10 Photography Portfolio Website Tips from a Web Designer

Tips for making a photography website

Creating a photography website

Am I a hypocrite? Yes. My photography portfolio is completely out-of-date; however, I think I have some good tips to share on creating a photography portfolio website because I worked for two years running a website design firm.  I have built quite a few photography portfolio sites in my day, and I’ve learned what works.

Photography Site Tip #1: Before you do ANYTHING, decide why you’re building a website. You will build a wedding photography site quite differently than a wildlife portfolio site. The key question here is what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to get business, sell fine art, or just wanna share your photos so mom can print ’em and slap ’em on the fridge door?  If you take 5 minutes to write down an objective for your site, I promise that your whole website will be simpler and easier to use.  I ALWAYS forced my clients to take this step before I’d even touch their website.  Skip this step at your peril.

Photoblog Site Tips #2:  Stay within your skill level. If you have never used wordpress before, I probably wouldn’t use it.  If you have never coded a website before, I certainly wouldn’t start.  I have seen many photography websites go down the tubes simply because the photographer tried to do it himself and didn’t have the knowledge to do it.

Photography Site Tip #3:  Make it easy to update. Even though I can code and I know wordpress well, I don’t use either of those solutions for my photography portfolio.  Why?  It takes too much effort to update the site.  When I tried using these solutions for my photography portfolio, I never updated the site and it got out of date quite quickly.  Choose something that is fast and easy to update and you’ll update it much more often.

Create a Photography Site #4:  Don’t cheat yourself on SEO w/ missing Alt tags. SEO means search engine optimization.  It basically means that you need to do some things in creating your website to help Google to know what your website is about.  If all you have on your site is a title and photos, there won’t be enough text for Google to place you high in search results.  The best tip for improving your photography site’s SEO is to add Alt and Title tags to EACH PHOTO YOU USE!  These tags are meta tags that you can add to a photo so Google knows what is represented in the photo.  I ALWAYS use alt tags on the photos on this site.  Want proof?  Just hover your mouse over the photo featured on this page.  See the text that appears?  That’s the Alt tag.

Build a Photography Site #5:  Don’t shy away from paid solutions. I HATE buying anything that charges a per-month price, but I think it is worth making an exception for a photography portfolio site.  There are so many options that the choice can be daunting.  I have tried almost all of the solutions available, and my two personal favorites are Smugmug and Photomerchant (and I’m not getting paid to say that).

Creating a Photography Site #6:  Flash is for portraits, not for websites. Adobe Flash is a tool that some website developers use to create websites.  Unfortunately, Flash takes a long time to load, it is not search engine friendly, some computers can’t display it, and they often look overdone.  If you are choosing a photography site developer, make sure to ask first if they are going to use Flash.  If so, run away.

How to make a photography site #7:  Make the navigation easy. When it comes to creating a menu bar for your website with links to the different pages, DO NOT GET CREATIVE!  Make the website dead simple to use.  Make the navigation easy so people can focus on the photography without being distracted by trying to figure out how to use the site.

Tips for making a photography site #8:  If you include a blog, give it a white background. Photography looks great on black or gray backgrounds, but white text on a dark background is tough to read.  If you’re going to include a blog with lots of text, find a way to put the text on a light background to make it easier to read.

Making a Photography Website Ideas #9:  Give them what they expect. If you want to sell prints or get clients, you probably need to include prices.  This obviously doesn’t apply to high-end photographers, but most clients want the price right away.  If you don’t include prices and your competition does, you probably won’t get many calls.

How to Make a Photography Site #10:  Don’t choose your own photos. When I create a photography portfolio, I choose 100 of my best photos and show them to 10 people who have never seen my photos before.  I do NOT choose other photographers to look through the photos, I choose regular people, because that’s who will look at my site.  I then ask the 10 people to look through the photos and select 20 of their favorites.  If you do this exercise, I bet you’ll be shocked to learn what most people consider to be your best photos.  The results will definitely surprise you.

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  1. Melissa

    Great advice! I myself am a smugmug user and love the sites user friendly mojo. I am also, however, probably the least competent computer person on the planet- so, a question about alt tags for you- is this something I can add to my images in Lightroom before I export, or do I have to do each image separately on the website- and if so, how do I do that?


  2. Michael

    Interesting tips, especially #10. I’ll come down on your side, showing it to regular people sounds great. I don’t know if I’d let their opinions totally rule though, so some type of hybrid approach is best I think. I for one am a little tired of the whole incestuous, preaching to the converted type of interactions regarding photography. For one thing, bad advice and recommendations just get repeated ad nauseum on the web.

    I’m trying to decide which approach to take. Tough deciding whether to go the fine art route vs. more general smugmug/zenfolio/photoshelter route. Curious what you think of photoshelter. Also curious what you think of doing two sites, one for fine art, other for general stock, etc. It’s ’cause of forced cropping in the non-fine art sites. Actually even considering 3 if I get into pet photog (one simple page specifically showing work in this area). Is this just too much (expense and hassle)? Seems like you’d just choose on any given day what to update, based on what you’ve shot, so it wouldn’t necessarily increase your workload.

    Regarding blogs, don’t you just incorporate some sort of link that takes viewers to your blog? Or is that too clunky? I already have one going at tumblr. So I’m wondering if I need to change to wordpress or something else (just the blog, not the website, for more seamless integration).

  3. Konrad Sarnowski

    Tip #8: White text on black/dark background has too much contrast, but the most “user friendly” combination is yellow text on dark background. In fact, as stated before, the most important is line spacing and font size – designers just looove to make things small and compact, which just kills readability.

  4. Jamie Pflughoeft

    THANK YOU for tip #8. I’m a professional photographer and teacher and I suffer from an adrenal illness that makes my retinas very sensitive. The burn-in from white or light text on a black background is severe enough I can’t even read part of a short blog post without my eyes hurting. Sadly this means strobist is off-limits to me. :-( Many people have undiagnosed adrenal issues (as much as 25% of the population), and for all of those people, their eyes won’t take kindly to white text on black either. I’m regularly surprised at how many photographers do this. I guess they think it looks cool to photo editors or something. Funny thing is, all photo editors really care about is your images and their ability to find them.

  5. Allan Morris

    Hi Jim, good article. I found tip #4 very interesting. Just how do you add a alt tag to a photo? I looked on the net and most is way over my head. I use bride and photoshop + blogger.
    Good luck, take care.


  6. Niko

    Great advices Jim, I am a developer / designer / photographer & I have been working on a new project to help photographers create the perfect website to showcase their work so I thought this might be interesting for you and your readers.

    It is based on Koken CMS, which in my opinion is the best CMS out there for photographers. From exceptional image management – much better than WordPress – to updating your website directly from Adobe Lightroom, etc. So really easy to update as you recommend in this article!

    I plan to do some beta testing in the coming weeks so if you are interested and want to test it, please sign up here: http://kokenphotographythemes.com/

    I would love to have you testing this product when it is ready!

    Thanks in advance,


  7. Molly

    Hi Jim, Today i got learn something new from your expertise though the beautiful informative post, thank you Jim to share such a great post with us.

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