Why You Don't Need A Website and Probably Never Will

For years I have had the internal and professional battle to go through the motion of building a portfolio website to show off my absolute best and most recent work while also being able to allow clients to easily contact me. In today's day and age there has never been an easier way to do all of these things all in one place, for me that's Instagram and it should be for you as well. Here is why I think it's the best portfolio website on the web.

I have had this debate for a really long time, meanwhile I have done pretty damn well without any type of official portfolio website so why should I build one now? The answer has been sitting right here for just over four years now, Instagram does it all and then some when it comes to a solid website. It has a slick and beautiful simple web interface while also having easily one of the worlds most accessible and widely used mobile app at its core. 

Sure you can customize the hell out of your own website but at what cost to your freelance or even full time business are you making to help that investment come to life and bring clients to your work. I have always found a lean freelance business to be king over the biggest and most fancy marketing budgets on the planet. You want to have your work first and foremost when selling yourself and for me the best way to do that is on Instagram, here are a few talking points for those looking to lose the www. for the world of social media. 

What Does Your Website Need to Do?

At the base level you want your website to easily illustrate your best and most recent work while also allowing clients to easily contact you for hire. I have always struggled with where I should put my valuable time and efforts towards advertising my work. 

The bio section, outside of the actual content, is the most customizable section of the web and app you can do. Right now I have a very basic but informative setup. I mention my name, more on the importance of that later, address, my accolades, and also my email and recent link to work on Fstoppers. This sections' importance is big for those looking to help tell a bit about yourself, while also giving just enough information as to not go too far or too little for potential clients. Not to mention the quick stats located below (or above on mobile) will give a bit of context to how often you post and how much time you put into your craft.

As you might expect a social network might not last forever but you better believe it is the hottest ticket right now and one that can reach a huge audience of potential clients or connections in the future. Now, I am not stupid and understand how a website works. The most important thing you can see with a fully customizable website is SEO, search engine optimization, where you can reach a wider net across the web for people to find and view your work. 

Don't Talk to Me About Image Quality

Yes, I have heard all the excuses photographers and creatives have about needing to have the biggest resolution image possible but your posting your work to the web, image resolution literally means nothing! If you're client can't at the base level see your work and decide you are the one they want to hire, you have a bigger problem than someone pixel peeping on the web at a photo you have posted. Right now Instagram has everything going for them and the image resolution is set at 1080x1080 for square crop and slightly more for the recent portrait option. 

You want to be able to optimize your shots for the web, as you can see Facebook has trouble doing for the most part. Instagram on the other hand, does pretty well. Early on when the resolution was upped to 1080x1080 they had a little issue with noise and pixel stacking not when reviewing your shot but after it was finally posted. Outside of that I have had great luck with posting to the platform.

Marketing Ain't Easy, So Make it Count

I have had this argument with so many photographers in the past and when it comes to Instagram and using it as a marketing tool for you business you want to push out the best work possible, always! Essentially if you want this to replace your website or potential website you want it to host your best work possible. There are many ways you can look at that but in the end if you want to post shots of your breakfast, your kid, dog, the backyard? Make it the best photo you can take, period. 

This is the biggest struggle for any photographer looking to mold their Instagram page from simply a place they post snapshots to their best work possible. Personally I have found that as creatives you should be able to create the best shot from any scenario to engage with your audience and build a following. Whether that be a foggy landscape in your backyard or the droplets on the car window, both of which were simply photos I took while on my morning commute here in the Midwest. 

Here is a little tip for those that want a bit more SEO on the web. Instagram is a great tool, though you may ask how can people find my work with a simple Google search? The key is in the bio, you want to make sure your full name is being used in the name section. Not only is this important in the app when people search your name but Google has begun to find ways to connect these two things and its being updated every single day. 

Mobile! Mobile! Mobile!

With the evolution of the web and how mobile consumption is becoming more and more important Instagram is where its at. They have one of the worlds fastest growing apps and its platform is built from a mobile device. So many times I hear photographers pitching me on the fact they have a new website and I must check it out. I immediately take my phone out to have them stop me and say its not built for phones... WHAT?! So I need to simply remember your site for later when I have a chance to sit down at a desktop and look at it that way? No thanks. The world is changing, be willing to adapt or get left behind.

Time is Money, Don't Keep Wasting Both

To conclude, I have to admit I work very lean. I have little overhead as a photographer investing in the absolute bare minimum gear and look to save in all areas possible to keep myself making money rather than losing it. I focus on my work over time spent updating a website every 18 months, which even then its not fast enough in this day and age. A website was one of those spots I always found I wanted to invest in but it would be on my own terms and right now that takes too much time for my return. I wanted great control without losing simplicity and quality, though that comes at a cost. For the most part this solution works really well for me and should for most photographers. 

