Even as Instagram has largely displaced most photographers’ blogs, a professional website that displays your portfolio is still a vital marketing tool for commercial and editorial photographers. While Instagram is a great engagement tool that allows you to spontaneously connect with customers and widen your reach, your website is an owned channel that provides you full control of how you present your work and what you communicate directly to your audience. Neglecting any part of your web presence as a professional photographer can spell disaster but your website must be clean and up-to-date, as its the first place clients will go to consider your work for a project.
Best Practices For Photographer Websites
There is a slew of options available for building a professional photography website, but not all websites are created equal. Photographers are visual artists, and clients coming to your website are looking to see your images presented in ways that are easy to view on multiple devices and screen sizes, easy to navigate, and above all look their best. One of the easiest pitfalls to succumb to is a photographer creating a fun and unique website at the expense of navigability and simplicity. There are reasons why integrated template hosting companies like Squarespace and Photofolio exist — they have mastered the art of simplicity by offering simple layouts that allow photographers to easily showcase their online portfolios without any distracting site features.
It’s also important to remember that websites are not fine wine — they do not get better with age. Keep your work current (within the last 2-3 years if possible) and try to regularly update by adding new work or removing older work. Your site should feel fresh and current, not like it’s been sitting, collecting dust.
Understand Your Target Audience
It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need to do when building a website is to understand its use. Who is your audience and what are you trying to say to them? Your site is an opportunity to connect with clients and get assignments. Once you have a clear understanding of who your audience is, you can take the proper steps to ensure your website is doing the job you intended it to do.
Consider an art buyer’s job. How many images do they see on any given day? Image fatigue is real, and capturing and maintaining the attention of a visitor to your site is paramount. A succinct, tightly curated selection of recent images is a photographer’s strongest weapon. The way you organize work on your site demonstrates where your focus lies and presenting a jumbled body of work tells a potential client that you don’t know who you are as a shooter. I’ve said that a web edit is usually a good first step for establishing your brand because it starts at the source — your images. When reviewing your existing website, ask yourself these questions:
Do the pictures speak in a consistent and cohesive style? Especially for young photographers or those with many areas of specialty, it’s much easier to dump all the portraiture together in a gallery without giving thought to the overall look and flow. When I’m doing an edit, I pay attention to line, color, and form in addition to the narrative. Photographers are visual artists, and clicking into a new gallery should represent that. It should feel eye-catching but pleasant, not a cacophony of color and texture.
Are the pictures separated into useful categories? Simply separating by specialty is not always the best course of action. If you’re especially well-versed in brand narrative or looking to attract those clients, it may be better to separate by project or by the client. Sometimes lyrical titles can help give context to less well-defined galleries.
Is the number of images overwhelming? We generally recommend keeping galleries around 25-30 images, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
If you have multiple specialties, do they clash with one another? If you shoot food and automotive photography, that’s great, but should they be showcased side-by-side? Probably not. Different clients come to your site for different reasons, and while it’s nice to show the range of your work, you may need to think about splitting your websites or placing those galleries far from each other in your navigation.
Are the pictures marketable? Photography is an art form, and many photographers want to showcase their most beautiful or personally beloved images on their website. It’s important to look at an image and ask yourself the question, “What brands or clients does this image apply to?” Chances are, if you can’t think of any, it might be time to let that image go from an edit.
Do any of the pictures look dated? Even if the composition of your work is impeccable and the images beautiful, there are a variety of factors that can reveal the age of an image—outdated fashion or technology, heavy or trendy processing, or in the case of well-known celebrities or figures, the actual age of the subject.
Website Navigation and Functionality
Successful websites have simple navigation for easy browsing. Think of your menu as a web of interconnected pages. The easier it is to move around your site, the more likely it is that clients will want to explore your entire portfolio. The navigation should be located in the same place on every page, allowing the client to quickly move from one gallery to another without having to revisit the homepage. You can also use a drop-down menu to access individual projects. As a designer, I like to map out the pages. It may seem like an extra step, but a map is an excellent tool if you have a large body of work to show. Here’s an example:
Clean, right? Simple navigation allows prospective clients to focus on your photographs without struggling through your site, which is key. Most photo editors, art directors, or clients have very little time to casually peruse a photographer’s website. The longer it takes or the harder it is for them to access what they’re looking for, the more likely they are to close your site and move to the next name on their list.
