I think that writing a book is one of the hardest things someone can do. Partly because if takes a huge amount of discipline and dedication to a single subject, and partly because I have a learning disability that makes writing a challenge. So both of those things have always had me in a little awe of authors.
Rafael “RC” Concepcion recently released a new book from Kelby Media and Peach Pit Press titled Getting your Photography on the Web. I think you have to be a little crazy to write a how-to book about cameras and computers. The challenge with such a book is finding a way to ensure that your target audiences needs are meet and being thick skinned enough to deal with the gamut of opinions from people who think they are way smarter than the author. I have spent a good deal of my career in the high-tech industry, and I have read lots of books about all sorts of technical subjects. One of the things I most enjoyed about RC’s book is that he as done a great job of creating a book that meets and matches the exceptions he sets in his readers. He knows his target audience and speaks to them.
This books is not for website developers, gear heads, hard-core do it yourselfers, and anyone who is looking for very specific technical answers to how the ins and outs of the internet technologies work. This book is for the photographer or artist who knows they need to be on the web and doesn’t know how to get started. I also think it is well suited for the person who has setup a website and then ask now how do I make all this work and make it easy.
One of the biggest challenges with a book like this is where do you start and how do you remove all the noise of the web. There are literally thousands of hosting companies, publishing options, and site development options. One of the greatest strengths in this book is that RC puts a stake in the sand. He picks companies, products and supporting sites that he knows work and are simple to use. If you follow his book cover to cover, you will have images on the web. In the end, this might be on of best book I have seen on this subject. In the end, you are left with a running website rather than left in a sea of Internet options and choices and half baked how-to steps.
The book is setup with a series of steps in each chapter and each step has an associated picture making the steps easy to follow. Having screen captures of some of the key options and screens should make it easier for the first time user to follow along. The chapters are also color coded making it easy to see where you are in the website setup process.
The book starts off with an overview of the GoDaddy.com hosting offering. While I am not a fan of GoDaddy.com because their commercials annoy me to no end, they do offer a very fast and easy way to get a website up and running. RC offers advice that leads to a very direct and easy way to get your domain setup and account created at GoDaddy.com. Most of the big hosting companies will offer similar signup services and options. Even if you wanted to go a non-GoDaddy.com route I think RCs direction will help you get your domain name established.
The next sections of the book cover getting images ready for the web. RC outlines some of the key mistakes that people make when getting images ready for the web. In short setting the proper color space (sRGB), proper sizing, sharpening, metadata and registering images with the copyright office. One of the nice touches in this section of the book is that RC covers several programs that you can use to get your images ready for the web. So even if you don’t have say Photoshop, you can see how to set these options in one of the more economical programs currently on the market.
The next chapters of the book are really the meat and potatoes of working with website. RC has chosen WordPress as the CMS system for website publication. WordPress is in my opinion the best CMS system available to the general public. It is an amazing open source tool with an even more amazing community of people who build, support and maintain WordPress. Some of the top websites in the world run on WordPress.
Having setup several sites with WordPress, I think that one of the biggest challenges for a new user is getting through the basic configuration of a site and dealing with anxiety of “the code”. WordPress is a program that has thousands of themes, plug-ins, widgets and customization options. RC does a good job getting you from staring at the blank screen, to getting you to see the default Hello World default post and coaching you onto your first page or post. His paints an easy and clear picture of the differences in between pages, post, plugins, widgets and themes. Along the way, he offers some gentle encouragement about using your new site on a regular basis and why your new blog will ultimately matter more than your portfolio. In the end, I think that RC really wants everyone to have a site where they can showcase their work.
On of my favorite sections in the book is HTML Tips and Tricks. Anyone who has worked in WordPress for any amount of time will come across some little issues that are annoying and a drive you crazy. Remembering that this book is not for developers and that it is for the average non-technical person, when things like images not lining up when you tell them too, or why links open in pop-up windows become a big deal. Without any guidance you might not even know how to ask the question of using _target or _blank for links. In that regard, I think RC does a great job of identifying the biggest issues that might frustrate a new user to WordPress and help them get past those to keep focused on their content.
The last third of the book is really focused on the basics of getting you in a position to share your work. For all the hype of social media and the need to be on Twitter, Facebook, etc, etc., in the end we are photographers because we share our work and there has never been a better time to share. The social media outlets are amazing tools to show, get feedback and build a community around your work. True to the nature of the other sections of the book, each of the chapters on Twitter, Flickr, Flash-portfolios, and printing via Mpix are very brief and simple tutorials to get you started. You will be able to setup an account and upload, post or order prints. He doesn’t cover the nuances of hash tags, groups, or Common Grounds copyright rules and limits. He just tell you how to get it started.
In the end I would very much recommend this book to a lot of people I know (and have). As I said in the beginning, I would not recommend it to a very technical person or a person who already has been running a website for 10 years. I would recommend it to anyone who has a very basic understanding of the web or is just getting started with being online as an artist. Although all the examples in the book are photographic in nature, I think that any artist who is trying to get a website up and running would benefit greatly from the book. After all, the book is about getting your work on the web and not about getting overwhelmed with options in the software
On a personal note, one thing that came to me as I finished reading RCs book for this review. I have a website. I have built and rebuilt it over the years. I have moved hosting companies, learned the ins and outs of WordPress theme structures, tinkered with this and that. After getting RCs book, I stripped my blog site out and rebuilt it to what you see today. At the core of RC’s message is that things should be simple so that you can focus on getting your images online having time to create images and not worry about your website. For me, I was spending time hiding behind getting the right website so I wasn’t actually photographing. RC greatest message in the book I think is this. Keep things simple, keep the camera shooting, and keep sharing the results.
RC has a new book on HDR coming out this month that you can get here. I will be reviewing that book in a few weeks once my copy arrive.