Web Site Management for Photographers:
Controlling Costs
by Crimson Star

There's an old joke: "A yacht is a hole in the water that you throw money into." If you think that's funny, wait until you see what a commercial web site could cost.

Last year I explained how you could create, test and publish a personal web site at almost no cost. Missed those articles? They are all on-line at the PSI website. Read them again to brush up on the terminology and basic concepts.

What's a Commercial Website?

Your personal website can describe you and your photographic interests. It could include a photo gallery or tips that you would like to share with other photographers. If you tried to sell anything on your site, however, your ISP would probably cut you off. CompuServe is one exception, where you can advertise your business on your personal website.

Personal websites are restricted in other ways. You can't use an FTP site, CGI scripts, audio, streaming video, shopping carts, etc. What the heck is all this stuff? It is the meat-and-potatoes of a commercial website. It is complex stuff better left to professional web developers.

Solutions for Sale

Web developers have the technical expertise to create your commercial website. They are not telepathic, however. They cannot read your mind. They will develop your ideas into a website by trial-and-error. Like a taxi, the meter is always running. It is your job to manage their work and control your costs.

Web design is more difficult and time-consuming than web development. To control costs, you must design your website. Hire a web developer to build it.

What's the Point?

First, pick a theme for your website. Is it a gallery? Is it a store? Is it a stocklist? Is it a portfolio? Make your theme obvious. Your website visitors should realize the nature of your site after viewing the main page. If they don't, they will go somewhere else.

Second, select a color scheme that fits your theme. The colors should enhance, but not distract from the photos that you will use. Three or four colors should be enough.

Third, decide how users will navigate your site. Will they click on text, icons, buttons, or image maps? These are called the elements of the user-interface. Draw pictures of your HOME-element, BACK-element, FORWARD-element, EXIT-element, etc.

Fourth, arrange your user-interface elements into a menu or index. Each page of your site will need certain basic elements, such as a button to return to the home page. A photo-gallery page should have buttons to go forward or backward within the gallery.

Fifth, draw a sketch of each web page. Use colored pencils. Include your user-interface elements on each page. Mark out areas where body text or photos will go with a shaded box. Your drawings don't need to be exact. They should give your web developer a good starting point. TIP: Your drawings should be about the same width as the window in your Internet browser.

It Cost's How Much?!!!

Good web developers charge from $50/hr up to about $150/hr. The actual rate depends upon the service. Scanning is at the low end of the scale and graphic design is at the high end. HTML coding, CGI scripting, etc. is in the middle.

You already know how to apply your artistic talents to photography. Now, you must apply those same talents to your web site. By doing the truly creative stuff yourself, you will save thousands of dollars!

For example, a client asked me to design a "funky" type style for his website name, using his color scheme. I loaded over 200 fonts onto my computer from dozens of CDs and floppies. This took about an hour. I examined each font, considering the possibilities, and created a "short-list" of three of them. This took about two hours. Next, I experimented with the fonts in Photoshop. I tried hundreds of variations of dozens of techniques. This took about five hours. I created the banner in the new type, added it to a test web page, and notified the client.

It was love at first sight! I was lucky, but I wasn't finished. Now I had to fine-tune the graphic file so it would load quickly. I also documented all of the steps I took to create the fonts. These tasks took another hour.

The design phase for this mini-project took about eight hours. That would cost about $1200 at the high-end of the scale. The production phase took about one hour, which would cost about $90. Administrative overhead (sending e-mails to client, answering his questions, etc.) took about an hour, which would cost about $50.

You could quickly spend $1340 just to have a web developer design and build your title banner, or logo. Design it yourself and pay about $140 to get it built. That is how you control costs. That is why you use your creative talents to design banners, buttons, web pages, etc. and then pay your web developer a fair rate to use his/her mechanical talents.

Of course, if you use an auto-everything camera, your creative talents may have long-since disappeared. Don't worry. Next month I'll talk about templates, or ready-made web designs at dirt-cheap prices.

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Latest Revision: Saturday, 07 May 2005 08:52 AM