« The Future of the Photo Book | Main | Sublime from the (Virtual) Five and Dime »

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I just did a site and looked at a bunch of options settling on photium. Tried to keep it really "clean". I agree with you mike, anything that takes away from the images or delays you getting to them is no good :)


Back when I built web pages (in HTML, barefoot, in the snow), I kept the top three or four browsers around just to check compatibility. It just made sense. (And they're free, so why not?) But Opera was the reference, as well as a good development environment; it was standards-based, had useful tools for web designers, and it was fast. All still true, I think, though Firefox seems to have caught up.

Hm. I actually want to defend Flickr a little bit here. A photographer's Flickr shouldn't be her photography website, obviously. It's really a social networking site built around photographs, think Facebook without Farmville. And I like the interface for being simple and uncluttered. Navigation is done with html & javascript, and thumbnails are large. Flickr automatically loads a picture 500 pixels across unless you specifically ask for a bigger version of the shot, so the site is pretty speedy. And it's not difficult to construct a tenset:


(This one was created in June, and hasn't been updated since)

As for me, I close a website the moment i detect Flash. I mocked up a website (on paper, gasp) for a friend of mine that I'm going to make a customized Wordpress template to show off her line drawings. It's going to have forward and back, a copyright message, and a contact. And images.

Well this'll probably get lost in the tidal wave of comments to this post, but I consider this man's site to be just about perfect for looking at the work. I also consider the work to be extraordinary.

I would definitely nominate him for Random Excellence.


Disclaimer: I know this photographer but rarely see him and he has no idea I'm mentioning him.

I haven't read all the posts, but the problem you have as a photographer is that if you don't code your own site or have the money to hire a designer, you have to rely on "template" sites, like Squarespace or Zenfolio or iWeb that provide very little flexibility and almost no simplicity or elegance, the first principles for photo websites.

I'd like to thank Mark Roberts for his sane tips on web design. My fellow Dane Jakob Nielsen is big, but far from big enough, it's clear. I read his book on Web Usability almost ten years ago, when my career as webtrepreneur took off, and it helped me greatly. And I can state with a weird mix of shame and pride that none of my (commercially very successful) sites use any technology which could not be read fine by Netscape Navigator 3.0 from 1998!

Mr. Johnston, your wit never fails. "Valentine's Day 1998" - priceless. In all seriousness it is easier said than done to get the web presentation right. I use basic HTML, and while my site seems to work with every browser and the code is easy to edit, the thumbnail galleries I settled on always leave me wondering if I should have gone for something a little less primitive. And there are all the nuances of how big to make the images, whether to watermark, etc.

Love this! I am going to put a tenset on my site right now.

I too am confused by portfolio headings that make no sense. I designed my site in iWeb and I worry about the slidehow presentation of my galleries-they're not great, but I do label them well.

Thank you for this site!

Indexhibit is a CMS (content managment system) that I use for my site that has been slowly gaining ground in the design and photography portfolio world.


I think it sets a good precedent of single layer of navigation simply read by the user, no flash and a default design that puts the content above everything else.

Hi Mike, your post raised many of the same issues I find when exploring photographic sites - they don't focus on the image. In desperation I wrote a flash "envelope" that holds lightroom galleries - being my best effort at bringing images to the fore.

I also wanted a site I could maintain really easily, so the whole look and feel is driven by XML config files and the structure simply by the folder structure into which I export galleries from Lightroom (I use the excellent slideshowpro exporter).

I also love large scale high resolution images - which do not deliver well over the web. I've adopted some awesome tools from krPano to attempt to deliver visitors some of the "look and feel" of a big print.

Finally, I also struggled with the issue of banal categorisations - and of course have generated my own banalities. Sigh.

But - withall - I have in effect pre hoc taken your "inferred principles" of UI design and applied them as best I could in delivering a visually simple, easy to navigate and low maintenance site which actually focuses on delivering images for delectation. (or not).

