Tag: Review

Reviews

Squarespace Review

 Squarespace homepage screenshot

     Are you looking for a quick and easy way to create and mange a great looking website?  You need to check out Squarespace. No, this is not a sales pitch, nor am I getting paid to write any of this.  Squarespace is exactly what their tagline says it is…….

Everything you need to create an exceptional websiteā€¯

— Squarespace

     It’s really easy to get started, and they offer a free trial in which no credit card is needed.  You simply choose from a great selection of templates and start adding your content.  All of the available templates are very design centric.  They look great and show off different types of content very well.  You can organize the templates based on what they work best for, portfolio, business, blog etc….  don’t worry about which one you choose, as you can change it at any time and your content seamlessly switches over to the new template.  If you’re adept at coding, they do have a developers platform in which you can completely create a site from the ground up.  Even with templates, you are able to add custom code blocks and css to add functionality or make changes.

 Squarespace template selection.

Of course this site that you’re reading this on is a Squarespace site.  It is my personal site which houses a lot of different content.  Galleries, contact forms, about pages, custom pages and 2 blog pages.  With the unlimited plan, you get truly unlimited everything.  Unlimited number of pages, storage and bandwidth.  There are so many options you can do, it’s pretty crazy.  It is often touted that you cannot bring a Squarespace site down.  Normally if a small time blog or site gets published in a place where it gains a huge surge in traffic, the site just fails and goes down. This doesn’t happen with Squarespace. They have some genius way of scaling bandwidth when it’s most needed so your site never goes down as a result of a spike in traffic.

 Mobile screenshot with menu

One major benefit that comes with all Squarespace sites is the often talked about responsive design.  This allows your site to scale in a pleasing way depending on the screen size of the device you’re using. To the right is a screenshot of this site on a phone.  You can see the navigation menu becomes a dropdown, which when touched opens up a beautiful looking list of the pages. Makes it very user friendly on mobile devices.  Another fantastic thing that occurs, is Squarespace will resize your images to 7 different sizes to feed up only the proper size in respect to the screen size.  If you’re on your phone, you won’t be downloading huge high resolution files that take up an enormous amount of data. On your desktop, you’ll see the higher resolution versions.  This works great on tablets as well.  All of this is just built right into the platform and you don’t need to do anything to make it happen.

 Content Blocks

Adding Content…

 to your page is very simple.  You pretty much select “+Add Page”, tell it what type of page you want it to be, then select the content using content blocks that you want to add.  If you select an image or gallery, you comply drag and drop photo’s from your computer into the window and they are uploaded. If you want to add some text, select the text block and type away. Once you’ve added all the content you want to the page, you can drag and drop the different blocks to rearrange them, float them left or right and change it all around till your heats content.  If there are still some changes to be made, you can add some custom CSS to the page to fine tune if needed.  There is a lot of built-in social integration for most of the major social networks. My home page for example has my twitter feed, foursquare feed and 500px feed in addition to a collection of my blog posts to display the 3 most recent posts.

SEO is not something I’m all that familiar with except that I know it’s important when it comes to Google search rankings.  I DO know that SEO is a high priority for Squarespace and it’s integrated automatically so you don’t need to worry to much about it.  There are little things you can learn if you wish to increase search rankings with file names, captions etc… but the topic of SEO alone could go on forever and I know next to nothing about it.

 Style editor to adjust page settings.

With every template, you have access to over 300 fonts in the Google font library, changing the color schemes of links, backgrounds and all sorts of different elements on the page.  There is even Typekit integration if you have a membership there and want to use those fonts.  You can view a long list of options to change for the entire page, or you can click on the section of the page you are wanting to edit and you’ll see the options that apply to just that one section.

Some templates have additional options, and others have less, it just depends on what the developer of the template enabled.  Of course as mentioned before, you can add some custom CSS if you’re wanting to make a change that is not available by default.

Photography as any of my followers know, is a big passion of mine.  Having the options to display photographs in a beautiful manner is a key thing.  For this site, I chose more of a blog oriented template, but I still have a lot of photos.  With this template, the default gallery displays as a slideshow such as this.

However, you are able to add galleries so they display as a Slideshow, Slider, Grid or Stacked layout. You can adjust the speed in which images cycle, add thumbnails and change the spacing between images. For examples see the links below.  

Grid Layout 
Stacked Layout
Slider Layout

Customer Support…

     is another top notch aspect that cannot be over looked.  If you have any trouble with their service, send them an email and they always respond in a very timely fashion.  Doesn’t matter if it’s at 3 or 4 AM or middle of the day.  Their email support is 24/7 and 365 days a year.  They also have live chat support during certain hours on weekdays.  From my personal experience, I’ve always received a reply to a ticket within 30 minutes and often times sooner.

Not to long ago they added SmugMug integration allowing you to import albums from SmugMug galleries.  I ran into an issue where nothing was importing.  They were able to identify there was indeed a problem right away and they were quick to put the engineers on it to implement a fix.  This problem is not a common type to have, as it was something to do with the resolution of images on SmugMug being to large to import.  The fix for this problem did take a few days, but that’s because of the work involved in making a fix like this.  Throughout the few days, they kept me updated as to what was going on making sure I knew it was being worked on and I wasn’t forgotten. 

Other Notes…

     There are a couple additional features that I haven’t used as of this post that may be very compelling for a lot of people.  The biggest one being E-commerce.  Just a couple of weeks ago they announced built-in e-commerce for their business tier subscribers.  This is in partnership with Stripe for payments allowing you to setup an online shop to sell physical or digital goods.  As far as I know, there isn’t built-in fulfillment options yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something in the works.  For me as a photographer, I could put up some pictures for sale at various sizes and mediums, people can purchase an item giving me the required information for shipping and printing, then I can send it off to the lab I get prints from.

