When creating a photography website, not only do you have to adhere to some basic website building principles, but there are a few additional “must-haves” as well.
Now, I’ll confess, I still miss good ole film and spending hours in the darkroom obsessing over an image. Today’s darkroom, however, is the computer. What once took hours now takes minutes. And every shot can be checked right away — praying to the photography gods is no longer required.
As a consequence, there are more photographers spanning the globe than ever before. And standing out can be difficult.
So, that’s what we’re going to focus on — building a photography website that makes you stand out.
While I’m going to share with you the basics of creating a photography website, the following information and advice goes for all visual artists. No matter your medium, if your art needs to be seen to be appreciated, this one’s for you.
Start with the basics
When it comes to creating a website, there are three pages that every website has to have: a homepage, an about page, and a contact page. However, a photographer’s website must also include at least one gallery. After all, what else is a photography website for?
And that is the first question you need to answer before you do anything else.
What is the goal of my website?
- Do you need an online portfolio that you can share with potential clients?
- Want to sell merchandise with your images printed on things like t-shirts, mugs, or calendars?
- Do you want people to go to your website to book consultations or studio sessions?
- How about selling prints or stock images?
- What about brand awareness?
Whatever your reason for creating your photography website, make sure your goal is clear. Your specific goal will define not only the layout but also the look and overall feel of your website. So, know your goal.
What website builder should I use?
When choosing your website builder — or host, err…registrar…Wait a second, what?
Here’s where we probably need a bit of clarification. A web host is a company that “leases” out space on a server where your website will technically “live.” While a website builder is a tool used to build websites. Then, of course, we have our domain registrars who sell domain names.
Personally, I prefer to use an all-in-one service like Constant Contact’s Website Builder.
Using an all-in-one service is perfect when building and curating your photography website on your own. You can purchase your domain name, build your website, and have it hosted all in one place. It makes everything simple, and if something should go wrong, you have one customer service department to call for assistance. Tell me that’s not a time saver!
Regardless of whether or not you go with an all-in-one platform, or choose to go with individual companies and providers, there are some basics that you need to look for.
- A mobile-responsive website. No one likes a website that cuts off images or is a pain to try to navigate. So, make sure this is your number one priority when choosing a builder.
- Layouts specifically designed for photographers. Not all layouts (or themes) will work for a photography website, so be sure that the builder you choose has your needs in mind.
- Plenty of storage space. Naturally, a photography website is image-heavy, so be sure that your host provides plenty of storage space to allow for as many photos as you think you’ll ever want to have up — plus some. It’s always better to have too much, than not enough.
Depending on your goals, you may also want your web builder to have:
- Store capabilities like:
- Online payments
- Digital products/downloads
- Order inventory and tax management
- Coupons and discounting capabilities
- Transactional emails
- Shipping management
- Marketing tools such as:
- Lead capture forms (never miss an opportunity to grow your contacts list)
- Contact management
- Options for blogging
- And 24/7 customer support
TIP: When the “look” of your site is everything, it’s a smart move to pay a little each month for your website in order to have your own domain name and skip the ads.
What goes into a photography website?
Once you’ve decided on what your goals are, and you’ve picked out your website builder, it’s time to think about what content to include on your website.
Your homepage is essentially your portfolio cover. So you want it to not only capture your viewers’ attention, but you also want it to clearly show what it is you do. And most importantly, what it is that you do best.
In order to do that, you want to have one lone image take up the entire space above the fold (the area seen on a screen without scrolling). This should be your best photo. One that is not only your best work technically, but also emotionally. Meaning, it should not only be a beautiful shot, but it should also evoke an emotional response from your viewer. It should captivate and draw people in to see more.
If you have more than one style of photography, then you should have more than one gallery. If that is the case, you may choose to have a slide show (instead of a static image) that showcases your best work in each category.
Standing Out: Pedro Oliveira does a great job with this on his website.
On the site, the homepage is only above the fold. A viewer can watch a slideshow of Pedro’s work, and then click a cleverly titled link (“[Let’s go for a ride?]”) to enter the site itself. This can be very effective in stopping the viewer and requiring them to think before they go further. Which can be both a good and a bad thing.
Most of the time, you don’t want to stop your viewers on the homepage. This method of making the homepage a hard stop is useful for artists because it requires the viewer to take in the whole page before they move on. This slows down the typical “scanning” habit and basically asks the viewer to take a slower look at what they’re about to see. Basically, it’s saying, “Hey, this is art. Take your time to enjoy it.”
However, this method can be frustrating to those who don’t have a great deal of time and want to scan through your images to see if you’re the photographer that they’re looking for.
This is why it’s so important to know your goals.
I’ve found that the hard stop method works great for artistic photographers. However, for straight studio or business portraiture, or wedding photographers, it’s probably not the best option. Someone looking for a good headshot to use for business, for example, really just wants to quickly get to your galleries list to see if you take professional headshots. Then they want to scan through that particular gallery to see if you do the kind of work that they have in mind for their portrait.
And that brings us to:
Whether you have one gallery or several, it’s important that each gallery has a clear theme and showcases only your best work. No, you don’t have to have your most recent, but you will be judged by your weakest image, so make sure that every image on your site is strong.
Standing out: One of my favorite photographer sites is out of Norway. Lieben Photography This site is set up so the links themselves are a mini-gallery, and highlights are shown in a slideshow with music.
When creating your galleries, try to stick to 20-30 images per gallery. Anything more can become tedious to scan through, and can cause you to lose viewers. An exception is if you’re a celebrity photographer. However, that’s usually because viewers have become interested in who you’ve photographed, not in the style of your photography.
