Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Squarespace - The Pros

In my last post I mentioned that I had been looking for a template based web hosting service and that I had decided on  Squarespace after assessing all the variables I had mentioned. To recap what the important issues were for me:

  • the ability to utilize a custom domain so that my URL could remain the same
  • at least half a chance of being able to import my blog so as not to either lose all the posts, have to pay to have the blog hosted elsewhere, or to have to start from scratch
  • be responsive….that is to say be optimized for mobile devices
  • use no Flash
  • allow for the storage and download of digital products such as eBooks
  • be customizable so that the site doesn’t look like thousands of others that are out there already
  • be relatively reasonably priced
  • have clean, modern looking templatesbe relatively easy to use
  • have responsive customer service and support
  • optimally have the ability to embed audio for my Carrie Furnace Project, on which I spent quite some time preparing the audio clips
  • be able to do e-commerce and yet take only what I consider to be a reasonable ‘cut’ of one’s sales while also allowing for self-fulfillment of print orders

All the hosting services have the ability to utilize a custom domain (albeit at a higher price than the basic version).

All the hosts have available templates that don't use Flash and that are responsive (able to adapt configuration depending on what device the site is being viewed on) and that are clean and modern looking.

They all have the ability to do e-commerce, though the 'cuts' they take are variable. They all allow for self-fulfillment with no 'cut' as long as payment is NOT made through the site's e-commerce shopping cart (but then separate arrangements need to be made for payment, such as Paypal, but not through a direct link from the site). Having to request payment outside the website seems somewhat unprofessional to me.

So assuming that payment is made through the site shopping cart what is the 'cut'. Photo Shelter takes an 8-10% cut in most instances. Zenfolio takes 6% for self fulfilled orders and up to 12% for partner lab orders.  Smugmug says you keep 85% of the difference between the price you set and the Smugmug default, too complicated!

I like the Squarespace approach.  They have partnered with a service called Stripe to process credit cards.  You keep everything except for a 2.9% credit card processing fee and 30 cents per transaction.  This is very similar to plain old Paypal fees.  The downside is that you can't actually use Paypal.  Please note that my comments are based on the fact that I self fulfill all my sales. The considerations might be different if you use a print service.

What about blogs?  All the hosts have the ability to have a blog integrated into your website. But what about all those hundreds and hundreds of posts I have already made on my Wordpress blog that is integrated into my current website over many years? I certainly don't want to lose them. One of the very nice features of Squarespace is that they have an integrated import program that will copy all your old posts and port them into your new blog.  I tried works!   The downside (which I will cover in my next post) is that depending on your template the new blog appearance can range from magnificent to, well, less than magnificent.  PhotoShelter does not allow such blog importing. Zenfolio does.  I am uncertain as to the current status of this at Smugmug.

The only service where it seemed possible for me to add my Carrie Furnace audio clips to a page was Squarespace.  None of the others seemed to allow for that.

In terms of pricing, Smugmug was $150/yr, Zenfolio $140/yr, PhotoShelter $360/yr and Squarespace $190/yr, all when paid on a monthly plan.  Each may offer slightly lower prices for yearly commitments. PhotoShelter is clearly outside the bell shaped curve on this one at twice the price compared to most of the others.

In the end, I felt Squarespace offered the best options for me.  Obviously, this may not be the case for simply depends very specifically on what one is looking to do with their website and what type of photography and businedd concerns they have.

But don't think it is all a panacea.  In my next post I will discuss the Squarespace negatives, and there are a fair number in my mind.  Again, with a template based site it is unlikely that one size will fit all.

Choosing A Photography Website Host

A number of weeks ago I posted that I was considering putting together a new website. There were several reasons, but two which were of paramount importance: 

  • when I initially coded my current website using Dreamweaver there was no concern about how people might view the site on mobile devices.  The situation is very different at the current time and, best I can tell, optimizing a site for display on mobile devices entails quite a bit of work.
  • Because of he way my site is set up, it is quite an endeavor to add images and thus it has not been updated frequently at all.  I need a site that is easy to update and maintain.

And so I began looking at the options. I pretty quickly ruled out templates that you buy because, once again, I wanted to avoid relearning the coding and CSS that I learned in order to program my site years ago and which would be needed to make custom changes. Life is too short to both photograph and code. I then began to look at the major prefab sites:

  • Zenfolio
  • Smugmug
  • Photo Shelter
  • Squarespace

Yes, I know there are more, but these are the ones that seem most popular and utilized.

