Getting Started

How to Find the Right Camera for Your Blog or Business

Photo by  Caryle Barton  on  Unsplash

Photo by Caryle Barton on Unsplash

Explore the pros + cons for each camera type

As you get your marketing legs underneath you, you're inevitably thinking about how you can best take photos for your blog or business. Blogs and businesses take photos for a variety of reasons: product photography, styled shoots, lifestyle images, etc. Before you dive into which camera to buy, you need to figure out which type of camera to buy. Here, we dive into the pros + cons of each category.

DSLR Cameras

If you're thinking about stepping up your photography game, you'll likely consider a DSLR first. DSLRs are those bigger, professional-looking cameras you likely saw your wedding or family photographer carrying around his/her neck. DSLRs became standard in the photography community in the early 2000s as digital photography grew and film photography declined. Following are reasons for and against a DSLR camera for your blogging needs.

Pros:

  • Lots of brands to choose from
  • Affordable camera options within each brand
  • Tons of well-priced lenses to choose from
  • Second-hand cameras are easily available
  • Huge knowledge base of tutorials to help you learn your camera
  • Fantastic image quality (IQ) (even in entry-level cameras!)

Cons:

  • Heavy and bulky compared to other options
  • More conspicuous; less opportunity for discreet photography
  • Often (but, not always) louder shutter sound
  • Too many features/options for some individuals
  • Other than high end options bodies and lenses, DSLRs depreciate in value quickly

The bottom line: DSLRs offer you many options, many price points, and room to grow. But if you're going to be taking this camera around town or on trips with you, consider lighter options. 

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are sort of the new kid on the block. First popping up around 2008, they didn't seem to gain steam until 2011. These days, mirrorless cameras are all the rage as more and more professional photographers trade in their bulky DSLRs for something a little sexier. Here are some reasons a mirrorless camera may or may not be right for your business photography:

Pros:

  • Lighter than DSLRs with similar features and capabilities
  • You can find very small body/lens combinations that pack a big punch
  • Cutting edge technology
  • Camera companies are investing more heavily in mirrorless lineups
  • Mirrorless camera currently retain their value longer than other types of cameras

Cons:

  • Mirrorless bodies/lenses are more expensive than comparable DSLR options
  • Fewer mirrorless bodies to choose from
  • Fewer lenses to choose from within each brand
  • Local camera repair shops cannot repair most mirrorless issues (you must mail your camera in to a brand-approved location for repairs)

The bottom line: mirrorless camera lineups have fewer options and cost more than DSLRs, but they're rapidly growing in popularity and they have excellent resale value. If having a small form factor or the latest technology is up your alley, this is the category to consider.

 

Point & Shoot Cameras

When most people think of point & shoot cameras they think of the camera their parents use (and often with not very good results). And that's fair—the vast majority point & shoot consumers are individuals looking to document personal or family events. It's a mistake, though, to think that's all there is to the point & shoot market. In the era of smartphone cameras, camera companies want to give consumers a reason to buy their products. Many companies invested heavily in packing serious photography capabilities into a small camera body. 

Pros: 

  • The best combination of small form and photography capability
  • Easy to travel with; great for discreet photography 
  • You can store point & shoots in your purse or briefcase so you always have it with you 
  • The image quality (IQ) of many point & shoot cameras is far superior to that of your smartphone camera

Cons:

  • Fixed lenses; you can't change the lens to accommodate different creative or environmental needs
  • Feature-packed point & shoot cameras are pricey
  • Very few point & shoots have a view finder
  • The IQ of many point & shoot cameras (except for the most high end cameras) is less than the IQ of mirrorless cameras or DSLRs

The bottom line: If you don't need a camera with interchangeable lenses, and the ability to travel with your camera is a top priority, there are some great options to consider in the point & shoot category. 

Smartphone Cameras

When I start talking with small businesses about improving their photography, my first question is: do you have a relatively new smartphone? For many individuals, this is all you need to get started. A tiny percentage of photo quality has to do with the camera and a large percentage has to do with the photographer. If you follow a few basic rules, learn how to find and shoot in good light, and do some light editing, you'll find you can build a base of fantastic brand-worth photos with your smartphone camera.

Pros:

  • Low cost solution; you may want to invest in smartphone lenses or small studio lighting, but you don't have to shell out tons of cash 
  • You can shoot, edit, and upload everything from your smartphone and/or tablet which saves you time and the cost of computer software
  • Smartphone cameras have fantastic IQ these days; many allow shooting options like as creating panoramas or bokeh 

Cons:

  • If you need to to print large copies of your photos (larger than an 8x10) you'll want a camera with higher resolution
  • Smartphone cameras do not shoot RAW photo files so you have a smaller editing range
  • Not great in low light situations (such as concerts, dimly lit restaurants, etc.)