As for expandability down, yes you are at the mercy of the social network and its plan to stay alive in the long run. I don't see Instagram lasting forever but it will have a pretty large lifespan in my opinion. As many of you know as creatives we have to wear many hats and managing a website, all social channels, business accounts as well as client expectations beyond it can become taxing. I feel social media can keep evolving and shifting and we can move with it steadily enough moving followers from one thing to the next to keep building a name without a website behind it all which would need to continue updating as well at a very high pace.

There are plenty of sites out there like Squarespace or Word Press that can build you a website quickly and affordably but its not for everyone. I will admit though having a custom built website can be a huge advantage but with the way things are going with social media fueling much of the chatter on the web, its the future. For me I have to push you towards Instagram as a damn good option in your next website full on and hope you might see my side of things. 

Be sure to follow me on Instagram, would love to hear your thoughts and chat more! 

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74 Comments

Casey Berner's picture

If you're a social media photographer promoting brands and creating social content, then obviously Instagram is a great choice because it shows your expertise in the desired habitat. But where would a wedding photographer list rates on Instagram or a commercial photographer coral all their work related to a particular client? I would love to hear what a wedding photographer or commercial photographer thinks, who transact thousands of dollars for professional services. Instagram is great but any marketer will tell you that today's digital landscape is all about an omni-channel approach. Only about 25% of the internet population uses Instagram and when you think about blog posts, CVs and utilizing ads to promote your work, a social media profile doesn't scream professional just yet. You should have an Instagram but not JUST an Instagram.

Prefers Film's picture

The right hashtags can help potential clients find you on Instagram, but I agree that you should back that up with a real website. Wordpress has great plugins that allow you to display your IG feed, and quickly share to other social media, giving you the best of all worlds.

Matthew Odom's picture

Casey is 100% right.

If you are in the Wedding, Family, and Maternity side of things then knock yourself out, but if you decide to ever work in commercial/advertising photography you'll need a to have a solid website and there's no way around it. Most of my clientele are ad agencies and publications. When I ask "how did you find me?" they all say "I googled you popped up and I looked at your website" When I started my journey with my rep they told me I had to have a solid website if I were to be taken seriously by art buyers. I think that Social Media works as a cog in the machine and shouldn't be relied on for all of the publicity. Even when I was heavy into shooting weddings early in my career, my wedding website was the main hub for brides to look over my work. Just make sure whatever website you have is mobile friendly :)

Sean Molin's picture

I disagree quite a bit in most cases.

The number 1 most important thing about a website is control. You are not at the mercy of a social network and their flippant, fickle rules and control. Not only with regards to content, but also with who gets to see your content and when. Websites represent stability. Many MANY clients see them this way, too.

I agree that when starting out you should be focusing on your photography more than a website, though. But also, a website doesn't have to be time consuming or incredibly in-depth.

Glen Grant's picture

Bingo!! You hit the nail on the head - 'Control'
I just revamped and released my updated site after 6 years of tip toeing thru social media.
Now, granted I get 90% of my business thru social media but I am handcuffed as to the ability to have control and more so manage my audience as I see fit.
Love my FB Fanpage, but they throttle you these days to force you into buying BOOST (I refuse to) then I have Twitter (well.. I have twitter). I use Instagram as a social avenue to not bore people with the same stuff so I do me #walkabouts which are popular (sold a few book compilations).
But seriously, while I admittedly ignored the website, I am back and I can't be happier.
I rule my domain and that is really what I want to do, have control and not subjected to someone else policies, rules or censorship of my work and direct it to my audience.

Todd Becker's picture

If you need to save 100 bucks a year on website hosting to stay profitable you probably not the best person to take advice from.

Andrew Griswold's picture

It's cheap to host for sure but I think you missed my point. Time is key here. I don't want to waste time on something I need to continue to update and work on on the back end for "control" while also making sure it's pleasing to the masses because design changes so often. I could easily seeing laying 100 for a custom email but when companies contact me with no issue like Pepsi, Mashable, and Apple to my yahoo email, does it make me see I don't get clients via Instagam? Not quite. Trade off in time is key here.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Or you just hire me to manage it for you for a very low fee haha.

Andrew Griswold's picture

I might do that but my inner designer and profession in the field would need to be involved in the overall design and UI. Ha

Jeff McCollough's picture

Well naturally. As an artist you really need your website to look great according to your tastes. Personally for my use and for that of my clients I like WordPress as it is very simple for the end user to use without needing to know code and you can either use a pre-made template or have a site designed for WP from scratch.

