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Flash Websites for Photographers, good idea or kiss of death?

Flash is an interactive language used on many photographer websites to bring a level of interactivity and display options that until recently were ...

Flash is an interactive language used on many photographer websites to bring a level of interactivity and display options that until recently were not possible in HTML. Apple has refused to support Flash in the iPhone and iPad, and Flash has been beset with problems ranging from high CPU utilization to SEO problems.

Yet, Flash can still be found on 98% of personal computers.


The experts chimed in:

allender.jpgThad Allender is a photographer and multimedia producer based in Washington, D.C. He is the former multimedia producer for USA Today and the founder of Graph Paper Press, a web development company focused on creating tools and designs for creatives using WordPress.

There is a laundry list of reasons to abandon Flash.  Everyone knows that it doesn’t work on mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad, but that is merely a result of a bigger problem: Flash is proprietary and doesn’t adhere open web standards.  The web is moving away from it at a rapid speed because of advances in html, css, and javascript.

It’s easy to hate Flash, but in reality, we owe it a great deal of appreciation.  For years, there were few alternatives to Flash on the web: Browsers sucked, web standards were a new thing, and “Google” was a start-up, not a verb.   Flash filled a niche where the capability of web browsers fell short.  Fast forward a few years and now we have HTML 5, which introduces new ways of presenting multimedia nativity in the browser.  Times are changing, and so, we must change with it. 

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Here are a few additional reasons to avoid Flash:

  • Flash websites have terrible SEO.  Flash websites sometimes employ “black hat” techniques in an attempt to accommodate for bad SEO. Google will punish you for this.
  • Flash is a CPU hog and has well-documented security issues.
  • Flash was designed for mice, not fingers.

R.I.P. Flash.

critchlow.jpgWill Critchlow is the founder and chief strategist for the web design and optimization firm Distilled Ltd. He is regularly quoted in a wide range of media on the subject of SEO and internet marketing. Will is a Google Qualified Professional. 

Coming from an SEO perspective, I would counsel photographers (and anyone else) to avoid websites build entirely in Flash. From an SEO perspective, there is no issue with using rich media elements on a page in much the same way that you would include an image on a page, but you should seek to avoid including important text and, crucially, navigation. In short, Flash can provide great benefits within a portfolio, but use it sparingly and don’t make it crucial to the navigation or understanding of your website.

de-luna.jpgRoberto De Luna is an American photographer & photography editor. He has recently been featured in the Dutch art periodical Eyemazing, and also held a solo exhibition entitled “Facing West,” which was reviewed in New Yorker Magazine as “appealingly, deceptively casual.” Presently Mr. De Luna is the Photography Editor of Time Out New York. Mr. De Luna is the proud parent of a black & tan dachshund named Nacho. (photo by by Jolie Ruben)

When it comes to flash, there’s really only one word that comes to mind, and that’s LIMITING. For starters, there’s nothing more embarrassing than taking a photographer’s website to a creative director or editor in chief, and telling them to “Just ignore the TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC flash intro, and click on SKIP…”

If you have an animation style intro, or laboriously animated interface, I’m more apt to pass on this work. It’s not that I have a personal objection to this kind of aesthetic (which honestly I do, but that’s not the point) more so to say that if I can’t get your work in front of SOMEONE ELSE’S face rapidly and practically, It’s going to get lost in translation, or I’m not going to send it at all. It may sound harsh, but it’s the physics and reality of how many hours are in a day. If your site takes a full minute to load, that’s a full minute I could have been discussing your work with the art team.

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Furthermore, it’s just a fact that FLASH does not perform on the platforms I need it to, and on the platforms that creatives use most (iPhone, iPad, mac products). It’s frequent I’m having a meeting on the go with my iPad, and I simply can’t pull up your work, or when I’m at dinner with a creative director. Hate to break the news to you, but yes, I am looking at work @ 3AM on my iphone, and assigning work. And if I can’t see your work, there’s no way I can hire you. Keep in mind that if you have a flash site that you know and love, it’s not that hard to get a DRIPBOOK account, or some similar interface that will allow me to view your work on the go? Something to consider?

haggart.jpgRob Haggart is the former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine. He has received photo editing recognition from Graphis, American Photography, Society of Publication Designers, Communication Arts, American Society of Magazine Editors, Photo District News, and was chosen as part of the creative team of the year by Ad Week. He currently freelances as a Photography Director and runs and, a flash based portfolio service for photographers.

It’s hard to beat Flash for showing off photography. When I worked as a Photography Director I looked at thousands upon thousands of websites and I was always wowed by how well flash displayed photography. I also never heard anyone complain about it. That’s why I chose it as the main language for the sites I build now. It allows you to easily scale images, embed high end magazine and advertising fonts (legally), video playback is flawless (plus they can’t be easily stolen) and it’s compatible with older Internet Explorer browsers that are still extremely common. Additionally you can achieve the same search engine results with a flash site as you can with HTML (backlinks are the key here, not HTML).

