Complete Site Revamp – Part I, A History

Well after much procrastination I mean careful thought & planning I eventually got around to making some fairly sweeping changes to johndunnephotography.com. For anyone that frequents this site you might have noticed the changes rolled out over the last month or so, and while there is quite a few items left on the to-do list I am happy to cut the virtual ribbon on my site today.

So what has changed? Well for one I am now running a blog directly from this site, migrating my blog over from MyChi.us and changing from the Blogger platform to WordPress. Secondly I am hosting the back-end via PhotoShelter who are also managing the eCommerce side of things. But firstly a little history….

I first established an interwebbery presence in 2007, March 3rd to be exact with the triumphantly titled blog post of Site’s Live, woohoo! Oh the site plans I had at launch time. The site was going to be a one stop shop for everything I was interested in – my photography, my DJ’ing and tech (the shiny stuff, not the boring IT stuff). Indeed I delivered a lot of that during the early months, although maybe a little sporadically. I uploaded a selection of DJ mixes, I wrote a review article on my MacPro and shared my images. The problem was those early designs created a lot of overhead and the updates were awkward and time consuming. I went through many, many, many iterations and faced some problems while refining the site to a point where I could maintain it within the limited free time I had. This was all happening during a time when photography was becoming increasingly important to me and I did not want to be stuck in front of the Mac digging into html and css. By May 2009 the site was paired down to just the Blog, some automated Flickr Galleries and a contact page. Yep, pretty low maintenance.

I’d like to mention here RapidWeaver from RealMac Software. When I moved to Mac back in 2007 there were two ‘wow’ apps for me on the Apple platform – Aperture and RapidWeaver. These two applications for me summed up the pure simplicity that Apple and Mac OSX deliver. What is RapidWeaver? It is a theme based WYSIWYG web development tool. It is an absolute doddle to use, it has incredible extensibility through 3rd party plug-ins and has a thriving community of theme developers. As I look into my RapidWever folder I can see I purchased 13 themes and 9 plug-ins over the years of using this tool. The great thing is that everything is so cheap from the app itself at $79 to the themes and plug-ins which usually run around the $15 to $20 range. Anyway I realise I am sounding like and advertisement for them and that is not my intention, its just a great piece of software.

By the end of 2008 I felt I was building a sufficient body of work that I needed a more appropriate way to display it then from the blog and Flickr. I had been hoping to secure the johndunnephotography.com domain but it was owned by someone else at the time, although no site was published. I started to consider alternatives but kept an eye on WHOIS as I new that domain was coming up for renewal in January 09.  Much to my delight the previous owner decided not to renew it (or simply forgot), either way I jumped on it and registered it on Janurary 14th. I then spent about 5 months procrastinating I mean carefully considering how I would make best use of this domain. I returned to my trusted RapidWeaver but this time did not want a pre-built theme, I wanted a blank canvas that I could build on. Clearly I was not alone in this requirement and a 3rd party theme developer had already developed a “blank” theme that was perfect for my needs.

I also needed to figure out how best to display my images, and my research led me to SlideShowPro a company that develop a great flash gallery and add-on tools for photographers. I ended up purchasing SlideShowPro, ThumbsGrid and SlideShowPro Director. Director is a Content Management System for SlideShow Pro which made it so easy to manage the content for the flash based slideshows. Essentially I would upload the images to a central tool hosted on my site. I could create Galleries and Collections within the tool, and it would spit out a piece of CSS that I could use when creating a Slideshow. This meant that once it was setup and the Flash based Slideshow was created and hosted within my site, any time I uploaded a new image to Director the slideshow would dynamically update. Very handy indeed. And if I was to steal Steve Jobs favorite saying (at least it seems that way to me) Slideshow Pro & ThumbGrid made for a gorgeous display of my images.

Much to my surprise, shortly after I launched my portfolio site I started to receive a number of enquires regarding print sales. This was fantastic but in reality I had not planned for it, at least not this early. So pretty quickly I started to research my options for an eCommerce solution that would meet the needs for print sales. The first sites to pop-up were SmugMug and Zenfolio which are very popular choices for photographers wishing for a full service Internet presence with an eComercce back-end but, I decided against these (reasons for which will be discussed in part 2 of this update). I came across PhotoCart which seemed like the perfect solution. A complete eCommerce solution designed for photographers for self-fillment of print orders hosted from my own site with zero middlemen… perfect. So I promptly purchased it and set about integrating it into my existing Portfolio site. And thats when I hit a snag, my original design for the portfolio site was not built to accommodate an ecommerce solution  and while PhotoCart had lots of customisation options I lacked the skills to properly integrate it. The crude solution I eventually settled on was to host it in an iFrame. The iFrame worked perfectly for anyone browsing to the shop from within the site but anyone who visited the shop directly, say from a Google search would end up landing on the bare shop with zero branding, etc. Not ideal by any means.

Additionally my precious workflow was going backwards in terms of the amount of work required every time I wished to publish a new image. Have a look…

  1. Upload image to SlideShow Pro Director and place in relevant Gallerie(s)
  2. Upload image to PhotoCart via Dave’s Uploader and place in relevant Gallery and confirm pricing model
  3. Upload to Flickr Site and add commentary
  4. Post image and commentary to Blog on MyChi.us and link to Flickr (no deep linking to Portfolio site as images were Flash based)

Wow that’s a lot of work to publish just one image, there must be a better way. And there was, which I shall cover in part 2 where I will discuss my new site and why I chose WordPress, GraphPaperPress and PhotoShelter, so stay tuned…

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