Before starting my research, I had to decide what issues were most important to me, as it seemed unlikely that I would find everything I could hope for in one location. Perhaps such a list would be useful to others who are also thinking about photography website hosting. These are the issues I found important.

  • the ability to utilize a custom domain so that my URL could remain the same
  • at least half a chance of being able to import my blog so as not to either lose all the posts, have to pay to have the blog hosted elsewhere, or to have to start from scratch
  • be responsive....that is to say be optimized for mobile devices
  • use no Flash, as Apple devices will not display Flash
  • allow storage and download of digital products such as eBooks
  • be customizable so that the site doesn't look like thousands of others that are out there already
  • be relatively reasonably priced
  • have clean, modern looking templates
  • be relatively easy to use
  • have responsive customer service and support
  • optimally have the ability to embed audio for my Carrie Furnace Project, on which I spent quite some time preparing the audio clips
  • be able to do e-commerce and yet take only what I consider to be a reasonable 'cut' of one's sales while also allowing for self-fulfillment of print orders

And so the search began.

Allow me to cut to the chase.  I ended up choosing what I suspect most will think is the most unlikely of the bunch.  Squarespace.

In the next post I will talk about what my reasons were and what the pros of my experience with Squarespace has been thus far.  After that I will post about the cons....and while there certainly are some, I do think that the pros outweigh them!


A few days ago I attended the opening of another portion of the outpatient facility belonging to the health system where I work.  This phase was even larger than the first and I was honored to again have the system purchase my artwork to decorate the facility.  From an artist's standpoint, I don't think there is anything quite like walking into a building and seeing 79 of your prints on the wall that you yourself have printed after hours and hours of work to ensure that they communicate your vision.

Particularly alluring were the four images that were blown up to almost 6 feet and printed (these I did not print myself) by a specialty company on some type of polished aluminum.  This was arranged by the hospital's art consultants and therefore I don't really know the details of the process.  Interestingly, the company that produced these only wanted the files at 100 pixels/inch, not the usual 240-360 that I typically print on paper with.  Nonetheless, given the dimensions, it still required some significant 'uprezzing' of the image files, which I did using OnOne's Perfect Resize.  It was with a bit of trepidation that I went to look at these, because there was no specific color profile supplied for softproofing, no clear directions as to how the files should be sharpened and, of course, no proof print to see if the sharpness would hold up on the aluminum at that size and resolution.

Well, I am usually a pretty strong critic of my own work, but I have to say that the aluminum prints really looked great and I was quite pleased with them.

The image below is not one that was printed on aluminum, but is one of the prints that hang in the facility that I don't recall having posted on my blog before.


Copyright Howard Grill

End Of Year Update

The end of the year has been filled with some happenings for my photography. I don't usually 'toot my own horn', but I will go ahead and do it anyway, if just for one post. I have been quite busy making large prints of my nature images.  Several months back, I provided Excela Health with 47 images for their outpatient medical facility.  These were large prints, larger than any I had ever made before.  In fact, I had to use onOne's  Perfect Resize software to uprez even my big Canon 5D MkII files in order to print the images to about 23 inches on the short side (my printer 'only' goes to 24 inches).  The prints were framed to 30x40 inches.  At any rate, it was really amazing to see one's work printed to that size.

Well, I guess they liked them, because I just finished printing more of the same for Phase II of their outpatient expansion, and this time there were 76 images!  It took quite a bit of time and I have to say that the job would not have been completed without having a specific deadline.  Brooks Jenson has pointed this out in his podcasts many time and it sure is true.  Nothing works like a deadline when it comes to making sure the job gets done.

I am really pleased that my work can be seen in a health care facility, where setting a positive mood is so important.

Here is one of the images from the group, which I have not posted on-line before:

"Covered Bridge"

Copyright Howard Grill

The image was made using a neutral density filter to allow for a long exposure time, which is what generates the interesting water pattern.  For those in the Pittsburgh area, this is the bridge right next to the mill in McConnell's Mill State Park.

That bridge is actually the same one I used to make this image from my 'Dreamscapes' series (except I was obviously standing inside the bridge for this one):

Dreamscapes #3

Copyright Howard Grill

No lens was used to make that photo, but, rather, a zone plate was used to focus the light. Needless to say, this is not one of those images being used for the health care project!

