Choosing a photography website for your business but not sure where to start? Not happy with your current provider and thinking about a switch? We’re here to help!
We’re photographers. We understand ISO, focal points and f-stops. But when it comes to choosing a photography website for our business, we feel a bit in the dark. Whether you’re just thinking about building a website for your fledgling business or need to overhaul your site, it is critical to understand your options. I’ll discuss why a photography website is important, give you the highlights of a few different options and service providers and discuss how templates work when it comes to building a site for your business.
Do I need a photography website?
Short answer…yes. It can be tempting to just have a Facebook page or rely exclusively on word-of-mouth for your business. After all, Facebook is free and easy, where a hosted website costs money and is a more involved process. But having a photography website is an advantage for several reasons.
Stand out from the competition
First, it can set you apart from the competition. A website shows that you are serious about your business and invest in it. If you were going to spend a few thousand dollars on a wedding coordinator, for example, who would look more professional in your eyes…the woman with a Facebook page and some posts or the woman with a website that displays her work, her pricing, her contact information, and her reviews all in one easy to access and beautifully designed place?
Make your information accessible and beautiful
Second, a website is a convenient and aesthetically pleasing way to host your body of work, known as your portfolio. Back in my post-college days, my portfolio was a physical item. It was a leather briefcase thingy that held all my best work including news releases, articles, ads, PR campaigns, and photographs that demonstrated my skills to prospective communications employers. Today, your portfolio can be hosted on your website. A web portfolio lets you quickly display your skills, experience, and expertise to potential clients. It also shows off your particular style. A lead can easily find your website and get an idea of what services and expertise you offer.
Websites have several advantages over Facebook or other social media sites. First, anyone can see your website. They don’t have to have an Instagram account or have a certain app installed on their phone. You can categorize your work in any way you want, building easy to find and navigate galleries of families, weddings or events. You control how your images are displayed size, both in terms of resolution and dimensions. With Facebook, for example, your posts are displayed chronologically and Facebook makes the decisions on how your images are presented.
Make your website work for you
And finally, websites are a very passive form of marketing and advertising. You do most of the work on the front end building a site and optimizing your site for search engine optimization (SEO). Then you harness the power of the web to help you bring in leads and grow your business. Potential clients can learn about you and your work while you sleep.
What do you need from your photography website?
Before you decide who should host your photography website, you need to know what features you will need for your site. For example, do you want:
- A simple website to display your portfolio
- A blog
- Client gallery hosting
- Online sales
Decide what features you need and then prioritize them in order from most important to least important.
You’ll also need to decide how much you are willing to spend, how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in your photography website, your comfort level learning new software or skills and how much flexibility do you want in your site. I suggest knowing which of these factors is the most important to you as you begin your search.
Click here for help in building and displaying your photography portfolio!
What are the best photography websites? Photography Portfolio Websites?
Best is such a loaded and subjective word. The best choice for you might not be the best choice for me. It’s a matter of knowing what you need from your site and prioritizing those needs against cost, time, skill and flexibility.
I’ll cover the most popular options and try to explain what they do well as well as their limitations. This is by no means a comprehensive list. If a company you’re considering isn’t on this list it doesn’t mean it’s not any good. I simply can’t cover them all. Compare the features your company is offering to the ones on this list and see how it stacks up.
I’m also leaving out pricing, as it can change quickly. Once you’ve narrowed down your potential list, shop around for the best deal on your top options. You might find you can snag a discount on your service provider through one of their sales, a coupon code from a photography membership site or even through a site like E-bates or Retailmenot.com.
Pixieset focuses on client gallery hosting and online product sales, and it does both of those features very well. Their galleries are beautiful and have some great features to improve your client’s experience, mobile galleries, and social media sharing options. Pixieset has a free option for up to 3 GB of storage space (plus a 15% commission on all sales). More storage space is more money, but the commission is removed for paid plans. Pixieset isn’t intended to replace a website, however. You can’t add customized pages or a blog, you have very little control in how your images are displayed and there are no tools for SEO. One difference between Pixieset and Shootproof (see note below) is that Pixieset’s plans are built around total storage space used where Shootproof’s plans are determined by the number of photos stored, not their size.
