How to create a photography website for free – an introduction for beginners

Please note that I’ve created a step-by-step video for creating a STUNNING photography portfolio website.  DON’T miss out on that video here: http://improvephotography.com/2968/how-to-make-photography-portfolio-website-professional/

Photographer with a laptop making a website

Website

This guest post was written by Robert Brandl, who runs WebsiteToolTester.com – a website offering advice on the creation of photography websites and other personal or small business websites.

How do you share all those great photos you took at the weekend?

Even if you are not a professional photographer (yet), chances are that you want to share your work with friends and family. Sure, there’s Facebook, Flickr, Google+ and similar platforms for presenting your portfolio online – but most of them don’t really offer much scope for adding your own style and personality to the presentation of your photos.

Just think how cool it would be to have your own personalized online portfolio! But how do you go about creating one?

If photography is still mainly a hobby for you, hiring a web designer is probably out of the question at this stage. And, unless you’re a bit of an IT geek yourself, using an open source content management system like WordPress.org or Joomla can be quite tricky. You wouldn’t be the first to spend hours trying to get your head round FTP connections, databases and templates while your initial enthusiasm is slowly fading away. Don’t get me wrong: especially WordPress is a great platform, and if you’re willing to invest the time it takes to get the hang of it you can do fantastic things with it. There are thousands of brilliant design templates available that can be bought for usually less than US $50.

However, if you prefer an easier option I can show you some interesting alternatives.

Website builders: forget the code and start uploading photos right away

Website builders used to be quite limited in terms of design and flexibility. But they have come a long way since the early days of GeoCities and its dancing babies. Today’s website builders come with a wide range of clean, professional layouts that you can customize and adapt whichever way you want – just point and click. All of it is done online through your browser, so no need to download and install anything on your computer either. Just grab a free account and start playing around. No HTML, no CSS and no JavaScript to learn.

Most providers have detailed online support sections or offer individual support by email, which is very handy for beginners.

Finding the right website builder for you

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While online website builders usually give you plenty of storage – even with their free plans – it’s important to note that there is one thing you will not get for free, and that’s your own domain name (e.g. yourname.com).  What they will give you instead is a subdomain, e.g. yourname.theirname.com – which is fine for a personal site, but not for a professional photographer’s portfolio. However, you can always purchase your own domain name, either through the website builder company itself or from an external domain name registrar.

I have seen excellent professional photography websites that were created using any of the following free website tools:

Weebly gives you unlimited web space, even on their free plan, and sports a pretty decent photo gallery feature. It is very easy and intuitive to use too. Weebly’s designs may not be quite as stylish as those of their competitors, but it is nevertheless becoming an increasingly popular choice for photographers looking to set up a completely free website. Weebly does place an ad on your site, but it’s only a grey logo in the footer section. So your visitors will probably not even notice it.

Jimdo wants website creation to be fun and easy for everyone. You can choose from plenty of pre-built designs and it’s also quite easy to customize them to your own preferences.
It includes a very good image gallery feature and also enables file downloads in case you want to share the source files of your photos. If you only want to share them with selected people you can even password-protect them. Jimdo offers a free plan that is sponsored through an ad on your site. Alternatively, for the price of US $5 a month, you not only get rid of the ad but also get your own domain name and email account.

Wix is completely based on Flash technology. This means it offers some quite interesting visual options that are popular with photographers. Unfortunately, it also has its disadvantages: neither Google nor Apple are big fans of Flash websites, which may affect your search engine ranking, and iPhones or iPads will not show your Flash site at all. There are workarounds for this, however: Wix offers a dedicated mobile website editor to address the iPhone issue. If your main concern is to have a website that looks really great and you’re less worried about SEO and mobile access you should definitely check out Wix.

Another way to share photos is through blogging platforms like Tumblr or WordPress.com (the hosted version). These services are also free and allow you to create content in the familiar reverse-chronological blog format, i.e. with the most recent post appearing at the top.  These two services give you an interesting additional option: you can enable a secret email address to which you can send text and photos. The email is then automatically converted into a blog post. This is great if you want to get friends and family to share photos to your blog.

With WordPress it is also possible to create static pages and organize your images into photo galleries. WordPress does put ads on your blog, but you can also upgrade to a ‘No-Ads’ plan.  Wordpress.com generally has a steeper learning curve than Weebly, Jimdo or Wix, but offers some great features that are especially relevant to anyone who wants to post frequently. If you want to use it commercially you should familiarize yourself with their T&Cs as commercial usage is somewhat restricted.

