Updated: Feb 27
Whether you're a full-time, or a part-time photographer, it's important to have a website that showcases your work. Even if you're not selling anything, it's a great thing to have your own little space on the internet, to share the best of your photographic portfolio.
As a web developer and a photographer myself, I thought I'd share my top tips for anyone with, or planning their own photography website. On a related note, I've also previously written a post about Zenfolio vs Wordpress in the past.
This isn't a definitive checklist by any means, and there's nothing here which is an absolute requirement. But I hope it's of use to others out there who aren't sure what they need, or who are weighing up hosting platforms from the various providers out there. Similarly, you might be happy with your current website, but you may find one or two things below which you could implement to improve your site's effectiveness.
Disclaimer: Do as I say, not as I do! I use the Zenfolio platform to host my website (2018), which reduces the maintenance & work required on my part. It's a good platform, but it doesn't cover everything, and so I don't have the facility to implement all of these items myself. The likelihood is that very few photographers have the ability to implement everything below, due to the restrictions of each platform choice. Just do what you can within the limitations of your website provider.
1. Pick a hosting platform that covers your requirements as best as possible
It generally pays to use an existing platform of some sort, in order to reduce the amount of time you spend developing and maintaining your site, and increase the time you have available to get out camera-in-hand. Here's a list of providers I've looked into, which may act as a good starting point for others. Each has it's pros and cons, but I don't have the time to properly evaluate each one here (maybe in future).
2. Include an 'About' page
Your USP is you, so take the opportunity to introduce yourself, and show people your character. That's an important thread for your entire site, but clearly the 'About' page is the most important place to do this. There are some great blog posts around on photographer's 'About' pages so again, I won't go into too much detail here (this one's a good starter). Mine is undoubtedly too long, but that's better than too short, in my opinion. One thing I would say - I don't like seeing these pages written in the third-person. I just find it a bit odd, when it's clearly written by the photographer themself.
3. Include a photo of yourself
I think this is so important. Even if like me, you're shy, and your photo makes you look like an android learning to smile for the first time. A website is a pretty cold and distant connection from your audience, and you need to do everything you can to bridge that gap. The reality is that as human beings we instinctively respond to faces, and it's a very effective way for a viewer to instantly connect with you. It also helps add authenticity to your website, and reassure clients that there's someone legitimate behind it. There are all sorts of different styles of portrait to go for, and the best choice for you will depend on your photography genre / market. Many outdoor photographers prefer a shot of them out in the field, surrounded by wildlife, or standing on a mountain peak. Just bare in mind that the reduced intimacy of this style, which makes it easier for an introverted photographer to be comfortable with, also reduces the strength of the connection with the viewer.
4. Include a contact page
Make it easy for people to get in touch with enquiries, and have this link visible at all times, from your site menu. I wouldn't recommend sharing your email address or phone number on your website unless they're specific business accounts which include features to filter out the marketing and spam that they'll attract from web bots which crawl every site for contact details. A simple web form is best, with a reCAPTCHA check if spam becomes a problem.
5. Link to all your social media profiles
Ideally more prominently than I do. The footer is a great place to link from, but people generally look for these icons in the header / menu too. Either way, it should be easy for users to follow you on whichever platforms they use.
As I've alluded to, it's important to get your character and individuality across, and a blog is another way to do this. It's also very helpful for SEO. I'm not a great writer, but I try to share my knowledge, travel experiences, and photo shoots. You don't have to be Charles Dickens to share some interesting information or some background information about your latest collection of photos.
It's surprising how few photography platforms provide an integrated blog. It seems to be something which they undervalue - for their users anyway - they all have one for their own site!
It's needs to be a proper blog too, with post date, and an RSS feed. Not many readers use an RSS feed, but it's still important, and opens up other blog features and connecting technologies, such as automatic external publishing, mailing lists, etc.
Note that blog posts should show the date of publishing at the top. In my opinion, a blog post without a clear date is of little worth. The modern world changes fast, and an out-of-date post can be quite misleading to a reader if they don't know it's out-of-date. If readers know that two posts on a similar subject were written years apart, it allows them to compare the relevance of those posts. If I read an undated post, I tend to give it very little credibility, since it could be 10 years old.
HTTPS is an encrypted form of web traffic. You'll see 'https' in the URL, rather than 'http', and the browser will display a padlock icon, to show that the transmission is secure. It used to be that this was only used for traffic of the highest privacy (eg payments, checkouts, log-ins), but browsers are increasingly flagging standard HTTP web pages as insecure. Starting this year Google (with their Chrome browser and search results) is strongly incentivising websites to use HTTPS for all web traffic. The downside of HTTPS (and the reason it hasn't been used entirely from the start) is that it costs the host more money (as they have to be certified credible/secure), and it slows down websites. This is what concerns a lot of photography platforms about implementing it for all pages, and I can see why. But as web standards evolve it will soon be a requirement for the benefit of user privacy, so you should try to get this in place (or choose a platform who provides it) asap.
