How to build your own photography website
June 1, 2020
If you’ve always wanted to create a photography website then now might be the perfect time to do so. It’s an ideal task for those stuck at home and, with a host of beginner-friendly website builders to choose from, it’s easier than ever to come up with a shiny new online space to showcase your best photos. These days you can be up and running in a couple of hours without a line of code in sight. Simple drag-and-drop web templates make it easy and cost-effective to build your own photography website in no time at all, and bolt-on features mean you can customise your site to suit your needs.
Over the course of this article we’ll explore some of the best website-building options for photographers. Whether you’re after a simple gallery site to present your photography portfolio, a place to sell prints, or a fully fledged portal to kick-start your new photography business, there will be an option out there to suit you.
Before you dive into creating your first site consider a few key questions – who is the site aimed at? Do you want to sell a product? Do you want to keep a blog? Do you need a client login area? Would you like a forum section? Do you need to do SEO? Do you require a booking system? If the aim here is to create a simple site to show off your photos then many of these questions won’t apply, and you can dive straight into crafting a stylish online portfolio within minutes. But if you’re planning on growing your site into a business then it’s worth considering these things at the start, as they can have an impact on the kind of host or website builder that will fit your requirements. Do your research and find a website builder that has the functions that you’ll need, as it can be a headache to transfer your content from one platform to another later on down the line.
Which website builder is best for photographers?
These builders offer a range of great options for building your own photography website.
● Free package available with branding
● Paid packages start at $3 a month (paid annually)
One of the biggest names in DIY website building, Wix has a huge array of templates for all kinds of business, including plenty of options that will serve photographers well. There are more than 500 drag-and-drop templates to choose from. The first step is to choose one that will suit your needs and content (choose carefully, as unlike some other web builders you can’t port content from one template to another later on).
As with most web builders, the building process involves editing the existing template by replacing text and stock pictures. If you’re happy to stick with the layout and page structure, then you can simply replace the placeholder text with your own, drop in your pictures and publish the site, which can be done in an hour or two.
For those looking for more customisation, each page has different areas that can be clicked on and edited. They are laid out neatly, but each element – text, image or otherwise – can be dragged to any position. A mobile editor lets you see how your site will look on devices, and even edit the mobile version independently of the main site.
The biggest strength of Wix is the array of add-ons and apps you can add to your site using the editor. Galleries, maps and videos can all be created with ease. The apps market within the editor lets you bolt on all kinds of tools and functions that photographers might find useful, like a bookings section, blog page, or a storefront for selling prints.
Wix offers an impressive set of options for the novice web builder, with plenty of depth for those looking to take their site further. It’s priced competitively with several different plans – including a free version that comes with Wix branding and lacks your own domain name – but may not be the most cost-effective option out there for you.
● WordPress.org is free, but you must pay for hosting
● WordPress.com offers a free package with branding, paid packages start at $3 a month (paid annually)
It can be useful to think of a website as a home, and like most homes there are usually two options – rent or buy. Sites made using website builders like Wix and Squarespace are like rental properties where everything is managed for you. They’re hassle-free and quick to set up, which is what renters like. But in time all renters will ask themselves the question, is this the best long-term option for me?
This brings us to WordPress.org. It’s the best choice for a first-time buyer looking to get on the metaphorical website property ladder. What’s more, it’s completely free – although you’ll still have to pay for hosting, domain names and security. If that sounds daunting, the similar service at WordPress.com acts more like a website builder and offers hosting packages.
WordPress.org has a steeper learning curve than the beginner-friendly photography website builders mentioned here (after all, it’s what professional web developers use). But there are plenty of guides out there for beginners and thousands of free themes to ease you in, including many geared towards photography.
It may take longer for a beginner to get results, but a little effort now can lead to long-term gains, as over time a WordPress site is likely to be a cheaper option than the hands-off hosted website builders. More importantly, you have total control, you’re free to scale the site to suit your needs, and you’ll be part of one of the biggest web-building communities out there.
● 14-day free trial available, but no free package
● Packages start at $10 a month (paid annually)
With well over a million live websites worldwide, Squarespace is one of the most popular website builders, and one of the easiest to grasp. Despite offering plenty of depth and customisation, the Squarespace editor is very intuitive. It’s also one of the most sleek and well-thought-out that we’ve used. However, unlike some other web builders you can’t add on third-party extensions, only apps that were created by Squarespace.
As with most web builders you begin by selecting a template (a series of handy questions direct you to the most suitable templates for you) then drag and drop your own text and images, before going on to customise the look of the site. Adding and removing pages is easy with the editor, and you can stamp your own feel on templates by customising the theme.
One of the big strengths of Squarespace is how many of their template designs are based around the photography. So for example, a landing page will have space for a large hero image and some sparse, artfully arranged text. As such, there are lots of great options for photographers looking to build a site to showcase their work. Squarespace may not be the best for ecommerce or specialist functionality, but if you want a beautiful site to show off your best photos then you can’t go wrong.
