Photography websites are a wonderful source of inspiration and invaluable self-promotional tools.
With the right website, stock photographers can sell their photos, wedding photographers can display their best work in online portfolios and hobbyists can share their favourite images with the world.
But what if you have no idea how to build a website? Whether you’re a pro with thousands of pounds to spend, or you have a budget of exactly zero, there’s a solution for you.
Follow these steps to work out why you need a photography website and how you should build it.
1. Go surfing
Start by take a look at your favourite photography websites with a critical eye. Look at things like design, colour schemes, photo galleries (there are LOTS of ways to display photos online – which do you like?) and layout. It’s useful to make a list of do’s and don’ts – things you definitely DO want on your site and things that you DON’T.
When you find a website you like think about the design from the user’s point of view. Is it visually attractive? Does it encourage you to stay and browse? What happens when you finish reading an article or page – what does the website encourage you to do next?
What are the photographer’s goals? For example, the primary goal of my website is to provide readers with useful articles about photography and to encourage them to sign up for my email newsletter and buy some of my photography ebooks.
How does the website look on a tablet or a mobile phone? A key feature of modern websites is that they look good on mobile devices as well as a computer monitor. This is not necessarily difficult to set up (the right software will take care of it automatically for you) but it is essential. As much as 50% of web traffic comes from mobile devices so you need to be ready for it. Google also penalises websites that are not mobile ready by placing them lower in search ranking.
2. Work out the why
The first step, before you even begin to look at how to build your website, is to figure WHY you want one.
It’s an important question, because the answer influences everything that follows.
Are you looking for a place to showcase your best photos? A blog to share your personal thoughts? Do you want to create an educational website, and perhaps sell ebooks or video courses? Would you like to sell prints or stock photos, or give clients a private viewing area to see their photos?
The answers to questions like these determine the complexity of your website.
If you’re not sure why you need your own photography website, then check out the first article in my series: 12 Reasons Why Every Photographer Needs a Website or Blog.
I also recommend reading Cracking The Website Code, a book written by a friend of mine that discusses these questions in depth.
3. Set goals
Next, you need to set out in writing what you actually want to do with your website.
Try this exercise.
Write a list of goals that you want to achieve with your photography website.
The goals you come up depend on your needs. A photo gallery, for example, is very simple compared to the complex website that a professional photographer may require.
Simplicity is king in the online world. Simple websites are easier to build and maintain and make it easier for visitors to find what they want. Keep your site as simple as possible by only having a few goals.
Here are some things to consider.
Budget. How much cash do you have to spend on your website?
Time and expertise. How much know-how do you have – or are you willing to acquire? If you want to learn how to build a website yourself you’ll need a lot of time to dedicate to the project.
This is related to budget. The more money you have, the more likely it is you can afford to pay somebody else to put the website together for you.
The future. How much will the website grow in the future? Most photographers will need to update their websites regularly with their latest work. Do you require the ability to do this yourself (the answer should be yes) or are you willing to pay somebody else to do this (this will get expensive)?
Features. What are the site’s most important features? Some typical features of a photography website include: photo galleries, a blog, an online store and an email newsletter subscription service. The features should support the site’s main goals.
Primary Purpose. Think about your website’s primary purpose:
Your website’s primary purpose is the one goal that is more important than all the others. The other goals are subservient to your primary purpose – they exist to help you achieve it. You should have already thought about this. Now it’s time to write it down.
4. Decide which type of photography website you need and how to build it
One you know your website’s primary purpose you can start to think about building the site. There are several types of photography website.
Simple photography websites
The simplest type of photography website to build and maintain is a blog. Blogs in their most basic form are online diaries that display the most recent entries first. They are suitable for educational websites, but are not the best option for creating beautiful photography galleries. Nor do they give you a way to create an online store.
Services like Blogger and WordPress.com are free and it’s easy to set up a blog within minutes without any programming knowledge. They are ideal if your budget is zero and you have little or no knowledge of HTML and CSS (the building blocks of web pages).
They are also quite good if you have never set up a website before. They are much better than other free web design services you will come across, most of which are a waste of time.
