Websites for photographers are like the modern business cards. They’re among the best ways to generate leads and gain new clients, but choosing the best website platform for your needs can be confusing. So in today’s world of endless options, what is the best way to create a professional photography website? In this blog post, I will show you how both WordPress and SmugMug have helped me build a profitable photography business and how these tools can also help you. As an added bonus, there’s a SmugMug affiliate link below that will give you a 20% discount as well as provide me with a commission if you choose to sign up.
Building a Website with WordPress
Traditionally, website design was all about complex coding and you typically had to hire a professional. In recent times, website design has moved almost entirely away from coding. It is easier than ever to create a website by simply clicking and dragging design elements together and hitting a Publish button.
One of these “easy” ways of creating a website is by using WordPress. This blog you’re looking at here is made with WordPress, as is my photography portfolio website. I built each website myself using no coding and less than $100 per website. So yes, WordPress is easy to use, and I wrote a blog post showing you exactly how to set up a WordPress photography website for yourself. But before you jump on that train, read on to find out how building a website has gotten even easier without using WordPress.
The Rise of Photo Sharing Websites
As photography has become more accessible and popular, so have photo sharing websites such as SmugMug and 500px, to name a few. These websites are in a state of constant evolution to keep up the competitive pace. But they have in common the fact that you can:
- Upload, keyword and share your photos to be viewed by others
- Sell your uploaded photos
- Create your own photography portfolio website
Why You Should Use a Photo Sharing Website
There are a ton of photo sharing websites out there, but not all of them allow you to build a portfolio page. Some exist purely for social networking, such as Instagram and Flickr. Two photo sharing websites in particular that do offer portfolio websites are SmugMug and 500px. I use both, but for different reasons.
Is 500px worth it?
500px is an interesting website in that it is constantly evolving. Their main focus is definitely the Marketplace, where you can license and sell your photos as a form of stock photography. I’ve been lucky to make some Marketplace sales on 500px and can attest that their commission rates are quite generous. Another positive feature of 500px is their active online photography community. Whenever you upload new imagery, you’ll likely get a lot of positive Affections from fellow users. This is great for your ego, but not so great in that Affections don’t translate to sales. Competition on 500px is stiff, and photo sales are few and far between for most.
Recently, 500px has added two other features that make it worth paying attention to. As a member, you can elect to enroll in their Services program that shows you are available for hire. I’ve had this active for a while and haven’t gotten any leads from it yet, but I like the idea. 500px also offers themed Quests, a form of an online photography competition where you can submit your photos for prizes. I haven’t tried Quests, but I like the possibility of gaining more exposure through participation.
My advice is to keep an active presence on 500px, but don’t bank on it solely.
Use a photo sharing website to build your portfolio is best if you:
- Don’t need a super customized website
- Are not planning to blog regularly on your website
- Have a limited web design budget
- Want to spend as little time as possible maintaining your website design in the future
Why Use WordPress?
The bottom line is that WordPress is like PhotoShop. It offers an endless possibility in terms of designs and increasing functionality. However, you have to either learn to do this yourself or hire someone to do it for you. But the main advantage of WordPress is the ability to write and publish blogs. This is the number one way to increase your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that your website shows up higher in search rankings. Blogging is how I elevated my WordPress photography portfolio website to be the number one listing on Google for the search term “Seattle event photographer.” This positioning in Google is extremely valuable and it drives a large chunk of my new client lead generation. Photo sharing website services typically do not include blogging platforms, so it is very difficult to improve your SEO through them.
Using WordPress to build your portfolio is best if you:
- Want a super customized website design that stands out from the crowd
- Aspire to increase your website’s SEO ranking through blogging
- Plan to publish blogs or forms of content other than photo galleries
- Have a more flexible web design budget OR desire to learn how to build and maintain a website yourself
Why I Use Both WordPress and SmugMug
If you can’t choose between one or another, consider using both a WordPress website and a photo sharing site. I use WordPress because I want to create a custom website design for my portfolio to make it stand out. However, WordPress websites don’t come with a built in solution to sell my photos or provide online proofing galleries for my clients. I could try to build this into my WordPress website, but why re-invent the wheel? This is when I turn to SmugMug.
What is SmugMug?
One of the longest-standing photo sharing sites is SmugMug. This family-owned business has made huge strides since it debuted in 2002 and has proved to be incredibly useful for a majority of reasons. But the main advantage that SmugMug offers is unlimited photo storage. Even though it’s not sold as a photo backup solution, SmugMug is great for uploading and storing high-resolution JPG copies of your photos. Once the photos are uploaded to SmugMug, you can either set them to be public or private, and you can access them from anywhere. Another highlight is the SmugMug mobile app that I use for sharing photos to Instagram.
Main SmugMug Features
- Delivering online photo galleries to clients (with the option to password-protect each photo gallery)
- Sell online copies or prints of photos to clients
- Store high-resolution JPG photos as a form of an online photo backup
- Functional and intuitive SmugMug mobile app
While it’s not free, SmugMug is pretty affordable, especially considering the unlimited photo storage. Plans are as low as $5 per month (or $3.34 per month if billed annually), all the way up to $35 per month ($25 per month if billed annually) for their top-tier Business plan. Looking for a deal? Use this SmugMug coupon link to sign up and you’ll get 20% off your paid subscription.
WordPress = a public-facing website that showcases more design to entice prospective clients I want to hire me
SmugMug = a client-facing website to deliver photos to those I’m already working with
Selling Photos on SmugMug
SmugMug is highly supportive of its users selling photos. You can easily create price lists, and SmugMug takes care of any photo sales transactions so you don’t need to worry about transactions. There are only two potential downsides to selling photos on SmugMug. First, there’s not an easy way that I know of to push a lot of organic (or random) website traffic to SmugMug websites. Thus, you’ll need to share your website link with clients in order to generate traffic and sales. There’s very little chance of someone stumbling upon your SmugMug website and buying a photo unless you direct them there. Second, SmugMug takes a 15% commission of every photo sale that you make. I consider this to be quite high, especially when I’m already paying them an annual subscription fee. This is why I don’t sell my photos directly on SmugMug and instead use their other solution below.
Client Proofing Photo Gallery
If you want to send a photo gallery to your clients and have them mark their favorites (also known as selects), this is called client proofing. Whether or not you use client proofing or not is dependent on your photography business and pricing model. Personally, I only use client proofing for Portraits, Headshots, and Architecture photos when I am selling images on an individual basis.
SmugMug’s form of client proofing is known as Events. This a feature only available to those who pay for SmugMug Business accounts. After I create an Event (or private gallery), I share the link with my client and ask them to pick their favorites. After they mark their favorites, I then send them the photos via WeTransfer and invoice them through FreshBooks. This requires a bit more legwork than using SmugMug’s built-in photo sales tool, but I get to keep 100% of my sales profits, which is totally worth it to me. Below is a sample of an Event and how my client would see it.
WordPress and Photo Sharing Platform Integration
If you opt for both WordPress and a photo sharing website, you can easily integrate them using the Photonic Plugin. This free plugin is easy to use and allows you to embed photo galleries from SmugMug, 500px, and Instagram into your WordPress website. It’s a bit limited in terms of customization and design, but it gets the job done.
There are a ton of ways to build your photography portfolio website today at a low cost without a lot of technical know-how. Which solution you choose ultimately comes down to how much time and money you have budgeted, as well as what features you want to get out of your website.
What services do you use for your photography website? Let me know in the comments below!