Just how useful is the Lightroom Web module?
This is the first of a 3 part series on using Lightroom as part of a website creation workflow.
Here in Part 1 I’ll cover how well (or not) the vanilla module fits into creating a real-life website based on my own personal experience.
Part 2 will cover extensions to the Web module (specifically a Turning Gate plugin).
A bit of background
I’m just starting out on the long road to being a professional photographer – at this stage, I’d be happy to rise to the dizzy heights of being merely poorly-paid.
One thing I need to sort out early on is a decent website to showcase my work and give people a reason for hiring me – in other words, one of the goals of the website is to generate clients. To do this, it needs to fulfill certain criteria (in no particular order):
• Separate categories of work. Someone who’s looking for a wedding photographer doesn’t want to wade through a load of street images to see examples of what I can provide. So, having a number of galleries is a must and keyword searching would be nice (maybe an image can show up under ‘wedding’ and ‘portrait’, for example).
• Easy navigation. Having decided you want to see my wedding portfolio, it should be obvious how to get there, preferably with a single click.
• Somewhere to put an artist’s statement on project galleries, so that I can describe the work.
• A contact page that details all the ways I can be contacted, not just email.
• Other stuff, including SEO considerations.
Hang on a minute.
Yes, yes, I know that there’s no way the basic Web module is going to handle all that. I have no expectations that it will be in any way sufficient for producing a professional website. What I’m interested in is how far it can go, what are the ways it fails to deliver, and are there improvements that could be made to it to get it to go even further?
The usual caveat, blah, blah, blah
As with my other articles here on X-Equals, this is not a user guide. It’s an account of my experiences, thoughts and ramblings. For a starter course on the Web module, have a look at this article by Matthew Campagna.
The hardest part of putting a photographic portfolio together is deciding what goes in and what gets left out. Collections, as ever, come to the rescue: they provide a convenient way of gathering the images I want to present and to sort through them, adding, rejecting, ordering as I want.
To the Web!
So, with some nice collections set up, it’s off to create some galleries. And hit the first problem: I want to create galleries, plural, but the Web module is only really geared to creating a gallery, singular, from any given set of images.
Still, let’s press on: maybe something will crop up.
Over to the left, we see a set of templates for creating our gallery
and up on the top right is a panel called Layout Style.
These panels are obviously the starting point for the gallery, so it’s worth spending a little while browsing the templates to find one that floats your boat.
I don’t really understand the interaction between these two panels, though. I’ll ignore the ‘Airtight’ options in the Layout Style panel – at the risk of sounding dismissive, they’re quite obviously not what I want. If you click on ‘Lightroom Flash Gallery’ it selects ‘Flash Gallery (default)’ in the Template Browser, and if you click on ‘Lightroom HTML Gallery’, it selects ‘HTML Gallery (default)’.
On the other hand, click on a template in the Template Browser, and it shows the relevant style in the Layout Style panel – something which is indicated in the browser itself (the name ends in ‘HTML’ if it’s an HTML template, otherwise it’s Flash) and in the preview pane.
I would expect the Layout Style panel to filter the templates, otherwise there doesn’t really seem a lot of point to it, apart from selecting styles that don’t have templates – but, then, are they really styles?
Moving on, I want my site to be mobile-compatible, so Flash isn’t really an option. That leaves me looking through the HTML templates for something that suits my needs.
There’s one called ‘Pure White – HTML’ that looks good: simple, uncluttered and lets the photos take centre stage. Just a bit of tweaking to get the details right, and we should be good to go.
There are several panels over on the right that I’m not going to go into: they’re covered in full detail elsewhere, and I’m mostly happy with the defaults, anyway.
So let’s just look at the first panel:
Straight away, this tells you something about the limitations of this module – it says ‘Site Info’, ‘Site Title’. It suggests to me that this is it; this is the site, not a part of it, but the whole thing. Oh, I know it says ‘Unsaved Web Gallery’ and ‘Create Saved Web Gallery’ up top there, but everything else belies that.
