What's the Best Portfolio Website Builder for Photographers?

What's the Best Portfolio Website Builder for Photographers?

If you want to showcase your work on more than just social media and perhaps even start selling your images, you need to have a portfolio website. So what's the best option to get something professional, cost effective and functional up quickly?

Until December last year, I was using SmugMug. There were some things I liked, such as the ability to monetize your site immediately without any extra plugins, as well as its focus on helping you easily create visually appealing websites with a few button clicks. However, SmugMug's recent price hike and some other limitations have led me to the conclusion that I must look elsewhere. However, with two young daughters and a full-time job, I want something that's user-friendly, intuitive, customizable, and won't cost a pretty penny. A lot of my friends and fellow photographers have suggested Squarespace and Format, but I did a little more digging and found a great comparison site for artists looking to create a portfolio website that caters to all their needs.

Over on Website Builder Expert, they've put together a comprehensive list of the nine best portfolio website builders. I must admit I was quite shocked at the results but the great thing is the page goes into real depth in its explanations of each site and the criteria it used to compile its list. So what came out on top? Surprisingly, they rate Wix at number 1, saying it's "best for… those in need of an easy-to-use builder with bundles of creative control."

Head on over and take a look at the top nine and let me know your thoughts. I still haven't decided on a site yet so if you have any experience with any of the nine on the list and you can recommend them (or not), please do let me know. As always, real world experience from Fstoppers readers is incredibly helpful to the community so please speak up.

Lead Image by CyberRabbit via Pixabay

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I just few weeks ago moved my site to Pixpa from Squarespace as it fits my needs better. It might not be as refined as Squarespace in all areas and might require more "manual" fine tuning. With help of their customer service I have been able to polish away all the small issues I had.

what do you like about Pixpa more than SS? And what made you change?

It was my need for better integrated Client Galleries / Proofing Galleries that triggered the change. My needs for this are two fold. I need to deliver smaller amount of photos in private galleries (final delivery or proofing) but also a lot I need to deliver larger amount of photos in public galleries (mainly some of my sport event photography).

I guess I would have been able to survive with Squarespace + DIY solution I had but I did not feel it was well integrated nor super professional. Now I have all of above fully integrated with my portfolio site. I have better control on private/public, password/download pin, proper logging of access and dowloads, etc.

And I think for me this comes bit lower price than what I had in Squarespace.
This was not a reason to transfer as saving tiny bit per month is good but it was also quite some work to build a new site and transfer all the content and fine tune it.

On that fine tuning and editing of the site. I think the Squarespace "WYSIWYG editor" gives better result/results I could be happy with where as with PIXPA I left more things to be addressed manually. I think in both you can manually finetune your site a lot, edit the actual HTML code, do CSS overrides etc. I think the blog editor in SS was similarly bit more refined. So, if blog / written content is high on your priorities and you want it done in a spesific way and easily/fast the SS may be better option.

One thing I have to say where based on my experience Pixpa beats SS: technical abilities of their customer service. Based on handful of contacts with SS customer service it feels like they are traditional non-technical customer service people, how triage you problem asking (the obvious) questions, point to FAQ and help pages and finally after several rounds they create a ticket to technical team. With Pixpa I have noticed that guys in customer service can actually do stuff you in few minutes. They can do some modifications to your site code, they can do HTML overrides for you, all kinds of stuff. You can easily report you problems/bugs/feature request in the chat, they check it and come back to you shortly. Either issue fixed or if it is a bug/feature request they take it back to technical team. In SS I did not need to have some much modifications / custom stuff in my site with Pixpa I did need but it all was done very quickly.

I used SS for ~3 years and I was not a superheavy user, I had my little site there with no stores or anything like that. Above comments are based on my experiences on my needs. Someone/many might feel about SS and Pixpa differently.

Furthermore I need to add that Pixpa does not have integrated analytics, annoucement bar, EU cookie consent note/banner, etc.

So, with Squarespace all of that comes with few clicks where as with Pixpa you need to spend some minutes to get those integrated from external sources. If you know what you are doing and what you want then it is just few minutes of work and copy pasting some lines to <head></head> in the settings.

Pixpa does in their help provide assistance and recommendations so for most parts this is just copy-paste work.

It’s hard isn’t it? On the one hand, you make some compelling points for Pixpa, then on the other hand you honestly point out some things that are critically important to me, like writing! Thanks for your insights

SS means ShutterStock not SquareSpace.

I’m pretty sure in the context of this discussion it’s pretty clear what SS is referring to...

I live in Belgium, next to germany, pretty sure SS was already taken before Shutterstock existed. :p


I’m glad you said it coz it’s the first thing that came to my mind!!

Although not really on the same playing field as the hosting sites reviewed, it's worth mentioning http://theturninggate.net as an option. It takes a bit of building, so not for everyone, but it's extremely customisable, and convenient once set up. I've been using their products for about 10 years, am a great fan.