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I’ve also seen HTML websites that are well done and look nice, so I’m not saying Flash is your only choice as a photographer, it really just depends on who your clients. If your clients are Photography Directors, Art Buyers, Art Directors, Creative Directors and Design Directors then you can expect that the majority of the sites they are looking at are built in Flash and they are not using google or iphones to hire photographers. And while the convenience of a one size fits all website might be appealing to many people, making an impact on the desktop in the competitive world of commercial and editorial photography should be your highest priority. In a recent interview photographer Andrew Eccles says ” I think if someone is seriously considering hiring you they’re going to look at the computer screen. I certainly wouldn’t hire a hair and make-up artist, or a prop stylist just by looking at their stuff on a phone.”

So, this leaves photographers who want to utilize the power of flash on the desktop only one choice when it comes to Apple’s iPad and iPhone: build dedicated sites for those devices. And, if you read between the lines, this is Steve Jobs intention with the ban on Flash. The devices are small, don’t have much bandwidth on ATT and have a unique touch screen. Websites on those devices should work differently if you want to give the users the best experience you can.

Regardless of your stance in HTML vs. Flash this is a wonderful time to be creating websites, because both camps are pushing each other to become better and new exciting devices for looking at photography are finally available. Until one emerges victorious and stays there long enough for the majority browsers to be updated, I’m staying in the middle.

sanschagrin.jpgGrover Sanschagrin is Vice President of Business Development and co-founder of PhotoShelter. An industry veteran, Sanschagrin, who started his career as a photojournalist, has vast experience with online productions including major roles with, and the Quokka Sports Network (including and He has spoken at numerous industry conferences and universities with one goal: To educate photographers about the importance of building a successful online marketing strategy that will result in more assignments, more image sales, and less time in front of a computer.

A photographer website built entirely in Flash has become a liability, not an asset, and should be avoided. Photographers with Flash-based websites should start formulating their evacuation plan now, because those with these websites will soon find themselves losing ground to those who don’t.

The evidence is clear. Flash-based websites suffer SEO penalties, run slowly on some computers, don’t run at all on iPhones and iPads, are statistically proven to attract fewer inbound links, are nearly impossible to conduct image archive searches and e-commerce, and are much more expensive to design, produce, and change. In an attempt to get around some of these limitations, elaborate work-arounds (like “shadow HTML sites”) have been implemented.

These workarounds clearly prove that, on it’s own, Flash is not a sufficient solution for the needs of a photographer today.

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Times have changed. In the old days (circa 2007), we designed and built websites for humans. Photographers wanted to inspire other humans (an editor, a bride or a parent), to pick up the phone and a give them an assignment, or buy an image. Today, we need to build websites for humans AND machines — search engines. The same site must serve both.

In addition, humans have also grown to expect more from a website. They want to be able to view your content on their own terms and chosen format (not just a web browser, but an iPhone, iPad, with an RSS reader.) They want to be able to share your content on social networks – yet I know how pissed off I get when trying to link to a photo in someone’s portfolio, only to see it bears the same URL as every other page on your website. And then, a website without search and e-commerce capability is loaded with wasted opportunities…its just window shopping.

Flash is no longer a requirement for a beautiful website, and those who lock themselves inside of a Flash-only world have a website that’s the equivalent of an online time capsule from 2007.

Dump your Flash website.

schmidt.jpgMike Schmidt is psyched about storytelling, graphic design, motion graphics, interactive design and video production. When he’s not building interactive multimedia audio and video graphics packages for clients like the New York Times, and the Open Society Institute, he can be found teaching the next generation of visual communicators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he lectures as an Adjunct Professor. Mike worked as a videographer, editor, production manager, television producer, motion graphic designer, web designer, flash animator and multimedia art director before launching his own studio, Mohawk Street.

Photographers should avoid using Flash in their websites most of the time. Flash is great for immersive experiences and interactivity, but bad at search engine optimization and mobile devices (an obvious growth area on the web). A photographer’s website should not be an immersive experience like the Jim Carrey Site: because the goal of a photographer site is different. You want to show your photography in a way that the user can both meander through your work and hunt for a specific image at the same time. Users should see how awesome you are and want to hire you or license your work … so navigation, SEO, and image search become paramount.

The thing we used to use Flash for primarily on photographer sites was slideshow players and creative navigation solutions. At the time there was no other option for slideshows. Now there are many. As for creative navigation, research has shown time and again that users are easily confused when you deviate from basic navigation standards. Unless the navigation is the thread weaving a story together, the best way to get viewers to engage with your site is to present great content in a familiar framework.

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What about originality? Design can convey mood and emotion, our brains are hardwired to respond to color, texture, type and image and derive an emotional response. Your images are going to be the driving force in the mood of your site, so the design should support the images, not compete with them. Good design on the web is not dependent on Flash … instead it is the skill and execution of the designer. The originality should come from your work.

So when should you use Flash? Flash is still best for interactive content that goes beyond the slideshow or navigation. For creative storytelling that combines images, video, type, information graphics and interactivity, use Flash. Then stick that Flash content into your HTML site. But don’t stop there! Make sure you have a transcript or abstract written up that sits in the HTML next to the Flash content, so the search engines can find it and the mobile users will bookmark it to come back to later when they are on their computers.<br><br><br>

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