View Full Version : HABS/HAER Photography-new site

3-Jan-2014, 07:05
I've finally managed to set foot into the late-20th century, and now have a web presence. I'm primarily a historian, though I also do quite a lot of large-format photography, and thus I do both parts of the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) process. It is a lot of fun, and I've finally done up a web site for that part of my work. I'm quite new to working in the web environment (yes, I made sure to fill out the paperwork for my internet domain in a fountain pen!), and would love to hear any comments or suggestions on the site.


Many thanks in advance!


28-Apr-2014, 12:07
Nice work and nice site. Simple and clean is always good. It's always hard to find website designs and templates that allow for a bit of text. I think the people interested in these kinds of projects (hiring a HABS, HAER, HALS photographer or architectural historians) like to see the photos + know the history about the resources. We spend a long time finding the best locations to tell the story about a building or bridge or landscape and then often can't explain why we chose that particular angle in the caption because the websites are always image biased.

As for "suggestions", since you asked. Your work is strong and perfectly appropriate for a historic survey but websites are a bit different, here's one guy's opinion. Take it or leave it.

If your ultimate desire is to tell stories with words and photos I would format longer blog posts with the images fixed to the text in the appropriate locations (maybe with captions attached) so people could read and see the smaller images as they read down the page in context. No need to click on any buttons unless someone wants to enlarge an image by clicking on it in the text. Right now when I get to the middle of your story the photo at the start of your portfolio has scrolled off the top of my screen and I'm left looking at only white screen and text.

Assume people will not be doing actual research on your website about these places and so you are not programming it for "educational" or "reference" purposes, but rather for "entertainment" and "look at me" purposes. Visual stimulation is more important than depth of research in terms of a photographer's website. Who is your audience? Are you selling you services through this website or just showing your photography to the world? Two important questions that determine the content and style of your site. Even firms that will be hiring your do compile a documentation to HABS standards will not be looking at 45 photos of a resource and reading every word, they want to see versatility, experience, and knowledge, something you are showing on your homepage now. Then they want to contact you, and your contact page is clear too. Good.

Often if a client has an apple pie that they need photographed they go online and look for a website with an apple pie photo. If you have a cherry pie photo they may not be convinced you're the right guy, you need to make sure they get the message from your site that no matter what baked good they need photographed you're the expert apple, cherry, canal, church, factory, whatever. I don't know if that makes sense, but the impression I got is that you have done a lot of HABS, HAER work and that's perfect.

Turn off the historian part of your brain when setting up a website and think visually first. In a typical 12 view HABS survey project I usually don't identify more than 3 or 4 images that have website potential. people have short attention spans when surfing the web. I think people like to see an overview grid of a portfolio (like your sacred spaces grid) before they click through an entire documentation. Only really dedicated individuals will click through more than 10 views of the same resource but they may choose the images that interest them out of a grid. It's your decision but I'd pick just one of the First Presbyterian Church and First Calvary Church views, whichever is the stronger angle, and delete the other. I may not tell as complete a story but the website portfolio always improves with brevity and these two church front/back views are similar visually as with a couple of the canal photos like the governors. First Calvary Church-pulpit detail photo seems low resolution. The BACK and NEXT buttons on the sacred spaces gallery also move around (Safari on the Mac) so it makes it tricky to click through; they stay in the same location on the candle factory portfolio so there must be a setting for photo width that can be adjusted to keep them stationary. 31 images is a heavy portfolio, consider 15-20, I never got past 14 on the Kezar Falls portfolio with 46 images, I lost interest with so many similar images up front, maybe a grid would help here too. The pictures should be dust spotted and contrast corrected so they have a cohesive look since they are now in the digital realm. Now this is easy instead of tedious manual spotting, there's quite a lot of dust on some like Erie Canal Lock E-28B in Newark, NY (picture 11).

Personally I'd remove those "BE SOCIABLE" tags from the bottom of your pages since the black and white images are so strong the bright colored band underneath with all those icons screaming for attention is distracting on your clean white design. No one has ever clicked on those tags on my blog so I'm not sure they're worth the negative design impact for a blog/website that isn't getting paid for hits or likely to go viral. Same with the comments section, perhaps you can only have the comment-back section on your bio page or a separate comments page rather than below every post. You could speed up image download by making the initial photos in the text smaller and allowing people to click to enlarge. Right now the initial portfolio images are the same size as the enlarged images if I click on them.

Welcome to the web world. Careful what you ask for, zipperheads like me will give free advice whenever provoked.


John Kasaian
28-Apr-2014, 21:35
As always, remarkable work! It's as if those old buildings are speaking through your B&W prints. Congratulations on your newly designed site.

29-Apr-2014, 09:18
As always, remarkable work! It's as if those old buildings are speaking through your B&W prints.

There's an interesting thought. Do old buildings speak better – more powerfully, more elegantly, more fluently – through B/W?

Kirk Gittings
29-Apr-2014, 09:49
Nice work Bruce. I used to do quite a lot of HABS/HAER work but gave it up in the 2000s as I had so much new architecture to shoot which paid a ton better. But now I wish I hadn't-those projects were fun and got me access to some amazing areas.

29-Apr-2014, 12:06
I get Schaf's point that you want the site to cater to people's short attention spans. I think you can keep it visually exciting for typical viewers, and also have it work as an archive and HABS/HAER portfolio for potential clients.

How about have a main gallery that's organized purely visually ... this is what the site leads with. Then you can provide a link that says something like "view complete project."

Such a cool branch of photography. I recently photographed a sugar refinery that's about to get torn down, and got to check out the work of the HABS/HAER guy who went before me. He did great work. And the thoroughness of his documentation got me off the hook and let me be a lot looser.

30-Apr-2014, 10:23
Impressive. I like the site as it is. Learning about the HABS/HAER program in this forum, I've followed the photographers for some time now. As far as I know there is nothing similar in Europe.

Because I like documentations, I even read the text, though I would never be able to visit any of the photographed sites or buildings. The web site is straight forward, simple and to the point, the images soothing the eyes in times of the 'wild web 2.0 ;-)'

8-May-2014, 10:35
Good heavens, I had quite forgotten to check back on this. I am very grateful for the kind words and the comments.

In particular--Stephen, your suggestions are fantastic, thank you so much for giving it such a thoughtful review and for taking the time to write down your observations. They are very helpful. I haven't been paying much attention to the site lately (happily, the unbillable work on the site has been replaced by billable work with the camera!), but I will look forward to digging back into the site and deciding which of your comments to implement and how to do so.

Again, thanks to you all!


8-May-2014, 10:38
Nice work Bruce. I used to do quite a lot of HABS/HAER work but gave it up in the 2000s as I had so much new architecture to shoot which paid a ton better. But now I wish I hadn't-those projects were fun and got me access to some amazing areas.

Thanks, Kirk. The HABS/HAER photography is a particularly enjoyable supplement to the rest of my work as a historian. And you're right--the access that it gives to such fantastic sites is one of the great benefits.


15-May-2014, 23:42
Just a typo on your about page, I thing you forgot a word where I put the "_____" :

"I do all of this work because I firmly ____ that the past is to be valued, both for its own sake and for the sense of meaning and identity it gives to us in the present."

this is from the bottom of your about page.

I'm going to go look into HABS/HAER now =)

16-May-2014, 05:31
hi bruce

its nice to see another one of us "habs types" here :)
very nice work.
i don't mind reading, but at the same time
i kind of agree with the "text-story-things" ..
maybe have the barebones description and ...
a " if you would like to know more about this project" link
and have it go to the longer set of text.

best of luck !