Most photographers don’t particularly enjoy the acquisition side of business. This should not come as a surprise – after all, nobody will pay you for the time spent out and about, looking for clients. As a freelancer, customer acquisition via telephone is particularly time-consuming, and can be rough on the nerves, too.
It would be much nicer if potential customers simply found you and contacted you of their own accord. Luckily, a website will do just that. Once it’s up and running, it takes care of the job of finding new clients for you, leaving you to focus on taking beautiful photographs.
Of course, there are a few things you’ll need to do to set up your own website – but this is actually easier than you might think.
In this guide, we’ll explain:
- How to quickly and easily create a photography website using a website builder like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace
- What features to look for when choosing a site builder
- For professional photographers: how to use your website to do client proofing
- How to get found online and attract new clients to your business
Do I need my own photography website?
If you’re in the photography business, there are some pretty compelling reasons for having your own website:
- Build your personal brand: You can stand out by advertising your specialty. Position yourself as the best in a narrow field – much better than being a dime a dozen.
- Contacting you: Your website acts as your central communications hub for any and all requests and inquiries. You can also link your website to all of your social networking profiles.
- “Buy it now” packages and online bookings: Make it convenient for your customers to directly purchase your services on the website. Create standard packages catered to your customers’ needs. The biggest advantage? No more sleepless nights due to customers not paying.
- Digital workflows: let your clients pick and choose your best photos online, digitizing the client proofing process.
- References: Show off the projects you have worked on for other clients.
Can I create a website even without being tech-savvy?
With a website builder (such as Wix or Squarespace), yes! Over the past few years, some excellent solutions have hit the market. Many have been created with photographers in mind, offering professional and stunning templates that can be easily customized.
Just a handful of the photography templates available on Wix
The great thing is that most services have a free plan. A free plan usually restricts access to some features, but the parts included are more than sufficient to get to know the software.
For the non-technical users out there – don’t worry, you’re spared the technological details. With a website builder, you won’t need FTP access, or to maintain a database, and you won’t need to deal with a web hosting interface written in IT jibberish. You can also forget about security updates. Content Management Systems like WordPress will require you to do those yourself on a regular basis, but website builders take care of that for you, in the background.
Obviously, this simplicity comes with some constraints. You don’t have access to the same range of professional functionalities and tools that full-blown content management systems offer. But really, most of those features are well beyond the scope of what a simple portfolio website requires anyway.
Step by Step Guide: How to make your photography website
- Step 1: Create an account with a website builder (find recommendations below)
- Step 2: Pick a template
- Step 3: Customize your site
- Step 4: Add photo galleries
- Step 5: Add extra features (password protection, bookings app, Instagram feed)
- Step 6: Make your site will get found (find tips here)
- Step 7: Publish your site!
Take a look at our video to see just how easy it is to create a photography website using a website builder:
What features do I need for my photography website?
Typically, photographers look for the following features when creating their website. You may or may not need all of these, but if you’re planning to generate business through your site, they’re definitely worth considering:
- The site can be updated without any programming skills
- Relatively small site (about 5 to 30 pages)
- Attractive design templates (optimized for mobile devices)
- Elegant ways to present your portfolio
- Different photo gallery options
- Plenty of storage space for high-quality image files
- Social media integration (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest,…)
- Contact page
- Appointment scheduling via website
- Option for password-protected client access (for private galleries) and also client proofing
- Domain name and email account included
- Possibility to optimize for search engines (SEO)
- Technical support offered by the provider
- Cost: $8-12 per month, up to $25 with e-commerce
You probably don’t need
- Ability to manage hundreds of individual pages
- A big multilingual website or store
- A paid membership area (although it’s not too difficult to create one)
Sounds like a pretty exhaustive list – but luckily, you’ll find most (if not all) of these features in the website builders we discuss below.
What are the best website builders for photography?
Made to Impress
Without a doubt, Wix offers the most sophisticated designs and image galleries available from website builders today. That is the very reason why it has become so popular with anyone who wants to showcase a photography portfolio. As you were able to see in the video earlier, it’s extremely flexible and allows for pixel-perfect designs.
What’s also worth noting is their App Market. It offers an unmatched array of additional features that you can activate with only a few clicks. Wix Bookings is a noteworthy app as it will allow your clients to book appointments with you directly online. It even syncs with Google Calendar.
Wix has a very decent blogging feature that’ll help you write about your passion for photography. If you are interested in selling your work, you should also check out Wix’s online store.
Finally, Wix also allows you to password-protect pages – ideal for setting up private galleries for your clients.
What we like: their ease of use, their photography templates and the great variety of galleries. It’s also handy that you can let your clients book you online and sell your photos through your website! Thanks to the SEO Wiz you’ll get useful tips to optimize your website for search engines.