Thanks. Never heard of it but will definitely take a look in the coming days. Does it have ecommerce functionalities for people who want to sell?

I went to Squarespace a handful of years back, they keep you on legacy pricing in spite of price increases for new subscribers. I had no idea it has gone up so much as I'm still paying $96 a year.

The package I'm looking at on SS is a little bit more than that. Are you still happy with what you get from SS?

I am overall, just about to renew my service with them again for what might be my 5th year now. The platform is easy to use and reliable, and produces good looking results. You can tweak things to look less like every other SS site although at the end of the day you can often tell anyway with what a lot of people do. It's possible to use some custom CSS to tweak things further if you want, and I've done a little bit of that. I don't necessarily regard the fact that a SS site often looks like a SS site as a big knock against it, I think that's true of any of these template based site builders and overall my experience with it and the ability to try other templates without starting from scratch is nice.

Did have some problems getting 7 or 8 years of wordpress.org content to import the way I wanted with the blog functionality but ultimately I got it working and was able to keep the content I wanted.

Yes a lot of what I’m looking for revolves around the writing aspect so it won’t just be a predominantly visual site for me. You find the writing editor/WYSIWYG sufficient for your blogging/writing needs? Thanks for your insights

I'm not sure it's as robust as what you could do with wordpress but I've been satisfied with it for what blogging I still do. I don't blog nearly as much as I used to once upon a time, but you can embed galleries and images in your articles in a number of ways, and do a fair bit to tailor the flow of text around images based on what you prefer.

I think partly I just got used to my heavily customized wordpress.org install and find SS a bit limiting but I can't speak to specific differences with much authority anymore. On its own SS is a perfectly functional blogging platform and I really appreciate not having to deal with the maintenance, just content when the inspiration strikes.

I'm desperate need of updating my galleries and doing some blogging but at least if I neglect it I don't have to worry about security issues from the platform going out of date :)

If you haven't, I'd suggest doing the free trial/demo on SS because you can fiddle to your heart's content with themes and layouts and test content to see if anything looks promising to you.

Thanks again. re. your last paragraph that's exactly what I plan on doing. I currently have a rather extensively labyrinthine Worpress site but I just find it becoming so cumbersome and tiresome dealing with plugin after plugin and update after update and plugins no longer being serviceable etc. The deeper you go it seems the worse it gets (despite you thinking it's getting better and more more customisable)

With 2 young daughters and home repairs and surfing, photography and rugby league taking up my time, I really want to strip back the complications of running a website. SS could be the go

For me whatever I lost has been made up for by not having to spend that energy keeping it going. Doing it the manual/hard way was fun for the 7 or 8 years I did it but I've got better ways to spend that time now :)

Wife, mortgage, 2 young daughters, F-T job...I’m hearing ya!!

My question? Who owns that site the gave those top 10? It does not smell right?

Just a link to a site with a list of affiliate links. Commissions might be high for some of those links - BUT A TOP 10 LIST? Maybe if you are talking to a bunch of people that do not have a clue.

Not sure. I certainly have nothing to do with them. I'm going to write a follow up article to this but in short, I did a number of searches in Google using various search terms and wasn't happy with a lot of the results I was getting. Then I looked at 'best portfolio websites for photographers' and this was near the top. It had a lot of info that I thought would be a great conversation starter here, which has turned out to be the case.

A portfolio site that has the ability to sync with Lightroom is pretty important to me and saves a lot of extra work. I didn't see any mention of this functionality mentioned in the reviews.

http://www.photoshelter.com Store your images, create your photo website, deliver your work, sell or license your photos.And the websites are extremely quick and easy to update your photos. Highly recommend them.

Blogging/writing capabilities?

Wix is the overall winner? Reading their description in the story, they cap you at 20GB on their premium pricing plan. As a high school sport shooter, I'd have 20GB before the season of any sport is over as I shoot the men's and women's teams of most major sports. That's one of the deciding factors when I set things up on SmugMug years ago. If I were an art photo shooter, then that may be better as I'd rotate images out more frequently.

I can only speak for myself but I made the mistake of uploading full size files to my portfolio site when I first started and got complaints from clients and browsers about load times and penalized by Google. Thus, I now only upload shots at about 500kb max to my site so 20gb isn't really an issue for me. It's not ideal though, granted.

I've been using Format for a while now. It works for me and is fairly simple to set up.

anything you do/don't particularly like with Format, David?

It may be a little on the drab side compared to some of the sites I've visited. I don't know that being a little less 'fancy' is a bad thing, though. For my purpose, it works well. It's easy to post the images and has an easy interface for selling prints which is the main purpose of the site for me.

yes a lot of the bells and whistles that are included with many packages end up being things we seldom make use of anyway.....

Well, I recently went from Wix to Squarespace, and couldn't be happier. My site is now showing up better in web searches, thankfully. I had an SEO consultant visit with me and said that Wix isn't good in that department and said I would be better off moving away from it. His suggestion worked.