Consider Pixieset if: you want a beautiful, straight-forward client gallery hosting option.
Pixpa is a relatively new company for photography website hosting. It is another all-in-one solution for client gallery hosting, online store, and a fully-functioning website. You can sell physical or digital products and accept payment for services through Pixpa. Their templates are really pretty, if limited, but you can incorporate a blog into the layout and interface.
Pixpa’s pricing is a bit confusing at first. Unlike other sites that have three or four straightforward pricing tiers, Pixpa has different prices for different needs. You can pay for just a website, for a website + gallery hosting, for just gallery hosting, for e-commerce plus a website and a few other combinations. So it will take some time to sort out what you will have to pay for what you need. Pixpa does have a student plan and a try-before-you-buy option. The limitations of Pixpa are that it doesn’t connect to any print houses ( so you will have to self-fulfill all your orders), it’s limited in themes and design options and there just isn’t as much information out there about it or folks using it. I also found it’s builder tools to be less intuitive than those of Wix or Squarespace.
Consider Pixpa if: you want an all-in-one solution with more options when it comes to a website, don’t mind self-fulfill orders or if you’re a student on a budget.
Shootproof is one of the newer players in gallery hosting. It is designed first and foremost for hosting client galleries and carrying out online sales. It performs those functions beautifully and offers some great extras contract fulfillment, invoicing and client communication. There is also a free option if you have just a few images you want to share with clients at a time. Shootproof has connections with some premium print labs across the country and offers self-fulfillment of orders. But Shootproof isn’t designed to serve as your website. You can’t build additional pages, you can’t add a blog and you have very, very limited design control. I love Shootproof for hosting client galleries but I wouldn’t choose it as my business website.
Consider Shootproof if: you only need beautiful client gallery hosting and online sales plus an integrated client management experience
Smugmug remains one of the most popular options for photographers. This is a family-owned company that has been around for a long time and caters exclusively to photographers. Smugmug shines at gallery hosting and online sales. Your Smugmug site can include other pages like pricing or information about you, so it can serve as an all-in-one solution for gallery hosting, online sales, and a website. Smugmug has awesome customer service and can also double as an online backup of your images if you pay for the bigger plans. Your design options are limited however, it doesn’t work well for blog hosting and it isn’t as helpful when it comes to SEO. Smugmug also charges a 15% commission on all your online. That’s on top of your monthly or yearly hosting payment.
Consider Smugmug if: you want an all-in-one solution, don’t require anything fancy for your website and don’t mind the commission on sales.
Squarespace is a website hosting company. You choose a template, upload your images, add your information and soon you have a fully functioning website. The main benefits of Squarespace are ease of use and convenience. It is very easy and intuitive to use and Squarespace gets you started with some really beautiful customizable templates. You can also add a blog or an online store. Squarespace is also convenient in that you get your website hosting, domain name and template all in one price. The downside of Squarespace is that you are limited to their templates or forced to design your own from scratch (there are a lot of templates to choose from, but not as many as WordPress, for example). It doesn’t offer the kinds or amounts of plugins you can find with WordPress and it isn’t as reliable when it comes to SEO.
Consider Squarespace if: you want an easy, straight-forward website experience and don’t care so much about total design control.
Wix is very similar to Squarespace in that it’s a website hosting company that feature proprietary templates and design interface. It is also very easy to use and a popular choice for many photographers. You can start a Wix site for free (with some limitations). Wix offers some photo gallery hosting and e-commerce options. As with other website builders, the downside of Wix is you are stuck with what Wix has to offer – you are limited to their templates, software, and additional service options. I also think it is more expensive in the long-term than say a site like Squarespace or a WordPress site. Wix does have some SEO tools that work great for local photographers, but if you are depending on SEO to drive traffic to your website, there are better options out there.