What they should improve: there is no feature to do client proofings, which would be handy for professional photographers.
We think that it’s a fantastic choice for photographers, as its visual appeal is simply unmatched. Learn more in our full Wix review.
Built for professional photographers
Pixpa market themselves as the website builder for creatives. It’s a claim they’re able to back up, with hundreds of real-life photography and design websites featured on their site. Their wide customer base isn’t surprising, given their top-notch range of beautifully-styled themes.
A few features really stand out with Pixpa. One is their Proofing feature, which allows you to set up private collections that can be shared with clients. Clients can also provide feedback, download or purchase images. 1GB of proofing storage is already included in the Lite plan for $5 per month.
Another highlight is the ability to set up an online store, which is available on all plans and is commission-free.
They also have plenty of SEO-friendly features, including the ability to edit metadata for each page, and optimize images.
In terms of visual customization, it’s not quite as flexible as Wix or Weebly. But if you’re happy to work within the templates provided, it’s both an excellent and affordable option.
What we like: the client proofing feature is unique, their beautiful templates and the ability to control image compression on upload and use of IPTC data. Support via live chat was very helpful and fast to respond.
What we don’t like: no free plan. Also, changes can only be made within the confines of the template (very limited drag and drop functionality). It takes a little while getting used to the editor as it’s often not that intuitive.
Tip: to get an exclusive discount for your first year use the discount code websitetooltester10
VIP Features for Photographers
Although Format.com used to cater to a broader range of creative industries, they’ve now put photographers at the front and center of what they do. As a result, their website creator comes packed with impressive features such as client galleries, watermarking, proofing, and integrations with Adobe Lightroom and Capture One. They even offer an online Masterclass if you need a little bit of extra help with the business side of things.
In fact, Format’s feature list is pretty similar to Pixpa’s. You’ve got 70+ polished templates to choose from (all mobile-friendly), which for the most part are easy to customize and edit, as long as you’re not looking to radically change-up the layout. And if you are, Format’s higher-level plans allow for CSS and HTML editing.
They also offer a perfectly adequate blogging feature, SEO customization options, and an online store. But here’s where they start to fall a little short. The store offers zero integration with your client galleries – no options to sell images as prints, for example. As a result, Format’s proofing features are limited to allowing clients to ‘favourite’ or download images – they won’t be able to order selected images through your site.
Format’s pricing also puts them at the more ‘premium’ end of photography website builders. While they try to justify this with VIP features such as the Masterclass and a bespoke site-building service, it’s something to keep in mind when you consider that providers like Wix and Pixpa offer a more comprehensive list of features and integrations, for a lower monthly price.
What we like: The plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom and Capture One are a real differentiator, allowing you to export images directly to your website’s galleries. Although Format don’t offer a free plan, their 14-day free trial gives you a chance to play with its features and build a ready-to-launch site.
What they should improve: Their proofing feature is useful, but is really limited by the fact that they don’t allow customers to order prints. Certain ‘advanced’ features such as slideshows and mailing lists are only available on the higher-level plans. It’d also be great to see a wider range of integrations with other tools (email marketing services, e-commerce etc).
Tip: Get 10% off using voucher code WEBSITETOOLTESTER10
Ease of Use Like No Other
Weebly is the perfect website editor if you don’t want to deal with a lot of technical details. Everything is very beginner-friendly yet powerful at the same time. Their themes are responsive and will display perfectly on mobile devices like smartphones, iPads, and other tablets. Though compared to Wix, they are not quite as cutting-edge regarding their aesthetics.
Weebly is also the only provider we know of that has a built-in video and audio player. If you combine that with the membership feature, you can even show exclusive content to your VIP clients. Lastly, there is also a powerful online store module that you can use to sell your photos.
What we like: Weebly’s ease of use and their membership module
What they should improve: their current selection of photography templates leaves room to be desired. Also they don’t have the same bandwidth of galleries.
Great Solution for Bloggers
Squarespace is slightly more expensive, but in return offers a very good blogging feature. You can also use Squarespace to sell photos and other digital and physical products. Keep in mind though that it’s not quite as easy to use as the previously mentioned website builders. Also is it nowhere nearly as flexible as Wix, for example.
Squarespace is one of the few site builders that offers responsive templates, i.e. they will always automatically adapt their size to mobile devices. Unfortunately their page speed is a bit on the slow side. Find out more in our detailed Squarespace review.
Show Off Your Entire Portfolio
SmugMug has a clear focus on photography portfolios. Thanks to unlimited web storage in all plans you can create a complete archive of your images. Creating a good-looking website, on the other hand, might take a bit of effort. They sport a couple of great templates, however, adjusting them can be tedious.