And then there’s ‘Contact Info’: an email address (or ‘Web link’… ermm, to where?). Seriously? That’s it? What about Twitter and Facebook? How can I point people at my blog’s RSS feed? And then there’s the issue of an ‘About’ page for my artist’s biography, and so on.
This is not looking good. Still, I can create/save different galleries, and I can Export… them to the hard drive, rather than Upload… them to a live site. Maybe I can construct the galleries that I want, export them and then use an HTML editing program to construct a wrapper that pulls them all together…
Whoa just a doggone minute, there. That’s not my job. <McCoy> Dammit, Jim, I’m a photographer, not a web designer. </McCoy>
Yes, I’m sure it could be done, if one had the skill and the inclination, but it all smacks very much of a huge fudge to overcome a serious failing.
Let’s face it.
It is a serious failing. Lightroom is a premier product aimed at professionals and I have to be frank here: the Web module is not up to snuff.
So where does it go wrong? Why is the Web module so inadequate in the context of the most useful program I possess?
In a word: The Filmstrip.
To be fair to Lightroom, it’s not easy to know how to map the filmstrip concept to a hierarchical website design. The rest of Lightroom is based around the idea of flattening out a set of images, wherever they physically sit on your hard drive. The analogy with old-s film is obvious (it’s called the ‘filmstrip’, duh!), but does it have to be extended to every module?
(Slight digression, bear with me.) Several years ago, there was a trend for presenting the UI of some software as a representation of a physical object – TV remotes, telephone handsets, and so on. All very cutesy, but… it’s a computer. Why hamstring its power by limiting it to the capabilities of a simpler device? I once saw a dialler application that allowed you to assign speed dial numbers to the buttons, but had no easy way to get at the other numbers. You could also dial by pressing the buttons, but not by using the keyboard. What gives? That’s pure form over substance.
(Back again.) I’m not suggesting that the filmstrip is in that league of silliness – quite the opposite; I love the filmstrip and use it a lot, but I can’t help but think that there’s some of that UI-by-analogy-with-something-else going on and it’s stifling the abilities of the program by extending into areas that it’s not appropriate to. There’s no equivalent of making a web site in darkroom-and-chemicals photography, so don’t push it. Consistency of UI is one thing, but you also need to know when to change things for the better. As Emerson put it: ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’.
So what’s the solution?
The filmstrip works great for Library, Develop, Map and so on, but for Web (and also for exporting images) it’s a bit limiting. I want another option. I already have the hierarchy I want in a collection set (or in my physical folder structure) – why can’t I use that information to guide the creation of the image galleries?
It shouldn’t be too difficult to extend the current templates to get extra information from collection or folder names and to construct a hierarchical site from the images contained in them. Yes, it means that there’s a disconnect between the Web module UI and, say, the Develop module UI, but there’s a disconnect between their purposes and workflows as well. It shouldn’t be too hard for the average user to shift paradigms (argh! I used that word – I feel violated) when the end purpose is so different.
The filmstrip works brilliantly when there’s a clear connection with a style of working (Grid view = contact sheets, for example) and I couldn’t live without it in the Develop module, but there is no natural analogy with any aspect of creating a website, so it shouldn’t be a part of that process.
The problem with this solution is, of course, that it still wouldn’t be good enough for constructing a professional website. It would, however, provide much more flexibility for those who just want a basic image gallery that’s divided into sections.
As far as using Lightroom as part of a professional web-creation strategy goes, it’s a non-starter. I’m sorry to say this about a program that I love dearly, but it doesn’t so much fall at the first hurdle as trip up out of the starting blocks.
In part 2, we’ll be looking at a plugin for Lightroom that purports to do the job. Looking at the Turning Gate website, everything seems to be there, so stay tuned to see how I get on.
Graham Douglas – Grey Dog Photography