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You’ve put together a pretty impressive photography portfolio, and you’re finally at the stage where you want to show your work to the world. Maybe you just want to share your work for critique, or even more likely, you’d like to lure potential clients in with examples of your photography, or maybe you just want to try pursuing a career actually directly selling your work. Whatever the reason, most of us have come to realize that an online portfolio is perhaps the most elegant way to pursue all of the objectives above. Your own personal site can be customized to your own aesthetics, not limited to just any ol’ photosharing site’s layout. A personal site is more distinguished, it says something to clients – it hints at a certain degree of professionalism and seriousness. And frankly a personal portfolio site is just a lot cooler, nothing beats the cache and simplicity of providing folks with your own “www.johnsmithphotography.com” URL name.
Likewise, I’ve also been wanting to have a place where I can show some of the work I do. Unfortunately one problem kept reoccurring that prevented me from going forward, that being I just don’t have the technical know-how to create my own site. Of course there are a number of solutions around that, starting with a brushing up of my HTML skills, but I really just don’t have the time. Besides, most of the portfolio sites I’ve looked at and liked were flash based, and that’s definitely beyond me. This lack of technical skills naturally means for me, and I suspect most photographers, having to seek the abilities of a web designer. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this approach, it’s just a matter of affordability. A really nice website, especially a flash-based design isn’t cheap, not to mention you’ll be beholden to the designer going forward if you need to make changes to your site, which again can be expensive.
Enter liveBooks (www.livebooks.com). liveBooks provides photographers, designers, and other imaging related artists a means to having a professional looking website, while shielding the user from all the technical details. The basic premise involves offering you a website (chosen from a number of slick templates), web hosting, a simple drag and drop portfolio editor, and the ability to bolt-on a number of additional features…if you desire. The cost for all of that is $39 a month, though they do have discounted prices for annual or lifetime users. There are several services similar to this one, but one thing that stands out with liveBooks is their excellent clientèle, photographers like Art Wolfe, and the Richard Avedon Foundation use liveBooks created websites, and I also like their emphasis on search engine optimization, a critically important aspect to getting your work recognized. Recently I took advantage of a free trial offered by liveBooks (they offer a 14 day free trial of their service) and I thought I’d share the process and the results here at DPS where I imagine, like me, many of you are keenly interested in having a portfolio of your work online (or possibly a better one?).
The first step in creating your website at liveBooks is picking out one of the predesigned websites. Generally one hears the word “template” and gets a bit nervous, but I can truly say that the liveBooks offerings are actually very cool. There’s currently 75 designs to choose from, in a range of styles and color combinations, and in a number of different looks. The majority of them border on the slick to contemporary in look, but there are several with more organic or textured looks. Each design comes in three variants. Typically these will be in some combination of white, grey, or black, but there are many designs with full blown color or color accents, and as I found out later, you can tweak portions of your design’s color scheme from your “editSuite”. I was torn between several looks, but eventually settled on the “Loft” design. It’s important to note that these templates aren’t simply just one architecture redecorated, many are structurally distinct, with navigational elements in different areas, or with choices between full time image thumbnails for navigation, or without them. On the potentially negative side (not for me though) most of the designs are on the modern or classic side of things, but with 75 choices, each with 3 variants and the ability to further custom tweak, there’s a good chance you can get your site looking very much like you want it. Also, liveBooks’ website makes it easy to take each design for a full tour, so that you can get a feel for exactly how your site will work.
After you pick out a site design, liveBooks moves you on to signing up for their service. As we mentioned above, the cost for the site and the hosting is $39 a month (after paying $117 for the first three). This price also includes email, shopping cart functionality (set prices, shipping, and hook up to your paypal), and 500MB of FTP space for uploading files for potential clients to dowload or view via a login link. The process is seamless and includes the step of creating a username and password for setting up your site. Shortly after signing up, you get an email confirmation which includes a link to your editSuite.
