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How to Create an Online Photography Portfolio

It was only a few years ago that you would need to hire a web designer if you wanted a top notch website to display your photography portfolio. Your choice was either spend a lot of money or go with a junky design. The last few years, however, have seen an explosion in the quality of online photography portfolio website options.

Website

If you are like most photographers, you start with something like a Flickr account or other free service as a means for showing pictures to family and a few friends. After a while, you discover you really love photography and you have a knack for it. You begin displaying more pictures. At some point you begin to wonder how to take what you have and make it appear like a professional website. This article will tell you how.

What follows are 10 tips to create a professional looking online portfolio. With the tools available today, following these tips, there is no reason you cannot have a website that looks every bit as good as a professional photographer.

1. Only display your best work

You should only display your best work on your online portfolio website. This is absolutely critical, but it is easier said than done.

I will have some tips related to choosing your best work later.  But for now, some numbers might help you:

  • When you start the website, if you have been shooting for a few years or less, I would put no more than 20 pictures on the website.
  • If you are an experienced photographer, I would put no more than 5- 6 galleries with 12 – 15 photos in each.

These numbers will ensure that you keep things manageable and display only your best work.

Again, limiting the photos on your website to only your best work is absolutely crucial to the success of your website.  One weak photo will cause a visitor to start questioning all of your other photographs.

2. Make it easy to find your best work

Most visitors will give you only a few seconds before being on their way to someplace else on the web.  You have got to get your best work in front of them fast.

If you just leave it to chance, your visitor may start with a gallery on your website that they find less than impressive.  A good way to make sure they see your best work is to give them a folder called “best” or favorites.”  Visitors will usually go there first, and if they do you have your best chance of impressing them.  After that, they may go want to check out other work.  And the odds are higher that they will be back.

3.  Design the perfect site

It used to be that you were locked in to a few designs unless you wanted to go hire a web designer – and that was out of the question for most of us.  Modern portfolio sites, however, give you so many options for presenting your photography that you can do whatever you want.

Just a few of the themes available on Squarespace.

Just a few of the themes available on Squarespace.

Rather than just following a template, it is best to decide what you want I had of time. Here is a process I suggest for you:

  1. Look at the websites of other photographers you like.  Make notes on what you like and don’t like.
  2. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and who your target audience will be. Assuming that what you want to do at present is showcase your best work, focus on that and that alone.  A lot of other sites junk themselves up with attempts to sell stuff.  Others have a lot of tricked up navigation.  You don’t need any of that, so keep it as simple and clean as possible.
  3. Sketch out your pages and organization on paper first.  Design it after you have it sorted out completely in your mind.

Following the steps will result in a well thought out and laid out website.

4.  Organize your galleries like a pro

There are a few ways that people tend to organize the galleries of their website.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, but here are some ways that others tend to do it, so that you can see how it is done:

  • People that are just starting portfolio sites tend to have folders based on locations or events. Folders like “Our Trip to Tahoe” and “Madrid 2013” are common. That is a fine way to start out.
  • As the portfolio grows, the galleries tend to get sorted by theme.  Folders like “landscapes” and “urban seems” are common.
  • The most advanced photographers tend to have projects based on a theme or an idea.

There is no right or wrong answer here, but the further you can push your photography along the scale, the more advanced and professional it will look.

5.  Order your pictures for maximum effect

Within galleries you should spend some time considering the order of the pictures. It is common to put the best pictures first. The weakest pictures will then go in the middle, and the gallery should conclude with some strong pictures.

An even better thought is to omit the weaker pictures in the middle entirely. Or at least work towards replacing them in the near future.

If you do manage to create a “project” of a group of photographs, there is a particular way this is usually done to maximize effect. Start with a wide or establishing shot to give the viewer a sense of the entire scene.  Now go with a medium shot to focus the viewer on particular aspects of the scene.  After that, you might want to include a detail or two, which is done by close up.  Then mix it up between these types of shots.

Organizer panel

Organizer panel

6. Cull your photos ruthlessly

You will be constantly adding pictures to your portfolio website. However, it is important that as you add pictures to it, you also remove pictures from it.  This will do two things:

  1. it will keep your site from becoming unwieldy to visitors,
  2. it will strengthen the portfolio over time.

You are only as good as your worst picture.  If the worst picture on your website keeps getting better, then you are getting better in others’ eyes.  And the only way for this to happen is for you to keep removing pictures from your site.

Be ruthless!

7. Add an archive

With respect to the culling of photos set forth above, I find it is best to add a folder I call the “archive.”  This is a private folder (in other words, nobody but me can see it), in which I put photos that don’t belong to any particular gallery.  In fact I have an archive folder for each year.