Choose Wix if: you want to try it for free or need an easy website design experience and want a beautiful site up and running quickly.
WordPress is an online, free source website creation tool. It is not a site or a hosting company. Wordpress is a tool that creates websites. With a WordPress site, you pay a company like GoDaddy or Bluehost to host a site that you design with WordPress. Confusing? A little. But think of WordPress like Microsoft Office. It’s like the software you can use to write documents on just about any brand of computer out there. WordPress powers about 1/3 of all existing websites.
A WordPress site is a great option for a standard website and blog. There are literally thousands of design options with WordPress either through the use of predeveloped themes (templates) or by designing your own. By using plugins, you can also include features like client gallery proofing and product sales. It is also great at SEO. But so many options may be overwhelming. There is a bit of a learning curve involved in navigating the software, too, and client gallery hosting and sales aren’t as straightforward as they are with a service like Shootproof.
Choose a WordPress site if: you want a traditional website and blog plus want maximum design control, flexibility and expansion potential and don’t mind a little more effort on your part to get started.
Pro Tip: WordPress.org is the free-source software. WordPress.com is a hosting company. Don’t think you need WordPress.com to host your WordPress site.
Click here for Cole’s quick tutorial on getting up and running with WordPress.
Like Smugmug, Zenfolio excels at gallery hosting and product sales. With Zenfolio, you can host client galleries and individual website pages. The galleries are easy to use and display beautifully. You can host a blog and Zenfolio has some really pretty templates. They also offer a large number of print fulfillment companies, including options in Canada and overseas. Zenfolio does allow self-fulfillment of customer orders, allowing you to choose your own professional lab or manufacturer. The drawback of Zenfolio is that it really isn’t a website builder – adding pages or blog pages is cumbersome and not as intuitive. Zenfolio also charges a commission on online sales and has limited templates and options.
Choose Zenfolio if: you want an all-in-one solution and only need a few basic website pages or if you want more labs and a self-fulfillment option on products and print sales.
A note about photography website templates (aka themes)
Most website hosting companies and site builders offer their own proprietary theme or templates. Those two terms are often used interchangeably. Wix, Squarespace, Smugmug, Zenfolio and Pixpa all offer a number of their own unique themes. You cannot use a Wix theme on a Zenfolio site or vice versa. You are generally stuck using your company’s themes or customizing the site yourself using their tools.
The exception to that is a WordPress site. There are thousands of WordPress themes. Some are free, while others can cost anywhere from $10 to $500 or more. A WordPress theme can be installed and used with any company that supports WordPress. So for example, you can switch hosting providers from GoDaddy.Com to HostGator.com and keep your WordPress theme and the functionality of your website. But a WordPress theme will not work on a site like Wix, Squarespace or Zenfolio.
Consider the theme as part of the overall features offered by the company. Choosing a theme first might mean you commit to a company that can’t meet your long-term needs.
Free Photography Websites
There are some free photography website options out there, but as the old adage goes, there really is no free lunch. A free hosting site always comes with strings, either with limited functionality, commissions on sales, advertising or a time limit.
Don’t waste a few hours or even weeks building a free site only to find that it’s not going to meet your needs in a few months or that to get the features you really need down the road, it’s going to cost you more in the long run.
Some of the companies I mentioned above have a free option or offer a trial period. Other potential free sites include:
Most of these sites are photo sharing sites, not websites or gallery hosting sites. But if you just want a place to display a few photos to prospective clients and need a free option, these sites might offer you a solution.
Pulling it All Together
Understanding website hosting options, features, and pricing is daunting. But so is photography and look how awesome you are at that! The keys are knowing what you want, being diligent in your research and putting in the time and effort to plan and create your site.
Website and portfolio hosting isn’t complicated, but it does take time to learn the terms, evaluate products and determine what fits you best. If you can’t or simply don’t want to mess with learning it all, you can hire a webmaster to do it for you. But it’s also a task easily conquered with the right attitude. Your site is a reflection of your work, your brand, and your personality. Make sure your site is only representing you in the most flattering light possible.