Critical Properties of a Pro Photographer's Website

Critical Properties of a Pro Photographer's Website

So, you want to chase a career in professional photography and have managed to build yourself a respectable portfolio that you can begin to use to market your talent. The next step in building your credibility as a professional in the space comes in the form of crafting a web presence that reflects the brand of a seasoned pro. You need customers to see you as someone that really knows what they are doing and is serious about every aspect of your brand. A big part of this aspect of your brand is your own personal website. Social media is fantastic for expanding your influence but it lacks the intimacy to fully represent you. You need a website and that website had better make you look good!

The Domain

The very first step to creating your website is in purchasing a domain. The choice of domain is not only crucial but also something that can be very difficult to change your mind on later without negatively impacting your website and search ranking. Over the last few years, a huge number of new domains have become available with fancy ending such as .photo or .art which have created the opportunity for a vast array of new domains that truly represent what you do. Unfortunately .com still is king if your goal is to look as "legit" as possible. The downside of .com is that the majority of simple ones have already been taken. The most important criteria when choosing a domain is how easy it is to both remember and spell. Nothing else matters if your viewer can't find you because they can't remember your website address. For this many photographers simply use their names as their domains as it is both memorable and often pretty easy to spell. Regrettably, however, if you have a name that is so common that has already been taken or if your name is complex and difficult to spell you will have to get a bit creative.  

The Homepage

The homepage is by far the most important aspect of your website, if it doesn't work to capture the attention of a viewer, nothing else matters. Your homepage needs to be simple and concise. First and foremost it should always showcase the absolute best representation of your work as large as possible to grab the viewer right out of the gate. It should also offer any pertinent information that is relevant to confirm to the user that they are in the right place and also for Google to use to index your web page. This includes but is not limited to the type of photography you do and where you are located. Regardless of what information you choose for the homepage, though, it should certainly be secondary to the work itself.

The Mobile Experience

Over half of your visitors are likely to visit your website via a mobile device such as a tablet or mobile phone. Your website needs to positively reflect you on all platforms. Even though Steve Jobs initially thought it was perfectly reasonable to expect a user to pinch-zoom a scaled version of a desktop website back when the iPhone first launched in 2007 he quickly realized how wrong he was. Your website needs to offer an incredible experience no matter what sort of device is used to view it. 

Critical Questions That Need Answers

In addition to showcasing your work, there are several key questions that every pro photographer's website must answer in order to provide a fully useful experience for a potential client. I have compiled these questions below:

What kind of photography are you selling? This one should be obvious and the easiest to solve, though can be frighteningly difficult for a lot of photographers. It can be tempting to place a huge variety of work onto your website and proudly proclaim that you are a master of all. The only problem is that there are no masters of all and the client knows it. Narrow down your focus and make it painfully obvious what sort of photography client you are looking to work with.

How does the customer get in touch? A contact page should be obvious, moreover, making the contact process as easy as possible is just as important. If you think that you are being clever hiding behind a contact form to avoid the odd spam email, you are doing viewers a disservice. Don't make getting in touch with you difficult. Provide the information so that customers can easily get in touch using the mechanism of their choice.

Where do you live? I am often surprised how frequently I will visit a photographer's (or model's) website and be completely unable to figure out where on the planet they are from. I get it, you want to make it seem like you are an international rock star that travels the world for all of your shoots. The only problem is that even most of those international rock stars you look up to still do quite a bit of work at home. Most customers can't afford to hire a long distance photographer so it becomes mandatory that they are able to hunt for photographers in their area. Furthermore, Google tends to prioritize local results when users search for a service such as photography, if Google knows what city you are in, they may give you a hand by sending you more traffic that is actually relevant and possibly a real client. 

The Gallery

You had better get your gallery right as it can either help showcase your work in the best possible light or frustrate a user making them forget about your photography. A gallery should be trivially easy to use so stay away from any complex hierarchal navigation. A gallery should also showcase your work heroically so you may want to rethink index pages of tiny thumbnails. Finally, a gallery is only as strong as its weakest photo, don't pepper the viewer with every image you have ever taken. Instead only reveal a small selection of your absolute best work. 

