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The PRO-Files: Where You Need To Be On The Web

The platform upon which a professional photographer builds their website can have a huge impact upon the photographer’s bottom line. Not just because the cost of a totally custom site compared with the typical savings of a template has a real effect, but because the design of the site has a huge impact on everything from search engine optimization to how actual people—real prospective clients—judge the photographer and her work based on what they read and see on the site. It’s a fine line for professional photographers to walk, and there are a lot of options in template-based website platforms. We asked a handful of Sony Artisans (and one SEO expert photographer) for input about the web platforms they use. Here’s a roundup of suggestions, along with a few additional services specifically aimed at helping photographers make the most of their online presence. 


Format (www.format.com) is a web template platform aimed squarely at photographers and creatives. The DIY approach to template customization is familiar to anyone who has used a template portfolio site before, but Format also recently introduced an option for an online store, making the pages more valuable for those who want to sell their work rather than just display it. Client Proofing is also built in, as well as an option for unlimited storage, making this complete web service more robust for working photographers than a plain old portfolio site with no commercial capabilities—though for new photographers or those with limited needs, Format offers that too.


Photodeck (www.photodeck.com) is a website platform built for photographers who want streamlined sites, in both design and coding, with secure client galleries and e-commerce capabilities. Selling prints, downloads and licenses is easy, with Photodeck taking zero commission from any of the sales. The company has partnered with labs in the U.S. (WHCC), the U.K. (One Vision Imaging) and France (Picto) to make the service ideal for photographers with worldwide clients. The service is also built for stock photographers who want to license their work without relying on a middleman. This is how Sony Artisan Ira Block uses the platform—to host the stock licensing side of his web presence. “For my stock library,” he says, “I prefer Photodeck as it is simple to upload my images and great for client light boxes and galleries. I have the same basic look to both PhotoFolio and Photodeck so when you click on ‘stock and prints’ on PhotoFolio and go to Photodeck, the design doesn’t change much.”

Price: $12 to $60/month.


PhotoFolio (www.photofolio.io) offers stylish, completely customizable gallery website templates specifically for professional photographers. Formerly known as “A PhotoFolio,” the service is a creation of popular photo blogger Rob Haggart of A Photo Editor fame. PhotoFolio sites are ideal for those who will settle for nothing less than the best in terms of aesthetics—the kind of thing that appeals to most photographers—with award winning designs available for every customer, as well as actual designers available to build a personal site from the ground up (for an added fee, of course). The FotoMoto plugin can be added as well to aid e-commerce sales straight from the site. Sony Artisan Ira Block uses PhotoFolio to display his comprehensive portfolio. “I use PhotoFolio for my vanity site,” Block says, “and Photodeck for my stock. PhotoFolio has a really nice interface and many options that make it great for showcasing my photos and stories. I also use it to promote my workshops and interviews—it is fairly easy to keep the site up to date.” 

Price: $17/month with $1,000 setup fee, or $34/month with no setup fee. 


PhotoShelter (www.photoshelter.com) offers a comprehensive suite of services specifically for commercial photographers, from gallery websites to e-commerce sales of prints with lab integration and image file licensing. The service is actually designed to be used in a different way than a typical portfolio site, in that PhotoShelter wants photographers to upload all the high-res images from a shoot and not only sell prints or licenses directly, but also create and send proof galleries and even archive image files permanently, right there on PhotoShelter’s servers. The top-of-the line plan, in fact, includes unlimited storage. It’s a nice one-stop shop for photographers who have comprehensive demands from their website provider, as well as those who want the easy-to-use interface and template customization options that makes PhotoShelter so popular. Price: $10-$45/month. 


Shopify (www.shopify.com) is an e-commerce platform built for whatever you might want to sell online. For photographers, that mostly means printed products and image files, whether from client assignments or licensed from stock. With Shopify, photographers don’t just get a gallery website—though they certainly can create one using Shopify’s themes, even if they’re not designed specifically for portfolios. Better, though, photographers can take their sales platform off their website, even into the real world with point-of-sale credit card processing (perfect for those who sell prints in a shop or gallery, for instance) and the ability to add a “buy now” button virtually anywhere an image appears online, even on Pinterest. The platform even helps set up shops on Facebook and Amazon, and there’s even a “Lite” plan for those who just want to sell via Facebook alone.

