Photo-sites and photo-blogs: other considerations

This is the third and final post in the series on photo blogs. The first one was on the elements of a photoblog  and the second one on layout and design aspects. In the present post, let’s discuss some other important matters that one must keep in mind.

Individual photos: their shape, size, quality, number

It is a no-brainer that individual photos matter as much as, or more than, the overall design and functionality of a photo blog or a  photo-website. We have discussed matters relating to various aspects of images in a series on the ITB – especially the technical aspects of image quality. Without repeating them, let’s just remind you that too big sized and numerous photos on a website make it slow; low resolution photos gives a poor first impression and makes the site look unprofessional; photos' shapes should either be similar or follow a pleasing pattern; photos should not be too bright or dull and should go well with the theme / template of the blog.

How 'great' is the photo?

A photo’s intrinsic quality as a photograph is as important as its technical quality. This is especially important in photoblogs as we display [and often sell] high quality photos here. So, you must post photos that meet a minimum standard of photographic quality. It would include the subject of the photo and its uniqueness; composition [leading lines, background, depth of field, patterns, symmetry, framing, etc]; lighting and exposure; use of correct camera settings [aperture, speed, focus, movement settings and so on]; point of view / angle; edit-time tweaks.

Simplicity is the best policy

Fig. 1
The logic behind our recommendation in the last post for a simple theme with a big photo, thumbnails and menu-bar [Fig. 1] would be clear if you try to strike a balance between functionality, speed of rendition of the website and professional looks. Please note that in this design, the opening screen itself displays your photographic capabilities [in the big photo], the assets you have in the blog [in thumbnails, which don’t take much space and still look good], and all relevant info relating to the blog [in the menu-bar].  These, and not the awards or what amateur visitors say about you, are the elements that make your website professional.   

Say NO to pop-ups and unnecessary frills. Use pop-ups only to offer something of great value to the visitor or if to announce something earth-shaking. No side pop-ups too, especially along the right margin: they are less intrusive than mid-page pop-ups but come in the way of the scroll bar. Since photoblogs already are heavy in size because of photos, loading them up with fancy but irrelevant stuff slows them down further. Besides, such frills are likely to make the blog / website look unprofessional.

Put your best foot (=photo) forward

We have put a biggish post on the Indian Top Blogs on the importance of the top 10” of a blog. Since a good part of screen in a photoblog should have image elements, you need to be extra conscious about putting the best of your blog on the top part of the page so that it is seen in the opening screen without the need to scroll down or rightward.

The big photo and thumbnails should be chosen in a way that they show the best in the blog. A thumbnail should represent its category so strongly that the visitor recognises the category even without reading the accompanying text.


Categorise but not too much; label images but do not have a label list that runs into pages. If you have very few photos in some categories such as ‘babies’ and ‘pets’, put them all in a ‘miscellaneous’ category. You can see the logic for this in the ITB post on blog categories and labels

It is a good idea  to put non-image links [e.g. ‘about me’, ‘how to buy’, ‘tips’] in the menu-bar. Image categories [e.g. scenery, portraits, buildings, wildlife]  are better placed in a vertical listing with a thumbnail alongside the category name, or in the sidebar.

Fig. 2
Categorisation takes us to another very functional layout especially for photoblogs / photo-websites. You can put a vertical menu-bar on the left of the content column instead of having it horizontally under the title. You can have both if yours is a very resourceful websites with many categories. This vertical menu-bar adds functionality if you add a sub-category menu to it: when a visitor clicks on an entry in the main list, its sub-categories pop up in the narrow column on its right. [Fig. 2]

In this series:
1.Photoblog defined; use of text with photo
2.Designs for photo websites and photoblogs
3.Placement of photos in blogs; blog-layout, categories, etc (this post)

Designs for photo websites and photoblogs

On Indian Top Blogs, we have been emphasizing again and again on two things: quality of content and functionality. We’d like to repeat the same for photoblogs also.

Content includes the photos and the text going along with them. We have talked about text content in photoblogs in the last post and will talk more about content in the next one. Let’s dwell on design aspects in the present post – from display and functionality angles.

Before we discuss specific designs suitable for photoblogs and similar websites, let’s draw your attention to these related matters:

1.    While you can make the photoblog / website as flashy as possible, consider functionality: Whether the colors, display elements and their layout, and frills such as flash animation add value without distracting and irritating visitors? Whether they aid navigation or confuse? Whether they enhance the photos’ appeal or hurt it? Whether a visitor sees the most important elements in the opening screen or he has to scroll down to get at the one he’s looking for?

2.    You will have limitations of technology too, in case you are blogging on a free platform. So, many types of beautiful layouts may not be possible with the available themes / templates. However, you can overcome these by applying a free or paid theme / template from the web.

3.    It follows from the above that you don't need an extraordinary theme. A simple but highly functional layout may work wonders for your photoblog if you choose the photos with care and support them with great text content.

fig. 1
4.    The designs that we discuss below tell the basic philosophy behind different layouts. You can add labels and categories, social media and interactivity tools, useful widgets etc to add value to the blog / website.