Rather than delete photos from the website entirely, I simply move them to the archive. Very often I remove pictures from the public view as part of the culling process described in teh last section.  Sometimes, however, that picture may be worthy of inclusion in a different folder later. Rather than constantly uploading and deleting, it is easier to just move them around.

With an archive folder, you can keep everything on your site to make the movement easier.  In addition, that way the website becomes a storage place for your best work in the event disaster strikes your files and backups.

8. Provide lots of information

Provide as much information about her photo as you can. If you can write a paragraph about it, do so.  I personally find I lack the time to do that, but I always provide at least the location and date information.

My About page

My About page

Some photographers don’t provide any information about their pictures on the premise that “the picture should stand on its own” or because they seemingly think that not having this information adds an aura of mystery to the photo.  In any event, the additional information will be searchable and may add a few eyeballs to your site.

Speaking of information, be sure you add an “About” page and a “Contact” page to your site.  It may surprise you to learn that the About page is almost always one of most-visited pages of any website.  And if you don’t have a Contact page, people will have no way of contacting you to tell you how great your pictures are (and that will happen, and it makes having a website worthwhile all by itself!)

Contact page

My Contact page

9.  Think twice about how you protect your photos

You probably think I am going to lecture you on the importance of protecting your photos from online thievery.  However, the opposite is actually true.

In that regard, I have two unfortunate pieces of news to share with you:

  1. Nobody wants to steal your photographs. It is a sad fact that photography is extraordinarily cheap.  Even if someone doesn’t want to buy a photo, there are tons of “creative commons” photos out there for free.  In any case, there are millions of photos to choose from on the web.  It is highly unlikely that anyone is targeting your photographs.  The real enemy of 99% of photographers is obscurity, not thievery.
  2. If somebody does want to steal your photograph that has been posted online, there is very little you can do to stop them. Anyone with the slightest of coding skills can take your photographs in under 20 seconds.  I’m not joking or exaggerating about that.  The protections of even large established photo services will not stop anyone for very long.

I personally consider watermarks to be pretentious.  But that is just a personal preference and some people like them as a means to protect their work and add a professional-looking touch to it. I would point out, however, that anyone who wants the picture can usually work around the watermark.

All that said, there are a few ways you can actually avoid theft of your photos.  The first way is just to limit the size and resolution of the photo.  That way, if someone lifts it they get only a low-res picture that they likely cannot work with.  The second way is the only foolproof way to entirely avoid the possibility of theft, and that is just to not publish your photos online at all.

Smugmug and others offer some protection to your photos, including right-click protection and the ability to limit the size of your photos.

Smugmug and others offer some protection to your photos, including right-click protection and the ability to limit the size of your photos.

I know it sounds like I am saying not to worry about the theft of your photos at all.  I don’t really mean to say that.  All I mean to say is don’t get hung up on it and devote all your time to it.

10. Use the best service

SquarespaceI recommend that you use SmugMug or Squarespace when building your online portfolio. Both companies have great starting templates so you can be up and running very quickly. They are both extremely customizable so you can change them however you want.

Smugmug

There are more expensive services.  You don’t need them.  With SmugMug or Squarespace, you can do whatever you want,.

There are cheaper services, including free ones like Flickr.  These are not to customizable enough and they do not look professional.  Further, in most cases you do not even get your own domain. Because SmugMug and Squarespace are not very expensive, just get one of them.  You’ll be glad you did.

And don’t try to build your own website if you are web savvy. Even if you succeed in making a good-looking website, adding pictures is an enormous pain if you do it yourself. You have to create different sized pictures for thumbnails, full-size versions, etc.  It will ruin the experience and you will end up avoiding updating the site.

Conclusion

These are remarkable times we live in.  For under $100 a year, we can have our porfolio online for the entire world to see.  We can have a professional-looking website that is easy to put together and maintain.  Further, most of the online services have 14-day free trials (with no credit card information required) that allow you to give them a test-spin.  Give one of them a try and see how you like it.

Before you do, however, I have additional information about starting a portfolio website that you will want to check out.  I just completed my Photographer’s Guide to Creating an Online Portfolio and I’m really proud of it.  It compares available options for creating your own photography website, and then it provides a lot of tips for setting it up.

To get it, all you need to do is become a subscriber of Outdoor Photo Academy.  It’s free and it keeps you up to date on everything that goes on around here.

Get The Photographer’s Guide to Creating an Online Portfolio:

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If you are already a subscriber, just go to the Guides page you received when you subscribed. If you don’t have that handy, check the November 26, 2014 newsletter for the link. If you don’t have that, just email me and I will get it to you quickly.

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