Monday, February 15, 2021

An All New Website! (Seriously!) - Creating my new Zenfolio Site

"All - New" This term is used rather loosely, but I mean it! Seriously!
Its actually an All - New:
• Website
• Layout
• Design

It wasn't something negative about SmugMug, or that I hated something about it, I wanted to refresh my website and online presence. Additionally, creating a new website had the added benefit of re-invigorating my photography (more on that later).

The Reasoning

Previously on Michael Tollestrup TV... no seriously though, I used SmugMug ("SM") to host my photography website (not the website address "michaeltollestrup.com" which is hosted by GoDaddy, but more on that too, later). I started using SM around 2014, I think, and have loved every part of it. Like I said earlier, I didn't hate SmugMug, and I have never had a website issue that couldn't be resolved, or at least one that I didn't get an answer on. Speaking of answers, its customer service platform was excellent, and I always got a response from a well - trained, highly - knowledgeable expert. Their award-winning (btw I'd like to see that award show) service was also friendly and reachable at many late hours of the night.

My point is, SmugMug was perfect. Its Service offering was perfect. So why the change? First, I decided recently that I wanted to further pursue journalism as a career. Or at least something similar (more on that in a future post). As a result, and for the time being, I will be focusing on my photography, as a business. Unlike the past, I will put photography first, and that means I need to get paid! SmugMug unfortunately has no way for me to book clients, for clients to schedule appointments, for me to take payments or manage clients.

Zenfolio has such an offering. Previously I accomplished this with two separate services. The first being Square, and the second being Setmore. Both were great, but the integration with SmugMug was not ideal. Sure I was able to include a button that would direct clients to book an appointment. Doing so would take them to Setmore, and more importantly, it would take them away from my website. Then, if the customers wanted to schedule an appointment, there was no way for me to collect partial payments, or discount my services with coupon codes.  

Again, Zenfolio had the ability for potential clients to book appointments, process partial payments as a booking confirmation, and could even offer discounts. Another thing was that Zenfolio was just a fresh start, something that seemed visually cleaner compared to my old site (not necessarily SmugMug's fault though).

Portfolio Worthy?

Sure a website is crucial to establishing a brand, online presence and acts as a key marketing tool, but I was focused on a more technical benefit to a new website. Many photographers have said that a portfolio, an online collection (or even a print collection) of work, is the best way to ensure I stay consistently motivated. Seeing that old bird photo from 4 years ago, 5 years ago or even longer would constantly motivate me to go out and replace that photo with an even better one. 

On my website I have 7 different portfolios, each showcasing photos from various points in my photography career. Some photos in my portfolio are from 6 years ago! Not that I want to replace that photo, but a portfolio provides a visual depiction of my best work. A visually measurable offering that clients can see and respond with.

Where do the photos go?

So what on earth am I doing with my photos? What am I doing with all of the old photos from my SmugMug site? Fun fact, I found out my SmugMug archive contains over 52,000 photos, more than 100 panoramas and takes up more than 2 Terabytes. I decided to make a digital copy of all of the photos, videos and panoramas, but I also decided to keep using SmugMug.

WHAAT? Keep using SmugMug? That's right!

Consider this: What online cloud storage service lets you:
• upload unlimited photos
• upload unlimited videos
• upload pdf and even raw digital files
• use an unlimited amount of online storage.

All for a low monthly fee? Well Google, Amazon, Backblaze and others let you upload any kind file, and some let you use unlimited storage, but it can get expensive real quick. Smugmug's cheapest plan, paid month - to - month, is $7. Paid year - to - year: it's only $60 ($5 per month). Thats darned cheap. As a result, I figure why not continue to use their cheapest plan as an online cloud backup of my important content. 

BUT WAIT! How would I download the photos in the event I had something go wrong (drive failure, computer failure? How would I transfer all of my 52,000+ photos to my new site, or somewhere else? I tried doing the painstakingly long, and labor intensive process of downloading each gallery, one at a time. After, I would upload them to my new site, however, luck prevailed. Luckily I found an app that I could use to download a carbon copy of my website content, and it would also retain. the hierarchy. Unfortunately I won't say which app, as I want to keep it a secret should I need it again. I plugged in an 8TB external drive, and downloaded the entire archive in one go. My home internet speed isn't terrible, so it only took a mere 16 and half hours! 

Lastly, I made a crucial decision regarding how I would present the content on my new website.

Presentation. Presentation. Presentation.

I used to be of the mindset that I should just take lots and lots of photos, and post all of them. You read that right, ALL OF THEM. Yes, I was crazy, and I'm still partially crazy now, however my reasoning at the time seems logical enough. If I take 1,000 pictures at a football game, why not post all of them? So as long as the photos were in focus, looked decent and I didn't see anything overtly wrong then why not post them. Sadly, when culling (sorting, organizing, choosing, et cetera) through my photos I had to laboriously crop, edit and retouch every single photo. No matter how many I took.

Just about any photographer should (my opinion) tell you that I was insane for doing that. I remember one of my first galleries I ever posted was a track and field meet for my high school. I think I probably posted more than 1,200 photos. And because I care too much about the little details of things, it was actually 1,215 photos. Yikes!

This got me seriously thinking about my new presentation. How would I present my best work, and still let family, friends, the public and my clients see all of my exciting explorations (some more so than others). Then it hit me. Well not really, it wasn't like it was too much of an issue, for me at least. I would only show my portfolios (10-15 photos per type), and I would only show a limited set of photos from my "explorations."

Paolino Real Estate Headquarters, Providence, RI | 2016
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/4 — 1/200sec. — ISO 400

Sugar Land Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX | 2020
Nikon D500 | 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5. — 1/200sec. — ISO 400

I love exploring, doing research and finding out all kinds of stuff about really anything. Using photography I have found that I can explore almost anything, with a uniquely visual restriction. While my current explorations are a bit generic (Christmas, sunsets ...), there is a lot I want to research. I am planning on visually exploring adaptive living, mechanical engineering and smells .

This more creative part of my website means I don't have to worry about getting the "best" photo possible. For my portfolio I need to take a photo that is at least better than my worst picture for the topic. However, with my explorations, I can post photos that reflect my current understanding of a subject. Yes, this is more geared towards fine-art, but more and more I find myself wanting to take photos without having to worry about clients, deadlines or perfection.

Next Steps...

While I'm not entirely sure about what all this means (philosophically), I am exceedingly optimistic about what all my new website will mean for my clients, my work, my creative development and for my photography career & lifestyle. Throughout the rest of the month I will be updating, adding and revising my website, so stay tuned for the next chapter of my creative visual presentations.

** Oh, I almsot forgot. In a post later this month, I'll detail the actual process of transferring my domain, photos and setting up the finicky parts of my site. 

—Michael Tollestrup

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