Standing out: Will Bremridge is an exception and a rule at the same time.
As a commercial and editorial photographer, he’s made his homepage his portfolio (one gallery). With a little over 30 images, he keeps the page interesting with a variety of image sizes and shapes. He also titles each image with who’s in it, and if they’re editorial, what magazine the photos were taken for. Some of the images are even clickable links to a small set of photos from that shoot.
It makes for a very interesting site that’s somewhat interactive, without being flashy or over-the-top.
Don’t be afraid to be a little different.
Most of us are used to seeing photography websites that are plain black and white. While black and white are great for letting your images stand out, that color combination is overused.
Don’t be afraid to use a little color on your website. Just make sure that it doesn’t take away from your images.
Standing out: Liselotte Fleur uses just a hint of color on her site. Pale tan and the slightest shade of grey soften her site while still allowing her images to stand out.
Standing out: Jill Greenberg is a multi-talented artist, whose website not only houses her photography portfolio, but also artistic works that include photos of her own art, her work in film, and portraiture, just to name a few. With all of that going on, one would think her site would be too busy, but it’s actually quite subdued. She uses a basic white base with grey lettering and a pop of pink that’s red enough to be exciting but soft enough to not be alarming. This allows her images to do the talking for her, while still showing her fun side.
The important part of standing out is making sure that your basics are spot on. So when creating your photography website, make sure:
- It’s clean and neat. Use your white space to help images stand out while falling in line.
- There’s only one gallery per subject. If you have more than one subject, have more than one gallery. Don’t mix landscapes with portraits just because the portraits were taken outdoors.
- Galleries contain only 20-30 of your BEST work. Yes, it’s nice to have recent work represented, but only if it’s also your best.
Get into the details
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The devil’s in the details.”
This is especially true when building a website. And when it comes to photography websites, there are definitely more details to deal with. So much so that it’s easiest if I list them out.
Basic website details:
- Include social media icons so your fans can follow you.
- Provide clear CTAs (calls to action). Depending on your goals, this may be to book a consultation, purchase a print, or purchase some merchandise. However, in some instances, your only CTA may be to contact you.
- Describe everything. I do mean everything. This not only makes your website more interesting and can pull your viewers in more deeply, but it also helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and should definitely be part of your Search Engine Marketing (SEM). So, make sure you write a sentence or two describing your website, your gallery, and even each image. You don’t need to say a great deal. Maybe stick to Twitter’s 280 character limit when it comes to images. And say more when describing a gallery. Talk about the shoot, the location, or the subjects.
- Streamline Navigation. This is super important. Make sure your viewer can easily navigate from one page to another. When adding or removing navigation links, ask whether the choice you’re making will get your viewer to your goals faster or slower. I’ll give you a hint: Faster is better.
- Make it fast and easy to load. Upload lower resolution images (800-1000 pixels wide max for gallery images, but larger for your homepage hero image (the large image at the top). Another option is to use .jpg files that are at 60-70% quality level. This allows for faster loading while keeping your images at an acceptable quality.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
This is part of the important marketing that happens in the background. To keep your website findable by search engines, make sure you do the following:
- Always keep it fresh. Update photos, descriptions and blog entries on a regular basis. This lets the search engines know that your site is fresh and current.
- Use alt text for every image. 10-20 keywords per image are optimal.
- Allow and track image searches. While this will bring in visitors who might not otherwise find your website, it will also help you track how people are finding your site.
- Don’t use Flash (it’s not SEO-compatible, isn’t compatible with Apple and slows loading).
- Make it easy to share with social media share icons and easy-to-remember permalinks (the link that shows up in the web browser search bar).
When photography portfolios first went digital, everyone worried about their images getting stolen. While it’s a legitimate concern, the fact is that if someone really wants to steal your image, there’s not really an easy way to stop them. However, there are a few things you can do to deter them from being used for anything large or important.
To keep people from using stock images without authorization, companies like Shutterstock use watermarks. However, for a personal photography website, it’s somewhat passé and can be a distraction from the work itself.
While there are mixed feelings about “signing” your portrait and wedding images, the truth is that it does nothing to deter theft. It can, however, be free advertising if your signature isn’t removed before the stolen image is used. When thinking about adding a signature, keep in mind that with today’s editing tools a potential thief can remove your signature with less effort than it took you to add it.
TIP: If you decide to use a signature on your images, please make sure it’s discreet and neat. Nothing ruins an image faster than having writing that’s difficult to read scrawled across the center of it.
Limit image sizes
As I mentioned above, if you load your images as .jpeg files at 60-70% quality, this not only helps your pages to load faster, but it also makes the images less appealing when someone tries to use them outside of your site.
Another option to protect against image theft
One thing I’ve heard about, but haven’t tried myself, is pixsy.com. According to their website, you can load your image into Pixsy and it will scour the internet to see where it’s being used. They’ll even help you take action to have your image taken down from the offending site, or seek compensation.
However, theft should be the least of your concerns when building your photography website.
Remember, when it comes to a photography website, simplicity and focus are key!
With so much going on, it’s easy to lose focus. So, here’s a little advice: Stick to your goals on every page; remember that white space is your friend so use it to your advantage; show only your best work; make sure to streamline your navigation; make sure it’s fast; and most importantly —
Don’t be afraid to stand out!
If you’re not sure which layout and look is best for your photography website, then try a few on. Constant Contact’s Website Builder allows you to create several website versions, so you can be sure that you’re publishing the one that matches your goals best.