 

The bottom line: I always recommend learning some photography basics with your smartphone and then upgrading once you've clearly identified your technical and creative needs. Many small businesses find they never need more than their smartphone to create stellar visuals for their brand. 


**This post contains affiliate links. Thank you in advance for helping Shorewood Studio continue to tell our story.**

How to Build Your Information Architecture

worthy-of-elegance-6732.jpg

Organize your thoughts and name your website pages

If you're in the beginning stages of building or rebuilding your website, you know you need to identify which pages you'll have on your site. The pages you have on your site, and how they relate to each other, is your information architecture (IA). It's the skeletal structure of your site. 

Let's run through a few IA definitions:

  • Primary navigation: these are the set of links most visible on your site, typically located near the top of your webpage. These links will be the most heavily trafficked pages in your site, and should help tell your story. 
  • Secondary + tertiary navigation: these are a set of links that are less visible than your primary links. They are often sought-after pages, but pages that may distract from your central story or may route audiences away from the actions you hope they'll take. 
  • Family pages: in web design and development, we talk about pages in terms of family relationships. A parent page has one or more pages beneath it. For example, if you click on Women's Clothing you may have options such as Women's Shirts, Women's Pants, Women's Shoes underneath it. In this example, Women's Clothing is the parent page. The pages below it (Women's Shirts, Women's Pants, Women's Shoes) are the child pages. Women's Shirts and Women's Pants are sibling pages because they are on the same level. 
  • Call-to-action (CTA): a CTA lives within a page or set of pages and it clearly asks your audience to do something (Learn More, Sign Up, Join Us, Contact Us, etc.). CTAs are most often present in the form of a button, image banner, or distinct link. 

When you're ready to decide on your IA I recommend the following steps:

Start with a free writing exercise. Either on a piece of notebook paper or in a Google Doc, write pieces of information you need to have on your site. Don't feel as if you have to organize this information just yet. If you think of something that needs to be on your website somewhere, write it down. Most websites will have dozens, if not more than 100, pieces of information.

Once you have all of the major pieces of information listed, begin to group that information. If you did this exercise in a Google Doc you can quickly cut and paste statements around on the page. There's no limit to the number of groups you can have. 

Once you're happy with your groups, review the information within each group and label it

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 8.41.03 AM.png

When you finishing labeling groups take a look your labels and decide which items are the first pieces of information you want your audience to know about you and/or the primary actions you want your audience to take. Be critical here. Audiences have a short attention span. This is your beset chance to get a website visitor to know what the need to know so they'll take the action you want them to take. When you decide on the few items that you want your audience to know first, put these aside. This set will become your primary navigation. 

Identify a few of the items you thought might be in your primary navigation, but that didn't make the cut after serious consideration. These are groups of information that are important, but don't lead customers to the desired action. One such group of information is often the About or Mission & History set. This information is great information and it is typically a highly-trafficked page for small businesses (people like to know more about who they're working with), but it very rarely needs to be in your primary navigation. You may also identify a few pages that need to be prominent for legal reasons, such as your privacy policies. Once you have this set, this group will become your secondary navigation. Some companies have many less-than-primary groups of information. In some of those cases, both a secondary and a tertiary set of navigation is necessary.

Once you decide on your primary and secondary navigation, nest remaining labels underneath these items. You may nest only one level deep (creating child links for your primary and secondary navigation) or you may have several layers of navigation (creating grandchild or great-grandchild links). Nest and organize these labels in the way the makes the most sense.

Now you have primary navigation, secondary navigation, and groups of information underneath your primary and secondary navigation. Congrats! We're not done yet, though ...

Do you have labels remaining? This often happens when your primary or secondary labels aren't broad or general enough. Look through these labels again and see if you can re-label anything to accommodate the outstanding information groups. If not, does it make sense to add remaining labels to secondary or tertiary navigation? Finally, do you need a FAQ page? Some clients have multiple small bits of information that they need to convey to audiences, but don't make sense as a single page or group of pages. In this instance, they often find FAQ pages help them collect information for clients. 

