The Picture Frame Worth 1,000 Bookings

Software that puts your best image forward.

Photographer John Russo routinely focuses his lens on celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Kevin Costner, so he knows how important the right image can be. Russo has had to think about his own image, too. A year ago, he rebuilt his Web site after being impressed by a number of fellow photographers' online portfolios built with liveBooks 4.0, a software package designed specifically for publishing Web-based image collections. "It's clean, it's simple, and it's all about the work," he says.

For serious photographers--as well as designers, illustrators, and other artists for that matter--eye-catching online portfolios have become more important than ever. Many clients now use them as the primary basis for evaluating prospective hires. There are a number of software products that let visual artists showcase their work, but none match the all-around sophistication of liveBooks, which has attracted such A-list organizations as photography agency Magnum and the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco as well as photographers who shoot for magazines such as Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Time.

The Flash-based software lets artists easily create attractive sites that emphasize their images--without too many distracting bells and whistles. "I didn't want music. I didn't want things spinning," says Gregory Heisler, a veteran New York photographer who recently bought a liveBooks package. Photographers also like that liveBooks portfolios are easy to create and maintain. Users simply upload their pictures and arrange them into portfolios of 32 images each. From there, a well-designed editing tool lets them drag and drop to create various galleries for display. Users can also quickly build customized password-protected presentations for specific clients. And the software lets artists control whether or not visitors can print or save any image, eliminating worries about that prized pic being misappropriated.

The software does have some limitations. Micah Walter, a photojournalist based in Washington, DC, considered liveBooks when he redesigned his site recently, but he was turned off by the inability to integrate a liveBooks portfolio into an existing site and by what he saw as a lack of design flexibility. (The company says version 5.0, out this spring, aims to address some of those concerns.) Mostly, though, Walter balked at the price. LiveBooks' most basic service is $950, and a professional site can cost $3,900 or more. Russo, for one, says his new site has been worth it. Not long after it went live, he booked a "huge" advertising job when a prospective client liked his work. "It totally paid for itself."

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