liveBooks “editSuite” is essentially your administrative backend to your liveBooks created website. This is where you upload your images, create and edit portfolios, setup your shopping cart, fill in your bio information, etc. For me this is the coolest part of the liveBooks service, as the editSuite is simple to use, easy to understand, and provides instantaneous results. You can put an image up, check your website, and the image is instantly there, all flashed out and everything. editSuite is also drag and drop friendly, you can just click and move images into their respective portfolios. editSuite also allows users to customize their site somewhat (design template depending) by changing background colors, etc., and finally the editSuite is where users can fill in their search engine optimization information, so that you can target Google with your specific keywords and site title. editSuite can resize images to fit your site design, but for optimal results users will want to follow liveBooks recommendations and resize images (and adjust color spaces) before uploading through editSuite. Not doing so could lead to less than sharp photos or color issues in certain browsers, but liveBooks provides a nice help section with downloadable guides and some video help to walk you through any issues that may arise.
After getting your portfolios arranged and images uploaded, it’s time to “go live” with your website. During the setup process you’re able to access your website at a liveBooks hosted temporary domain. To truly “go live” though, you have to register a domain name, a step that liveBooks will refer you to your choice of domain registrars. I hit up GoDaddy.com for my domain (patrickdeanphotography.com is available! YES!) and then submitted my username and password for that domain to liveBooks, who then take over the process of moving the DNS servers to their hosting service. After submitting that info, it took one day for liveBooks to contact me that my site was now live, a click confirmed http://www.patrickdeanphotography.com was now on the web.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be honing my portfolio, and editSuite will continue to make it easy to update my work and create new portfolios if need be. When I master the art of making movies with my DSLR, I’ll also be able to share those on my site as well (liveBooks supports multimedia), and of course I’m curious about the prospects of selling some of my work online too. One thing’s for certain though, I’m very happy with my new site. liveBooks made the whole process very easy, their entire system has been polished and thought out quite well, and though it may be based on a “template” I genuinely love the way the site looks. If you’re looking to finally have your own professionally designed online portfolio, that’s easy to create and maintain, I certainly “Highly Recommend” liveBooks.com. Could it be done cheaper? Yes, but liveBooks attention to detail behind the scenes, their customization, and pre-built designs that really emphasize YOUR work (and not the liveBooks service) make it easily worth the relatively low cost.
Find out more about liveBooks: http://www.livebooks.com
June 22, 2013 04:17 pm
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May 7, 2012 01:43 am
Hey guys. Livebooks looks great and has been around a long time, but seriously you're paying for the name at this point. There are other services out there directed at the professional photographer that have the same clean templates and ease of navigation but cost a fraction of the price.
The one I've been looking at is called BigBlackBag.com. For less than $20 per month they have scaling websites that can fill a 27 inch screen, better social marketing integration, more gallery layouts than LB and best of all, it's all done with HTML 5.
January 11, 2011 07:06 pm
I could not agree with Jason more. I'm not a livebooks customer yet, but I am in my 14 day trial period.
After going through 4 web developers (custom sites), am ready to have control over WHEN my site get's updated!
I can only speak for myself here, but I have spent WELL over the annual cost for livebooks, in money, and frustration (and who knows how many missed opportunities with new biz???) with notoriously flakey, non responsive web developers. There SHOULD be a premium for a good service. I will gladly pay for something that I have control over, when I want something done!
It literally took me 15 minutes to "design" the site on their editsuite. This alone to me is worth it, especially because I don't know what I'm doing. I'm a photographer, not a web person! Why waste your time and frustration on something that is not your forte? A CEO of a major company is in that position because he delegates responsibilities to people who know what they are doing.
November 29, 2010 10:39 am
i have to agree with the writer, you have to spend some amount of money on marketing your business, and if 40.00 is it, that's great.
im looking into them to change from my blu flash.
May 28, 2010 05:01 am
great post. i loved reading everyone's pov
May 2, 2010 06:46 am
www.tumblr.com is completely free.
May 2, 2010 02:59 am
Unfortunately, the code in my last post was cut out. This is what you are looking for (trying again):
meta name="description" content=""
meta name="keywords" content=""
May 2, 2010 01:03 am
@todd. I looked at your site. I see you are using pixelpost. I checked, it's free. So are you planning on switching from a free template to $500/year template?