Consider everything from inaccessible sites and broken links to typos and grainy images. Attention to detail gives potential clients the least possible number of reasons to leave your site. Consider the following:
Does your site look the same for everyone? Try your website in a few different browsers to ensure there are no errors and everything renders as you intended. And after you checked the browsers, see how it looks on a mobile device? Responsive websites will automatically adjust the display depending on the size and shape of the window.
Do the pictures take too long to load? Don’t let anyone get the impression your website is broken. It’s the straightest path to a high bounce rate.
Have you linked to your social networking pages? Even if the icon is on your site, it may be just connecting to the Facebook or Instagram homepage, rather than your personal profile.
Do you feature a bio and portrait of yourself? When someone is looking at hiring you, it’s not just your photography that counts. Show clients who you are, both in personality and in person!
Is there sufficient and easily noticeable contact info? Clients don’t want to be shepherded to a form. List an email and a phone number where they can reach out. You also don’t need to have your entire home address listed, but at the very least include your metro area.
Can I advance to the next image without using a mouse? Essentially, can you move through a gallery without using the arrow keys? Most templates automatically provide this, but boy, do we miss it when they don’t.
Branding On Your Website
An essential part of my role at Wonderful Machine is developing branding for photographers. A brand identity consists of a logo (with all of its variations), fonts to be used for all of the other text on your website, a color palette, as well as additional graphics, illustrations, or patterns that will work together cohesively. If a client loves an image on your site, they should be able to easily connect it with your name and brand. Your visual identity and photos should work together to communicate your brand personality and make your work memorable. Here are some things to consider when creating a website:
Is your logo on every page? Your logo must be in the same place on every page. It is important to show your brand and assist with navigation. The logo should be linked to your home page to allow you to easily navigate back.
Are your gallery titles a good fit for your brand? You can afford to do something whimsical when shooting kids or animals, but less so when you have industrial or corporate clients.
Did you incorporate color or graphics? Since a photographer’s website is photo-based, text and color are great ways to add your brand’s personality. Just make them consistent! The images on your site should provide the majority of color and tone. Stick to 1-2 colors for your branding to keep it clean and simple. While a colorful background is appealing, it often distracts viewers from your work. If you decide to incorporate color, we suggest you use a neutral to allow for your photography work to shine. Additional illustrations or graphics can also be used as transparent backgrounds or overlays to add visual interest as long as they do not overpower your photos. In other words, use sparingly.
Does it link to your active blog or social media pages? If you have inactive social media accounts (or a blog from three years ago), those links should be deleted. Once again, your website should never be stagnant, but a further extension of your business.
Is the URL consistent with the branding? If your website is kodak4lyfe.com and all the branding inside is John Doe Photography, it’s time to either reevaluate your URL or start hoarding what Kodak film you have left.
Does the email address use the same URL? Squarespace makes it especially easy to create an email that matches your site URL. If you can’t or won’t use an email connected to your site, at least use a Gmail account (which is the standard today). You may still own an AIM or Hotmail email address, but you should not use it for professional communication. Does it say “firstname.lastname@example.org”? Try “email@example.com.” Clients want to feel as if they’re getting directly in contact with you, not jumping through hoops or having their outreach drop into a bottomless pit.
Overall Website Layout And Design
Composition is a huge factor in taking a high-quality photograph. Similarly, the design of your website contributes to the success of your presentation. Consider your arrangement and the orientation of photos that go into the site. Are most of your photos vertical or horizontal? Find patterns in how you shoot and create a layout that works best to display them. We recommend choosing a web template that does not crop your photos. The purpose of a website is to display your work and show your skills as a photographer. Cropping your images will only take away from the composition. And since most people around the world read from left to right and top-to-bottom, it’s logical that websites display their menu on the left or top of the page.
Molly Glynn and Christine Hughes contributed to this article.
About the Author
Lindsay Thompson is a graphic designer and illustrator with a specialty to brand identity and logo design. While she has been an avid doodler for decades, her love for design stemmed from a career as a photographer.
She is also a designer and photo editor at Wonderful Machine, an art production agency with a network of 600 photographers in 44 countries. If you need help with your social media presence, you can reach out to them via email.