How to Build a Photography Website in Four Steps

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Photography websites are a wonderful source of inspiration and invaluable self-promotion tools.

With the right website, stock photographers can sell their photos, wedding photographers can display their best work in online portfolios and hobbyists can share their favourite images with the world. But what if you have no idea how to build a website? Don’t worry, whether you’re a pro with thousands of pounds to spend, or you have a budget of exactly zero, there’s a solution for you.

If you’re not sure why you should have your own photography website, then check out the first article in my series: 11 Reasons Why Every Photographer Needs a Website or Blog

Step One

Go Surfing

Start by take a look at your favourite photography websites with a critical eye. Look at things like design, colour schemes, photo galleries (there are LOTS of ways to display photos online – which do you like?) and layout. It’s useful to make a list of do’s and don’ts – things you definitely DO want on your site and things that you DON’T.

Step Two

Set Goals

Next, you need to think about what you actually want to do with your website. Whether you’re looking for just a simple way to display some photos or a full blown e-commerce website, the first step is to identify the site’s goals.

Try this exercise:

Write a list of goals that you want to achieve with your photography website.

The goals you come up with will of course depend on your needs. A photoblog, for example, is very simple compared to the complex website that a professional photographer may require.

Simplicity is king in the online world. Simple websites are easier to build and maintain and make it easier for visitors to find what they want. Keep your site simple by only having a few goals.

Here are some things to consider:

Budget

How much cash do you have to spend on your website?

Time & Expertise

How much know-how do you have – or are you willing to acquire? If you want to learn how to build a website yourself you’ll need a lot of time to dedicate to the project.

The Future

How much will the website grow in the future? Most photographers will need to update their websites regularly with their latest work.

Features

What are the site’s most important features? Some typical features of a photography website include: photo galleries, a blog, photo downloads, newsletter subscriptions and an about page. The features should support the site’s main goals.

Primary Purpose

Think about your website’s primary purpose:

Your website’s primary purpose is the one goal that is more important than all the others. The other goals are subservient to your primary purpose – they exist to help you achieve it.

Read more about goal orientated web design at Web Design From Scratch.

Step Three

Decide which type of photography website you need

One you know your website’s primary purpose you can start to think about building the site. There are several types of photography website:

Simple Blogs

Blogs in their most basic form are online diaries that display the most recent entries first. Simple blogs are the easiest type of website to start up and maintain. Services like Blogger and WordPress.com are free and it’s easy to set up a blog within minutes without any programming knowledge.

The Travel Photographer is a good example of a simple blog. The writer uses it to establish his expertise as a travel photographer and publicise his overseas photography excursions to places like Nepal and Bhutan. The blog was created using Blogger.

Blogger and WordPress.com

These are the two simplest and cheapest ways to get started – they’re free! Setting up is a simple matter of registering, choosing a name for your blog and selecting a template (the layout).

Of the two, WordPress.com is slightly easier to use and looks more professional.  It does have some limitations – you can’t put adverts on the blog for example, or use scripts (small programs that use languages like JavaScript – typically used to serve ads or create widgets). You also have to pay to modify the template or use your own domain name (both of these services are free with Blogger).

WordPress.com also has the ability to add static pages to the blog. You can use this feature to turn the blog into a simple website with a custom home page.

The Stamp Collector is a WordPress.com blog.

Blogger gives you more flexibility in terms of modifying templates and placing ads or scripts on the blog. The biggest downside is that the templates don’t look as professional as WordPress’s. This is important – an ugly design sends the wrong message to potential clients.

Blogger and WordPress.com are very similar and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference. Remember, if you want to add static pages to the blog then you’ll need to use WordPress.com, and if you want to add adverts you should use Blogger.

Typepad

Typepad is similar to Blogger and WordPress.com, but it’s not free. Basic accounts start from £2.59 (or $US4.95) a month. For this you get sophisticated blogging software, unlimited photo albums (a key feature for photographers) and a good support service.

Humanitarian photographer Zoriah’s blog is an excellent example of a Typepad blog. The photographer uses it to showcase his latest work and raise funds for his projects.

Complex Blogs

The Digital Trekker is a more complex blog. Its creator, photographer Matt Brandon, promotes his services by creating a useful resource for travel photographers. The site was created with free blogging software by WordPress.

Building a Complex Blog

The most common software used to create complex blogs is WordPress. The software is free and needs to be downloaded and installed on your host’s server. For this, you require your own domain name and a hosting plan that supports PHP and MySQL (PHP is a programming language and MySQL is a database). Hosting plans start from about £5 a month in the UK (or $US4.00 in the United States) and are provided by sites like 1 & 1 and Go Daddy.

This may sound complicated but actually it’s quite straightforward. Only a bare minimum of programming knowledge is needed to get started and if you get stuck help’s available from either the WordPress forums or your host’s support service. It’s useful (but not essential) to know HTML and CSS to be able to modify the layout.

WordPress can be downloaded from www.wordpress.org. This is a separate product from WordPress.com – they share the same name (somewhat confusingly) because they’re made by the same people. The software’s power and flexibility means it can be used to create anything from a blog to a simple website or online magazine. Its popularity means that there are lots of helpful websites dedicated to WordPress tutorials and tips. A couple of goods ones are WP Candy and WP Designer.

Photoblogs

Photoblogs are specifically dedicated to photos. They’re a simple, versatile and cheap promotional tool.

Dawn le Blanc’s photoblog is a good example of using a photoblog to display and promote work.