@Jason. No problem, loading will improve as Silverlight browser software improves. And you really have to be on cable or ADSL to view, as the site has 'very' large images. But that's not what we are talking about. I'm talking about the value of the service. And livebooks seems very expensive for what they offer. $500 for a professional website isn't too expensive, but this isn't a professional website. This is a template. If you want to talk about professional websites there are a ton of web programmers who are making sites for as low as $500-1000 from scratch- not from templates. If you keep your site up for more than a year or two then it's the same cost- for a pro site.
I also wanted to add: This notion that keywords for google searches being so great, it's just a line of code. A very simple cut and paste called metatags. You can even add them to templates and it takes about a minute. Speaking of that.
@Jackie. This is something you need to do right away. You really have to add them to your site. Open up your page. At the top you will find this:
You need to fill in the blanks between the "" at the end of both description and keywords. That's all that is needed and google will be more 'friendly' in the google searches. Keep description short, and only add about 20 keywords that don't double up the same word more than twice.
Everyone who has their own website should make sure this is filled in. If you want to see what someone else has in their metatags. Just go to their website, click view/ page source (may be different for each browser, but you are looking for page source). And have a look near the top for the 'meta' tags.
I hope that helps.
May 1, 2010 04:14 am
I can't believe that a majority of people here say that $39 a month is expensive. For a website such as Livebooks with the amount of backend support, beautifully designed templates and the fact that many pro photographers use it, more than justifies the cost. To spend $39 a month which would be invested into my photography business is money well spent and is actually very cheap. It just goes to show the difference between pro and amateurs and how serious some people are about the business of photography...
April 30, 2010 04:04 am
Okay okay, $40 a month is $480 annually.
That is kind of expensive. I found a smoking deal, and you get full control over your website. =]
But bump up prices, or keep searching =]
April 30, 2010 01:56 am
i already have a website that i code myself - albeit messy code, LOL. but still....$39/month!?!! yikes! what i need is a quality gallery for use ON my web page. i have tried photoshop elements and coffeecup galleries and albums (currently using PSE 7 online albums: www.jackiegoldston.com 'Photo Gallery') but the images are STILL pixelated and NOT what a pro photographer wants on her website. It's frustrating.
April 29, 2010 10:57 pm
WOW, lots of critics out there.
Patrick, thanks for the article. I've been looking to update my company's website (non photography) for some time now, and Livebooks has been an option at the top of the list. I am a fan. Here's why.
Simplicity, fast, clean look, easy navigation, flexible back end, works on the iphone/pad/touch, has keywords to help with Google searches.
And I have to say..... if $40 dollars a month for a professional website is too much for a "professional" than you've got bigger problems. Really $40 for the most important marketing tool your company has?
I hate to be a jerk, but Ron, I didn't even get to look at your website, because the "Loading" screen took so long I closed the window. HOWEVER, I did reopen it to look at the site to get an idea about all the great things you listed. However, I found it to be painfully slow, with complicated navigation. Several other sites listed above look very "crafty" in my opinion. Some bordering on cheesy. Good for some, not good for others.
Websites, are ALL about personal preference and aesthetics that appeal to the owner of the site. What is most important is to have a site that say's what you want to say, and sell, what you want to sell.
April 29, 2010 07:53 am
BluDomain.com check it
April 28, 2010 04:11 am
If I were you, I'd get my money back. Flash sites are one of the biggest failures on the web. All it does is keep people from finding or viewing your site. Do they have options that will actually render in a web browser?
April 28, 2010 02:48 am
I have to agree with Leo, John and Karen. This is a very expensive option. Mainly, it looks like a way to gouge individuals.
The space alone on livebooks is quite laughable when you can get a Netpivotal account for $5/month and receive 4GB of space, unlimited email, and (in my opinion) a great backend. The only other costs are setting up your website (for this to be comparable there are many free templates you can download from the web, or buy outright, that are similar to the livebooks layout and style) and buying the domain name for $10/year.