Let’s start with a very basic but good layout. Look at fig.1. It has a small title band [which can be a simple solid colored band with blog title +/- description; or an image in the background. A search box fits well at the right corner. Under it, there is the menu-bar. The main content area has a big photo [usually the most recent one] or a slide-show, while a sidebar gives thumbnails of other recent photos. You can have ‘about me’ widget on top of the sidebar and widgets under photo thumbnails. You can use the space below the main photo and the blog’s bottom for various links and widgets.

fig. 2
fig. 3
Figures 2, 3 and 4 are some common variations of the ‘big photo’ layout.  Fig 2 has a band under the main photo that has various links. Many photo websites do have this design and it looks very professional. However, it limits functionality even if you stuff the two menu-bars with all relevant links and widgets. Moreover, if you do not use the sidebar, the width becomes too much vis-a-vis height for most photos.
fig. 4
Fig. 3 has thumbnails of recent / important photos or categories under the big photo. There is a bit of description under each of these thumbnails.

Fig.4 has no sidebar. So, the photo takes the middle of the screen and is followed by categories / recent photos with a description alongside them.

Fig.5, 6 and 7 do not have a single dominant photo. Fig. 5 has a suggestion for shortening the title bar and removing the menu-bar. Under the truncated title bar, there are widgets. The rest of the screen has thumbnails of recent photos or categories, and next to each thumbnail is a small description. The arrangement is like vertical stacks.
fig. 5

neat-grid-design-for photo-blogs
fig. 6
Fig. 6 displays the photo gallery or album. Widgets and categories can come in the top menu-bar or in the bottom area. The layout looks like a neat grid.

Fig. 7 is an overlapping collage of thumbnails. The overlap can be arbitrary; size and placement of each thumbnail can vary according to their age, importance, popularity etc. 

You would agree that layouts mentioned at figures 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 have greater navigability and control over content than figures 2 and 7, though fig. 2 looks very decent and fig. 7 quite experimental.

fig. 7
Importance of horizontal menu-bar and sidebar in a photoblog

The top menu-bar, we feel, gives a photoblog clarity like nothing else. Since it occupies the prime area of the site and is always ‘above the fold’ [=visible in the opening screen], it can be used to link to categories, profile of the blogger or the photo blog, terms of use, commercial aspects, photography tutorials, awards etc. A sidebar helps to balance the screen width.  The upper part of sidebar can be used for profile, recent posts, very important photos or other elements that add value to the blog.

In this series:
1.Photo blog defined; use of text with photo
2.Designs for photo websites and photoblogs (this post)
3.Placement of photos in blogs; blog-layout, categories, etc

Wanna have a great photoblog?

This and the next two posts are on the special features of photoblogs, their design aspects and tips on maintaining them. Just to refresh some basic fundas, you may like to see the ITB series on images on blogs posted earlier.

What are photoblogs?

Photoblogs are blogs [or websites maintained as blogs] that have photographs as their main content. Generally these don't have much written matter.
All blogs with photos or those maintained by photographers need not be photoblogs. Similarly, travel blogs with a large number of photos are also not photoblogs by the definition that we are using in these posts.

What text should accompany a photo in a photoblog?

You can have all or some of the following types of text in your photoblog. Blogger and Wordpress give options to add title, caption, alt text, and a brief description at the time of uploading the image or later. 

  • Title
  • Caption
  • Alt text
  • Technical information
  • Description
  • Attribution [if not own photos]
  • Terms of use / commercial information
  • Watermark

Title of a photo is like title of an article: it describes the photo in a few words, giving limelight to the best aspect(s) of the photo. 
Caption is a brief description of the photo. It should be catchy but not so witty that it confuses or leads to irrelevant inferences. Usually placed at the bottom of the photo.
Alt text is the hidden text that identifies the image to the web browsers and search engines. It is part of the html/xhtml that goes with the image tag. A relevant alt text helps in better search visibility for the image and the blog. It also identifies the photo when image display is disabled on the browser and is read out by screen readers for the visually challenged.
Technical information would include camera, shutter speed, light conditions, f-aperture, zoom, date of shoot,  etc.
Description can be a small phrase or a para accompanying a single photo or a series of them. 

A description bigger than that is likely to take away the special charm of the photoblog. The description can be used to create a mood around the photo / series; describe the locale or event; tell things about the photo or its constituents that the photo cannot tell; and so on.
You must attribute photos if your blog contains ones that are not yours. You must seek permission from the original owner of the photo and write below the photo ‘courtesy: <name of the owner>’. Even when you use royalty-free photo from the web, you must attribute the photo to the website or as instructed there. Creative Commons terms must be followed if a photo with CC licence is used from the web.
You may not give terms of use of a photo in a general blog, but you must not miss it in a photoblog. If you sell photos, do write your quote or give a link to a page where you have the commercial details.

Watermark is the identification that is superimposed on the photo so that others do not copy it without authorisation. If you have placed very high quality photos on the blog and you don’t want others to use them free of cost, you can do so in many ways. For example, post clean photos [=without watermark] but use low resolution on the main page and link them to high quality watermarked photos when somebody clicks on them. Or, directly post high quality but watermarked photos on the main page. You must, at some stage, give the terms of use so that a prospective buyer knows how to get that photo.
Title, caption and alt text might look the same, but they are not – both in functionality and display. Caption is visible along the photo while title shows up when you hover cursor over the photo. In absence of other identifiers, search engines will use the title. Alt text, as described above, shows up when the image display is off for any reason. Since search engines are reported to give high weightage to alt text, it should have key words that will give the image a high search visibility. On the other hand, caption should add value to the photo when it is read while viewing the photo. Title should describe the photo in brief. A lengthy description attached to photo is not always desirable. 
In this series:
1.Photoblog defined; use of text with photos (this post)
2.Designs for photo websites and photoblogs
3.Placement of photos in blogs; blog-layout, categories, etc