Now that every single label or group of information lives somewhere, let's look back at those labels again. More than likely your page with information about you, your company, or your blog is named About. This works for a lot of websites because it's standard and audiences know what to expect when they click on it. For some brands, though, it makes sense to infuse more personality into the label. For example, you could call it Our Story. Instead of calling your contact for Contact Us you could label the navigation item as Get Started or Let's Chat. Your blog could become Thoughts, Recommendations, How-tos, etc. You don't need to assign every item in your navigation with something custom. As I said, audiences come to expect certain standard links. However, choosing different words or phrases for a few key areas is an excellent way to stand out and give more information about who you are. 

My final thoughts on building your IA:

  • Not every piece of the IA equals a separate page on your website. You might have Services in your primary navigation and Content Migration, Content Strategy, and Content Creation underneath that. You could create three separate child pages for each type of service. Or, you could have a single page with three headers (one for each service). Be purposeful with pages you create. You should create a separate page when you have a lot of content around one item or when you want to separate the audience from other information so they focus solely on that one thing. 
  • Fewer links is better in your primary navigation. Most sites should have between 2-5 links in the primary navigation. Each primary navigation link should serve your primary message and should include a call-to-action, directing audiences to a next step. 
  • Secondary and tertiary navigation typically lives in your site footer. Audiences know to scroll down for additional links or information. For some websites (a traditional blog layout for example), a secondary set of links in a sidebar may makes sense. 

 

 

 

Getting Started with Squarespace

Image via Unsplash

Seriously, it's this easy. 

Ready to have a professional looking website? Today? Good. Let's get started.

01. Get a domain/URL

Already have a domain? Fantastic. Skip this step.

Need to find and buy your URL? Squarespace has you covered with domain search and purchase

Search for the URL or domain you're considering. Squarespace will let you know if it's available (the cost per year) and will suggest alternatives as well. 

I have suggestions for choosing your URL elsewhere on the blog. They include keep the URL short, go with the .com ending, and research similar URLs (and purchase them if possible). 

The domains/URLs available via Squarespace will be the same as those available with other companies. If for some reason you want to purchase a URL outside of Squarespace (maybe you haven't decided on the platform yet), I recommend Google Domains

Squarespace has fantastic resources on domains:

 

02. Choose a template

This is your design base. It's sort of like choosing what type of cake you want—vanilla, chocolate, or funfetti—before choosing your frosting and other toppings. 

Some things to know and look at,

  • You're not committed to this template forever. You can change at any time (for free).
  • Choose the template that looks most similar to the look and feel you want for your site. 
  • Take advantage of Squarespace's filtering categories to narrow your choices (it can be overwhelming otherwise!).
  • Look at the template on a mobile device. (Squarespace offers a mobile preview, but I recommend interacting with the template on your personal device as well.)
  • Review the "customers using this template" section (scroll down on the template's detail page to find it). This gives you ideas on how you can customize the template to your needs/brand.
  • How much and what you can customize varies by template. If you have specific questions or details you need to know, check out the in-depth template guides by Squarespace before you select one. 

If you're really not sure which template to start with, I recommend starting with Bedford. Just look at all the example sites—this is a versatile template! It can be used by a photographer and insurance agency. It's an incredibly flexible base. 

 

03. Get your basic content in place

We'll dig into more substantial customizations in another post, but here let's just get the basics done. 

Your Squarespace editing menu is in the left-hand column of your website. This is not visible to the public, but only to you when you're signed in to Squarespace. If you toggle over the upper left-hand corner of your website you'll see the arrow option indicating you can open or close your menu. 

Get your website name and description in the right places.

Go to Design > Logo & Title

Make sure the website or business title is correct in this space. Add a tagline, if applicable. If you have a logo already you can upload it here. Squarespace can help you create a logo if you don't have one yet. But, you don't need a logo in Squarespace. If you don't have one, the title of your website will display in text (which you can customize).

Go to Settings > Website > Basic Information

Give your website or business a short one to two sentence description. Select the appropriate website type from the drop down. Hit Save in the upper left-hand corner of the menu and then go backwards using the menu's back arrow. 

Choose the name and type of pages you will have in your website. 

Each Squarespace template loads with demo pages in place. You can delete these by clicking on the trash can to the left of each page name. Or you can use that demo page as a starting point for your site by clicking on the gear icon to the right and selecting Create. Change the Navigation Title to the name of the page you are creating. 

You can add new pages by clicking the + button in the upper right-hand corner of your Pages menu. Give your page a name within the Page Title field. Squarespace offers you a number of starter layouts to make page building a little easier. Select a layout that works best for your page.

You can drag and drop a page to reorder it within the menu.

Change the text and photos within each page. 