Your comments on any aspect of my attempt and its concordance with your ideals would be welcome - and I do hope you enjoy some of what you find. I am never happy with what is there and strive to make better images... A sisyphean task I suspect.

I am happy to make the fully customisable site template available to people if there is interest.

I told my wife (who worked on my site) about this page on TOP.
She pointedly said photographers look at each others work FAR TOO MUCH than any other working group in society. Why don't we don't get out and produce more great, singular work so that we can whittle away the flawed many?
Maybe we're worried someone will come up with the perfect website while we're out...

I wish to thank the posters here, all of them, and all of the sites mentioned... it would be hard to add to the discourse in a meaningful way considering some of the extremely informed opinions expressed via the T.O.P. audience, but I must say this is why the internet is such a great place (and humbling)...

To summarize:

Who could have thought everything I wanted to shoot has already been shot, by someone who has a better eye than me, and knows CSS and HTML, or has coders working round the clock in a New Delhi suburb?


"By the way, I'm surprised by how few of my readers have gone to see your site for themselves."

You didn't make it sound all that inviting, dudeski. :-)

More photographers ought to read this post! All too often they get starry-eyed at the sight of slick flash-based portfolios --or-- photo management software and lose sight of what's important (obviously the image).

I whole heartedly agree with no-flash sentiment and suggest that anyone who likes the slick-loading look of flash investigate what's possible with some AJAX and javascript effects. (most people do, in fact, have javascript support now -- 95% according to w3schools -- how many in your target demographic?)

When I set-out to redesign my site I wanted a few major features:
1) No page reloads between images (think AJAX here)
2) Pull images directly from Flickr using the Flickr API so I don't have to curate multiple sets of the same image.
3) Clean, simple design where the photograph is as large as the screen size (up to 1024px in either dimension to alleviate major copyright violations and download times)
4) deep-linking support -- the ability to link directly to the photograph

I managed to incorporate everything and it follows the same rules that you outline above in your article with the exception that the caption pops down over the side of the image if you even decide to click it open. -- feel free to critique: http://photo.tddewey.com

Furthermore, I'd be happy to discuss with anyone interested the techniques that I used to make all this happen.

I've been trying to select picks for each year but haven't been too strict - 100-200 pics. Getting it down to 20 (sorry, I wasn't ruthless enough for 10) was interesting - I surprised myself with the photos I was drawn to and those that I excluded.I think this exercise might change what I photograph in the future.

I've been using zenfolio - nice design, easy to use. Here's my homepage: HTML

For what it's worth, here's my site. I've always liked clean and simple.

This post has been a great opportunity to see a lot of interesting photo sites.


For those who want a simple way to show their images I recommend blipfoto. There is a photojournal format and only one photo per day can be uploaded which forces you to choose.

Tony Collins

Maybe this is asking too much, but I'd welcome a critique of my site from this august group. It's my first site and it's only been up for about three months. I'd really like to be sure that it's not one of those sites that viewers give up on after a minute or so.

Mike, if this is the wrong place or the wrong time, feel free to delete this post - no hard feelings. I just figured I'd strike while the iron is hot.

I'll point you to an interesting case: the web of Spanish photographer Txema Salvans. I think he is almost a genius, someone with a particular vision and a technique developed especally for it. His pictures (square, b&w) are very special portraits of Spain: people, places, habits, games... Quirky, offbeat, with his peculiar humour always on display. The web (http://www.txemasalvans.com/cas/index.html) is as original as his work. The first time I got there I hated it. Its "navegability" must be close to zero. Then I went back to it, and back again, and it sort of grew on me. Let's say it's a designa that echoes his pisctures, it's impossible to go trough it twice in the same order. Always a new experience.

Interesting post Mike. It made me think of Steve Krug.

I use Rapidweaver, a very nice webdesign program for mac users. You can set the thumbnails to square and big. So people who do not want to see all the bigger images do not have to.

No flash, ever. So tiresome.

