Do photographers really still need a website in 2018?

Mar 27, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Mar 27, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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It’s an interesting thought. Do photographers really still need a website today? Is it possible to survive on social media alone? After recently cutting out a bunch of old social media platforms from his life, photographer Ed Verosky has been thinking long and hard about this question. Should he kill or keep pursuing his website?

As Ed says in this video he recently posted, cultural shifts happen rapidly. The way people use the Internet changes all the time. We’ve seen the mass exodus from one social platform to another over and over again. But are people even going to photographer’s websites when they can see a living portfolio on services like Instagram?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY79hcfYa8o&feature=youtu.be

Before social media, the website was the main thing. It was how anybody found you online. Anywhere else you existed online, whether it be in forums, or anywhere else, the goal was to drive traffic to your own website. Ed thinks that this may have changed today.

Since the rise of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, your own company website may seem to have taken a bit of a back seat. Traffic may be much lower than it used to be, because people can find the information elsewhere now. And despite the soul-crushing algorithms Facebook pages and Instagram use now, they’re still very popular platforms to engage with potential clients and customers.

Ed’s website

Social media has also become much faster and cheaper to maintain than your own website. Want to update your “Instagram portfolio” with a new photo? Just post it, write your fancy description, and it gets announced to some of your followers. But if you post often enough, you’ll reach a big enough audience, and you’re reasonably confident that they’re already interested in your work because they follow you.

When you update a portfolio on a website, there’s no fanfare, no big announcements, it just exists. People won’t generally come back to view your updates because they don’t know when they happen. Perhaps, if you have a blog, they’ll keep coming back to read new content, but that’s a lot more work than a simple post on Facebook or Instagram.

So, is the website still the best way to “sell” yourself to potential clients? Ed’s website has now basically become a directory for his online content in other locations, such as YouTube and to sell premium tutorials in his own store.

Ultimately, your owns website is till the one part of the web where you get 100% control. The look, feel, feature set, content, layout, everything. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube all have their own templates into which your content fits. And they can (and regularly do) easily change the game with little-to-no notice to make it more difficult for photographers and other businesses to reach their target market (unless you pay-to-play).

For me, I’ve been on a lot of social media sites over the years. Some died (What’s up, MySpace?), others I tried for a relatively brief moment before deciding they’re a waste of my time (Hi, Google+), and I’ve stuck with a few for a number of years (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc). I’ve recently considered leaving some of those, too, though. But my own websites have stuck with me through all of it. And I can’t see them going away – at least, not all of them.

Most of my clients over the years haven’t found me through one of my websites, they’ve found me through social media. To me, social media is just marketing. Those clients still almost always came to my websites. To see a curated list of my favourite work in a portfolio, not just an impossible to search running feed, and to find answers to questions they might have had but didn’t want or know how to ask.

The only thing that really became obsolete on my website is the contact form. To the point where I ended up removing it entirely. Now it’s a link to message me on my Facebook page. People were mostly making initial contact through my page anyway, so why not just put everything through that so it’s all organised together?

I’m about to go through a complete overhaul of all my social media and websites. I need to consolidate. Which websites to keep and which ones to get rid of will weigh heavily in my thoughts over the coming weeks now that my focus has shifted primarily toward work on DIYP and creating YouTube content.

I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer to the question. I think it’s going to depend entirely on the individual. How they want to run their business and who their target market is will play a huge factor. A commercial event photographer, for example, is going to need to target their market in a very different way to a newborn photographer, for example.

There are many photographers out there making a great living without a website. They find all the business they need through social media. There are others also doing very well who only have a website and no social media. Then there are obviously those succeeding with both, and there are quite a few still managing fine with no online presence at all.

So, obviously, there isn’t just one path. But for me, I still get a lot of traffic through my own websites. They still lead to clients.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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26 responses to “Do photographers really still need a website in 2018?”

  1. Pinto Sony Avatar
    Pinto Sony

    Why not? This is the place where you can create & show your gallery & you will control everything (if it self hosted) in it

    1. Tim Brakemeier Avatar
      Tim Brakemeier

      Exactly what I think. My pictures, my design, my functionality.

    2. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      Do bear in mind, though, that your hosting company could go bust, or accidentally delete your stuff at any moment, too.

      https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/web-hosting-company-accidentally-deletes-part-of-the-internet-while-trying-to-clean-up-its-servers-a6989876.html

      So, make sure to backup regularly. :D

  2. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    Of course. Never rely on a platform you don’t control. Facebook can and will do whatever they want to your page, without notice or an explanation.