 
 

Once you have the correct pages for your site in the correct order. Click on each page one-by-one. Your Pages menu will still be on the left-hand side. The right-hand side will be sample content from the demo page or sample content from the starter layout you selected. Or, this page will be entirely blank if you chose a new page and blank layout. 

Hover on the page and a black menu bar will appear that says Page Content. Select Edit. Now you can click within the text and change it. The text options (bold, italic, left-aligned, etc.) look similar to most word editing programs. Change all visible text on the page to what you want it to say for your website. Click Save in the black menu bar near the top.

Change all photos to your photos by hovering over the photo and selecting Edit. Click Save.

If you have at the very top of your demo page it may be a Banner image. Hover on the page and select Banner to remove or change this image.

Here are some fantastic help guides from Squarespace on editing within pages:

 

04. Go live with your website

Obviously, we can get really into the weeds before we go live. We could do a lot more customizing your site, but this is just a bare bones starting guide. So, if you've got your URL, your template, and your content in place, then it's time to go live!

Go to Settings > Website > Domains

Make sure that the Primary domain is the URL you purchased for this website or business. Squarespace also has a built-in URL that is often something like "your-site.squarespace.com." This is your behind-the-scenes URL, but you want to make sure the "yoursite.com" is marked as Primary. 

Go to Settings > General > Billing & Account > Billing > Upgrade 

Up until now you've been working on your new Squarespace site for free. You have up to 30 days before you have to give them any credit card information. When you're ready to go live, though, you need to select a subscription plan for your website. Almost all of my clients start on the Personal Websites plan (even businesses). That basic plan limits you to 20 total pages and has a higher transaction fee for shops, but it's nearly identical to the Business Website plan. There are two additional plans for eCommerce sites—if you're selling a lot of products read the details carefully, but I usually advise going with the less expensive plan first.

Select the plan you need right now and you can upgrade at any time (if you need more pages or start selling enough products). 

Once you complete your transaction, your site is live!

Here are some Squarespace resources on billing and primary domains:


Do you already have a headache thinking about all this? I create Squarespace websites for clients—fast. And, as a Squarespace Circle member, I offer all my clients 20% their first year's subscription. Get started on your project now. 

Still feeling energized to DIY Squarespace? Great! Check out my other related Squarespace posts. 

 
 

4 Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Domain Name

Image via Unsplash.com

Top questions to consider when selecting your URL

  • Is your URL easy to read quickly?
  • And when someone does scan it, do they take away the correct message?
  • Can you tell someone your URL without having to write it out or spell it for them?
  • Is the URL free of acronyms or initials?

Let me show you some reasons you should consider the above questions.

A former client of mine originally suggested a URL similar to this one: inrealestatemgmtco.com. The intention was for the URL to read as, "Indiana Real Estate Management Company." But it took me way too long to figure out what they were going for when I first scanned the suggestion. And it seemed like it would be a bear trying to tell someone the URL. "Check me out at my website! It's I-N-Real-Estate-M-G-M-T-C-O .com!" Trust me, broadcasting a URL like that one will get old fast. I found a live website with a similar issue

 
 

You should also avoid a double entendre at all costs. WhoRepresents.com connects searchers to talent agents and representatives; potentially great if you're a model looking for a new agent. And they make it very clear in their logo that it is WHO Represents (with clear color and type differentiation). But... they lose control of the message when it's simply a URL: www.whorepresents.com. That could be read as an inappropriate type of website. There are many many examples online of websites that meant well, but read wrong

You should also seek to make telling your story as easy as possible. If audiences have trouble finding you, sharing you, or understanding you at a very basic level (your URL), they're not going to have the energy to plow through the core of your message.

Other Considerations

.com, .net, .co 

I recommend most of my clients select a .com address. It's the predominant ending to a URL and if someone is trying to recall your URL, it's the first they're likely to try. There are storytelling reasons why you might go with an alternative ending, but if you do, be sure you're clear on what that decision adds to your story. 

Similar names

When I chose Shorewood Studio as my company's name (and ShorewoodStudio.com as its URL), I knew that ShorewoodStuidos.com was in use elsewhere on the web. That was something I considered before moving forward. It's entirely likely that a few potential clients or readers will land on a furniture maker's website in their first attempt to get to me. I ultimately decided that the Shorewood story was important enough to keep it as is (and that people would very quickly figure out I wasn't a furniture maker). 

Length 

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Not only because it's easier to say and write to your audiences, but also because it's quicker to people to scan in a an internet search. Plus, shorter URLs do give you a slight boost in search engine rankings and help you optimize your site.