|Your Own Photo Web Site
by Vivid Light Staff
How would you like to be able to create a Web site where you could showcase your photos to friends, family and the whole world? Today it's far easier than you might think.
A Little History to Help
But as companies looked to the Web as a way to get information out large numbers of similar screens needed to be built. Initially programmers built their own tools to build very specific pages but eventually tools produced to create Web pages and eventually complete Web sites automatically. Or at least that's what the software companies claimed. Those early tools generated code with plenty of flaws. They could do the bulk of the grunt work but someone had to go back in and fix up all the problems. But Web sites got more complicated and the tools got better at handling them. So that today small sites can be reliably built using simple tools and even large sites need far less fiddling directly with the code.
But code generators aren't the cure for everything. Some sites that have special controls, such as the forward and backward controls in Vivid Light, require special code generators. In our case the pages are generated by our own code generator, then brought in Microsoft FrontPage, where they are then integrated into the overall site and managed by FrontPage. Do you really need software to manage your Web site? In our case yes, Vivid Light Photography consists of over 3,300 files in 266 subdirectories. So anything we can do to automate the process is a plus. But the sites of most photographers will be far smaller and require far simpler tools.
Starting on Your Own Site
We'll also assume that:
It's very common today for a "personal Web page" to be included when you get an Internet account. You may have one and not even know it. So before you get started contact your ISP and find out what you'll need to put your Web page up. They'll provide you with something called an IP address. This is the numeric address of their server where you new Web page will be located. It's kind of like the lot and block number of your house on the tax map. They'll also give you the URL which is the address people will type in to find your Web site. Ours is http://www.vividlight.com. Yours will probably be something like http://users.yourISP.com/~your_email_name.
So if you're using a company called StarNet to connect to the Internet (we're making that up in case there really is a StarNet) and your email address is BobSmith@starnet.com, your Web site will probably have an address like http://users.starnet.com/~bobsmith.
Well that's a mouthful. What if you want something catchy like www.greatphotographer.com? To get the Web address of your choice you'd go to a Web registrar and pay a fee to register, or in effect own, that name. If you're interested you can read about the process in the sidebar below. For now lets say you're going to use the page you get free from your ISP. If you don't get a Web page as part of the package from your ISP you have two choices: switch to another ISP or go to a free Web hosting service. There are many, the level of service varies, and most will pop ads up over your page every time someone comes to visit.
Build it and They Will Come - Some Building Tools
The upside is that all you need to do is park copies of your images in a subdirectory, pick items from a couple of menus and you've got a complete Web site ready to upload to your address on the Web. The whole process is painless and literally takes less than 10 minutes. The uploading process will vary a bit from ISP to ISP so we'll leave that part alone for now. The upside to this approach is that it's incredibly easy. The downside is that you're pretty limited as to what you can do with your Web site. The only thing you can create this way are image galleries. The next step up the ladder is a simple Web creation tool. This software is inexpensive, easy to learn and easy to use.
One example of such a package is WebEasy Home Edition. It retails for about $29.99 so it's easy on the wallet and it will allow you to build simple Web pages and Web sites. The keyword here is simple. The software provides you with a set of simple templates and allows you to make simple changes to the text and colors of those templates - but you're limited in just how creative you can get. This is both the strength and weakness of a package like WebEasy. Because it imposes strict limits you can't get into trouble. But because of those strict limits you can only get so creative. WebEasy Home Edition also won't let you do things like add credit card processing to sell things through your Web site.
For that they have WebEasy Professional. It has over 100 templates and built in support for e-commerce, which is selling things through the Web. They'll even hook you up with a payment processing service to handle your credit card transactions (though we're sure there's a healthy fee). At a cost of $69.99 the professional version will give you a lot more latitude towards creating a professional looking Web site.
WebEasy isn't the only company making low cost Web publishing software, but they seem to have a following and we found their software in several retail outlets. This is a good sign because it means they're likely to be around to support you and their product a year from now. You can also search the Web for free software called shareware but we wouldn't recommend it. Shareware often has quirks and bugs, the documentation is often less than stellar, and you are more likely to be left frustrated unless you already have the knowledge to work your way out of a problem.
The next step up the Web site creation ladder are products like WebEditor 5.5. This package contains over 200 templates which the WebEditor folks call themes. They also have ecommerce support but more importantly WebEditor allows you to get to the underlying HTML code and modify it directly.
Why would you want to do that? While all of these products are good at taking a lot of the drudgery out of creating Web pages none of them are perfect. Often what is a tedious series of drag and drop and going through layer upon layer of dialog boxes can be done with a little quick typing directly into the code itself. If you already know HTML you'll never want to be without this ability and if you decide to build a more complex Web site you'll need it. WebEditor also provides support for adding multi-media files to you Web site. Multi-media files include sound, video, and Flash sequences.
A lot of Web pages are built with Microsoft FrontPage because a lot of people got their copies for free. How's that you ask? When you buy Microsoft Office professional edition Microsoft FrontPage is included. Several other products from Microsoft include a scaled down version of FrontPage called FrontPage Express (which is on par with something like WebEasy Home Edition). If you don't have it through any of those software bundles a copy will set you back about $170.
The full version of FrontPage is quirky (sometimes very quirky) but it's able to manage large Web sites. It does require that certain software called Microsoft FrontPage Extensions be loaded onto the server. So check with your ISP before choosing FrontPage as your development tool.
That's actually not bad advice in any case. If you are thinking about putting together a complex site that uses forms and take credit cards you should check with your ISP to make sure that you can use a particular package before you buy it.
If you want to set up an ecommerce site using FrontPage you have to buy a separate package from Microsoft called StoreFront which retails for a whopping $250 in addition to the cost of FrontPage.
The big dog on the block is a package called DreamWeaver MX ($400). Don't even consider this software unless you already know quite a bit about creating a Web site and you're planning on building a pretty large complex site. DreamWeaver is powerful and wasn't designed with novices in mind. The learning curve is steep and the documentation assumes you know what you're doing.
Still Not Sure
But be forewarned! This stuff is addictive in its own right. You can wind up spending a ton of hours in front of the computer that would be better spent out shooting!