Approach for Building a Database Driven Photography Website

Hey Everyone.

I am in the progress of putting together my first photography portfolio site, and I have some general questions on the approach and whether webflow is the right fit.

But First, a little about me.
I’ve been a designer working at an agency for a little over 15 years. I worked my way up from just a designer, through website design, and UX Director. Though not a developer myself, I do know quite a bit about front end development and css, but not enough to code my own website in Wordpress. I’ve even build a few small static websites in Webflow for clients on my own, I find the platform intuitive and it gives me great access to customizing the look and feel of a project exactly as my vision suits (at least for most basic static layouts).

My photography has been a long-time hobby, not really earning any money with it, but a creative outlet. I am now ready to start building my first Photography website and hopefully start selling prints. As a UX Designer, you can probably imagine I have a specific vision for how I want it to work. Initially, I thought Webflow CMS would be perfect for this, but some recent discoveries are making me question whether or not it’s the right platform.

Here is a bit of an overview of what I want to do with the site:
The core of the site revolves around a large Photos Collection which enriches each photo with additional metadata about each photo. Capture Date/time, GPS and City/Country location Information, Camera Settings and Lens info, etc. Having all images in a main database would offer flexibility in viewing those photos in various ways.

One of the main methods to display them is to use a separate collection for Photo Journals (sort of like blog posts). Each Journal would include data for Text-based info like the Intro story, the title, journal dates, etc, and would then pull in a List of Photos from the main Photos Collection and filter based on tags that assign each photo to their respective Journal Post. I don’t want to use a Multi-image field as many journals will include more than 25 photos, but also because the multi-image field would not include all of the other enriched data about the photo.

I’ve now discovered, that I can’t even dynamically filter the main Photos collection based on the Tag set in the Journal collection item. I know I can do this with 3rd party plugins (ie. Finsweet) but I was hoping not to lose my time tinkering with code and plugins (it just takes too long for me)

I’ve now sorta backed down from using collections in webflow entirely, and considering other options:

A1 - Build each journal post as a page rather than a collection. On one hand, this sounds interesting as I’d be able to do a fully custom design for each journal post, making each anything I want. With this approach, the collection of photos within could easily be filtered by whatever I want. Even though this is manual, each page design might become a fun project on its own, and may even be quicker to launch to just do it manually, than to try to develop an advanced CMS system. Downsides would be that I couldn’t use a journal posts collection to power my navigation.

A2 - Same as above but with integrations to Cloudinary or Imagekit for image hosting rather than hosting images on webflow. Benefit here is that these platforms allow metadata to be preserved in the images, if pulling EXIF data from those images with JS is simple enough, It could potentially eliminate the need to use a master Photos Collection as that could be pulled from the image-host platform.

B - Consider Alternatives (ie. Divhunt)
Through my research in this topic I’ve discovered Divhunt, which includes a more robust CMS system, and allows unlimited collection items, as well as unlimited Multi-Referenced items within a collection item. It also promises CSS Class management the correct way instead of Webflow’s shotty combo-class structure. I’ve already tested the multi-referenced collection and it seems to work well. However the overall Divhunt experience seems clunky. Some things are not obvious, it’s less intuitive, and the community and support is much smaller. It also currently has no eCommerce, and seems like I can’t even buy a subscription for custom domain hosting at this point.

I know the webflow community here is very supportive, so I just wanted to get some more experienced opinions from you all, and see if there’s any other insights I might not be thinking about.

Thanks All.

Hello Mike,

Firstly, congratulations on taking the leap to create your first photography website. Your journey and experience in design and UX, coupled with a passion for photography, certainly set a strong foundation for this project.

Regarding your query about Webflow for your site, your detailed plan reflects a deep understanding of what you want, which is fantastic. However, based on my extensive experience in web development and having worked on large-scale image-centric websites, I’d like to offer a nuanced perspective on using Webflow for your needs.

Webflow is a powerful tool, especially for designers who lean more towards the visual aspect of website creation. It excels in crafting beautiful, static layouts, and your previous experience with it is definitely a plus. However, for a photography site with a complex structure like yours - involving extensive metadata, dynamic filtering, and potentially large collections of images - Webflow might present some limitations.

You’ve already noted some of these limitations, such as the challenges with dynamic filtering and the constraints of the multi-image field. While third-party plugins like Finsweet could offer a workaround, they do come with the overhead of managing additional code and integrations, which seems to be a concern for you.

As for your alternative approaches, building each journal post as a custom page could indeed offer more design freedom and simplicity in execution, but it might become cumbersome to manage in the long run, especially if your collection grows. Webflow has a hard page limit. Using cloud image hosting platforms like Cloudinary or Imagekit is an excellent idea for preserving metadata, but integrating these smoothly with Webflow could be complex. There are custom code limitations with Webflow.

Considering a more robust CMS like Divhunt offers more flexibility for your specific requirements but, as you mentioned, comes with its own set of drawbacks such as user experience and community support. I have not explored the new CMS since it was released. Something that is on my list.

Given these considerations, you might have to choose between the ease of use and design capabilities of Webflow and the more complex, but potentially more suitable, options that other platforms or custom development offer. Custom development would provide the most flexibility and scalability but requires a significant investment in time, technical expertise, and budget.

If you’d like to delve deeper into these options, discuss the potential of custom development, or explore how to best leverage platforms like Cloudinary or Imagekit within your project, I’m available for a consultation. Feel free to DM me to set up a paid call where we can explore these avenues in detail.

Best of luck with your project.