Prices start at $5.58 per month. To use your own domain name you need to at least opt for the Power package ($8.58 per month). What’s cool is that you can sell photos and videos in both the Portfolio and Business plans. If that’s what you are after, it’s great! If you’d rather have an easy to use website builder with blogging functionality, Wix, Weebly or Squarespace would be a better choice in our view.
For More Sophisticated Websites
If you think don’t think any of these site builders will match your requirements, there is also WordPress.org (see our full tutorial here). It’s a more high-end solution that has a much steeper learning curve than the above website builders. But if you are after sophisticated e-commerce with WooCommerce, advanced blogging or paid membership features for your clients, it may well be worth getting your head around it.
How do I attract new customers to my website?
Of course, creating your professional photography website is really just half the battle. After all, what good is a beautiful, state-of-the-art website if there’s nobody visiting it?
What you really want is a site that continuously receives new leads, meaning that potential clients leave their contact details, so you can reach out to them.
That’s why it’s absolutely essential to optimize your website for SEO – it’s your best bet for getting found online, and for drawing new customers to your site.
At Tooltester, we spend a lot of time optimizing our own site for search, so here are our top 5 proven tips for getting that almighty first-page ranking on Google for your photography site:
1. Do your research
A good place to start is by identifying relevant keywords that people are searching for (e.g. ‘wedding photographer’), so that you can tailor your site’s content accordingly. You can use tools like Google Keyword Planner to see search volumes, and get some ideas for keywords. Two rules of thumb when choosing keywords:
- Make sure there’s not a lot of competition for them. By this, we mean both quantity of sites listed for that keyword, and quality (you don’t want to be competing with the likes of National Geographic, for example!)
- The more specific, the better – as long as there’s a good amount of search volume for them. So, ‘commercial photographer in Barcelona’ is much more relevant than ‘commercial photographer’, for example. Which brings us to our next point…
2. Go local
If you’re only looking to serve customers in your local area, you have a much better chance of getting found, as there’s simply less competition than if you were targeting a countrywide or global audience. Register yourself on Google My Business to boost your chances of getting found through organic search or Google Maps. For example, look what happens when we do a search for ‘Auckland photographer’:
The Google My Business listings are among the first results you see, alongside customer ratings, contact information, and where they’re located on the map. That’s pretty powerful stuff! Moz have some handy tips on optimizing your GMB listing here – they’re well worth checking out.
3. Take your website builder’s lead
All of the featured website builders have inbuilt capabilities to help you optimize for SEO, including the ability to set page titles, add meta descriptions, and edit URLs. So, take full advantage of them! Make sure you optimize each relevant page on your site (there should be one page per keyword you’re targeting).
As you’ll undoubtedly be featuring images, don’t forget to optimize these too by using keyword-appropriate file names, adding captions, and assigning alt tags (the alternative text that displays if your image doesn’t load).
For more tips on good practice for optimization, check out our SEO article.
4. Reduce image file sizes
Page loading speed is an important factor in determining search rankings. Large files (such as high-resolution images) slow a site down, so it’s always better to use compressed images. Luckily, all of the above website builders (apart from SmugMug) apply some form of compression to your images. Pixpa take this a step further by allowing you to specify if and how much you want to compress your images. Using a service like tinypng.com, you can always reduce your photo’s sizes even further.
Of course, this also affects video. If you’re planning to feature your videos on your site, you’ll want these to load as quickly as possible, so usually it’s better to embed files using an external player like YouTube or Vimeo.
5. Get backlinks to your site
This is perhaps the most difficult (and most mystifying) part of the whole SEO process. Google’s theory is that, if your site is really relevant to a topic, there will be other websites linking to you when they talk about their topic. It makes sense – but how do you get other sites to link to you in the first place?
Well, there are actually a lot of things you can do, depending on how much effort you’re willing to put in. Generally, the most effective way is by publishing regular, up-to-date content (e.g. on your blog). You can then promote this through channels like social media and email newsletters, as a way to get traffic (and potential linking sources) to your site.
I would start with partners and clients as it’ll be easiest to convince them to link to your website, since you have a personal relationship with them. If you’ve got the time, you can also do some link building outreach, which involves contacting other relevant sites with a strong reason for why they should link to your site. This obviously takes a lot of research and effort.
Whether you take up the task of creating your photography website yourself or find a web designer is completely up to you. But you’ll find that doing the work yourself is a lot less expensive. And in the long run, being able to make your own changes will also save you a lot of time and money.
As we’ve shown you, with Wix and Pixpa there are some decent options for creating your own professional-looking photography site. And as many of the website builders offer free plans, there’s virtually no risk in trying them out. With any luck, you might find that you can build a fully-functional site that perfectly showcases your art.
After all, if clothes make the man, then images make the website. Luckily, that’s exactly your area of expertise.
Should you have any questions or feedback regarding this article, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!
3 Jan 2022 – Verified for accuracy, smaller updates