New Galleries at Zenfolio

For the past year or so I’ve been experimenting with a service to host my gallery.  I researched several of them, and decided to try Photoshelter.  The main attraction for me was the tight integration to my Graph Paper Press themed WordPress blog.  Click a button, and Photoshelter will load all the elements of a Graph Paper Press theme, making your galleries look just like your blog – kinda cool.  Photoshelter also allows in depth customization … right down to editing the actual HTML so if your handy with that kind of stuff you can really create a great looking site.  (I’m ok with things like HTML and CSS … meaning I can stumble around and do some stuff … but I’m far from proficient … and I don’t think handy would describe my skill level either.)

After presenting my portfolio to a couple of galleries and getting some favorable responses, as well as actively pursuing finding a location of my own to open a gallery, I decided it was time to get serious about an online gallery. I’m not sure many end buyers of high end photographic art find their choices online – I’ve always felt you really can’t sell an image until the viewer can experience it first hand.  While those who may have experienced the prints in person may be less reluctant to make a purchase online, first time buyers have no clue if that image actually looks good in a 40×60″ image on the wall.  The internet is flooded with images, taken with everything from a cell phone to large format film camera.  While they all may look pretty much the same online, print a 30 x 40 or larger of one, and the difference will be astounding.  Only by seeing a large print from a high end camera can you appreciate what it offers.  The main goal of the online gallery is for potential gallery owners.  After showing my portfolio to one gallery who was very interested, she ask me to email her with my online galleries so she could go over images with the others involved in the gallery and discuss which ones they might like to display … I really didn’t want to send them to my Photoshelter site.

So after deciding to get serious I was beginning to clean up and organize my Photoshelter galleries, but my quandary was the pricing model for Photoshelter.  They purport to market your work (and  indeed if you do things the right  way that might be the case for some types of work), but my needs are different.  As a landscape photographer, I don’t have a lot of images to offer.  All of my images are printed personally, and I don’t need a service to host the original files and then forward them to a printing facility and on to the customer.  Most printing facilities don’t even offer the type of final prints I wish to sell.  I also really don’t need them to collect the money, just provide a shopping cart and when a purchase is made, forward me the details so I can contact the client and direct them how to pay via PayPal.

Photoshelter’s service for isn’t bad, in fact it’s very good.  The plan which made this work was their middle level, at 29.95/mth.  This gives you 60 gb of online storage (which I didn’t need), but they also get 9% of each sale.  This is where I wasn’t very happy.  Someone can sell a 16×20 print provided by Adorama for $25, and Photoshelter will take their fee of $2.25.  But if I sell a 16×20 for $400, they still take 9% … about $36.00.  Just doesn’t make sense … the service is already pricey.  I’m not even sure they collect the money, but might just route the sale through my PayPal account (required), which means I get hit with the PayPal fee on top of that.  Sorry, but not sure why the disparity, what you are selling is your service, the ordering is a convenience but should probably be a simple transaction fee (if anything at all) if someone is doing their own print fulfillment.

I spent some time trying to find some stock templates to create custom photo galleries in something like Dreamweaver,  but that looked like more work than I’m interested in, so I began exploring alternatives.  There are many of them out there, the main ones I narrowed it down to was Photobiz, Smugmug, and Zenfolio as possible alternatives.

All are good services and have good points and drawbacks.  Smugmug has a great following (called smuggies I think .. not sure I want that label 🙂  ), has great looking galleries,  and allows some nice customization.  Smugmug Pro is only $150/year so it’s very affordable. I found many examples of great looking sites built on Smugmug.  There are companies that  have designed some nice templates which for a fee they will plug right into your Smugmug site – instantly you can look great.  Unfortunately, they suffer from the same problem as Photoshelter … for the person wanting to fulfill their own orders, they still collect a fee (15%) of each sale.

Photobiz has some really nice templates and looked very promising.  No fees (they just forward the orders to you), so I looked a little harder at them.  Surprisingly they didn’t offer a free 14 day trial like other services (odd). They have some great templates and I found many good looking sites built on Photobiz. The big problem is they are very flash dependent, so things just don’t work well on the 100’s of millions of mobile devices out there (I assume they are trying to fix this, since mobile flash is dead for all platforms).   They also seemed geared heavily for people shooters … portraits, weddings and the like.  They are intended to be a “full website” and include blogging and other options.  Overall a nice package, but just didn’t seem to be the right fit.

That left Zenfolio.  I’ve looked at them in the past but really never gave them a hard look. I discovered their Business Premium package, priced at $250/year, there are no  fees on self fulfilled products.  This was my main goal … a service to provide galleries and a shopping cart that was customizable enough to interact with my blog, offer nice galleries that work on mobile devices, and was affordable.  How would it look?

I signed up for the trial and started messing with the templates.  Things which were difficult to do with Photoshelter like setting up price lists was much easier.  With Photoshelter you create a list of products you want to sell – but you can’t put prices to those products.  Then you create a pricing profile which lists all the products and you then have to put the prices in there.  You can’t duplicate those profiles so when you create profiles with the same products, you end up having to put the prices into each one … trying to make sure you get them the same.  With Zenfolio, the prices go with the products.  I then created a master price list with all products, and then duplicated the master price list for each category I wanted for final pricing.  After duplicating this master list, I could just go in a delete any products that didn’t apply to that category.  Once I had the products created (which does take some time) creating the 7 or so price lists only took about 5 minutes.

There are many ways to customize the site, and even though it might not be an exact match to my blog, it’s close enough.  Menu’s are customizable, so some of the menu commands call up pages in the blog, such as the about me and contact me pages.  No need to do those twice.  You can also create custom pages, including HTML and include those menus.  I have one that describes the process of creating the work as well as in depth description of the three levels of prints I offer.

Of course the real work has just begun.  Since I’ve never tried to sell my work, there isn’t much organization to where the good stuff is.  I’ve been working on it for the past few months, and now I’ve finally settled on categories, sizes and editions.  I’ve got a nice key wording system that allows me to find them, and I’ve built  a Lightroom export template which produces the image I upload to Zenfolio which includes my graphics around the print, my signature and a Digimarc embedded (and invisible) watermark to help locate those that post my work without permission. They crawl the web and whenever they find an image with my watermark I get a notification.  The watermark even survives a screen grab (since you can’t right click any images in the gallery to save them.) I’m working on an article about Digimarc.

At this point I”m pretty pleased with the results I ended up with on Zenfolio.  The site is clean and simple, basically it’s only about my pictures.  It has it’s own custom URL ( so there is no evidence of Zenfolio at all on the site.  Now to see if I can get my work up in some galleries so the online galleries might pay off.


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