Let me start with a small confession: I am deeply, and sometimes irrationally, suspicious of people who market themselves as photography consultants. They are everywhere and seem to target the insecurity and uncertainty of our industry by promising the keys to creative and professional success wrapped into tidy soundbites. We all need objective advice about our own work, but knowing who to trust is very difficult especially when there are so many people making up plausible platitudes for the sake of positioning themselves as authorities. Like anything else it's a mix of charlatans, pseudo-intellectuals, bullshitters, snake oil salesmen, and the occasional, legitimate expert.
This was my state of mind when Allegra Wilde announced her new venture eyeist.com, a website that sells reviews, consulting, and editing for photographers. My initial reaction was…great, more opinions. But then I looked at their roster and saw a fascinating mix: very well-known photographers and industry insiders like Chris Buck and Stephen Mayes; art buyers from major agencies like Ogilvy and TBWA/\Chiat/\Day; photography directors like Jennifer Miller from Martha Stewart Living and Anna Alexander from Dwell. These are not people making a living from young, benighted photographers. They represent a wide sample of people at the top of the editorial, art, and advertising markets. Add to this a mix of services including audio website reviews, one-on-one live consulting, and image editing. Suddenly you have a new, extremely interesting resource for getting qualified information about your work and how you present it.
This changes things.
So with no idea what to expect, I decided to have a couple reviewers go over my website. I choose Jennifer Miller from Martha Stewart and Jessica Fiore from Ogilvy. The price for a website review is $150.00. (ASMP members can get a 15% discount by logging into their accounts and grabbing the discount code from the member benefits section.)
I'm impressed. From a technical point of view everything just worked. Ordering was easy, the sound quality was good, and it even worked on my iPhone. When booking a review you can provide background information about your goals, what you hope to get from the review, and ask specific questions to the reviewer. Both Jennifer and Jessica were responsive to my questions and tailored their reviews accordingly. The experience was fun.
The reviews themselves are audio recordings about twenty minutes long created while the reviewer goes through your site. If you've ever sent out a mailer or email blast and wished you could be a fly on the wall while a photo editor looked over your work, this is your opportunity. Because the audio recording happens in real time, you get a clear sense of the rhythm of your site as someone looks at it—how long pages take, where the viewer starts and stops, etc. It was similar to the kind or portfolio review you can get at photo festivals and conferences, but without the expense and trouble of traveling.
What was it like?
The information I got was focused and detailed. Keep in mind that it's subjective—you're going to get one person's point of view. Unlike advice from the blogosphere though, you're not getting generalizations about what people think buyers want, you're getting a first hand account from a buyer. I ordered two reviews (and might order more) so I could understand where the reviewers agreed and disagreed with each other and hopefully compensate for the subjective nature of the reviews.
Both reviews were simple—no lofty pontificating—they just went through page by page, described how they felt about what they saw, what they found strong and weak, and made suggestions along the way. Both emphasized the flow of the portfolios and made specific recommendations about ordering and editing. Both were candid, which I appreciated, but in both cases I felt like the reviewers went a little easy on me. From their perspective the balance of encouragement and criticism must be difficult to find. In the future I will be a little more specific in my questions and let them know I have a thick skin for criticism.
The audio reviews remain on the eyeist site so you can refer back to them as often as you want. I couldn't find any way to download the reviews, but this didn't bother me since they seem to always be accessible. Although the audio review works very well, I would prefer a screen cast review so I could see what the reviewer was looking at. This would save some of the time the reviewers had to spend explaining where they were in the site and what they were seeing.
Eyeist.com offers more than website reviews. If you are putting together a body of work or a new portfolio services like editing and sequencing are worth investigating. Since I haven't tried them, the most I can say is that they look interesting. But next time I'm having trouble editing a collection of images, I might just drop in and have an editor from Esquire do it for me.