Jim- how did you find the layout tools with Wix compared to SQ Space? There is whole new skill to learn to build out a custom page in SQ Space.

So you think Wix is much more intuitive to use than SS for a relative website building novice?

Yes and no. Even though SS is pretty robust, novices shouldn't have too much trouble. Take the time to watch their tutorials and you'll be fine.

Not really too hard to figure out. Did some quick tutorial and had it up and running in no time. Now that I've been using it for a while, I like SS better for the layout.

The linked article seems to consider only web-site builders and not portfolio-specific sites like portfoliobox.net. It is no wonder Iain was surprised by the recommendations; the article had very little to do with photo portfolios.

I'm not so sure about that.....the title is "The 9 Best Portfolio Website Builders Ranked and Reviewed" and the first paragraph says "This article will give you a detailed breakdown of the nine best portfolio website builders on the market and tips on how to choose the best one for you." That looks pretty specific to me in regards to portfolio sites.

Wix is a very intuitive platform and has some beautiful templates to work with. It is very flexible and has many different ways you can design your site. It is very much made for photographers that want beautiful portfolios to show clients.

I used Wix for a short period of time and decided instead to go back to a simple static site and Wordpress blog.

The reasons I switched were: very small storage, no native email and the inability to create sub-folders (www.mysite.om/blog).

The price for such a small storage space did not make sense, especially for photographers and videgraphers. If we pay such premium we should get 10 times more storage space.

The need to pay extra for Google email also makes no sense. Why not provide the ability to have email with my domain? Every web hosting provide it (and most give unlimited emails accounts).

And, every account can only have one domain name. Fine (not really but anyway), then why not let us create sub-folder for our blog?

All in all, I found Wix and Squarespace lacking value.

great insights on your experience with using Wix. Your last sentence said you found SS also lacked value...what was it about SS that you were dissatisfied with?

Thank you.

To be clear, my personal experience is with Wix only. A colleague of mine registered to Squarespace prior to me registering to Wix and I compared our experience. He too moved back to a static site saying that not being able to have more than one domain (or subfolders) was also an issue for him. If I am not wrong, at that time Squarespace also had storage limitation.

I found SS to be too simple and I did not like most of their templates. Wix is by far a winner there. Wix has many more ways of designing a site with free and premium plugins.

However, the flexibility of a simple web hosting (and the price) makes it hard to justify the likes of Wix. With my web hosting I can have as many domains as i want, native emails and huge storage space. Mind you, when building a static site or even a Wordpress site, a good knowledge of HTML and CSS is almost a must.

Storage space was a big issue. I use Pixiset for client galleries and online selling and was hoping to move everything to Wix but their storage space was not big enough.

Dealing with all the plugins is primarily why I want to move away from Wordpress. And the lack of blogging/writing functionalities is why I had to move away from Smugmug. It seems hard to get an all-in-one deal that satisfies all the basic needs of a photographer who wants to do a wee bit more than just display/sell prints....

For me Wix was short on value but to be honest they are a great platform for photographers. There is no need for the plugins, they just ad some functionalities if you need them but everything works great without them.

They need to give native email (without extra charge), large storage (or unlimited like SS) and the ability to host more than one domain without charging extra. Would help if thy were more affordable too :-)

a long while ago I bought a Bludomain theme, they have beautiful themes but their service is absolutely garbage. Also, at the time, I found out their themes were badly coded and the site crapped on me after about a year.

It's true, it is hard to find the perfect platform. That's why I went back to the standard web hosting and static web site.

If you find anything better, please share.

For a while there were this really nice CMS, koken. I still use it, but there is no more development on it and the tech start to be old witch is really bad because the templates and the back office were pretty neat ! Also with nice plug-in like the one frt lightroom sync.
I'm still trying to find it's replacement but I've never seen anyone that was as well designed :(
Here's how it looks : www.samten.fr
(BTW, if someone have a good CMS to recommand ... queue me ;) )

I started with SmugMug and ended up frustrated with customizing the design. Wix was way more user-friendly in this area. I don't have many advanced needs, just a simple portfolio site. I will say that wix will give you a good amount of the basics for the price and try to sell you everything else a la carte with their app system. I have 2 sites with them, they meet my needs for now but I'm keeping my eyes open other options.

what other options are you looking for that you don't feel are met with Wix currently?

I never liked square space but for a portfolio site wix does the trick for me.

What was it that you didn’t like about SS?

I didn't like their payment plans. Even just paying was confusing. Managing your account was confusing. When it came time that i wanted to cancel there was no easy way that i could find to do it. I had to dig through a lot of menus and eventually had to google how to cancel. You don't want people having to google how to use your service. That is nooo bueno. I also didn't like the site builder over all. It wasn't as user friendly as i thought it should be, it too was confusing, and their modules wouldn't do what I wanted them to. Wix is is kind of a pain to work with too but it's easier to work with than square space. That experience was a looooong time ago though so it's entirely possible they have stream lined things and made the platform better. I might give it another look.

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