Five Essential Tips for Building a Professional Photography Website

Five Essential Tips for Building a Professional Photography Website

A photographer's online portfolio is paramount in this day and age, but you already know that. However, we are at a juncture in which the caliber of a photographer's website can be the difference between being hired and being overlooked. Here are five essential tips for ensuring your website gives you the best possible chance of being hired.

The photography online portfolio platform market has become saturated of late and it appears they are all vying for our collective attention. Companies and sites previously unrelated to online portfolios suddenly have subsidiaries which claim to be the greatest and easiest tool at a photographer's disposal. I have used many different providers in the last five years alone, and I can say with certainty that many are nowhere near up to scratch. In fact, up until very recently, only one provider that I had found met all of my needs, that was until Format. As a full-time commercial photographer I'm acutely aware that agencies' and brands' first impressions are crucial and can only be made once, and it's made in a tiny sliver of time. If you get past that particular gatekeeper, then there are myriad considerations. I will start with my chief requirement that makes up a large percentage of the coveted positive first impression.

For reference, my Format portfolio from which the screen-grabs are taken can be seen by clicking here for a better sense of how the site runs.

1. Image Quality

Image quality displayed on my site ranks above all else. If the quality of my images is lowered to speed the site up and I can notice it, you're out of the running. As a commercial photographer, the high quality of my images — from first impression through to scrutiny — has to be unrivaled. The first two providers for my portfolio scaled down the resolution and it was the sole reason I axed them. My images often gets used for marketing campaigns, print, even billboards and large-scale adverts. If there's a softness or any form of unwanted artefact lurking somewhere, it will be noticed. I go to tremendous trouble to make sure my images are pristine, 300 DPI, carefully retouched, and color-graded. So, if my portfolio downgrades that effort enough for me to notice, I don't care if it's the most intuitive and easy to use tool invented since the hammer, it's a "no" from me.

As you can see from the screen grab below, Format is borderline unparalleled with image quality. You can click the live site to see that this is exactly how it appears for everyone. It's easily, at the very least, equal to the highest image quality I've seen on portfolio platforms.

2. Speed

I won't soften this: I'm one of the most entitled internet users around. If a new website I'm visiting doesn't fully load in five seconds or less, I'm closing the tab. If I absolutely have to wait it out, you better believe I'm grumbling like an incoherent drunk when the bell rings for last orders. However, I believe that many agencies and brands are going to be the same. Their time is precious and valuable to them, so if they are kind enough and interested enough to click on your portfolio to gauge the standard of your work, keeping them waiting is a quick way to kill their curiosity. Make sure the homepage loads almost instantly and navigating through galleries or clicking to see the next image takes a second or two. I don't doubt that a great number of people are more patient than I, but if I were you, I'd err on the side that they're not.

Given my fierce demands over quality, it would be fair to say I'm asking quite a lot and you'd be right. However, that's one of the perks of a saturated market: you can demand the Earth and expect nothing less. Format delivers with consummate ease in every test I run. The images are essentially full screen and high resolution, yet there isn't a noticeable delay between the transition of images on the homepage or when navigating around the site.

3. Layout Diversity and Customizability

Some see lots of different "themes" and layouts, the customizability of them, and general creative freedom when building your website as somewhat of a luxury; it isn't. There are a great many considerations worth your time as you meander through your options. For my particular niche of commercial photography, I want big and bold images right in the viewer's face upon clicking my site. For other photographers, subtlety is the key. I like the theme to be dark, minimalist, and with my photography center stage, one image at a time. However, for some photographers, a light and photo-rich theme structure fulfills more of their needs.

Ask yourself what it is you're trying to achieve with your website? If it's showing off the sheer body of work you have and your achievements, you'll need a theme that won't make all that look messy. If you specialize in architectural photography, then perhaps you'd be better suited with simple, clean themes that complement your work. Whatever route you want to take, a wide selection of themes is essential. Then — and perhaps this is a luxury — I like to be about to customize my site to make it look less like a cut-and-paste template I've populated with my photography. Format's platform, as pictured in this article, doesn't offer the range of options you might see if you built something from scratch, but it does offer a plethora of options and even access to your site's code, should you wish to get your hands dirty. You have a whole host of themes that are optimized for both desktop and mobile browsing, control over all of the typography with a variety of fonts, as well as the usual logos, favicons, and domain names

4. Client Areas

I know a lot of photographers who don't bother with client areas, and it mystifies me. Not only does it look more professional, but it's much easier for the client and the photographer, both now, and in the future. What I mean by a client area is simply a private section of your website where images can be stored and downloaded, with the gallery being password-protected if necessary. With this functionality, clients can proof images pre-edit, view the final images, and download at their leisure. It doesn't seem that important that they can download the images at their leisure, but brands and agencies both large and small will lose the files and need them re-sent. This alleviates the admin of having to dig out their files every time or find the Dropbox link. Format's client area labeled "proofing" is quick and intuitive to set up, and my first attempt took all of 60 seconds and there was no confusion.