The Travel Photographer is a good example of a simple blog. The writer uses it to establish his expertise as a travel photographer and publicise his overseas photography excursions to places like Nepal and Bhutan. The blog was created using Blogger.
It is possible to leverage a free blog into a large website with lots of traffic and the reputation enhancing credibility the creation of a genuinely useful resource brings. David Hobby’s Strobist is a good example.
Blogger and WordPress.com
These are the two simplest and cheapest ways to get started – they’re free! Setting up is a simple matter of registering, choosing a name for your blog and selecting a template (the layout).
WordPress.com also has the ability to add static pages to the blog. You can use this feature to turn the blog into a simple website with a custom home page.
Steve McCurry had a wordpress.com blog, which was taken down recently but seems to have been reinstated (with just one entry at the time of writing).
Blogger gives you more flexibility in terms of modifying templates and placing ads or scripts on the blog. The biggest downside is that the templates don’t look as professional as WordPress’s (although they have improved). This is important – an ugly design sends the wrong message to potential clients.
Blogger and WordPress.com are very similar and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference. Remember, if you want to add static pages to the blog then you’ll need to use WordPress.com, and if you want to add adverts you should use Blogger.
Personally, I advise you to use WordPress.com. The reason for this is that as your confidence grows you will probably want to move onto a system that gives you more control and flexibility. Most photographers use WordPress.org (a self-hosted version of WordPress.com) and using WordPress.com familiarises you with the WordPress system.
Typepad is similar to Blogger and WordPress.com, but it’s not free. Basic accounts start from $US8.95 a month. For this you get sophisticated blogging software, unlimited photo albums (a key feature for photographers) and a good support service.
The Online Photographer is an excellent example of a Typepad blog.
Complex photography websites
Most photography websites are more complex than what you can create with WordPress.com, Blogger or Typepad.
Of the two, WordPress.org ultimately gives you the most freedom but is more complicated to set up. You can do just about anything you want with WordPress, from something relatively simple like setting up a gallery to display your best photos to a complicated e-commerce based website.
WordPress.org is the most common software used to create websites. It’s free and needs to be downloaded and installed on your host’s server. For this, you require your own domain name and a hosting plan that supports PHP and MySQL (PHP is a programming language and MySQL is a database). Hosting plans start from about £3 a month in the UK (or $US4.00 in the United States).
This may sound complicated but actually it’s quite straightforward. Only a bare minimum of programming knowledge is needed to get started and if you get stuck help’s available from either the WordPress forums or your host’s support service. It’s useful (but not essential) to know HTML and CSS to be able to modify the layout.
WordPress can be downloaded from www.wordpress.org. This is a separate product from WordPress.com – they share the same name (somewhat confusingly) because they’re made by the same people.
Its popularity means that there are lots of helpful websites dedicated to WordPress tutorials and tips.
If you decide to set up a WordPress website then, depending on your needs, you’ll need to get to grips with things like themes, e-commerce, plug-ins, security and hosting plans. It’s not as complicated as it may sound but there is a learning curve. This is not necessarily a disadvantage – the skills you learn as you build your own WordPress website may serve you well in your career.
WordPress websites are also great for handling ecommerce.
SquareSpace is relatively new but is used by a lot of photographers to create their websites.
The advantage of SquareSpace, compared with WordPress, is that it takes away the complexity of building and maintaining your website.
SquareSpace uses templates and a drop and drag system to enable you to design your website without any programming knowledge. It also takes care of security for you, so that you don’t have to worry about your website being hacked (WordPress requires you to be more proactive in this respect, although it’s not difficult).
The downside to SquareSpace is that it doesn’t give you as many e-commerce options as WordPress. For example, it gives you no way of integrating with PayPal, the most widely used method of paying for things online.
SquareSpace is ideal for photographers who want to concentrate on producing content, and leave the more complex backend tasks to somebody else. It is very good for creating beautiful photo galleries and blogs.
Pete Takes Pictures is a good example of a photography website created with SquareSpace.
5. Do it!
Hopefully you now have a good understanding of how to create a photography website. The fifth step is the hardest of all – to get out there and do it! It’s easy to procrastinate while gathering information and deciding on the best course of action. But once the decisions have been made you need to get to work and set up your website.