Business Trends
Build A Better Website; The Hottest Promotional Tool Today

Photography is a business of relationships, and your website is often the first contact you have with potential clients. Your website must make a prospective client feel comfortable and ease the anxiety that many clients might experience when considering a different photographer. For some thoughts on building this better website we interviewed Michael Costuros, Founder/Director of liveBooks at: Remember that your site is a promotional tool and all the basic marketing rules apply along with all the new technology you are facing.

Shutterbug: What is your background? How did you get into this business?

Michael Costuros: I was finishing my BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1997, at the beginning of the web boom. The primary motivation behind my artwork was to communicate to an audience. I saw the web as an interactive gallery space that would enable me to communicate to a global audience. I fell for the web--hook, line, and sinker.

I taught myself how to make a portfolio site for my artwork, and shortly after other artists started paying me to build sites for their work. I have continued to make websites for artists ever since. It wasn't until very recently that the technology to make a website that the artists themselves could have complete creative control over became readily available. When it did, and we solved the technical challenges, it was then that I knew that my dream of creating a website that would put complete creative control of the content in the hands of the photographer was going to be realized. At that moment, liveBooks was born.

SB: What exactly does liveBooks do?

MC: A website created using the liveBooks editSuite empowers the owner to update all the content on the site in minutes. Most notable is our lightBox tool which enables them to see the whole sequence of a portfolio presentation on the webSite and edit it by simply arranging the images by drag and drop. They can even edit individual images, giving them control over the pairing of images on a page.

The process of editing the site is intuitive and enjoyable, empowering the creative process rather than hindering it. Also, the liveBooks webSite is able to present images of exceptional quality at image sizes up to 920x562 px, equivalent to 12.7x7.8" printed. Despite their size the images download very quickly, and in a fashion that rarely leaves the viewer waiting.

SB: What are the biggest problems or obstacles you have seen photographers run into when starting up and then maintaining their own website that you had to solve?

MC: There were three main problems:
· Keeping the site current. This process, for most, was expensive, time consuming, and a real pain in the butt. A website was little more than a static brochure and you were dependent on a web designer to make updates.
· Presenting images at a size and quality that moved the viewer. It is the opinion of many editors and art directors that the majority of photographers' websites do not present the images at a size and quality that enables them to make a positive decision about the work.
· Intuitive navigation. It is a real challenge for a designer without years of experience making photography sites and the benefit of feedback from those who buy images for a living to develop a site and portfolio navigation that meets the end user's every need.

SB: What extra "bonus" features can a photographer get with a liveBooks webSite?

MC: Our clients can choose to have their site customized in many ways, but we always remind them to keep it simple. Clients want to clearly see and remember your images, not your website. Our Custom Books feature is a big favorite. With it a photographer can quickly create a custom webBook for a client, assign it a password, and publish it to the web. They also have the option of downloading that webBook as a beautiful PDF that they can then e-mail to a client. The whole process can be done in five minutes.

SB: Any further tips for our readers on preparing to launch a website?

MC: Ask yourself where you see your business growing over the next three years. How can the website support and facilitate that growth? Choose your website developer very carefully; your web presence will depend on their reliability and expertise for years to come. For a website to truly bring in business, it needs to be up-to-date with your latest work. Estimate the time, money, and hassle factor involved in updating your site. It is wise to have your website built using a modular architecture so that you can easily add new features and functionality to the site over time. I would advise going with a dynamic website with an edit suite that puts the creative control of your global web presence in your hands.

liveBooks In Action
Here are several photographers' comments on how they have used liveBooks for their websites:

Bob McNamara, I do like that the design of the site is simple, the navigation is easy, and the clients can get in and out without wading through unnecessary pages. The fact that the design is somewhat "locked" in place keeps me focused on my images and not playing with the site design.

Lyle Owerko, If everything worked as well as liveBooks I would triple my ability to shoot. I don't even want to manage portfolios anymore. The site allows me to instantaneously communicate my work to clients and inform them about recent images and achievements.

Francis Hills, As a photographer, everything is about presentation--whether off or online. It's important for me to be able to change images when I need to--not to be at the mercy of a web designer. The Flash-driven interface means that the site loads and performs very smoothly, but equally important, means that visitors are unable to "right click" and download my images.

I'm a big fan of the template-driven "drag-and-drop" owner interface. It's instant gratification--I can drop my images in, switch their order, and then, when I'm happy, reload the page and there's the site! I was talking to someone about liveBooks the other day and describing the ease of change. After we'd chatted it reminded me just how simple it was to change the site; so I went running back to my studio and made some changes to my site--just because I could.