● Free 14-day trial available
● Paid packages start at $4.75 a month (paid annually)
You might not have heard of Smugmug, but you’ve probably heard of Flickr. It remains one of the most cherished photo-sharing sites in the world, and is owned by Smugmug. As such, Smugmug is a website builder specifically aimed at photographers.
While other website builders can contain an overload of options, with Smugmug you’ll only be presented with the kind of web-building tools and functions that photographers need. There are fewer than 30 templates to choose from, but these can be customised to your liking. What’s more, you can sync photos to your galleries from Lightroom, use advanced copyright features to prevent image theft, and make use of the unlimited storage to upload as many photos as you like.
Smugmug excels at selling prints. You can offer images for sale, and directly link to a printing service that will fulfil your orders for you (in the basic plan Loxley Color covers Europe and Africa, EZ Prints elsewhere). You can also offer canvas prints, blocks and more, which you can add to your price list. If a print is ordered, you can replace it with a retouched version up to seven days after the order is placed, so you only need to prepare the images that customers buy. The printer sends out the product for you, and if you like you can add your own branding to the packaging.
The shopping experience is seamless and secure, which is vital for building trust with potential customers. Smugmug takes 15% of your sales which is worth it for the hassle-free service if you’re aiming to sell a modest amount, but may be too much for those expecting a high volume of sales.
● Free 14-day trial available
● Paid packages start at $12 a month (paid annually)
Another website builder aimed specifically at photographers and creatives, Format has a slick, fresh look to both its editor interface and the 70 or so templates on offer. These templates are beautifully designed with a contemporary edge, and they’re particularly impressive in mobile form. The templates lack advanced customisation, but if you’re after a trendy portfolio site then the templates here will meet your needs with the minimum of fuss.
It’s a crowded market for website builders and Format does its best to stand out with several niche features that photographers will appreciate. One of the best is the integration with both Lightroom and Capture One, so you can upload directly to your site from your image editor. Interestingly, you can also make use of a ‘Format Expert’ who will help you in curating and customising your portfolio. An online store can be set up to sell your work, and miraculously you don’t pay any commission on sales.
● Free package available with branding
● Paid packages start from $4 a month (paid annually)
One of the most competitively priced website builders, Weebly offers a similar experience to other beginner-friendly, all-in-one options like Wix and Squarespace. The range of templates can cater for all kinds of users, including those looking to make a photography site. Weebly is also strong on ecommerce, so if you’re planning on making photo sales through your site then it’s a good option.
Like most website builders the options for moving your site content from one host to another are very limited, so if you decide at a later point that you want to change your host or try a different website builder then it can be a headache to port your content over (which makes sense from a business perspective, as it locks you in to one host).
Weebly is a convenient choice if you want to get up and running quickly, and it’s one of the most cost-effective options out there.
Those completely new to building a photography website can be up and running in minutes, and there’s plenty of depth and extra features for when you want to grow your site.
● Free 14-day trial available
● Paid packages start at $5 a month (paid annually)
As the name suggests, Zenfolio is a website builder geared towards photographers who want to showcase their portfolio and sell prints. As such, Zenfolio is similar to Smugmug, its main rival in the sphere of photographer-centric portfolio site builders. There are a modest 12 templates to get you started, but these are designed specifically for photography portfolios and gallery folders. The templates are less customisable than most website builders as you can’t adjust the positioning of images and text. But they’re very easy to fill with your own content, so you can have a gallery up and running in no time. You have unlimited storage for your photos, and you can upload raws as well as JPEGs. In terms of its feature set and functionality Zenfolio is very similar to Smugmug, so it’s worth looking at both options if you’re after a photography website builder with added ecommerce functions.
How do I make a photography portfolio website?
While your choice of host and website builder are important, it’s the content that is king. A harmonious combination of photos and words is more crucial than the layout. Gathering the photos for your site can be a rewarding task. But it’s not necessarily just about choosing your favourite photos and dropping them in a gallery template. Think about how photos will look when seen together, and their suitability for the site. It may sound obvious, but if you’re planning on starting up a site to promote your fledgling family portrait business then viewers may not be interested in your gritty, black & white portraits of bearded fishermen, however authentic they are. If you’re marketing for a specific audience, then use only the photos that speak to them.
Similarly, try not to mix and match your subject matter. If it’s important to you to include a range of portraits and landscapes, then it may be best to create separate galleries for them, or even separate photography websites. Gallery pages can usually be divided into sub-sections devoted to different areas of your photography. You might want to separate images into different genres, or divide personal and commercial work, or create a new gallery each time you complete a specific project.
If you’re planning on selling your photos then think about how potential customers will browse through your photo galleries. Those people who are looking to purchase landscape prints, for example, might be seeking out a photo of a place that’s special to them – so it might be effective to organise your photos into galleries based on location.
James is as skilled a photo editor as he is a photographer. His work has appeared in countless magazines and books, and in 2014 he was appointed editor of Practical Photoshop magazine. His subjects range from portraits to landscapes, architecture and underwater scenes. Visit www.patersonphotos.com.