  3. Marko Avatar
    Marko

    I think a web site is even more important today than it was a couple of years ago. The aggressive steps from “social” sites like Facebook to promote themselves as opposed to help users promote their brand and the latest privacy issues we see, are all even more of a reason to keep a personal site and blog that lets people view and connect in complete privacy.

    A professional laid site and/or an interactive blog can always be promoted via “social” sites. However, sites content, blog posts and proprietary elements like photos, are not posted on said “social” sites.

    I got rid of my personal Facebook profile last February. I still keep a business page but hardly post on it. The same goes for Twitter, bye bye. I still have Instagram but also hardly post anything. I find that most of my clients are word of mouth.

    I might be completely wrong about it but I feel that I did the right thing.

  4. Henry Rodgers Avatar
    Henry Rodgers

    This is silly. Looks like someone just wanted to make a video.
    Presentation, image quality, and image size all matter. Social platforms have nothing on a dedicated website in regard to those matters.

  5. Ed Verosky Avatar
    Ed Verosky

    Great article, John. On the surface, even questioning the usefulness of a website sounds silly. Especially to someone like me who started building personal sites by manual coding back in the 90s. Then they became commercialized (frowned upon at first). Then, search engines, SEO as a cottage industry, and so on. I was as surprised as anyone else from my generation to see so many photographers basically abandoning the old model (build a site, draw people to it, get them to want to come back, eventually hire you). But it’s happening. Similarly to how people stopped running independent “forums” on their own sites and relented to FB groups. Not saying I like it, but the people gather where they gather. I’m making a distinction now between the traditional website and a web “page” which I think is still very useful to people like me.

  6. Mike Hiller Avatar
    Mike Hiller

    I’ve been photographing for 10 years now, got asked maybe five times for a website, when I said I didn’t have one they still hired me

  7. Sergi Yavorski Avatar
    Sergi Yavorski

    If you don’t have a website for your pro photography business, you are unprofessional.Period.

    1. Trino Pam Avatar
      Trino Pam

      A few years ago that would be true, but nowadays not really.

  8. Photography by Ed Selby Avatar
    Photography by Ed Selby

    I have been an internet marketing professional since FrontPage. I have seen the rise and fall of many “next big things”, and while it is true that Facebook is the current Monster, something, some day will take its place. What hasn’t changed in all that time is the web.

    Websites have gotten better, smarter, faster, more accessible – and the site is YOURS. The only game you have to play is the SEO game, and that isn’t really a mystery. Have good, fresh, and relevant content.

    Your visibility is up to you – not the whims of the algorithms of some digital alchemy. Your content is yours – not the rights grabby BS of social media sites.

    Do photographers need a website still? Hell yes.

    1. Ed Verosky Avatar
      Ed Verosky

      I’d think the websites that routinely lose their rankings with every google algorithm change would beg to differ. Relevant content is important if you want to stand any chance at playing in the SEO game, but you’re still at the mercy of whomever is controling that game. I’d rather just go to the people. And while maintaining your own site might give you a sense of control and ownership, a comparison of your site views vs the visibility and interaction readily available on the platforms people are actually spending their time might be helpful. FB isn’t a replacement for a website, it’s just where the people are. And if they’re not there someday, they’ll be somewhere else. And so will any smart marketer. I suggest that we maintain a web page of information and portfolios, but skip the “websites” and blog content that we hope will gain us a few more visits.

  9. Olivia Green Avatar
    Olivia Green

    Great article, John.
    However a portfolio website is important now than it was ever before. A user may come to your Instagram or Facebook page, but can easily deviate and hire someone else through the suggestions given by these social medias. You can upload photos and captions, but cannot build a brand out of it.
    Building a photography website is a piece of cake now. With decent portfolio builders out there, your website can get live within hours. I’ve built my website with Pixpa, and most of my clients come through organic searches. Working on a portfolio website’s SEO is hard and tedious, but the results far outweigh the work put in.

    1. Ed Verosky Avatar
      Ed Verosky

      Lots of good Pixpa recommendations on your posts, Olivia. I mean almost all of them recommend Pixpa. If I were a marketing person, I’d hire you to market for Pixpa. And if you were good at your job, you’d probably look to other platforms like this one (where an audience already exists), to promote Pixpa! Obviously, Pixpa has its website, but maybe it isn’t enough to just have your own website. Maybe going where the people are is actually a good strategy?

  10. Chris Lee Avatar
    Chris Lee

    This is what Ed Verosky’s page looks like when I try and view it: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c9178dca65cd99dbe21515d31ccd90ec424bc1ab566fb0c6a18af3bb954123b8.png

    It’s a damn good thing Ed has his own website. Cause, along with Elon Musk, Will Ferrell, Cher, and others, I’ve also don’t use Facebook and that’s what I see.