Adam Peariso's picture

So far every client I've ever landed or potential client I've met has always ask for my site, never my Instagram, or my Twitter, or my Facebook, or my 500px. Though I mostly work in video now, but still.

Austin Rogers's picture

I think the only thing I have to contribute to the conversation is the importance of a "real" email address. Even if you want your URL to point somewhere other than your site (i.e. IG) having "andrew@andrew'surl.com" would probably give a wee bit more credibility. I know I'm always turned off by someone's "business" email ending in "gmail.com."

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to each their own of course.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Great point! The only reason I would buy hosting is to get a url and have a custom email. I hate the yahoo mail I have but it's easy. Def going to look into it this year. Then again I've caught plenty of big clients emailing me directly through yahoo without a doubt. Hell even Apple reached out. Haha

Austin Rogers's picture

Totally not knocking you as a person/photographer. I mean if you buy the domain I'm happy to let you use my Dreamhost acct for free email. ;)

Andrew Griswold's picture

I like you just a little bit more now Austin.

Tom Lew's picture

I think this article takes it to a little bit of an extreme place.. but I pretty much agree with 95% of this. The power of instagram never ceases to amaze me.

Andrew Griswold's picture

After reading it back it does go a bit far and I added a few points extra in there this afternoon. It's a very powerful tool and it's shocking how many people don't utilize it as much as any other avenue of advertising or publicity of their personal or business work.

Tom Lew's picture

Speaking to a bunch of photogs today at my shared studio space.. we were talking about how they best find clients and it was unanimous = Instagram

jim stone's picture

From the Instagram terms of service:

"you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service"

Typical of all the social sites (and especially so for parts of the Facebook empire.

Post your best work there and who knows where it legally might end up or how it will get used.

Rob Watts's picture

^^ THIS! Why do so many photographers use this service with ToS like this? What am I missing?

Mark Harris's picture

You are missing the fact that in real life it's never happened, and probably never will. There are way higher risks to your images elsewhere. They only have these ToSs so that they can legally feed your images to other users. It's just not a credible problem.

Adam Peariso's picture

Not a credible problem? Don't forget Instagram tried to change their ToS so they could 100% sell your work with no royalties, who's to say they won't try again?

https://fstoppers.com/business/instagram-can-now-sell-your-images-withou...

Drew Pluta's picture

And then there's the Richard Prince debacle.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

Spot on ! No Sugar Coating.

Aric Becker's picture

Well said Dan!

Brad Barton's picture

My first thought when I encounter any entity that does not have a website - only a social profile or fan page on Facebook -- they aren't a serious business.

Seriously.. You go searching for a restaurant or a piece of camera gear and all you find is an Instagram feed - are you going to try and navigate that to try and find menus, pricing, specs or are you going to go to the website that has all that easily accessible on a well designed website?

Even the author here says he links his Instagram back to his Fstoppers portfolio - so really, he has a web site, just not one he manages... And that website also serves up the searcher thousands of other potential photographers in the same space.

John Priest's picture

Take a look at thegrid.io
it is supposed to be designed to save you time IF a "website" is what you really want.
It seems like a good solution for someone that does want an actual WEBsite.
Im going to try it out and see if it holds true.

Drew Pluta's picture

A year later and we're still waiting for THEGRID.

Steve James's picture

Instagram might work for some people, but pursuing a social media following also takes a substantial amount of time. Setting up even a basic portfolio website is nor hard, expensive or overly time consuming. The amount of spam and junk on Instagram alone turns me off it as anything more than a casual thing.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

Websites have evolved.

A website is a mobile office space (email &info), a portable portfolio (your work), and a cloud storage (to deliver to client & to store some content).

Some of my clients reach out to me because they like my Instagram account, Most of them ask me if they can see more from a specific genre, a website allows me to direct them to what they are asking for, its more organized and focused.

How many times Igers didn't want to post an amazing photo because it does not relate to their Instagram genre? thats very limiting.

Its important to stay up to date with all the social media platforms, but having a website is important and could save you time. how ? 99% of my clients book me after a phone call & viewing my portfolio on my website. I save time by not having to meet them, not having to create a specific portfolio based on their needs and send it to them.

Password protected galleries help them share projects between co-workers to select their images and send me their retouching comments.

Smart galleries allow me to enable downloads so they can download their content without having me burn one on a dvd, copy it to USB. and deliver it myself. Yes sure there are loads of cloud storage solutions, Having control is always impressive, and i usually get positive feedback regarding that.

Instagram & its followers won't last forever, Just like DeViant Art, Facebook Group/Pages...etc...

Mark Harris's picture

Not having a website is like working from a spare room at home - sure you can be a very talented and successful photographer under those conditions, but there will always be clients who will not take you seriously because you don't have an office or studio. Depends who you are pitching to.

