Site search Web search

Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
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 
Understand the Present Not so long ago building a Web site required knowledge of the Internet, of computers and the ability to program in HTML - the common programming language of the Web. To the uninitiated it was all Greek. To the programmers of the time it was cake. HTML or hyper-text markup language was designed to be laughably simple by programmer's standards. But it was also an incredibly powerful tool for building screens, which is after all what the Web consists of. To see what HTML looks like click on the View menu of this window and choose Source. This will open a window that allows you to look directly at the HTML source that was used to build this page.

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 
For the sake of this article we'll assume that: 

  • You'll be building a small site containing no more than a few hundred files max. 
  • The purpose of the site will be to display your images and maybe say a little bit about you. 
  • It will contain links to other Web sites (including Vivid Light - hint, hint). 
  • You may at some point want to sell prints through your site

We'll also assume that: 

  • You aren't a programmer or computer systems person. 
  • You don't want to become either. 
  • You want a simple way to get a Web site up that won't require much effort or maintenance on your part. 
  • You have an Internet service provider (ISP) who can provide you with space on their Web server. This is where you Web pages will live.

Getting Started 
By now you should be getting the idea that this doesn't require a pocket protector and a degree in computer science. Below are several simple approaches and simple tools for getting something out there. But first you need to get some information from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to determine that you have a place out on the Web to put your Web page.

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 Yours will probably be something like

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, your Web site will probably have an address like

Well that's a mouthful. What if you want something catchy like 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 
Now that you have a place to park you Web site it's time to look at how to build it. For photographers the easiest solution for showcasing your work is to use one of the templates that are built into PhotoShop. We explained how to use them to create a web page in When Digital is Wonderful in Issue #25.

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 
Don't let yourself get overwhelmed. If you have a page from your ISP try the simple approach using PhotoShop of WebEasy Home Edition first. Get your feet wet and learn your way around. According to our reader polls there's a pretty good chance you already own Photoshop and at $30 WebEasy is an inexpensive way to dip a toe in the water.

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!

So You Want to be a Programmer 

If you've decided that you want to know a more about the HTML code that makes up your Web pages and you want to know something about how it works check out the NCSA Beginner's Guide to HTML. It's available online and contains a ton of information. 

For a less intense approach try HTML 4 for Dummies by Ed Tittel and Natanya Pitts. Most programming books assume that you're a programmer so they're set up as references more than anything else. 

The tone of this book is more like sitting down with someone and having them explain things to you in simple plain English. You can find this book in book stores for under $20. If you're thinking about learning HTML it will be money well spent.


Photographer or Pornographer 

There is an urban legend about a grandmother who was said to have been prosecuted for child pornography because she took pictures of her granddaughter in the bathtub.

That story may or may not be true, but if you have any nude figure studies among the images you plan to post on your Web site or among the prints you intend to sell you should make absolutely sure that you have a signed model release that includes some kind of proof of age for the model. A driver's license, preferably a photo license is best for ID. Otherwise you can leave yourself open to an accusation that you are trafficking in images of minors. We get signed model releases for every model we use and no model is photographed unless we have a copy of a photo ID attached to the model release. Age can be difficult to judge in a photograph so the rule around here is "if they're under 100 get proof of age."

As for shots of your child in the bathtub or running around naked on the beach - I would think twice before putting them on the Web. The federal government is conducting a huge online crackdown on child pornography on the Web - and that is a good thing. 

But just in case that old urban legend about grandma is true I wouldn't put myself at risk. Save those nude photos for embarrassing your kids when they're teenagers. What else are parents for!


Your Own Web Address

So you want for your own (actually it's already taken by a phtographer in Iowa). 

The way you go about getting it is to go to an online registrar such as Internic ( You pay a fee to register the address and it becomes yours. Once a year you'll get a renewal notice and you get to pay again. 

But nothing on the Web is quite that easy. Today there are dozens of registrars for the Web and they all have different rates. You can get a complete list sorted by country from Internic by clicking here

But the fun doesn't stop there. With over a billion people on the Web worldwide and an unknown number of Web pages out there it can be difficult to find a name that isn't already taken. So make a long list of site names you like and then go to a search page like this one from Network Solutions to find out if it's available. 

If you really have to have a name and its already taken you can go to the Whois Registry. This is a database of who owns every address on the Internet. Type in the name of the site you want and you'll get information on who owns it and how to contact them. Then it's up to you to get them to part with it.


  Subscribe to Vivid Light 
Photography by email 

Tell Us What You Think

Vivid Light Photography, monthly photography magazine online

Site search Web search

Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online