My Journey Through Photo Website Hosting

Websites are a tricky thing. On one hand, they’re absolutely necessary in today’s world and economy. On the other, finding a solution that feels good and that works for you can be overwhelming, to say the least. I’m certainly no exception to that rule, having gone through numerous iterations to finally land on the solution I’m currently happiest with.

This journey began in 2004, the same year I bought my first camera. Back then, I just wanted to share what I had captured with family and friends, as most people do. Social media was still in its infancy, Facebook only just beginning to gain ground on MySpace, so it wasn’t quite the marketing behemoth it is today. Since I was still a complete amatuer, the thought of going pro hadn’t even occurred to me yet. As such, I used my skills from my new career in web design to build something from scratch, fresh off of learning the basics of PHP. While this solution worked well enough for a few years, there were certain features I was lacking that were out of my experience level, mainly ecommerce and security. With print and stock sales beginning to increase, I soon realized I was spending more time working on the website than getting out shooting. I didn’t know much back then, but I knew photography was more fun than computer time.

Searching for a better solution, I found some new software that I could install on my web host that would do all the hard work for me. It was a game-changer called WordPress. WordPress was such a powerful and expanding solution, the blog section of my site has remained consistently on WordPress since. The only downside was that, at the time, gallery solutions were pretty limited. As such, I quickly went into searching mode once again.

Once 2008 was in full swing, I discovered three relatively new solutions designed specifically for photographers. By now, I was a quickly improving amateur and looking toward a more professional online presence to more conveniently fulfill growing sales. The three I narrowed down were Zenfolio, Smugmug, and Photoshelter, the last one being the newest kid on the block.

After researching all three, I eventually settled on Photoshelter. Since I was still practicing web design, one key feature that drew me in was the ability to completely customize my site. In addition, there seemed to be a buzz and exciting vibe behind it that I was happy to be a part of.

For the next eight years, from 2008-2016, I was happy with my website. My galleries looked great on Photoshelter’s system, and my blog on WordPress was seamlessly integrated into my site and design. For work I had moved away from web design and taken a more active role as a professional guide, also experimenting from time to time with my own photography workshops. The little web and graphic design I still did was for just a few cherry-picked clients.

In 2016, I took off for two months to thru-hike the Arizona Trail. Upon my return, I was more determined than ever to grow my photography. However, by this time, from my perspective, Photoshelter was beginning to look a little dated. In addition, the CEO and founder had long-since left and new features were far and few between. I went back to the drawing board and found a new solution that had popped up while I wasn’t looking: NextGen Gallery, a powerful gallery plugin for WordPress.

I jumped ship from Photoshelter and started converting my site over to NextGen. The only problem was that in order to get my site to work the way I wanted, it took too much time to add an image. To be clear, adding images in NextGen Gallery has been, and still is quite simple, but I was putting in extra steps to turn it into something it wasn’t designed to be. Put simply, because of my own stubbornness, it wasn’t sustainable.

At the same time, I had also started dating my future ex-wife, where I was reluctantly talked into going back to web design full time. Wanting to have something that showed off my skills after a relative void of inactivity, I made another attempt to rebuild my own website from scratch.

Learning a lot more PHP, I created an efficient and robust gallery system, this time, complete with ecommerce, among other bells and whistles. I was actually quite proud of it and it served me well for a number of years.

Ultimately though, I didn’t have a passion for web design in my work life, so I went back to guiding and running my own photography workshops full time. And while my completely custom website was working out great for years, it all of a sudden wasn’t. In early 2022 I began to notice a pretty significant bug. In having not looked at code for multiple years by then, I didn’t have the energy, time, or motivation to troubleshoot it. Instead, as an emergency backup solution, I went back to Photoshelter, curious to see how it had evolved since I had left it. Turns out, it hadn’t. At all. After ten years, it was still the exact same, which didn’t bode well for future-proofing my site. But it was a good enough solution until I had the time to reevaluate my site.

By the time 2023 came around, I finally had the time to sit down and completely rethink my website. I wanted a solution that would be updated with new features and web compatibility, that also worked well for my needs. In the end, I went back to NextGen Gallery. While there are a few things I’d like to change, they’re very minor compared to the other alternatives out there, and my creating-gallery-software-from-scratch days are now long gone. NextGen Gallery is fast. It looks great. And it’s evolving. Plus, since my entire site was now entirely on WordPress, I also looked into a brand new theme to modernize the look and feel overall, this time giving more emphasis to my photography workshops vs. simply the photography itself. This was the more modern online presence I had been searching for.

Thus far, I’ve been very happy with the results, and hope to keep it this way for years to come.

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