D Laugh's picture

I would just like to say that all of the comments here are very good. But I think a lot of the posters are missing the point, or sound like a lot of the older photographers who were anti digital because it was safe and all they knew how to do. I see very good points presented, but truth is people who make the decisions on picking and choosing who will shoot what and what they want or need to be photographed are becoming younger and younger. The trend I believe, like much of life, is moving faster and faster and finding the path of least resistance is definitely the way of the younger audience. For most young people grabbing a mobile device and quite possibly finding the next Helmut Newton or Richard Avedon at the tip of their fingers via mobile device is the future. Most young people don't or will not make the time to sit and browse through an entire website. Most will probably find the process as fun as trying to read War & Peace. I personally wouldn't just up an abandon my website, but to stay relevant and with the times would it really hurt? Hell, I'm pretty sure if you could break down the stats of most photography website viewers we would find that most site views are by other photographers rather than actual potential clients. Stepping out of the box or the safety net of what we know could just be the next big thing, but this is just my two cents :-)

Andrew Griswold's picture

I've gained plenty of clients through only Instagram, the majority really. When I had 2,000 followers, 20,000 and now 60,000. It doesn't matter how they find me but when they do it's important that your work captures their attention enough and drive them to reach out to work together. Having companies like Apple find me and send me an email to my, as stated above, ameture email address found in my Instagram bio it's incredible. These places will always choose content and people over how shiny their website is or how high end their camera looks. Quality will always prevail.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Thank you. This comment means more than you know.

Brad Barton's picture

No, I think you missed the title of the article... That you don't need a website and the article below goes on to say Instagram is all the author needs - and thinks you should, also.

I'm not saying you don't need Instagram or any other new technology. I'm saying that you also need a website to maximize your presence... To reach potential clients that either aren't on Instagram (substitute your favorite platform) or won't take some who only has that seriously.

This isn't a digital vs film argument. It's "an online presence takes effort to maximize your return" argument.

The author says he doesn't feel like time spent on a website has an ROI for him. I don't know how he could possibly know that since he doesn't have one and hasn't done an analysis of traffic.

I can tell you that I have and the majority of my traffic comes from google first, Facebook second, and Twitter third - with everything else (including "no referrer" running far behind.

J. W.'s picture

In typical fstoppers fashion, there is a link to another fstoppers (contradictory) article on the bottom of this one "Why It's Important To Have a Good Website". https://fstoppers.com/originals/why-its-important-have-good-website-102466

Andrew Griswold's picture

An incredible article. I'm not saying a website is worthless I'm just stating my siccess is not using one at all essentially for my business and using Instagram and a powerful alternative. The best thing about Fstoppers are the varying views of each writer. We all have our own experiences and find value and experience in so many genres. It's incredible!

Tomas Ramoska's picture

Andrew Griswold you need to add this article into #BS category.. I just look into your 500px profile this is one of your images by the way nice masking work around the edges my two year old daughter can do better work. #NiceToLearnFromIndustryLeaders.. Happy New Year..

Andrew Griswold's picture

Hey Tomas, eat shit.

Tomas Ramoska's picture

Actually I just did it by reading this article.. but thank you anyway :)

Norbert Tukora's picture

Well, Andrew handled that VERY professionally.... XD XD

Andrew Griswold's picture

Just a little fun. Not all the comments can be filled with thrilling rebuttals about something that works for me personally and could possibly work for someone else in the profession. Too many people are close minded to think something different can work like using Instagram as a portfolio page in this day and age but thats fine. Its not for everyone.

Grant Watkins's picture

Exactly what you would exact from a professional, that suggests abandoning a marketing tool.

Drew Pluta's picture

This is great advice if you and your work are exceedingly common and your client base is millennials. I find it increasingly more difficult as time goes on to make my work fit well into a 2 inch square with any success. If you shoot weddings and head shots go for it.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Or if you shoot campaign work, charitable prospects, personal projects, product or landscape photography or many various avenues or genres. It all depends on how willing you are to accept the fact this is simply a different avenue to display your work to a wide range of audiences. You can do so much more than promote to millennials and even then where do you think this world is going and when those kids grow up what do you think they will do later in their life? Call you up to hire you as a photographer when they are working for Apple, GE, or Mashable? All clients I have gained from people working at a lower end of those companies knowing my name and finding my work via the app and my page. It works for me, its not for everyone though. Dont discredit my opinion for lost information. Its just my opinion on a way to promote your work and use a platform that is still on fire.

tim hammond's picture

If you're OK with someone else deciding which content and concepts are acceptable for you to include within your creative vision, that's just very, very sad. Foregoing a web site that you control in favor of social media to serve and control your content is de facto endorsement of censorship.

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