I am also pleased to report that one of my Carrie Furnace images was published in the most recent issue of Black & White Magazine, having been chosen for the 2013 Single Image contest/issue.  This is the photograph that was chosen:

Stove Room VII

Copyright Howard Grill

And that is the update!

The Stolen Scream

The fascinating story of a stolen image that has traveled around the globe:

I'm not so sure I would be as accepting as Mr. Galai if it were my image that was stolen and used thousands of times over.

Designing A Product II

For Part I of Designing A Product, click here. Here are some pictures of the finished Carrie Furnace eBook product.  I wasn't going for anything fancy in terms of lighting for these photos, but just trying to demonstrate what the finished physical product looks like....

The disk itself, with an image and title inscribed onto the surface using LightScribe technology:

Copyright Howard Grill

The CD Case:

Copyright Howard Grill

Copyright Howard Grill

And finally the Photoshop file that I used to make a flat image to be placed into the CD case plastic pouch that then gets bent by closing the case, covering front and back with a unified image.

Copyright Howard Grill

Designing A Product I

Those of you who read my Facebook Photography page will have heard this already (but read on because that is not what this post is about) .....but  the Rivers Of Steel organization is going to be co-marketing my eBook "The Carrie Furnace" with me.  They not only want to sell it from their website, but also requested a physical product to sell in their brick and mortar gift shop. What a great opportunity!  But it raised some challenges that I had never really thought about.  Providing the finished product via download was relatively easy.  By simply uploading your file and paying a service like e-junkie 5 bucks a month, one can get an attractive check out cart for your website and you are done.  But think about what it would require to put together a physical product.  You can't exactly just burn the file to a CD and be done!  There needs to be a professional appearance to the final product.

The disk needs to be attractive and have some sort of identifying label.  Then what do you put it in?  You can't just slap it into an empty clear jewel case and throw it on a shelf.  There needs to be some type of packaging that will serve to catch a potential customers eye and make them want to investigate and learn more.  There are also other informational nuances.  Customers will want to know what exactly is on the disk, what equipment will they need to play it, and why they should want to buy it.  And then there is the cost.....disks, packaging etc all add to the cost of the product.

Needless to say, these issues engendered quite a bit of thought on my part and I decided that I definitely wanted a professional appearing presentation.  What would I need?

1) A LightScribe CD/DVD burner (about $40) to inscribe a label and image onto the surface of the CD itself.  I thought an inkjet printed label would look too unprofessional and its application would be a bit irregular from disk to disk.

I had to choose a photo that would look good on the disk with the title and my name inscribed on top of it.

Oh yes, and I would need to buy LightScribe disks....about $45 for a hundred disks.

2) DVD/CD case.  I decided to go with the type that movies come in as opposed to a jewel case.  These movie cases come with a clear plastic pocket that spans the case.  It would be a bit of work, but I could use photoshop to design what I thought would be an attractive and eye catching insert.  Again, the image used would need to look good with words over it.  My plan was for an image that had no top, bottom, left, or right so that I could wrap the image around the front and the back of the case.  In the best of all worlds I thought I could use the same image for the disk and the case cover to give a consistent feel.  The cover insert and the clips inside the case would also allow me to at least have my website URL visible to further market my work.

The cases, in lots of 100 were also about 50 cents each.  Designing the insert was going to be difficult, but it would only have to be done once.  Having it look good by printing it on photographic paper would add a bit to the expense.

3) Finally, I wanted to use the opportunity of creating a physical product to give the buyer a little something extra that might not normally be expected and that might whet their curiosity to see more of my work as well as  to potentially differentiate my product from others on the shelf.  One cover of the CD case has two little clips on the inside. My idea is to include with the CD a small original signed inkjet print of the furnace's cast room that is a bit smaller than 5x7 inches.  It is small enough that I don't feel I am 'giving my work away for nothing' but large enough to show the quality of the work.  The actual cost and time needed to add the photo is pretty minimal (though the overall time input to assemble the product is not) and will help justify the added price the customer will have to pay compared to the downloadable version of the eBook.  This price increase is because I will have to charge for the physical materials and, more importantly, for the time involved to assemble the entire product (burned disk with files and picture, CD case insert, the print etc).

So there you have it.  The more I thought about it the more I started to realize how much thought and effort has to go into producing a physical product instead of a downloadable file.

I haven't had a chance to take a picture of the finished 'objects', so I will follow up this post with the next one which will have a few photos of the completed product.