Every professional photographer needs their own portfolio website. It not only helps showcase your work but also helps drive business to you. With the online tools available today, even novice users can build a polished and appealing website within a day. Here I’ll run you through the basics you need to consider while creating yours.
The Initial Set-Up
Buy your own custom domain name / website address. Don’t be tempted to get a free, branded domain name which contains the company’s name from who you acquired it, for example www.yourcompany.tumblr.com or www.yourcompany.wordpress.org. There are countless online companies from where you can search for your perfect website address and pay as little as £10 per year to own it. Aim for something along the lines of www.yourcompany.com. Once you’ve got yours, you’ll need to host your website online by renting server space. Often the company you purchased your website address from will offer this and it costs as little as £2 to £5 per month. Personally, I use 34sp.com but there are many others to consider. Similarly, set up an email address which matches your website address ie. email@example.com. Again, your hosting company should offer this. Do not use Hotmail or Gmail etc for your professional email address.
Once you’ve got your website address and hosting sorted, you need to build your actual website. Unless you’re a website-building guru, my advice here would be to look at what is called a ‘content management system’ or CMS. WordPress is one example I use frequently but, again, there are many others out there to choose from. What this does, is place a basic database structure against your domain name. From there you can install website templates which best suit your purpose. Searching Google for ‘WordPress Photography Theme’ (or which ever content management system you’re using) will bring up endless options. Now it’s simply a case of browsing the themes and testing the demos thoroughly. Once you’ve selected and purchased your desired theme template, follow any installation instructions which come with it and set it set up on your personal domain name. From there it’s simply a case of using the CMS dashboard to customise the theme as you wish and upload your images. There are many specialist online tutorials documenting this, so I won’t go it to it here.
You need to ensure your website is simple in its appearance and functionality. With regards to your images, pay close attention to their size when uploading. Full resolution images will not only take up valuable server and bandwidth space, but also take longer to load. Nothing kills a browsing experience quicker than having to wait ten or twenty seconds for a photo to load. Plus, you don’t want your full resolution images hosted online where people can easily download them. For this reason, I recommend something between 1200×800 and 1600×900 pixels and around 100dpi. This will enable your images to fill most of the screen (very important), yet load quickly.
Next, test your website on different desktop browers i.e. Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome plus on different mobile devices iPhone, Windows phones and Android. An important point to consider here is regarding touch screens. Website menus can be notoriously difficult to navigate on touch screens such as those found on mobile devices and tablets. Here, you don’t have the ability to hover a mouse over a drop down menu, so I’d advise making sure your drop down menus also open in a new page when selected, with large icons mirroring the available options. See my website at OliverPohlmann.com for an example of this.
Choose Your Content Carefully
Select only your very best work. Nobody is going to sit and browse through 500 of your photos, so don’t use your website as a database of all your work – this isn’t Facebook!
Don’t be tempted to plaster watermarks across the middle of your images. This does nothing but ruin the visual impact of your photography. If you must add a watermark, keep it in the corner and make it subtle. If you’re adding a watermark to prevent people stealing your photos, then just adhere to my advice above and avoid using high resolution files. There’s not much people can do with a 1200×800 100dpi image other than use it as a desktop wallpaper. If you still don’t want people stealing images of this resolution, you may as well avoid the internet altogether.
Many photographers specialise in more than one area, so set up a page for each of these – whether it’s real estate, portraiture, landscapes etc. This enables you to have a specific URL (website address) for each of your specialist areas of photography – useful for sending website links to prospective clients. If you specialise in wedding photography, my personal advice would be to set up a separate website for this to avoid mixing it with your personal or commercial photography. Wedding clients are a very specific audience and your wedding photography should be showcased on its own.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is important in ensuring that your website appears on Google or Bing etc when people search for content relating to what you do. Unfortunately, such search engines can’t read what your images show and only work on text-based content. By their very nature, photography websites are image heavy with very little in the way of text. However, there are things you can do. Content Management Systems such as WordPress have very good options for adding text or ‘metadata’ to your images. You can add relevant titles, tags and descriptions to your images enabling Google and other search engines to read your images. Adding descriptions such as ‘portrait photographer South London’, for example, to the images on the portraiture page of your website, plus installing an SEO plugin your site (SEO Yoast on WordPress, for example) and using it to populate your pages’ titles and meta descriptions will all help your website’s ranking on search engines.
One of the best things you can do to improve your website’s appearance on search engines such as Google is to add a blog page and update it regularly. Not only does a blog add more relevant text to your website, but it also ensures that new content is added on a regular basis – two things that Google loves.
Things To Avoid
Do not play music on your website. Just don’t. Also, avoid any Flash based animations. Not only does Flash not display on Apple products but Adobe (the makers of Flash) no longer support it themselves. Essentially it’s a dead form of displaying images and graphics.
The best advice I can give is to browse the internet for other photography portfolio websites and see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited a photographer’s website, only to leave in frustration after images don’t load, it doesn’t display correctly on my browser, or I simply can’t navigate the menus on a touch screen. So, take your time, do your research, get it right and show it off to every friend and client you know.
Author – Oliver Pohlmann
Watch our video editon of this article below