The Essential Guide: How to Create A Photography Portfolio Website

Photography has exploded as a creative profession with more and more photographers turning pro and joining the ranks of the elite club. With a plethora of social media platforms, marketplaces and listing directories, each populated with thousands of photographers’ profiles, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out in this clutter.

As a photographer, what are the platforms that you need to gain exposure? Should you spread yourself thin, or focus on one or two? How much time and energy you need to invest on the likes of Facebook, Instagram, 500px, Dribble etc.

If these are the questions that are occupying your mind, then there’s one essential piece of this puzzle that you are missing. One without which all your efforts might not pay off!

And that missing piece of the puzzle is – your own portfolio website running on your own custom domain name.

That’s the most important bit of online real-estate you need to own, build, and nurture for your long-term success and sustainability.

Let me explain why.

First, a portfolio website is important to build a brand

Who’s your favorite photographer? The reason I ask this question is that the chances you come to know about their work through their personal blog or website. Obviously, this didn’t happen to them overnight. Whether you see them as a role model or not, you definitely desire the success they boast today.

You need to be consistent while you build your brand.

Your portfolio website will be the only piece of online real estate that would be completely owned by you. Your online profiles on Facebook, Instagram, 500px and other online communities lack optimization.

You have no control over how your social profiles look, behave or feel. Every photographer has more or less similar photography accounts. This space is utterly cluttered and highly competitive. What’s worse? You can’t optimize your efforts without shelling out hard cash! 

facebook limits organic reach                                               Straight from the behemoth                                                                

While the scenario in popular directories like 500px is no different.

“Joining the directory is free, but come April, the site plans to start charging extra for services that promote users who shell out for member privileges. Some of the site’s features already cost extra money—their current membership upgrade fees range from $2 to $14 a month, ”

                                                 Source: Popular Photography

 You can’t invest all your energy into nurturing something that you don’t own. 

At best, you should treat your social media profiles as a funnel to get exposure but in the end, people interested in you and your work should be redirected to your own website. That’s where you close your business.

how to build a portfolio website

A portfolio website avoids choice paralysis: Increases your chances of being hired

I am sure you’re now wondering: What is choice paralysis?

Let me explain.

Theoretically, it might seem like a good idea to have unlimited choices, but practically it’s overwhelming. Choice paralysis is a psychological situation where a person voluntarily avoids decision for the fear of making a wrong choice when presented with several choices.

Directories and marketplaces do just what they are supposed to – present too much choice to the seeker. Availability of too many photographers’ profiles doesn’t make it any easier for visitors to make the choice, instead, it’s overwhelming for most of them. The chances of winning business by standing out in directories and marketplaces are next to nothing…unless, you opt for sponsored postings. And that can be very expensive.

A portfolio website, on the other hand, keeps a visitor glued to your photographs while dramatically increasing your chances of getting hired.

A portfolio website offers practically unlimited opportunities for business

Unlike directory portfolios (where you have no control over optimization), portfolio websites can be optimized for search engines.

Search engines can become a huge source of new business for you. But for that to happen, you need to rank well in the search engine results for the searches your prospective clients are doing. A portfolio website can be optimized to tap into this huge opportunity.

This, however, takes time. As the content on a portfolio website builds up, it begins to show up in search results.

While on the other hand, it’s tricky and very complicated to have a social media account show up outside the parent network. You don’t think so? Tell me how many times have you seen a Facebook photography page or an Instagram photography account show up on Google?

Here are two recommended reads, if you’re interested in learning how to optimize a portfolio website.

How to optimize images for search engines 

How to optimize a portfolio website for local searches

Now that we are on the same page, here’s how to build a great portfolio website

The two most common ways to build a portfolio website (or any website for that matter) are:

I will discuss the two approaches below, you can choose as per your convenience.

Building a portfolio website with WordPress

WordPress has become the world’s leading publishing platform and brings a ton of capabilities and features to the table. However, it does need a steep learning curve and depending on how web-coding-savvy you are, you would need to work with a web designer to give shape to your website. You can end up investing a lot of money and time in getting your WordPress website right, if you are not well-informed and make a wrong choice – and there are a tonne of choices that need to be made, like choosing a theme, hosting, domain name, web-designer and managing updates, security, SSL certificates etc. That’s a lot of work

The other way to build a portfolio website is to use a hosted website building platform.

If WordPress seems daunting to you, this is a great alternative. Most of these platforms are a paid service and need you to subscribe for a fixed monthly or annual charge. Apart from a domain name, there’s nothing else that you need to buy or manage. Hence, making these platforms easier to learn and manage and even more cost-effective than WordPress, given how much time you can save.

Building a portfolio website with hosted website building platforms

There are several website building platforms out there with different focus areas and target audiences. While some of these come with limited features, there are others that are extremely versatile and capable of building a top-notch website.

As a photographer, you’d be better off choosing a hosted platform that focuses specifically on creative professionals like photographers, artists, fashion models and more.  Once you have chosen a platform, do keep in mind these key elements while you build your portfolio website, to make the most out of it.

An effective portfolio website attracts visitors and turns them into paying clients. Here are the things you can do to make sure that happens:

Ensure that your portfolio website is fast enough  

The speed of your website is the single biggest factor in converting visitors to clients. A slow website will scare everyone away. No-one has the time to wait as heavy images load slowly.  Make sure that your website is blazing fast with optimized images.

Optimize your images not just for size, but also for Search engines. Add alt text (short for alternate text) to each image. Search engines like Google, Bing, and others can’t read images, and alt text helps them to read the information attached with a photograph. This increases the chances for photographs to show up in image searches.

Keep your website mobile optimized 

Tablets and smartphones are now used way more than desktops/laptops. Make sure your websites are mobile optimized and work great on all devices.

Build credibility of your website with social proof

Visitors on a portfolio website sometimes are apprehensive about hiring a photographer, especially when they have discovered them on the Internet. Unless they have been referred to them by a credible source. Testimonials from clients can eliminate those inhibitions. So do add a few testimonials on your website.  

Provide clear contact details

Mention your contact information clearly and make sure you are reachable on the contact number you provide. You don’t want to lose out on potential business.

Enable social media sharing

Use social media sharing widgets and tools on your website to enable users to easily share your work. This is free exposure that you don’t want to miss out on.

Keep it fresh

Last but not the least, make sure that you do update your website frequently. Change your site design, showcase new work, and tell fresh stories. 

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