Back in March, I got an email saying that my website had been taken down due to malware. Essentially, I got hacked. In the months that followed, I learned some things about being a photographer, about web design, and about myself.
After over 10 years with the same web host, I got an unfortunate email while I was on a trip to New Mexico in March. It’s a message no working professional wants to receive: “Your web hosting account has been deactivated.” The reason? “Malware/virus.”
And so began a multi-month effort to get my website back up. At first, the web host directed me to their “security partner company” who tried to persuade me into giving them hundreds of dollars to clean the site, plus a monthly subscription for “maintenance” to help keep it clean. Obviously, as a small business owner with small profit margins, this sounded ridiculous. None of the backups I had access to would work because they were also infected, so that option was out too.
I tried to see the situation as a blessing in disguise. I had been wanting to re-imagine my website for a while, and took it as an opportunity to start fresh.
I sent a message to a long-time family friend who I’ve known since he was born. A few years younger, but at the same time many light years ahead (in terms of web design and all things Internet, at the very least), he was the one who had designed my previous site. I put out a plea for help.
Here are a few things I learned during the process of getting the new website up.
I Don’t Know Half as Much as I’d Like to Know About Web Design
Once I started thinking about the new site, I realized that I really know almost nothing when it comes to the back end of the Internet. Years ago, I taught myself a tiny, tiny bit of HTML — enough to embed images and create hyperlinks — and got semi-proficient at installing and using WordPress. That was about it. After not thinking about any of that stuff for the past few years, it’s amazing how much things have changed and how little I actually know. Photography is my thing; web design is not. I’ll be the first to admit it.
So, the point of this is, sometimes it's best to outsource what you don't know if you don't have time to learn it yourself and if the outcome wouldn't be as good anyway. This doesn't just apply to web design, either.
There Are Trade-Offs in Every Transaction
I wasn’t one of my friend’s typical clients. He didn’t want me to pay him anything for his work, and when I sent him some money on Venmo, he ended up returning it. I eventually traded some engagement portraits of him and his fiancee, but that was it.
Of course, as with any deal like this, there are trade-offs. Getting my site back up took a long time. It went offline in the middle of March, and the new one didn’t get up until early July. Even though he was doing it for free (though I wanted to pay him), he was also finishing his master's degree in computer science, had a full time job, was buying a house, getting engaged, and living his own life. It was difficult for me to be pushy to make the process go faster, because I understood that I was getting thousands of dollars worth of web design work essentially for free.
That was the trade-off. It's the same with photography; you have the options of cheap, good, and fast, but you can only pick two. This is not to say it was his fault, but that I was asking a lot of him in a busy time in his life, and that was the outcome.
On the other hand, whenever I had a question, wanted a new feature, or wanted to tweak something, I got what I wanted. It might have taken longer than it would have if I had gone through a company, but the level of customization I got was incredible, and I got a custom site that is exponentially better than my last one. He rocked it.
Not Having a Website Brought Business Down
I definitely noticed that the number of inquiries from potential clients went down over those few months where my site was down. There were a few people that called me even though the site was down, having looked at some work samples on my social media accounts. But overall, not having a dedicated, professional web presence beyond social media was not a good thing for obtaining new clients. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how important having a website is.
Selecting Images for Your Own Portfolio Is Excruciating
This was the hardest part of the entire process. I don’t have my “portfolio” all in one place on my computer, and nothing was up to date. I ended up going through years of Lightroom catalogs looking for my best work, and then making a folder of the best one or two images from each shoot. And then the real “fun” of narrowing it down began.
Being your own editor is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult things about being a photographer. Lighting, cameras, and all of the technical aspects are easy to figure out as long as you figure out what you don’t know. But being able to look at your work in an objective way and select the images that stand out is a painstaking process. Emotional attachment and memories cloud your judgment when looking at your past work, making the whole process that much harder. This was the reason it took me years to revamp my website in the first place, and even when I didn't have a choice, it didn't make it any easier.
So, that’s my website redesign story. It was a lot of work, and I called in a lot of favors, but in the end, I’m happy with the result.
Now to get the blog up and running. Baby steps.