Tips for an effective (portfolio) photography website

Zoe_WhishawZoe Whishaw is an independent commercial photography consultant and mentor. She works with photographers on a one-to-one basis and runs seminars and workshops in and around London.

Your website is your greatest marketing tool. It should be a reflection of your brand and your professionalism and should be a way for others to easily reach and interact with you.

As you will undoubtedly have experienced yourself, when you visit a website that is slow, visually or functionally over complicated or perhaps feels dated, your instinct is likely to be to move on and look for something else. Your website will frequently be the first occasion that a prospective client interacts with you and first impressions are crucially important, just as they are in face-to-face meetings. The last thing you want to do is be remembered for an irritating, slow, stagnant website.

The uncomfortable truth these days is that your imagery alone may not get you the jobs you want or deserve. The edit, design and navigation functionality of your website is vital when it comes to attracting and keeping the attention of a prospective client for long enough for them to be impressed by your offer.

From my years critiquing and helping photographers update and create effective websites, here are some essential considerations:

First things first: Establish what type of photographer you are – is it fine art, corporate, commercial, editorial, social, etc? Equally important is understanding your intended client base. If you struggle with this, think about the intersection of what you like to shoot, what you’re good at shooting and where the commercial opportunities lie for someone with your skills, interests and expertise.

These considerations are essential before you embark on marketing in any way as they will have implications on the messaging, design and gallery categories you will chose to emphasise and clarify your offer. You need to be able to ‘speak’ to your clients in a way they relate to, connect with and would expect.

So in essence, your website needs to be clear, fast and instantly give the right message as to what sort of photographer you are and provide an insight into your overall brand. Confusing a prospective client is tantamount to closing the door on an opportunity.

Images:

  1. Let’s talk about image size – it really does matter! Your website is an opportunity to celebrate your work. I come across too many sites where images are shown far too small, almost apologetically. Display them big – people are more easily drawn in. This applies to the individual image as well as thumbnails.
  2. Make sure individual images load quickly and transitions between images within a gallery are instant. Remember, art buyers/editors, reps, etc have very little time on their hands and will need to make decisions within very short time frames; their tolerance is very low.
  3. Rotating show reels personally put me off and I would much prefer to decide when to see a different image myself. I find that if I am talking to someone or contemplating an image it is both distracting in my peripheral vision and annoying if that image changes.
  4. Ensure large thumbnails are easy to access so the whole contents of a gallery can be seen at one go. Informed decisions can often be based on images at this scale as it can help to show your consistency over a gallery or project.
  5. While you may shoot different subject matter (such as food, travel, landscape and interiors) so long as these subject areas are your passion (and not just what you’ve been commissioned to shoot) and you have a similar, consistent visual style and identity across everything, it can still makes sense to place these different galleries on your website. If however, you shoot food and medical it may be that you need to make a choice as to which you really want to pursue as it would be difficult to reconcile these two very disparate areas in one website.
  6. Edit your pictures tightly; less is more. It is better to leave people wanting more than they grow tired and bored with what’s in a gallery. 20-30 images per gallery is about right with perhaps 2 to 3 themed galleries. More smaller series will also work if you shoot documentary stories.
  7. If you are a commercial photographer it is particularly important to name your galleries/categories so it is clear what they contain. For example ‘Food’, ‘Lifestyle’ and ‘Portraits’. For documentary work or fine art photography you can afford to be more inventive with the naming of your projects. Be sure that it is clear which gallery you are in at all times.
  8. While the page layout doesn’t need to look the same each time, be consistent with how you display your images. For example it’s fine to show parings of vertical images but don’t have the odd vertical image on its own or it may look as though the layout is somewhat random.
  9. Try not to repeat images in different sections. It makes it seem as though you are padding out the content.
  10. Get an objective professional eye to review the work you propose to have on your site.

Navigation:

  1. Make sure navigation between different image galleries is clear. While you might prefer to have a more minimal design, its crucial that finding your way around the site is unambiguous.
  2. Have as few clicks as possible from the home page (ideally no more than 3) to get to the finest level of detail.
  3. Make sure it’s clear which section/gallery you are in at all times.

General:

  1. Make sure you are able to regularly update your website yourself – you’ll want to refresh the contents several times a year. Returning visitors will want to see new work otherwise they will assume you’re not busy or experimenting with new ideas.
  2. If you have a blog ensure you update it regularly with inspiring and informative pieces.
  3. Use Google Ad words to elevate your website by using relevant keywords and expressions that are meaningful to the market you are targeting.
  4. Make sure your contact information is easy to find and immediately accessible. In some markets your location can enhance your chances of being hired so assess whether being specific is indeed a bonus in your circumstances.
  5. For your Bio/About section, please don’t give a long explanation about when you were first given a camera – this is a trap that so many photographers fall into. Clients really aren’t interested in this. What matters more is something about how you see the world and what inspires you to shoot. It doesn’t need to be a long essay – in fact a few sentences is perfectly adequate. It can take time to write this and an objective opinion can often help. I prefer it written in the first person rather than the third as it feels more personal and I like to see a photo of photographers themselves. Again, this is not essential, but personal preference.
  6. Don’t have music – personal taste varies and you don’t want someone to wish they’d never opened up your site in a busy office.
  7. Avoid contact forms. Instead make it as easy as possible to contact you: include your mobile phone number, your email address and social media preferences.
  8. Avoid black backgrounds. While this my personal view, experience tells me that it is only in exceptional circumstances that black shows off your pictures to their best.
  9. Check and check again for any typos; you need to show attention to detail in all areas to demonstrate your professionalism.

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