Hi Mike,

This is excellent advice. I'm afraid I was (am) guilty of the sins to which you referred. So I went ahead and added my "tenset" to my website:


A piece of advice I've seen repeated in the comments to this post that I must take exception with is the blanket statement "don't use flash". There is nothing inherently wrong with using flash so long as it is used correctly. In my front page I have a small flash "image rotator" that takes a mere 6KB or so. It will not take very long to load, actually it will load faster than many "plain html" pages. Flash can certainly be misused and make a site sluggish but that is not necessarily so provided you know how to use it.



thanks for the mention of my site - took a sec to figure out where all the traffic was coming from today!

Joe Quint

"I like the idea of the Tenset. Can we see yours? (not being facetious, genuinely interested)"

I'm still considering it, but generally I've tried to keep my best stuff off the web. Like it or not, I'm kinda high profile (not hugely so, but kinda), and my stuff gets stolen all the time. Just the other day I got a very official announcement email from really a pretty large, serious concern, and right there in the middle of it was a picture I took in my very own bedroom! I kid you not. Doubtless they didn't mean to "steal" it--it was just out there on the web, they found it somewhere or other, and it fit what they needed so they used it. I'm sure they didn't know whose it was, and it's not like it was hgh art, it was just an illustration. But that's sorta the way things have gone for me.

I just know, however, that there are pictures of mine that I would be really offended to have filched--some that really are personal, that have real meaning to me--so I just don't publish them.

I'll keep thinking about it, though.


An excellent, informative post. I agree with everything here with the exception of your critique of Simon Robinson for watermarking his images. You write: "Not putting a watermark in the image area does not mean you don't have copyright. A notice next to the picture is as effective as a notice ON the picture." Sure, it's as effective from a legal standpoint, but you're assuming that people browsing the internet understand the concept of copyright, which in many cases I don't think they do. (Check out this article at Imaging Resources for a cogent example). I'd argue that a watermark serves as a greater deterrent to theft than some HTML text that can be easily separated from the photo. I'm not saying that everyone should use them-- I often don't, myself-- but certainly there are justifiable reasons for doing so, and I think we should respect that.

That's why I wrote, in the post, "It's not for me to say people shouldn't put their copyright notices in the image area...."



Your post motivated me to revise my own Tenset (prepared a few months ago). It lives in Flickr, so I guess I should move it to my own site someday.

@Mike: I don't want to get into a semantic argument, but that's a pretty week disclaimer. It's not for you to say, except that you did say it.

No, we're not going to get into an argument, because we're not in disagreement. Here's the situation: in my opinion, copyright notices in the image area (often) detract from the picture. And they annoy me when I have to look at them. That's just the fact of it. But I fully understand that some people feel the benefit outweighs the disadvantage--and I understand why. I'm not in a position to demand anything of anybody, so why would I need a stronger disclaimer than the one I gave? People are going to go ahead and do whatever they feel is in their best interest, regardless of my opinion. It's not my decision whether Simon (or anybody) uses a watermark or not. It's his. I do get that.


I'm a big fan of Juan Buhler's website as a model of simplicity. http://www.jbuhler.com/
Clear white border framing the photos, location info not inside the photo.
Very little to distract from the excellent photos, and pretty quick to load.

Mike, embedding photos in a flash gallery makes it much harder or impossible for casual filchers to appropriate them.

Putting photos in the background (of body, table cell, div) used to be enough for that kind of protection, but the... idiots (really don't want to find another word) around Internet Explorer and Firefox thought it marvelous to enable direct saving of background images.

Ben Mathis summed up all the most crucial points perfectly. I find it annoying that websites are still being designed for the 800x600 screen resolution format, pictures are still too small on the internet.

When I made my website, I knew what I liked, so I learned a bit of HTML and just made it as simple as possible.

I shoot large format though, so for me to actually get my pictures onto the website requires scanning, which is great because then I end up only scanning the ones I think are any good, so my edit is always tiny.