    #DeleteFacebook is a real deal. There will be more platforms, but the www is open, independant, and should be priority #1 as main point of contact.

    Own, run, and manage your own content — always.

    1. Ed Verosky Avatar
      Ed Verosky

      LOL, yes. And a search for the Chris Lee website gives me these useful results: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bab24577fc345935ce57a96e6f354f771893f548d9db456ab6f375d6a4354969.jpg

      1. Ed Verosky Avatar
        Ed Verosky

        Again, point being: You SHOULD have your own domain and independent web page, complete with the information you think is appropriate. I’m just questioning the need for things like all the work people put into blogs, SEO, and all the maint. and advertising people put into full blown “sites.” It used to be very important. Now, what’s important is being where the people are first.

        1. Chris Lee Avatar
          Chris Lee

          *sigh* I’ve always taken a backseat on the web search because of that awesome guy who played Dracula.

          I’ve been building websites for clients since 1998. You are absolutely correct in that full-blown sites are becoming less important — that’s for sure. Partly because of social media, and partly because of smartphone distribution — and that has changed information consumption in such a major way with both attention span, as well as how many pages people want to traverse through.

          Photography and video asset management online is tough — and especially challenging for web site owners, which also adds to the appeal and recent migration to closed platforms like Instagram.

          I do think it’s more important for photographers to have a website though than for just about any other profession. If I was going to hire an undertaker, I probably won’t need to see their full-blown blog. But someone I’m going to hire to take my photos? Well, if my house was on fire, the photo albums are the first thing I take. That, and my Fujifilm X-T2!

          Hiring a photographer is one of the most important decisions I ever made for my wedding. If I’m making that decision, then he/she had better have a polished and professionally designed website, a slick portfolio, testimonials section, plus some really good personality on display there for me to even consider calling or emailing them (as I don’t use FB messenger either). While Instragram has reach, social media is something that basically a 6-year old can post to — and everybody including Uncle Paps in Florida are in that space now. Though, to be clear, because everyone is there, I can definitely see an argument for remaining in that space. But the signal-to-noise ratio is beyond compare in social media. Not that it isn’t important, it is, but I still think the effort needs to be primarily on the site first and foremost.

          Social media is kinda like the plastic, disposable cameras we had on the tables at our wedding. They were fun, a nice supplement, and tipsy amateurs took some interesting shots. But they sure as heck didn’t hold up to what we got from the photographer in terms of composition, lighting, subject matter, focus, expertise, professionalism, and damn good quality.

          When I think of the artistic process, I’d want to see their level of detail, not only in their photographs, but in their digital online method of presentation — so I think a strong investment in a good site does go a long way to make them stand out from the social media crowd — even if the hopping party is up the street at Mark Zuckerberg’s place.

          Have both, but really put the financial investment in your main site.

        2. Chris Lee Avatar
          Chris Lee

          Hi Ed, for some reason the post I made didn’t get published to this page by Disqus yesterday. I’ve reprinted it below.

          I’ve seen your site. Your videos are always awesome and I’ve learned a lot about portrait photography, particularly your 3 point lighting one — which has been very helpful. I’ve been shooting landscapes/cities/kids, and only recently started with studio which to me is extremely challenging. I really do appreciate all the advice and great support you’ve provided to the community — no disrespect intended whatsoever sir!

          Anyhow, here’s the piece I wrote yesterday:

          ————-

          *sigh* I’ve always taken a backseat on the web search because of that awesome guy who played Dracula.

          I’ve been building websites for clients since 1998. You are absolutely correct in that full-blown sites are becoming less important — that’s for sure. Partly because of social media, and partly because of smartphone distribution — and that has changed information consumption in such a major way with both attention span, as well as how many pages people want to traverse through.

          Photography and video asset management online is tough — and especially challenging for web site owners, which also adds to the appeal and recent migration to closed platforms like Instagram.

          I do think it’s more important for photographers to have a website though than for just about any other profession. If I was going to hire an undertaker, I probably won’t need to see their full-blown blog. But someone I’m going to hire to take my photos? Well, if my house was on fire, the photo albums are the first thing I take. That, and my Fujifilm X-T2!

          Hiring a photographer is one of the most important decisions I ever made for my wedding. If I’m making that decision, then he/she had better have a polished and professionally designed website, a slick portfolio, testimonials section, plus some really good personality on display there for me to even consider calling or emailing them (as I don’t use FB messenger either). While Instragram has reach, social media is something that basically a 6-year old can post to — and everybody including Uncle Paps in Florida are in that space now. Though, to be clear, because everyone is there, I can definitely see an argument for remaining in that space. But the signal-to-noise ratio is beyond compare in social media. Not that it isn’t important, it is, but I still think the effort needs to be primarily on the site first and foremost.