Another item that may be useful is you’re allowed to have other people manage different aspects of your site. You can allow them full access to everything including settings, or as simple as content editors and comment moderators.

There is a built-in commenting system, or you can set it up with Disqus.  The social integration is really nice from making simple links to adding blocks with content from those services.  You also get some built-in analytics with most of the important information, or you can integrate it with Google analytics if you want to delve deeper into the viewer stats.

This is an entire content management system that’s hosted. No having to worry about updating your version of WordPress and breaking plugins, or worrying about all the hacks that come with badly written code.


Final Thoughts…

     As you can tell, I am a big fan of SquareSpace.  I am a small time user, not a web developer, and I think I was able to create a pretty solid looking website.  It’s constantly changing, and SquareSpace makes it easy to make those changes.  I have been very happy with how easy it has been and the responsiveness of the customer support.  The responsive design is top notch from my experience and looks fantastic on mobile devices.  It’s just a great option for someone who wants a good experience and is not a web developer or doesn’t have a lot of time to work on a website.

Having a free trial that doesn’t require a credit card, or anything other than an email address for that matter is great as well. It allows you to test it out in a full capacity to see if it’s right for you.  They have 3 different tier plans now that they’ve added e-commerce options.  You can pay month-to-month or yearly, and if you do pay annually, you get free domain registration.

Don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself and let me know what you think! I would love to hear from you in regards to your experiences and thoughts on the SquareSpace service.  www.squarespace.com

Photography

One Light, Two Light with Joe McNally and Kelby…

               This may be a little long winded, but I think it’s worth a read and will hopefully portray how great this day was. Read on for my thoughts on this One Light, Two Light tour.

                Monday
August 27th I had the pleasure of attending a Kelby Training seminar featuring
Joe McNally! The title of the seminar was One Light, Two Light with the
emphasis on using one or two smaller speedlites to provide great lighting
without the need for big expensive studio strobes.  

                The
whole idea behind the seminar is what caught my attention in the first place. I
have been shooting more people recently and wanted to improve my lighting
knowledge and capabilities without buying an expensive studio setup.  This type of setup is also portable and could
be used out in the field without too much trouble as well. When I heard it was
Joe McNally running this thing, it was a no brainer to attend.  Kelby Training prices these at such a low
price, there’s not much of an excuse to not go if you’re considering. 

                Joe is
a fantastic teacher and easy to listen to. He’s incredibly knowledgeable and it
truly shows. Despite being able to rattle off technical details and talk about
in depth subjects relating to light and equipment; he’s able to explain and
describe exactly what he’s doing so even the most novice photographers can
understand.  One of the biggest things I
came to love and respect about Joe is his standpoint on mistakes.  Mistakes happen, no matter how prepared you
are. Whether it be an equipment malfunction or user error, these things
happen.  Understanding what went wrong
and why it went wrong is an important thing. Don’t freak out, stay calm, make a
joke about it, and use your knowledge to correct it for next time you pull the
trigger.  There’s nothing wrong with
firing a couple test shots either if you’re not 100% sure where to begin.  Being more of a landscape photographer, these
lighting aspects are not my strong suit. Making mistakes has been one thing I
freak out about ahead of time and hope it doesn’t happen on the job. After
listening to Joe talk about this, and even witnessing these things happening in
front of hundreds of people, I’ve got a much better grasp on how to handle a
situation like this.

                For a
good half of the day, he used one off camera flash.  He used a variety of different light
modifiers to achieve different light and effects he was after. Sometimes he
would block off parts of the light with gaffers tape or a flash bender, other
times he would double diffuse and add additional interruptions to the light
before it hits the subject.  Joe would
choose various people from the audience for his subjects and he would shoot
tethered so we would see the results straight from the camera instantly.  When things went wrong, he would explain what
happened and make the necessary changes. 
He always made it a point to ask their name, what they do, and shake
their hand. Little things like that add a lot to the experience.

                One big
surprise to me was that Joe uses TTL for all of his flash work and no radio
triggers involved. He shoots with Nikon so it’s the i-TTL stuff.  He had one flash on the camera that was
acting as the commander, not effecting the exposure of the image, and then it
would tell the off camera flash how to expose. He was able to easily manipulate
the flash using on camera settings without adjusting the shutter speed or
aperture most of the time. Using a white background, most of the pictures he
shot were black, and only lighting the subject as he wanted. A few times he
would maintain the white color depending on the look he was after. Between each
shot, he would review the camera settings and talk about the modifiers being
used and what they do to the light.  It’s
all simple and affordable stuff that even beginners could obtain easily.

                Couple
last thoughts on the day. Joe would take time to ask the audience if we had any
questions, and would take the time needed to make sure the answer was addressed
and understood. He and his assistants were available during the breaks for
questions as well.

                It was
just a fantastic day and a lot of fun. I learned a heck of a lot, and from one
of the world’s best! This ended up being exactly what I was hoping it would be
and touched on everything I was hoping for. I walked away with a far better
understanding of light, and what my current gear is capable of with just a few
tweaks here and there. If you haven’t attended any of the Kelby Training
seminars, I can absolutely recommend this one without hesitation. I will
certainly be looking out for others in my area.

                Thank
you Joe McNally and Kelby Training for the services and knowledge you provide
to us. I’d hug you both if it were possible!

If you would like to check out more about Joe McNally, visit his website at www.joemcnally.com
Also be sure to check out Kelby Training at www.kelbytraining.com One of the best resources on the internet for all things photography.