Nice post Mike. I don't have a real site yet except for a blog with mostly family pics and a Flickr account, so not much room to play with the UI there. But... your tenset idea was something I could do so I made a 'The Tenset' set on Flickr with (for now) 17 pics in it that reflect what I do and like.

Best, Nick

Mike, on visible watermarks: "It's not for me to say people shouldn't put their copyright notices in the image area, although I don't like the practice: anything in the way of the picture is bad in my book."

Mike, on image theft from the web: "I've tried to keep my best stuff off the web.... my stuff gets stolen all the time." (I removed the line where Mike implies that his photos get stolen because of who made them rather than because of how good they are.)

Mike, your followup at 11:16 p.m. makes clear that you see no contradiction in lamenting other photographers' visible watermarks while admitting that you fear image theft when posting your own images online. Fair enough.

But since the point of this entire post is to be helpful to photographers with regard to their web presence, in your recommendation what's a typical photographer to do, if not one of the four choices below?

It seems a photographer who doesn't want to provide free clip-art to the whole world has four choices, each of which has its shortcomings:

1. Not put images on the web
2. Put only very small images on the web
3. Use Flash [makes right-click image theft harder]
4. Visibly watermark the images

Am I missing any options here? (I should note that none of these are foolproof for the photographer who sells prints, not even #1, because the buyer can always scan/rephotograph the print and then legally insert the image into a listing on eBay, for example].)

No splash page, go right into the content.

Agreed. I can't see the point in a page which says "click here to enter site".

For non-coders who want a very easy way to make simple, browser/platform-compatible web photo galleries, I recommend Web Album Generator: http://www.ornj.net/webalbum/index.html


Makes it easy to add and arrange photos and add titles and captions.

It creates valid code that doesn't cause trouble in any browser I've tried (which is lots).

Geeks can customize its stylesheet to their heart's content to make its pages look they way they want.

Did I mention that it's free? (There's no Mac version, though)

I love the idea of letting your images speak for themselves on everything from the photographer's style to the photo's category. A simple tenset is a nice thought, like a visual table of contents. I recently pulled together my own (um, 30)set, and like that I can more easily swap out images without having to reorganize.

@ Jeff Glass

I like David's site and photography as well, but think the site suffers from a bit of visual clutter. I'd loose the redundant Galleries buttons on either side of the thumbs. I understand that they are there for balance but just too distracting. For that matter I'd also lose the thumbnails and just put a button that gets you an overview. That, or at least reduce the opacity of them considerably, and bump the size of the displayed image by 25%.

Thanks for posting and tell David I will send him an invoice.

Nice stuff.

I fail to see any contradiction here. When I give my responses to the viewing experience I have online, I need to be honest with regard to what I think and what my reactions actually are. I don't like looking at images with watermarks all over them. What do you want me to do, lie and say I do? I don't.

And no, I don't put up certain pictures that have personal meaning to me, because I don't want them to be appropriated. Problem solved--those pictures never get appropriated. They're safe in a box in my closet. It's just the decision I've made with regard to certain particular pictures. Not an ideal decision, just the one I've decided upon.

And no, I don't dispute other peoples' decision to use a watermark if that's what they feel will better serve their needs and better protect their work.

But do I have to like looking at the watermarks just because someone else decides to use them? I don't see how that follows.

What's the problem here? Where is there any contradiction in any of my positions on this?

It's not an ideal world. There are certain risks inherent in certain actions. There are also tradeoffs inherent in certain actions. Protection and accessibility are conflicting parameters. Sometimes an ideal solution doesn't exist. That's life.


For a while I resisted the idea of breaking up my portfolio into categories; there's real appeal to a tenset sort of page. But portfolio categories can be useful (at least I think so) if they're really focused.

In my "Portfolio" page there are five categories (Newborns, Families, Couples, Weddings,Events) which I hope cater to the people who may be looking at my Portfolio. I don't know that it would be useful to clients have my two best images from each of those categories in one (although I guess that's what the slideshow on the opening page is...hmmm).