Price: $9-$299/month.


Like PhotoShelter, SmugMug (www.smugmug.com) is built for photographers who want to make the most of these website platforms. The site is designed to be easy to use and offer lots and lots of customization options—whether DIY or done via a top designer. Menus, galleries and text can be moved around to customize designs, and helpful aids promote good SEO—things like automatically using photo metadata on the page to create captions from keywords and descriptions in metadata. The interface is drag and drop, and photographers who use it seem to be quite fond of its intuitive approach. Designed with web-based purchases in mind, SmugMug integrates with four photo labs to provide fulfillment worldwide, ideal for photographers who sell prints or license images online. Though the platform includes options for professionals, stripped down services for amateurs who just want a place for their pictures are available as well. We spoke with Sony Artisans Don Smith and Thibault Roland who both use SmugMug—Roland for its DIY capabilities, Smith for its design services. “I really like that you can easily change the aspect of the site with templates they provide,” Roland says, “but also how they allow each photographer to tweak these templates to their liking by adding bits and pieces of code if one wants to. Their support is also very good, helpful and responsive.”

“SmugMug has me as one of their professionals,” Smith says. “Originally I got with one of their top designers from London, told him what I wanted, and he got to work. I loved how the site turned out and I can link any of my Gallery Images to my personal lab, BayPhoto. I can also do most of the behind-the-scenes work myself but I do work with an IT person in Mazatlan who helps on issues that are technically beyond me. Websites today are really hubs that link to other sites such as blogs, workshops, etc. SmugMug is clean and professional and it works!”

Price: $4-$25/month.


If PhotoFolio is specifically targeted at the relatively small world of high-style commercial photographers, WordPress (wordpress.com) has a target market that’s anything but. Instead, it’s aimed at everybody everywhere, whatever they want to make a website about. That ubiquity is perhaps the greatest asset of WordPress, which has been the de facto blogging platform for many years. There are lots of designers out there who can be hired to build nearly anything with WordPress—from the beautifully sublime to the down ’n dirty. WordPress also offers plenty of templates and DIY options, of course. The danger of course, at least in aesthetic terms, is that with limitless options you might end up with something less than aesthetically pleasing—unlike the “limited” template sites that only offer beautiful page designs.

One real differentiator between WordPress and the rest of these platforms is that WordPress can be a one-time-only purchase of a template which is then installed on a standalone website hosted wherever the photographer would like. It’s a popular way to build any sort of website, in fact. Compared to the platforms specifically for photographers otherwise listed here, the major benefit of WordPress is its potential for a very positive impact on SEO. Perhaps no platform is better suited to search engine optimization, according to photographer and SEO guru Blake Discher. “The thing that upsets me is when these other guys say they’re SEO friendly,” Discher says. “Well, okay they’re SEO friendly because you can put an alt tag on the image to tell Google what the image is about, you can put a title tag to tell Google what the page is about, but they won’t let you put body copy on the page. So it’s like I can tell you a little bit about what I do—I can tell you that I use a camera, but I can’t tell you exactly how I use the camera. Therein lies the rub. It's why I always say WordPress is the best platform for SEO, hands down. And that’s a self-hosted WordPress site.”

Price: $4-$25/month.


Another photographer-specific option for a web platform is Zenfolio (en.zenfolio.com). Zenfolio started out as straight portfolio sites, but has grown to include proofing capabilities (for photographers who want to deliver galleries from wedding shoots or family portrait sessions, for instance) and e-commerce for those who may want to profit from prints, downloads, home decor and accessories. Interestingly, Zenfolio also offers options specifically for school photographers and those who photograph sports teams and dance groups. The all-in-one system includes everything from pre-ordering and pose selection to print packages and fulfillment. A nice option for a niche of photographers with specific needs. Price: $5-$62.50/month. 

About the author:

William Sawalich made his first darkroom print at age ten. He earned a Master's Degree from The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Along with portraiture, still life and assignment photography, Sawalich is an avid writer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. He heads up the photo department at Barlow Productions in St. Louis.



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