Pixelpost

Pixelpost works like WordPress – you need your own domain name and hosting plan supporting MySQL and PHP, and have to upload the software to your host’s server. Once this is done you can choose a template and begin uploading photos. Unlike WordPress, Pixelpost is dedicated specifically to photoblogs, making it simpler to set up and use.

Incidentally, WordPress can also be modified to become a dedicated photoblog. The Fine Art Photoblog is a good example.

Pixelpost can also be combined with WordPress or a hand coded website. The main body of Vernon Trent Fine Arts & Photography was created with WordPress, and the photo galleries with Pixelpost.

The photo gallery section of my website was created with a modified Pixelpost theme.

Simple Websites

Websites with a simple structure and basic features like a photo gallery, about pages, newsletter subscription service and a blog. They’re normally hand coded or put together with software like Dreamweaver or WordPress.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is an excellent example of a simple website.

Complex Websites

Like a simple website but with more functionality, such as a download facility so the photography can sell stock photos or private photo galleries (a wedding photographer may use this feature to display and sell wedding photos). Complex websites are normally custom made either by a web design company or an individual with advanced web design skills.

Gavin Gough Photographer is a good example.

Building Simple and Complex Websites

There are several options here.  The first is to build the website yourself. This can be done either by hand coding the website using HTML and CSS, or using Content Management System (CMS) software.

Hand coding

HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language – the basic building block of all websites) is fairly simple to learn. However, if you plan to build your own website from scratch, you’ll also need to learn about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), JavaScript (a programming language), and other issues like graphic design and cross browser compatibility. Consider it a long term project.

There are many tools to help – for instance it’s quite easy to create a HTML photo gallery using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, or Google’s Picasa. Web Design From Scratch is an excellent place to start learning.

It’s also possible to use a program like Dreamweaver to build a website. However it’s an expensive and sophisticated program and you’ll still need to understand HTML, CSS and JavaScript to get the most out of it.

Content Management Systems

A Content Management System (CMS) is software that organizes every piece of content on your website. It’s much easier and quicker to build a website with a CMS than to hand code it. Some programming knowledge is required to set them up. WordPress, already discussed, can be considered a Content Management System. Two other popular CMS’s are Joomla and Drupal. They require more technical knowledge than WordPress to set up and are more suitable for advanced users.

The main advantage of using a CMS is that once set up, creating and updating the website is very quick and easy. Anna Ósk Erlingsdóttir Photography was created with Joomla.

Pay for a custom made website

Another option (and the most expensive) is to pay a web designer to build the website. This may be the only way for someone who needs a complex website but doesn’t have either the time or knowledge to build it themselves. This solution is typically suitable for professional photographers who know that they will be generating revenue from the site.

The cost depends on what you need.

Fotoviva was built by its owner Jason Wickens (he’s also a web designer). The site has photo galleries, a shopping cart that takes orders and processes card payments, and a blog. Expect a site like this to cost about £1000 to build and for a web designer to charge £40 an hour for updates.

Clikpic and Photium

A third option is to use a service like Clikpic or Photium. They’re a good middle option for photographers who don’t need an expensive custom designed website, and can be a lot cheaper.

The concept is simple; register an account, and for a monthly fee you can create your own website using their templates. You’ll have to build the site yourself, but you’ll be working with their professional looking templates, so you don’t have to worry about design. They’re also very easy to use and support is just an email away.

Expect to pay £35 – £180 per year with Clikpic and £80 – £185 per year for Photium, depending on which packages you choose. Domain names are extra with both services.

Alan Abercrombie’s website is a good example of what you can do with Clikpic.  Sophotogenic Photography was created with Photium.

Step Four

Do it!

Hopefully you now have a good understanding of how to create a photography website. The fourth step is the hardest of all – to get out there and do it!

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9 Responses to “How to Build a Photography Website in Four Steps”

  1. [...] My websites were chosen for the “WordPress & Pixelpost” combination. You can find the article here. [...]

  2. Many thanks for the plug, I was wonering why there seemed to be a surge in hits on my web site. Much appreciated.

  3. I think you should add FolioLink.com to your list of options for photographers. The service offers great sites in FLASH and HTML and have an iPhone compatible version which is great for viewing your site on the go. You can see what photographers and artists say about the service at: http://foliolink.com/featuredstories.asp .

  4. … the more the merrier… good tips for people just getting started – recommended!

  5. Erick says:

    Hi, this is nice and well organized overview. For a website “in a few easy steps,” though, I’m surprised you didn’t give more emphasis to photo website template solutions like ZenFolio, Photobiz, Foliolink (mentioned above), PhotoShelter, etc. Or for WordPress based website templates like Photocrati. With the proliferation of web templates today, it seems to me like that’s the way to go. E

  6. rj says:

    Great article. I think you’ve pretty much covered all the different options available. But maybe worth a mention is the ability to use the API’s/feeds available from sites like Picassa/Flickr to create a custom website. That way you use their CMS as the backend and your own custom site for the front end.

    Also, missing from the photoblog section are sites like PixyBlog (pixyblog.com) and Aminus3 (aminus3.com)

  7. Thanks for the great article, I think you included a lot of useful info for photographers who are just getting started.

  8. Natasha says:

    I wish I had found this article earlier it would have made my life so much simplier. It was a great read, prehaps I will implement some change to my website. Now that I read up and understand more about it. My web developer was no help. Anyway one shall keep trying.

  9. Shara says:

    great tip!!! thanks a million!

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