How does your website look to others?

This article was updated on 12 May 2019.

If you've made the effort to set up a website to show off your photography, it is important to test how it looks to others. Many users will access your website on their phone or tablet, rather than on a laptop or desktop PC which you probably used to set it up. So you have to make sure that it also looks good on these smaller devices. It amazes me how many websites of even professional photographers and tour companies become unusable if accessed on a phone or tablet.

Web designers follow a practice known as responsive design so that a website adapts to the device used to access it. Layouts are fluid, meaning that elements of your web pages will grow and shrink automatically to fill the available viewing space, and may also change their position to provide the best viewing experience. For example, a gallery of images might be shown as a grid on a larger screen, but be displayed in a single column on a phone where users swipe down the page to view them.

You can see this in the following screenshots of one of the galleries on my website first viewed on my iPad held in landscape mode, and then in an iPhone held in portrait mode.

In landscape mode on the iPad, the gallery is displayed as a grid and a menu of pages and links to social media are displayed in the top right of the page.

However, given the much smaller screen size on the iPhone in portrait mode, the images of the gallery are displayed in a single column and the menu of pages plus social icons is not displayed on the page. The menu of pages will only be displayed as a list of options when the user clicks on the 'hamburger' icon at the top right of the page. The social icons only appear at the bottom of this page.

Whether you’ve set up your website using a WordPress theme (as I did) or using a special online hosting service for photography websites such as SquarespaceSmugMug or PhotoShelter, your website should by default be responsive. If it’s not, then you made a bad choice as this is now expected of any good web design.

So let’s assume that you made a good choice and have a responsive website. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will still look good on all devices as you may have made some poor choices when it came to adding the content. One classic example is choosing a background image where the main subject is to one side which means that someone viewing it on a mobile phone or tablet held in portrait mode doesn’t see it. Another problem can be that the menu or logo doesn’t stand out against the background image as the colours are similar. Other examples that can result in breaks in the design are using very wide logos or long names for galleries that don’t display well in smaller pages or menus.

All this means that it’s important to test how your website looks on different devices. Ideally, do this with a demo of the design before you choose it to ensure that it is fully responsive and that you like how it will look on devices other than the one you are using. Then, when you set up your website, check again to see whether you could improve the look by changing some of the content. Remember too that mobile devices and tablets have two different modes – landscape and portrait – depending on how they are held, so you should check both.

So how can you check how your website looks on different devices? Of course you can test it on the set of different devices that you own, but this would generally mean that the website needs to be up and running, and that you have access to a wide range of devices. If you are working on a laptop or desktop PC, a simple way of doing basic checks is to resize your browser window to see how your website adapts.

Developer tools provide a more precise way of checking, and are readily available  to all users. For example, in the Google Chrome browser, click on the icon at the top right to get a menu of options for customising and controlling the browser. Go down to the ‘More tools’ option and then select ‘Developer tools’.  A panel will appear either on the right of your browser window as shown in the image below, or at the bottom of  your window.

This panel contains code for your website that developers can use to test and debug things. You can ignore this.

What we are interested in is the mobile/tablet icon that appears in the second position from the left in the bar  at the top of the code panel. Click on that and your browser will now show a simulation of how your website will look on a particular device. For example, in the image above the browser is showing me what my website would look like on an iPad held in portrait mode.

There is a menu at the top of the area where website is shown that allows you to select from a variety of mobile phones and tablets. To the right of that menu, there is an icon that you can click on to switch between landscape and portrait modes.  To return to normal browsing, you should click on the ‘X’ on the right of the bar above the code panel.

Testing out a few basic options should help you spot anything that might spoil the look of your website. However, it is important to note that these are simulations and may not look and behave exactly the same as using the device itself. For example, the position and size of your logo might differ slightly and look better on the actual device. Also, you will interact differently on a mobile device by using touch instead of a mouse and keyboard, and some animations may not work. But it should at least allow you to quickly check how your website will appear to others and if there are any major problems.

canon menu for basic settings of DLSR

Setting up your DSLR camera

There’s always a sense of excitement when you take a new camera out of its box. After charging and installing the battery, you probably switch on and go through the quick guide to set up your camera. Many of the default camera settings are ones that a lot of users will never need to change and, generally, the manuals do a good job of taking you through the various settings and describing the options. However, there are a few important things that some people seem to skip over that I think it’s worth highlighting.