8. Page Speed
As alluded to above, a good page speed is crucial for any website, since users simply have no patience with slow sites. For that reason, search engines take page speed into account in their ranking algorithms, as they know users would rather be directed to fast sites. Use tools such as Google Page Speed Insights, Pingdom, GTmetrix, and Varvy to measure this for your site. Waiting for a page to load is one of the most frustrating user interface experiences, so you need to avoid this as much as possible in order to retain the interest of the casual viewer.
9. Optimise your images for the web
If like me, you're using a photography hosting platform, they should take care of this for you. Zenfolio do a remarkable job of image optimisation, and their sites are generally very fast. If you're using Wordpress, try a plugin such as ShortPixel, who have a special 'Glossy' version for photographers.
10. Watermark your images
Watermarking images isn't universally popular. I hate to have to do it, but I think it's a necessary evil. People are otherwise too quick to take your images, and use them as they see fit. To this end, you should also ensure that you have some form of right-click copy protection - which won't prevent image theft, but makes it that little bit less trivial. If people do reuse your watermarked photos, you're ensuring that you get some form of credit for the image. I've had image sales in the past from people who've found me after seeing my watermarked image used elsewhere online. And while we're on the subject I'll recommend a service called Pixsy to help identify image theft from around the web.
11. Give each photo it's own page (and URL)
By affording a page to each photo, you can give more information to search engines about the content and context of the image. The obvious advantage of this is for SEO and discoverability of your site. Unfortunately it's something that increasingly few photography platforms implement these days. The preference seems to be for a one-page-per-gallery solution - which allows the user to browse through the photos more quickly than going from page-to-page. Though it must be said there are optimisations that can be done to improve page-to-page browsing, such as Prefetching/Prerendering, but these are rarely implemented. I think it's something that's seriously undervalued by photography website providers. Zenfolio just about implements this, using a few tricks, but the page URLs are meaningless rubbish which is a bit of a let-down.
12. Generate a good site map, and submit it to search engines
Sitemaps are a key tool in your everlasting quest to appeal to the search engines. They list all your pages, so the search bots know where to look. But not all sitemaps are created equal. Some are very basic, whereas some can list all kinds of metadata about your site content such as page importance, image content, and regularity of updates. This is a big advantage of platforms such as Wordpress, since there are plenty of plugins to provide rich and detailed sitemaps.
13. Responsive Layout
Pretty much all websites should be using a responsive layout these days, to provide a slick and consistent user experience on multiple devices. Most of us will design our website using a PC or Mac, but around half of the users who visit your site will be using a mobile device (phone, tablet). So the site has to perform consistently between all those different screen sizes. It's not OK to have a separate desktop and mobile version anymore. Elements of a website should change size and position to best fit the client device. Fortunately most website providers are up to speed on this.
14. An appropriate colour scheme
I'll stop short of saying a 'muted colour scheme', as perhaps that's just my preference. But it is important that as you design your site, you don't get carried away with the idea of developing a striking colour palette. Remember that your photos are the star of the show, so try to avoid a theme which draws the eye from your photography. Let your photos take centre-stage.
15. Consider your galleries carefully
Users don't typically want to see all of your photos, across different genres and subjects in one go. If the images they're shown aren't targeted and predictable, they'll tune out pretty quickly. This means, for example, that nature photographers need to split wildlife and landscape galleries. But more than that; if your landscape photography encompasses multiple genres, you may need a gallery for each of the major genres you cover. This gives some users the opportunity to browse woodland photos, while another may be interested in travel photography. This all might sound rather obvious, but it's all to easy to think you've done a good job with your choice of galleries when, to the user, they appear as either a vague or bewildering array of options.
Of course you may still wish to include a gallery with a wider scope, such as Landscapes (as I do) - but it's then very important that the photos are ordered in such a way that they transition through your subjects and genres in a pleasing manner, rather than switching back-and-forth between styles (if ordered by date/title/random).
Most importantly, your photo galleries have to make sense to a complete outsider, and allow them to find relevant content with ease. The golden rule is that a user should know what to expect before they click through to a new page / gallery. A key part of interaction design is providing predicable browsing routes for your users - i.e. if they're presented with a set of galleries, it should be obvious what kind of images each gallery will contain. An example of this problem is when a photographer lists a number of projects for users to browse through. The projects are named something like "Sunday Mornings", "Fascination", and "Silence". If each of these is a different collection of flower photography, they need a description to explain to the user how they are different from each other, and what each one focuses on. This enables people to pick which gallery is most relevant to them, and to enjoy the progression from each one to the next.
This curation of images is something I find difficult, and I'm sure it's a tricky thing for most photographers, as self-editing is a rare skill. But it's one of the most important aspects of your website, so do afford it considerable thought.
I hope this list is of use to people. I could waffle on about websites and UI design for longer, but I think I'll draw the line there. If you have any questions or additional suggestions, do add them to the comments section below.