For any photographer today, an online portfolio has become as standard a marketing tool as a stack of business cards and a long list of happy clients. Even Leroy French, a veteran underwater photographer who has been shooting for more than fifty years, told us that today much of his work comes in through his website.
Creating that online presence doesn’t have to be difficult. There are plenty of tools to help any photographer get his or her images on the Web from a well-chosen Flickr stream to an account at PhotoShelter or a gallery powered by SlideShow Pro.
Photographers who really want their work to stand out though need to think a little more creatively, and that’s what Canadian photographer Sacha Dean Biyan has done with his award-winning commercial site, Eccentris. It’s an approach that reveals much about what a photography site needs to do and who it needs to do it for.
Sacha first took up professional photography in his early thirties, turning his back on a career as an aeronautical engineer. His commercial clients have included Sony Music, Adidas and the Gap, and his images have appeared in GQ, Marie Claire and Vogue. He has also exhibited his art internationally, won the German Art Director’s Guild gold award and a number of his photographs were auctioned in a benefit for Amnesty International.
A Little Technology, a Lot of Artistry
That combination of a technical background and artistic creation is visible in Sacha’s commercial site.
Built in the late nineties by Firstborn Multimedia, the site took three years to create and incorporates not just big, high-resolution images but also clever animation and CD-quality sound. The result is that Eccentris is now ranked by Yahoo! as one of the most popular fashion photography sites on the Web and receives over two million hits each month.
“I wanted to create something original, a sensory experience rather than just another portfolio website,” Sacha explained to us by email. “We wanted to use high quality audio and visual elements for maximum effect unlike anything else that had been done on the web.”
The price for such a rich multimedia portfolio though is steep. Eccentris drags through all but the fastest connections and the latest computers, and is best viewed on top-quality widescreen monitors that can show off the pictures to their best effect. The navigation too is difficult and requires some intuition. The site is demanding, not friendly.
Not surprisingly, that’s led to criticism from many viewers who argue that a site should be as light as possible and accessible to anyone.
For Sacha though, that argument misses the point. His site, he says, wasn’t conceived for the average photography-lover but for the sort of people who are likely to commission a fashion shoot or buy one of his photos.
“The target audience was the art directors and other creatives in the field who were all equipped with fast computers and big screens and high-speed connections,” says Sacha. “[It] was never intended to attract a mainstream audience, although (for good or bad) it has, mostly out of curiosity I presume.”
Photography: Sacha Dean Biyan
Interestingly, although Sacha’s images might best be seen on big monitors, they can also be viewed on screens small enough to fit in pockets. In addition to a low bandwidth version of his site, Sacha has created a mobile version of Eccentris, specifically designed for the iPhone — the first mobile device which was able to display his analog photos at a quality Sacha liked.
From Widescreen to Pocket Screen
It’s a trend that that he thinks will continue. Mobile platforms, Sacha predicts, will become increasingly important, forcing photographers to format their images at two extremes: the widescreen monitors used in design studios; and the small screens found on pocket-sized gadgets.
Having both options available means that a photographer can get his work seen by buyers in their offices and still display them while out networking.
“The mobile site serves a very specific purpose: to be convenient and accessible anywhere, and to make my work look decent on such a small screen. It succeeds on all levels on the iPhone,” Sacha says. “I’m not sure if we picked up any additional work because of our mobile site because that is really difficult to quantify but when I meet a potential client at a party or in the street, it’s really convenient when I can show them my portfolio from an iPhone.”
The problem though, is that just when you’ve created the perfect technological solution, the technology changes. Eccentris was launched six years ago and Sacha is now in the process of completing the concept for Eccentris II. That will be more like a video game, Sacha hints, designed for widescreens, with real-time user interaction and very intensive audio and video content. Sasha concedes that the site is likely to be sluggish even on broadband but he’s prepared for the criticism.
While people are waiting, they could always watch the low-tech version on their iPhones.
Photography: Sacha Dean Biyan