          Social media is kinda like the plastic, disposable cameras we had on the tables at our wedding. They were fun, a nice supplement, and tipsy amateurs took some interesting shots. But they sure as heck didn’t hold up to what we got from the photographer in terms of composition, lighting, subject matter, focus, expertise, professionalism, and damn good quality.

          When I think of the artistic process, I’d want to see their level of detail, not only in their photographs, but in their digital online method of presentation — so I think a strong investment in a good site does go a long way to make them stand out from the social media crowd — even if the hopping party is up the street at Mark Zuckerberg’s place.

          Have both, but really put the financial investment in your main site.

        3. Chris Lee Avatar
          Chris Lee

          Hi Ed, for some reason the post I made didn’t get published to this page by Disqus yesterday. I’ve reprinted it below.

          I’ve seen your site. Your videos are always awesome and I’ve learned a lot about portrait photography, particularly your 3 point lighting one — which has been very helpful. I’ve been shooting landscapes/cities/kids, and only recently started with studio which to me is extremely challenging. I really do appreciate all the advice and great support you’ve provided to the community — no disrespect intended whatsoever sir!

          Anyhow, here’s the piece I wrote yesterday:

          ————-

          *sigh* I’ve always taken a backseat on the web search because of that awesome guy who played Dracula.

          I’ve been building websites for clients since 1998. You are absolutely correct in that full-blown sites are becoming less important — that’s for sure. Partly because of social media, and partly because of smartphone distribution — and that has changed information consumption in such a major way with both attention span, as well as how many pages people want to traverse through.

          Photography and video asset management online is tough — and especially challenging for web site owners, which also adds to the appeal and recent migration to closed platforms like Instagram.

          I do think it’s more important for photographers to have a website though than for just about any other profession. If I was going to hire an undertaker, I probably won’t need to see their full-blown blog. But someone I’m going to hire to take my photos? Well, if my house was on fire, the photo albums are the first thing I take. That, and my Fujifilm X-T2!

          Hiring a photographer is one of the most important decisions I ever made for my wedding. If I’m making that decision, then he/she had better have a polished and professionally designed website, a slick portfolio, testimonials section, plus some really good personality on display there for me to even consider calling or emailing them (as I don’t use FB messenger either). While Instragram has reach, social media is something that basically a 6-year old can post to — and everybody including Uncle Paps in Florida are in that space now. Though, to be clear, because everyone is there, I can definitely see an argument for remaining in that space. But the signal-to-noise ratio is beyond compare in social media. Not that it isn’t important, it is, but I still think the effort needs to be primarily on the site first and foremost.

          Social media is kinda like the plastic, disposable cameras we had on the tables at our wedding. They were fun, a nice supplement, and tipsy amateurs took some interesting shots. But they sure as heck didn’t hold up to what we got from the photographer in terms of composition, lighting, subject matter, focus, expertise, professionalism, and damn good quality.

          When I think of the artistic process, I’d want to see their level of detail, not only in their photographs, but in their digital online method of presentation — so I think a strong investment in a good site does go a long way to make them stand out from the social media crowd — even if the hopping party is up the street at Mark Zuckerberg’s place.

          Have both, but really put the financial investment in your main site.

      2. Ed Verosky Avatar
        Ed Verosky

        This doesn’t look like it either (http://www.chrislee.com/). Mine’s edverosky.com — I’m not sure why you’re using a URL to FB while being logged-out? I’m not even advocating FB as the place to post a webpage. I use FB for updates and discussion. This was never a FB vs. having your own web page opinion piece. Have you seen the video? It’s about using social platforms (any current and future) to stay visible. That’s pretty much it. And it’s a discussion-starter, not a position.

  11. Ed Verosky Avatar
    Ed Verosky

    From PDN’s article on successful toy photographer Mitchel Wu: “PDN: How have you promoted yourself?
    MW: Toy photography definitely lives on Instagram. I have a website, but I connected with Mattel on Instagram.” And that’s a very niche type of work. https://www.pdnonline.com/business-marketing/advertising/toy-photographer-mitchel-wu-explains-established-niche-photo-business/

  12. Veronica Angel Avatar
    Veronica Angel

    I think they should have one since branding is very important for a successful photographers. Website is considered is one of the best components of branding, that can play an important role to connect the photographers to the rest of the world.

  13. Charles Jones Avatar
    Charles Jones

    Is there other way you started business photography like I already made business cards but do I really needed a make my own website

  14. Jolly D'Bugger Avatar
    Jolly D’Bugger

    I have one word for you, are you listening? SAAS
    Sassy Aspiring Arts Software.
    Being nobody is the next big thing.