My website has moved around over time. Years back – I can’t remember when – I set up my first site using Smugmug. Smugmug had some nice templates and lots of options for customisation. The very active user group at Digital Grin was also a great resource for tips and ideas. The one thing Smugmug lacked was an integrated blogging platform. At first I blogged elsewhere with links back and forward and tried to match the website template as best I could, but it was hardly an ideal solution and I began to look elsewhere.
Then Smugmug announced a radical overhaul. A new look, new features, new everything. So I stuck around, assuming that such a comprehensive reworking was bound to include a blogging platform. I was wrong, but it didn’t matter because it took Smugmug something like two years to deliver the new look by which time I had moved on.
Next up was Format, less well known but with a very nice product. At the time I signed up there was no blogging option available but at least Format had announced that one was in the works. So I paid my money and set up my site. Format did indeed deliver blogging capability in due course and have continued to develop their product.
I would probably still be there if I hadn’t been compelled by Adobe to take out a subscription in order to retain my access to Lightroom. It was while looking to see what I was getting for my money that I discovered one of the included features was web hosting through Adobe Portfolio. So, reluctant to spend $120 a year for Lightroom and another $140 for Format I set up my site on My Portfolio.
The upside is that there are some very nice template options available and it’s easy to create a nice looking site very quickly. The downside is that it is very basic and, despite the occasional blog post to the contrary, Adobe appears to have no plans to develop it further. More specifically, they seem to have no plans to add an integrated blogging platform. I tried the usual trick of blogging elsewhere and linking back and forward, first on Medium then on Blogger, but it’s not an adequate solution.
Meanwhile, I was also considering whether I wanted to stick with Lightroom and the Adobe subscription or switch to an alternative editing package. Moving away from Adobe would also result in losing access to Portfolio, so this provided an incentive to look at what other options were available.
Having checked the latest incarnations of Smugmug, ZenFolio, Format, SquareSpace and others, I concluded that the simplest – and cheapest – option was to join the rest of the world on WordPress. The problem I have with many of the hosting sites is that their plans are either too simple (with limited templates or limited customisation) or too comprehensive (with client proofing, e-commerce and more). You can’t grow your site on these hosts; you can only move up to another tier which often involves a significant increase in price.
WordPress, on the other hand is free. All you need is third party hosting for which I’m paying around $50. From there you can build a website as simple or as complex as you wish using WordPress’s own tools or any of the thousands of plugins available, many of them free to use. Alternatively, you can use one of thousands of predesigned themes, some of them free and most of them relatively inexpensive. While I was tempted to start from scratch my unfamiliarity with the world of WP and my wish to get my new site up and running as quickly as possible meant that I decided to go the template route.
I’m a minimalist when it comes to the visual appearance of my website so I started by searching for themes tagged as minimalist. All I can say is that some template designers need to consult a dictionary. More than a few of these supposed minimalist templates were fussy, cluttered and ugly. It’s as if the designer set out to produce a minimalist template but got carried away with all the possibilities and ended up adding a bit of everything. Thankfully there were a number of templates that could be legitimately described as minimalist in among the dross and having played round with a few of them I eventually settled on the Bild theme by Mauer Themes.
This is a genuinely minimalist theme – clean, well designed and with enough flexibility to fine tune where necessary. The creator of the theme also provides helpful and fast support providing snippets of code to make some additional tweaks on request. It’s not designed for extensive customization, but I’m happy with the general look which put my images, rather than the design, front and centre. All this, and it has a built in blog. Perfect.
I’m still working on it, slowly adjusting little elements here and there to get it to where I want it but overall I think it’s looking good so far.