Tumblr is easier to use than WordPress, but options for static pages are very limited. I would mainly recommend it if you want to share photos quickly and easily – especially if you want others to be able to upload photos too – and as long as you’re not too worried about the order they appear in.

Conclusion

Creating a website can be fun and doesn’t have to cost you anything apart from your time. Check out which website builder or blogging platform has the best features for you and give it a try.  Most providers offer rather generous free plans with plenty of storage and no time limit. And, of course, you can always upgrade to one of their premium packages later.  Having said all this, don’t cancel your Facebook account just yet. Social media sites are still a great way to share links to your latest photos – only this time you can take your friends to your new website instead.   Please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    As a web designer I have to say that one day these technologies will be the way to go but for now I feel like hiring a pro is still the way to go. Flash sites don’t work on mobile and that tech is on it’s way out anyway. The other generators tend to write convoluted code that is a huge mess and doesn’t play nice with mobile or uncommon browsers.
    Or if you’re determined not to spend money, learning html and css isn’t too hard and you’ll be very proud of your site when you make it yourself.

  2. Robert (guest author) says

    Hi Jack, the article talks about free website builders. I am afraid a pro is not going to work for free. Weebly and Jimdo generate a mobile website version automatically and I have never seen any problems with their code in any browser. In case you have any concrete examples please let me know.

  3. says

    Hi Robert. No a pro isn’t going to work for free, but then again, are you? I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but it’s a valid question.

    When I see this kind of post, it really pains me. For me, as a professional web designer, it’s analogous to a wedding photographer battling with all the family and their cameras.

    Free web site builders never have been, and probably never will be the best route to go for building a web site, unless you want your site to be a “cookie cutter” site. Nothing spectacular about it, except your photos. Nothing about it that really says anything about who you are, other than your photos. So if the only thing that really stands out is your photos, why not stick with Flickr, 500px or something similar?

    No a pro doesn’t work for free, but free won’t give you pro results either. A pro will work with you to design a site for you that is individualized, uniquely tailored to you, your vision and what you want to communicate. If you are not going to hire your cousin’s 12 yr old nephew to photograph your wedding, why would you do what amounts to the same thing for your web site?

    • says

      Good comment, Michael. You mentioned that a photographer shouldn’t work for free. I might point out that a major difference between that and a photographer building his own website is that nobody is asking a web designer to work for free here. It’s DIY, just like I won’t care if someone takes a picture of themselves.

      Will the results be as good as hiring a pro? No way! However, many photographers are doing this as a hobby or just shoot an occasional family or senior portrait. It just doesn’t make sense for EVERY photographer to hire a pro.

  4. says

    Very nice and valuable post. I am thinking of start a photo 365 in the new year and i was wondering how I might blog the photos as I take them — other than Facebook, which I find is not very kind to photos.

    Thank you for sharing this important information. By the way, which web site builder to you use for Improve Photogrphy?

    Thanks, again.

    Tom

  5. Robert says

    I second what Jim says, a real pro photographer shouldn’t build his website with a free website builder. But for an amateur or someone just starting out, a website builder sometimes is the only option he or she can afford. It’s great to have different options to choose from and some photographers really enjoy building a website on their own.

  6. says

    I am comfortable on wordpress, it is very easy to use. I just download free themes and install it on my site, disadvantage is that the theme is also free to use by other people.

  7. says

    hey,

    I really never use Jimdo and Wix for creating websites but as far as Weebly is concerned. I simply love the new theme updates which weebly has come up with.

    I would also recommend that for photographers, they should focus on dynamic website & not static like weebly or Jimdo etc because they gonna publish lots of fresh photographs.

    So, I seriously recommend everyone to use WordPress CMS, which is absolutely free.

    Thanks for the post.

  8. Diann Longtreet says

    I love the information you provide in your article. I am just at the point of setting up a website for my work which is selling well. Everyone is asking “where is your website” So I want to start easy, slow and not expensive- free is always nice. So tips would be appreciated so I am not overwelmed before I even start Thanks

  9. says

    Why is it a disadvantage? Honestly there are so many themes available with so many customization options you can really make your website look unique even if your using a template.

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