Anyhow, if you've made it to the 3rd/4th page of comments and care to take a look: www.aarondill.com/portfolio


P.S. Mike, have you considered putting up some sort of private online gallery, open to TOP readers or somesuch? I don't know what sort of design would work, but there's obviously lots of people who would like to see more of your work. I bet a book of yours would sell pretty well too...

"For a while I resisted the idea of breaking up my portfolio into categories; there's real appeal to a tenset sort of page. But portfolio categories can be useful (at least I think so) if they're really focused."

You do understand I'm not suggesting you can't do both, right? I'm suggesting a tenset as an opener, not necessarily as the whole site.

Also, I think your categories make PERFECT sense, since you're directing each category at discrete groups of potential clients. That's probably a perfect example of the ideal use of portfolio categories. A wedding client isn't going to be interested in a newborn portrait...not for another nine months or so, anyway!


Thanks for this post Mike. It gave me the boot in the rear I needed to trim my site a bit.Loads faster now and I use the new Google Chrome which gives you a smaller menu/browser bar.

Hi Mike,

I find the idea of a tenset really appealing. Guess what. I implemented it directly to my site (http://www.martinzeile.de) and even named it tenset.
Although I left my original gallery with subcategories intact (which need further attention by the way). I think this might be a good compromise between kicking out to much photos and a slick short portfolio for everyone who does not want to see 40+ images but only 10.
I would appreciate a feedback if your time allows it


You know, the web module of Lightroom makes very nice slide shows--both HTML and Flash. The options are quite limited, but you get clean and simple.

In addition to people using various flash blocking software, flash also doesn't run on many portable devices (phones and netbooks). For a simple gallery function, it's a big mistake IMNSHO. (And the screens on some of the phones are incredible; small, but 200 pixels per inch!)

And it doesn't slow people down grabbing copies of the photos. You may not know how, but people into stealing photos do.

For big commercial concerns using your photos, the important step is to register copyright. Then you can hit them for statutory damages, rather than being restricted to real damages. For commercial concerns far away (in China, wherever), they weren't a potential market for most of us in the first place, so if we can't manage to sue them later, what does it matter?

I don't actually believe in people who "don't know" that stuff on the web might be copyrighted. That's getting into malicious ignorance for anybody working in the design field. It might be a defense claim (but "ignorance is no excuse"), but I don't think it's real.

David Dyer-Bennet wrote: "I don't actually believe in people who 'don't know' that stuff on the web might be copyrighted. That's getting into malicious ignorance for anybody working in the design field."

David, I agree - it is hard to believe - which is why that imaging-resources.com article that Andy Marfia linked to (21 posts above David's) is must reading for photographers interested in protecting their images:

"Only 21 per cent of the marketing, PR and publishing professionals surveyed correctly identified the definition of ‘royalty free,’ with nearly half (44 per cent) believing it meant they could use the image without paying for it. Additionally, only 16.5 per cent knew what ‘rights managed’ meant.... 81 per cent of creative professionals that have used an image without paying for it [say they] did not feel guilty."

(It apparently made no difference whether the photos in question were copyrighted, and it's also probably safe to assume that if the figures are inaccurate they're probably on the low side.)

I work for a company that uses a lot of freelance designers, and I've worked with at least four youngish graphic designers who were ignorant (or feigned ignorance) about what "royalty-free" meant. They each lifted multiple copyrighted photos off the web daily (two of them actually told me, "Hey, it says they're royalty-free, doesn't it?"). From all indications I've seen, this is now common practice in the design field, especially as more and more design work is outsourced to freelancers and less work is done in-house by payrolled employees of those "big commercial concerns."

The principle of copyrights may not be obsolete, but relying on them to solve the problem of intellectual/creative property theft can sound pretty anachronistic. In a market increasingly dominated by freelance designers who have instant, anonymous access to millions of quality images, it seems to me that the threat of a copyright claim by the creator of a digital photograph has no more force than does a copyright claim by the seller of a digital piece of music -- i.e., both claims mean, in practical terms, virtually nothing. The only way an individual photographer can realistically fight image theft is to make the image less desirable (by watermarking it) so that the would-be thief moves on to the next easily-appropriated image.

