Joel Sartore is a long-time National Geographic photographer, and redesigning his site was a highlight of 2011. Joel documents endangered species and places that are threatened, and he’s got battle scars to show for it. He contracted a flesh-eating parasite that ate a hole in his leg, and nearly caught the deadly, Ebola-like Marburg virus. (He’s okay.) He’s dedicated, enormously talented, and funny.
After his wife had cancer, he decided to spend more time with his family. (She’s okay now, and cancer-free.) He wanted his website to generate income with public speaking and stock photos, instead of having to spend so much time shooting in the field.
Before the Redesign
Joel’s old site was clean and simple, but was tough to update and didn’t offer enough flexibility.
The New Site
The new site is cleaner, more modern, and highlights Joel’s speaking engagements and stock photos as well as his magazine photography. The site’s visual design was executed by the talented Andrew Cohen, and I built the site on top of WordPress.
22,000 Stock Photos, and Hidden Watermarks
Joel needed to integrate 22,000 stock photos of beautiful places and rare species into the site, and he already had a custom-built stock database in place. The system was working fine, so we integrated it into WordPress’s front-end, while making some refinements along the way.
Joel’s images were stored on the filesystem in a way that was fine for the original system but tougher for search engines. They were nested in folders that didn’t correspond to Joel’s stock image IDs, and the watermarks were a little on the ugly side.
To fix this, I built a caching system using a customized version of good ol’ PhpThumb. It pulls the high-resolution image, resizes it on the fly if needed, adds a beautiful watermark, embeds IPTC identification and keyword data, and caches the result on the filesystem.
We hid the watermark with CSS. Try it: the photo of terrifying bats on this page looks great, right? Drag the image to your desktop, or open it in a new window. Voila! You’ll see a helpful watermark that identifies the image ID and strengthens Joel’s copyright of the image.
The site’s brand new, so it’s early to tell how successful it will be at generating new sales for Joel, but the early returns are positive. Search engine traffic has doubled since launch, and thanks in part to aggressive marketing by Joel’s excellent assistant Katie Joseph, print and book sales have had their best month yet.