A few years ago, setting up a photo website that gave you options for how you wanted to display your images and presented everything in an attractive layout was the kind of thing you had to farm out. A whole cottage industry sprang up around building photographers’ websites. It was expensive, and as many photographers learned, it was often frustrating, as you struggled to deal with your contractor, delays and an inability to perform updates in a timely manner. The alternative to the custom route was to go with a company like LiveBooks, which offered photography-centric site design templates for a monthly fee.
At the same time, several companies emerged to offer a variety of back-end services like archiving, powerful organization and delivery options, and other functions that high-end and professional photographers needed to conduct daily business. SmugMug and PhotoShelter are two of the most well-known companies in this space.
Recently, the companies servicing the back end and the archives have expanded into creating powerful and robust, but easy-to-use front-end website capabilities. We’re taking a quick look at PhotoShelter’s Beam service, which offers customizable templates, use of your own domain, social interaction, drag-and-drop simplicity for uploading images, strong image-protection features and, of course, it links to all of PhotoShelter’s well-known back-end tools. In this brief article, we’re barely scratching the surface.
The longest journey begins with the first step and, paradoxically, that first step is usually the most difficult. If you’ve never done it, setting up a photography website can seem daunting, no matter how many people tell you it’s easy. With Beam, you can get started with a free trial. Go to photoshelter.com and click Try Us Free. You’ll be prompted to choose a level of service for your free trial. This is the most difficult single step because, assuming you’ve never set up your website, you may be a little overwhelmed by the choices. The Standard option at $29.99/month hits the sweet spot for most of us. It offers 60 GB of image storage, plenty of customization options and the use of your own domain, if you have one. There’s a less expensive $9.99/month option, but that one doesn’t offer as many templates, among other tools.
With your account set up, you can get started by choosing your template. Click on Enter Site Builder to get to the templates, and the various font and color options. My first time through, I spent time checking out some of these options, but I found that uploading images first, then going through the templates, let me choose the template based on how my particular collection of images looked in each one.
That brings me to the mechanics of uploading the images. If you’ve ever struggled with uploads and file size issues, you’ll find Beam’s process to be refreshing. Select your image files, then drag and drop them in the window. That’s it. PhotoShelter will handle the upload in the background. Obviously, your connection speed is a factor here, so if you know your bandwidth is limited, do your uploads in small groups to avoid any potential connection issues.
Creating your organization and navigation is easy, and it’s eminently changeable as your needs or whims change. You can create Galleries and then Collections within those Galleries, and you can drag and drop your images around in each. Also, because this is PhotoShelter, with their history of image delivery options for professionals, you have the option to designate a gallery as private or open to selected individuals or groups.
PhotoShelter has a long history of being at the forefront of photographers’ copyright issues. Under the Image Security tab, you’ll see Image Theft Guard at the very top of the list. There are also options for adding a watermark to photos. I usually watermark my images in Adobe Lightroom, but if you’re using the archiving and delivery side of PhotoShelter, it makes sense to upload clean high-res files and have PhotoShelter watermark them so you can deliver an un-watermarked high-res file directly through PhotoShelter.
If this is your first photography website, you’re probably not too concerned about analytics, at least not yet. Beam has useful analytics tools that you can enable at anytime. And, of course, you can link your PhotoShelter account with your various social-media accounts and an external blog.
It took me less than two hours to go from logging into my account to having a full-fledged website with multiple galleries and all of my security settings the way I like them. That’s including time to play with each template and various color options. The site is responsive, which makes it look good on mobile devices, and since that first upload, I’ve made plenty of changes—adding and deleting images—none of which took much time or left me with errors on the site (which happened to me when I was setting up a website in WordPress).