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 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 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.
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.
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.