It Better Be Fast

Viewers aren't patient, if a user has already viewed dozens of photography websites and each one is annoyingly slow, imagine the instant change in mood you will evoke when yours pops into life without delay. Optimize your website to be as fast as possible, never make the viewer wait if you don't have to. This means making sure your website isn't the typical Wordpress mess of plugins and redundant code that skyrockets the load time. It also means actually taking the time to optimize each image for the fastest load time possible without sacrificing quality. Also, don't use .pngs for your photos, they will make your website much slower as they never can shrink as small as a well compressed .jpg.

Conclusion

More often than not your website is responsible for the first impression that your brand has with a prospective client, it should serve you well and create a great one. Don't make the viewer question your credibility because you have a crappy website. Instead, impress them with your attention to detail as it will imply that you bring said attention to detail into every shoot you plan. Most importantly, though, make sure your website prioritizes showcasing the quality of your photography above all else.

Log in or register to post comments

9 Comments

Janaka Rodrigue's picture

Some great points to help out new (and established) photographers here. One thing that seemed a bit unintuitive about your website was in the gallery, I have to scroll down/up on my trackpad to navigate left and right through your folio....very odd.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Thats pretty standard, sideways scrolling is an ok experience on an mac track pad but a horrible experience with a mouse or on any laptop that doesn't have a high end trackpad (most laptops). Most high end horizontal galleries treat horizontal scrolling just like any other scrollable content. For example on the Mac if you go into the cover flow view, vertical scrolling works to cycle through them.

Dan Howell's picture

Couple things.
-there is a secondary market for domain names including .coms that have been previously registered. There is a cost to buying a domain from someone who previously registered it, but if you have an idea of what you want, it is at least worth inquiring about purchasing a domain name, especially a .com. I actually had someone with my same name buy my original name.com from me which was both a hassle and a payday. I inherited a group of .com domains from a fellow photographer who was set up as a registrar a decade ago and still have a couple photography related domains for sale.
-I use PhotoFolio.io as my website system which addresses the issues you bring up. It is a little more expensive than other design/hosting solutions, but it was developed specifically for professional photographers by a magazine photo editor. It is at least worth checking out if you are looking to start or redesign a photography website. Mine are:
www.danhowellphotography.com
www.bridalfashionphotography.com
www.kidsfashionphotography.com

Lance Bachelder's picture

Ryan check your site! Major typo "Ryan is a portrait photography..."?

Dallas Dahms's picture

Great article, Ryan!

Richard Graham's picture

some good points here! thanks.

I personally think that the list is a bit surface level. The gallery section might be the only thing unique to an actual photographers website.

You do touch on what kind of photography are you selling, but I've had to think far far deeper than this for my photography business. When thinking so deep, you might even realize that you're not even selling photography as a photographer. Oh snap.

I also think it's important to use words as much as your images. Maybe that's just me. I guess many photographers like to stay super elusive and only use a few photos + gallery + contact page to gain all kinds of work. Maybe it depends on your audience I guess.

A strong website, in my opinion, depends on more than this list. To launch your site, this list would do because of every website, regardless of being a photographer or not, needs these properties to be a website now.

Hey Ryan, good points but I have a question for you. In our part of the world there seem to be very few options for website development. We can spend $3500-$4500 getting a custom designed site from a pro shop but we are paying for the ability to market ourselves world wide. It is flattering to have someone in Miami complement me on a photo on my website but the reality is they are not going to hire me to come all the way to Miami. On the other hand a less expensive site that is really only directed at your immediate geographic area, in my case lower Vancouver Island, are clunky, slow, hard to navigate and frustrating to view. Is their a third option where a pro site builder can custom design a website that is focused only on your preferred area to work? The ones I have seen all appear to be put together from a "build your own website for free" website.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Well, most of the subscription tools are actually pretty good these days (Squarespace, for example), they certainly aren't custom but for a reasonable monthly fee, you get a pretty decent website so long as you don't screw with their templates too much. Avoid free like the plague. You get what you pay for.

That really the only alternative to hiring a good web designer which is usually going to definitely be in the price range you listed above if they are any good.