recommending them to anyone that is looking for such services. However, there are a lot of services available to today’s photographers that provide exceptional value. The other gallery sites such as PBase and SmugMug are examples of services that I would recommend to anyone. They have some offerings that Zenfolio doesn’t have and vice-versa of course. In this case, I simply found Zenfolio more suited to my style than the other two services. Perhaps you would prefer SmugMug or Flickr more. Each of the services should have a free trial period so you can test them out. Give the services and products that interest you a test run before commenting to them. What works for me, might not work for you. The good thing about the internet these days is there is probably something for everyone’s particular sense of style or need.

Thanks for reading and keep shooting.


7 comments:

Dorky Musician said...

Thanks for sharing this. I've wondered about getting prints. I'm sure I'll give the Walmart option a try, but I want to a place to order professional prints from too. I plan on giving MPix a try. Looking through their site, their prices are pretty good.

What kinds of prints have you ordered from them?

Craig Lee said...

I've ordered 8"x10" up to 12"x18" prints. All of the ones that I've order I had mounted on matting boards. That doesn't mean they are matted with a big boarder around the. The picture is mounted to a matting board the same size as the photograph. It gives them a bit more weight to them to protect them. Their new standouts look interesting too. I would like to try one of the gallery wraps, but I think the picture needs to be cropped or taken in a certain way.

Sarah K. said...

Thanks for the info! I like the tip about the CD for friends and family.

Craig Lee said...

You're welcome, Sarah K. I stopped by your blog, just now too. Nice stuff. It is certain a great time to get into this hobby.

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Chris Osborne said...

When I started out, I found Flickr pretty quick and just went with it. Sure, I'd like to sell directly from there. But I can live without that, and it keeps me from having to transfer everything.

As far as prints, have you tried http://perfectposters.com? I've got nothing against Mpix (never even used them so I really can't), but if you have anything that's an odd size Perfect Posters will print it at that size and not what sizes should be available.

Craig Lee said...

No, I haven't tried that print lab yet. So far I haven't really had a problem with odd print sizes, but I do have some images that are heavily cropped for an effect that might require a service that like. I'll keep them in mind for those sorts of things.