5. Blog Integration

I'm not going to lecture you about the importance of having a blog or the SEO benefits of writing regularly. This is for two reasons: firstly, if this is news to you, it must be your first time reading any photography website (welcome, enjoy your stay.) Secondly, it'd be a little hypocritical as I write for lots of places, but I don't have my own blog anymore. Were I not an editor at Fstoppers, however, I would still be writing for my own blog regularly as blog integration is imperative to your website. There are a whole host of reasons for this, but I'll list a few of the more important ones for you. Firstly, it's much easier having your website and your blog all in one place — simple as that. Secondly, any backlinks to your blog are connected to your portfolio. Thirdly, and much in the same vein, someone looking at your portfolio will see you're writing a blog and may go and read it.

Format's blog integration is seamless and clear. One added piece of functionality I hadn't seen elsewhere is the option to password the blog. This could be used in a number of interesting ways, where clients could perhaps proof a blog post about them, article pitches for other publications or websites can be offered in a concise and well-formatted (I've avoided puns long enough) presentation method, or even a sort of private diary of what happened on shoots. It wasn't something I had ever really considered when looking at portfolio platforms, but I will certainly make use of it.

In Closing

You may have noticed, this is a sponsored post. I trust that you wouldn't think me as devious as to load the bases of the most important tips so that they accentuate Format's platform, but if I were you, I'd be suspicious that Format is indeed one of the best platforms. Well, allow me to attempt to allay those fears: I wasn't forced to write this post. In fact, I didn't even agree to write it until I had built my own commercial portfolio on Format so I had a better understand of how it works. If it had fallen short in any of the above areas, I would have declined to write about it. The fact of the matter is, it is one of the best platforms I've used.

 I'll openly and honestly answer any questions about it you might have, but I'll anticipate one: if it's so good, why is your primary portfolio not hosted by Format? The fully transparent answer is "administrative apathy". I have over one hundred passworded client sections behind my portfolio where magazines, brands, and people can access and download their images. The amount of work it would take for me to port everything over is insurmountable at present, or I would seriously consider it. In fact, I am going to continue using Format for my specialized portfolio.

You don't need to take my word for it. There's a 14 day free trial and it takes mere minutes to setup an attractive and functioning portfolio so you can get a better sense of how a Format site would look with your work. 

Rob Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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The issue/annoyance I see with this (still checking it out to see how it stacks up vs Krop, and Squarespace) Is how you are limited in the amount of images before you have to bump up to their top tier. Pretty much negates client proofing and causes a sunset on blog's unless you know you are going to go w/ their $300 tier, which is the 2x the cost of their main competitors.

EDIT: I skipped over parts on the pricing chart. Rep below is correct and my info is wrong.

Good points! I wanted to address a couple concerns and answer any further questions you might have.

The limit for proofing galleries is separate from images uploaded to website pages. Also, the limits don't apply to blog pages. You can feel free to blog as much as you like. I understand the concern wrt pricing, but if you look into alternative options for proofing, you'll notice pricing for only proofing is over $20 for 5,000 photos.

Here's a comparison chart if you'd like to see how Format stacks up:

Hey so I cant read apparently, sorry about that.

No problem! Happy to answer any further questions! :)

"300 DPI" hahaha! Meaningless dude!

It's not at all meaningless, but the fact that the author thinks 300dpi is necessary for web images indicates that he does not understand the meaning.

It's just a SPONSORED post anyway... most of the content doesn't REALLY matter :P

It really IS meaningless, Kirk Darling, unless you’re making a print. You can tag a photo with any DPI Value and it will have no effect on the way it is displayed. All the matters is the pixel dimensions.

"Unless you're making a print." People who are making prints need to know what it means. That means it's not meaningless.

Kirk, it’s PPI, not DPI, and without dimensions the resolution is just an arbitrary number. And it’s also unnecessary with anything but printing.

Yeah, that caught my eye too. It's hard to take any of the authors advice seriously after that one.

I was merely highlighting all the markers I have to hit for clients and I don't want that all that effort undone by downgrading the IQ.

DPI is just the wrong terminology here. A 2000x2000 pixel 300 DPI images is exactly the same as a 2000x2000 pixel 72 DPI image.

Exactly Color Thief. And it’s PPI, not DPI.

Well that was junk.

Why do the first two plans have limit on the number of images? If I'm building a portfolio website, I would obviously need the flexibility to upload any number of images I want. Pixpa, Squarespace and even Smugmug give unlimited photos and videos on all their plans. Format should really reconsider this.