I know this is more difficult than the livebooks option, but once you go with livebooks what is the likelihood you will eventually start a 'real' website. I'd say the livebooks option is akin to a point and shoot camera, where going with a hosting company and starting your own site is a DSLR. They both take pictures, but one just has more value, flexibility, and professionalism.
For example, my link above points to my new blog, which is on my hosting account with netpivotal. The blog software was free and quite easy to manage. My website is also on the same account (I am allowed up to 8 different websites on the same hosting account, and I have 12GB of space to fill! This means my website, my blog, my wife's website, her blog, and 4 more future options, unlimited personalized email accounts, etc, etc)- have a look at www.capturedconcept.com (but I need to give a warning: you might need to download 'Microsoft Silverlight' if you don't have it already- it's the same issue that Flash users had a few years ago when it was new, don't worry it's safe). How much does this cost? About 1/5th the price of livebooks.
So in all, shop around, and if you can spend some time consider doing it the old fashion way. Start with a host and pick up a template to start with. Take your time and let your site grow with you, just as your photography does.
I hope this helps.
April 28, 2010 02:14 am
I agree that almost $40/month is steep - especially when my domain and hosting cost me around $80 per year. I use the free Gallery 2 system which has lots of features and plug-ins - and likewise there's the Coppermine Gallery System which is very similar. I helps to have a little coding and web-server know-how to install and configure these things - but many hosts have "plug-and-play" versions of them that you can install from the control panel of your hosting setup with just a few clicks...
April 28, 2010 02:03 am
There ought to be a solution for amateur photographers who are at a stage where they're considering selling their work. The price for Livebooks is clearly aimed at the established professional.
One option is to look at snapixel,com which is like Flickr but also provides an opportunity to sell your work. You could then move onto zenfolio.com once you get to a stage where your selling more of your work.
April 27, 2010 08:11 pm
I found this site which has a free version and signed up. There are quite a few free templates and an editing side bar to customize it. I've just started playing with it but it looks pretty easy to set up. I'm sure there are many more out there.
April 27, 2010 08:01 pm
It looks very nice but I'm not a fan of flash. Much of the same effects can be attained through script. At least there was no music. :)
Of course, the article is about ease of set up so in that respect it looks like it is easy to use the templates.
Your portfolio is super. Great photos.
One thing I did notice is I found it hard to figure out how to navigate the site. There was a side bar I didn't even know was there until I was getting ready to close the tab and my mouse hit it.
And as other posters have pointed out, it's pretty pricey and there are cheaper and even free alternatives. And there are sites that offer free templates as well.
I guess it would depend on how important your online portfolio is to your business. If you don't have many customers, it would be hard to justify paying the overhead for a site like this.
April 27, 2010 03:31 pm
For that matter, if you have an ISP to provide you access to the Internet, I would be surprised if you didn't already have the ability and tools to create a personal website right with that ISP - most of them are also hosting services. Check out your ISP first.
Anytime you start a small business on the Internet, start out with a personal website. You can have multiple websites hosted by the same service; the additional website hosting costs just a little extra. Add tools that allow you to accept payment through PayPal or by credit card. You won't be charge the higher price of a business web site until you get enough traffic to warrant it. For sure, they will let you know when you qualify as a business website and they will insist you convert and pay the higher price.
April 27, 2010 03:23 pm
I think it's interesting that anyone would promote a website hosting service at the rate given in this promo. That's pretty steep! Shop around, please. I recommend Godaddy.com. If you're a Mac enthusiast, try MacHighway. Every hosting service I've looked into provides templates to create a website, and they're not too shabby. If you want a lot of glitz with very little effort (you don't need to know how to work with HTML or CSS), then give WordPress a try - almost every hosting service provides it free along with many other tools for creating websites.
April 27, 2010 01:19 pm
Photobiz is also an amazing website for photographers! And very affordable.
April 27, 2010 01:05 pm
Agree with Leo :)
April 27, 2010 11:59 am
Wish I could afford $39 a month...just can't justify it for this ;(
Looks great though!
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