The normal sequence is to first set up the language and then the date and time. Since many photographers organise their images based, at least partially, on date and time, it is important to set these up accurately. It really will make your life easier in the future when you want to find images or just check when something happened. You should also remember to change the date and time setting to the local time when you go on a trip. I was once on a safari in Africa with someone who had two cameras with them – one set  at UK time and one set for an Australian time zone. Later, he was able to alter the dates and times in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom so his images could be organised by day and ordered by the capture time. But it was a painful experience for him and one that ensured that he’ll not forget to reset these in the future.

One of the next settings is picture quality. The main decision to be made here is whether your images will be captured in raw format or in JPEG. Camera manufacturers have their own formats for storing image data as captured by the camera’s sensor. For example, Canon’s raw format is CR2, while Nikon’s is NEF. If your images are captured in raw format, they will need to be processed later either using some general image processing software such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or the software provided by the manufacturer of your camera. Alternatively, images can be processed in the camera at the time of capture and stored in JPEG format. This means that the camera automatically performs some colour processing, sharpening, contrast boosting and noise reduction. It will also compress the data so that the resulting file is much smaller than the raw format and hence requires much less space on your memory card. Since JPEG files are a standard format, you will be able to send them to friends or post them on a website directly. Because they have already been processed in your camera, a JPEG version of an image will also tend to look much better than the raw equivalent when first uploaded onto your computer. However, the down side of capturing images in JPEG rather than the raw format is that the data originally captured by the sensor is lost and the types of processing that you can do later will be limited. For example, if you capture the image in raw format, you will have full flexibility in adjusting the white balance later in a photo editing tool such as Lightroom so you can choose to simply leave your camera on the automatic white balance setting (AWB).

I would strongly recommend that you capture as much data as possible and hence set the picture quality to the largest raw format available. I’ve read one photography book that recommends JPEG unless you are a really keen photographer prepared to spend time sitting in front of a computer processing images. The problem with this advice is that it doesn’t allow for your growth as a photographer. I used to travel and take snapshots, and only became interested in photography after, somewhat accidentally, ending up on a photographic trip to the Arctic. I now look rather sadly at the images from my first DSLR camera taken on trips to Botswana and the Antarctic as they were captured in JPEG. Even though my processing skills have improved dramatically, there is little that I can do with them as the original data is lost. I think the purchase of a DSLR shows that you are at least thinking about photography as a hobby and something more than simply taking snapshots. Leave yourself the option of spending more time on processing images in the future by capturing raw. In the meantime, you can always do minimal processing which really requires only a few clicks or slider adjustments before exporting your image as a JPEG ready to be printed or posted online.

Two other things to check when you set up the camera are the beep and card reminder settings. Cameras are often set up to beep when they focus on a subject. Apart from being annoying to fellow photographers, the beep can be problematic when photographing wildlife or events such as concerts. It is therefore best to switch it off when you take the camera out of the box and always leave it at that setting. If your camera has an integrated flash, you might also consider switching off automatic firing of the flash to avoid it going off unexpectedly in situations where flash is not allowed or could cause problems. I remember a young bull elephant once getting rather upset when someone’s flash went off unintentionally! The card reminder setting controls whether the camera allows images to be taken if there is no memory card in the camera. You might ask why this should even be possible and the simple answer is that it allows someone to try out a camera in a store without their image actually being stored. It is important to check that the reminder setting is activated. I knew someone who spent a Christmas taking lots of family photos with a new camera given to her by an ex-husband, only to discover later that there was no memory card in the camera. Of course, the ex-husband was blamed.

Last, but not least, is a setting that comes as a revelation when people find out about it later down the line. Next to the viewfinder eyepiece, there should be a dioptric adjustment dial that allows you to adjust the setting for your eyesight so that the information displayed in the viewfinder is sharp. I once attended a photography workshop for beginners where many people said this was the most useful discovery of the day. I’ve also had a fellow photographer pass their camera to me to check something and I couldn’t read anything in the viewfinder as it was totally blurred. When I asked if it was really adjusted to their eyesight, it turned out that they didn’t know it could be adjusted. They were amazed at how much easier everything became once they could easily read their camera settings in the viewfinder. You should remember to check this periodically, as the dial can sometimes be knocked accidentally and the best settings may vary according to specific eyewear and contact lenses.

These are all general settings that you can leave in place. The next thing is to learn about the basic settings used to capture specific images and I hope to share some tips with you for settings used to take wildlife images in future articles.