Quote Originally Posted by dylder
You deal with professional designers for the same reason you deal with professional photographers. Quality.
You shop them the same too. Look at their portfolio of work, find what you like.
Doing your own site with an automatic program .... Looks and runs like an amateur wrote it with an automatic program.
Finally, a voice of reason!
Now for my thoughts...

The first thing you have to honestly ask yourself is what do you plan to do with your site? Is it really going to be a marketing tool? If so, then the site is just a small part of the work that must be done. You need search engine optimization and an actual STRATEGY.

Consider your audience. What are the demographics of those who will be purchasing your photography? Are they using PC's or Mac's? What is thier screen resolution? What is the price point? Do you want to sell volume or big ticket?

The answers will tell you what to design the funtionality around. The "look" will be determined by a competent and professional designer who should be asking you these questions and giving you several rounds of comps. If he or she doesn't ask or gets a blank expression on thier face when you bring these things up they aren't who you're looking for.

If your site is a way to share your work with the photographic community with the occasional print sale then you need to design to the weakest link or lowest common demographic. For this option it may be appropriate to design it yourself. There's a reason why Banana Republic looks different than Old Navy.

Sometimes these two audiences require the same functionality. You may be suprised.

My own site is designed for a very specific audience and I'd say that 99.9% of APUG users are not in my target audience (especially since there's no photography on my site!).

Be prepared for some sticker shock when dealing with a professional Graphic Designer. When I take on side projects like this my rate is no less than $50/hr. The good thing you have going for you is Graphic Designers are suckers for beautiful b/w photography and we love to make trades.

Do you live near a university? Go to the design professor, find out who the best student is and make a deal. Students need the experience and a photo site poses some interesting challenges and look great in a portfolio.

Remember, brutal honesty about what you really expect out of your site will prevent a lot of headaches.

Good luck!