Frankly, I think many photographers who try to protect their images from theft are more concerned about numerous small-time thefts than one large "big commercial concern" [outside of China] stealing an image. To the degree that the "many micro-thefts" concern is prevalent - and I don't know of any evidence either way - a visible watermark that makes reuse of the image a hassle strikes me as far better protection against theft than a copyright not inserted into the image area. But perhaps mine is a minority view.

On a side note, does anyone have any experience with tineye.com?

I've tried to keep my gallery pages as simple and (hopefully) intuitive as possible. I found that only way to get exactly what I wanted was to write the code myself... which of course is not an option for most people, I suppose.

For a long while the *only* gallery on my site was effectively a "tenset": a gallery with a variety of images in pairs. But now I've added galleries to correspond with recent active exhibitions, so the "tenset" is no longer first in the gallery list.

My site: http://www.jonasyip.com
The ten-set-ish gallery is the the second one ("Juxta")

Jonas Yip

I pretty much followed Ben Mathis rules when designing my website. I didn't want to have any special code to deal with all kind of browsers so the same code had to work for IE, Firefox, Safari and the iPhone. It may not be flashy but it is simple and fast (when my host company cooperates, that's it).
Mike, I agree with you on the tenset, as a matter of fact my portfolios (but one) all have between 6 - 12 images

Just added my twentytwoset, Thanks for the idea.


Mike, I understand but if your argument or suggestion is purely about convenience for the viewer so that they can ascertain ASAP whether more time should be spent on a photographer's work then I have even a more radical time saving approach.
Skip the ten photographs idea. How about viewing only one image?
My premise is that one photograph should tell you enough. If the viewer doesn't get it what would nine more photographs tell them? That it's not luck? Possibly.
If one's job is to view websites continuously then my suggestion is not so radical but if like me where viewing other Photographer's work is on a more pleasurable casual basis then I have no problem with whatever way they represent themselves.

So let me (tremblingly) do some self-promotion in this context:

Yours is one of those websites where there isn't enough.


Well the benefit of this discussion for me has been the discovery of your work.
Agree with Mike...could look all day!
Keith Trumbo

For my site I mostly copied the format and functionality of joe's nyc, which works well for a blog. I use an old version of Movable Type, no flash, one image per page, static content so everything loads fast. I use a couple of javascript drop-downs to display photos by category and month posted.

As far as I can tell, most of my few viewers use my site by starting at the front page and clicking back through the five or ten most recently posted images. I don't think many people use the category menus. One of my categories is "favorites" and I should probably put a prominent link to it on each page. (Or maybe I should put my "favorites" thumbnails on the front page.) But it works well enough as it is and I like to keep things simple.

Perhaps I have too many photos on my site. However, I use the site as a notebook, and keeping all of the images that I have posted makes it easy for me to see how my skills and tastes have changed over time.

Great post, and responses. Thank you Mike, and everyone else. Numerous options, as opposed to restrictive answers, provided to concerns and questions I've had regarding my "efforts" ("work" sounds too professional for my stuff).

As my New Year Resolution, I need to set up some web presence for the increasing interest in those efforts - rather than the restrictive Google Picasa web-albums I've used up until now. This topic has been most helpful.

On a less serious note. Will you be awarding the "TOP Mark" of approval to sites in the future? For both design, and content. "This site has been approved to TOP Standard xxx." Perhaps a grading system? Although at my level, it's likely to be like too many of the old school reports, "Could do better." Maybe not such a great idea.

Thanks again.

I was quite inspired by the concept of the “tenset”, and I’ve had a go at creating my own. If you’re interested, you can find mine at href="http://www.andrewj.com/photography/gallery.asp?page=../album/- My Tenset/index.html

I’ve also written a short article on how I selected my tenset, and the pros and cons of different strategies.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007