The usual course of events is that once we have exchanged our photography services for people’s hard earned cash a few times, we need a website to show off our wares. This used to involve contacting a web guy, having multiple arguments and lots of back and forth, and then eventually you have a website to show off your portfolio. This route is still an option, but there are also photography website builders to automate most of the process so you can do it yourself.
So, the first question is why take the photography website builder route? Firstly, most of the headache of website maintenance is taken away. You no longer have to worry about keeping things up to date or to an extent, people hacking your website. Galleries and ways to show off your portfolio are usually included in the price and this may also include e-commerce facilities for selling images. There is still upkeep involved, but this is more admin work, rather than full web design.
There is always the argument that if you want a very custom design, the website templates provided by most website builders are generic, used by everybody. However, most photographers need a sparse design as the images are the point of focus. Once you’ve uploaded your images and created a custom logo and tagline, it’s amazing how unique a website can look from a basic template.
Now, let’s dive into what the most popular website builders provide and what you get for your hard earned cash.
1. SmugMug (Overall Winner)
SmugMug provides a simple and streamlined way to get your images online and for sale, aimed directly at photographers. Even with the basic package, an unlimited amount of photos can be uploaded, automatically backed up with e-commerce facilities, options for watermarks, integration with Lightroom, and direct linking to print labs.
Images can be easily organized with a drag-and-drop interface, with the ability to password protect folders and easily order prints, linking to a high quality print lab.
The service can be used with or without a domain name, and with four packages available, the cheapest annual package works out at $7.19 monthly. Unfortunately, there is no free version available, but the service can be trialed for 14 days.
Considering you get the equivalent of a beautiful website, advanced image gallery, and e-commerce site for less than $10 a month, this service is easily worth the money.
Quite honestly, this entry could have been either CloudSpot or Pixieset as both offer more than your standard website builder. For the professional photographer who needs a website, e-commerce platform, and a bunch of marketing tools, both services offer a lot in these departments. This is almost a mini shootout in itself, as both are commonly recommended platforms as complete online photography solutions.
CloudSpot has a reasonable pricing structure, with a free account, providing 1GB of storage and the cheapest paid option starting at $10 for 15GB of storage. Video content can be delivered from CloudSpot, with the ability to create vendor photo galleries which don’t count towards your storage limits, capturing of contact information for follow-up emails, support for various file types such as PDFs for print release forms, seamless client photo apps, and print sales with auto fulfillment.
If this was the end of the story then CloudSpot would be an obvious choice. But, if you’re going to use the print lab associated with CloudSpot, keep in mind it’s USA based. This isn’t a problem if you don’t mind worldwide shipping, but if you prefer to use a print lab in another country, then the likes of Pixieset may come into play.
You can choose any print lab you like on both platforms with a bit more manual processing. But, for the most automated service, the integrated print labs work the best (if you prefer their specific print papers).
As Pixieset has links with print labs across Europe, its platform may provide the most seamless integration for European photographers. If you live in the US or thereabouts, then CloudSpot is a wonderful choice.
The Zenfolio website is apparently voted number one by pro photographers, but no matter the tagline wording, it definitely offers everything you need for a professional workflow. It’s clear that both the photographer and client have been kept in mind, with easy-to-use features for both.
There’s a good degree of website templates to choose from, which can be customized to an extent for your own specific design. Photo galleries are simple to set up and manage, with the option of password protected areas and simple access for clients if you allow. Other features include unlimited storage, image security, and automatic image adjustment for various devices.
The shopping cart facilities work not just for selling images, but the system also has a schedule and booking system, which can take payments. The basic package starts at $5 a month, but for the full list of services it will cost you $30 per month, which includes mini websites, beauty packaging, promotional items, and a dedicated live chat and phone support.
Although the Adobe Portfolio platform doesn’t provide a direct e-commerce facility, it’s a great way to build a basic portfolio website. It’s also worth a mention as the vast majority of creatives use some form of Adobe product and a Creative Cloud subscription, which includes Adobe Portfolio for free.
The setup of a basic portfolio website is simple to achieve, with an easy-to-use graphical interface for laying out areas of text, images, and video. There’s also seamless integration with Lightroom, which allows straightforward uploading of a client’s image set.
If you already have a Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe Portfolio is an obvious way to build a basic website and gallery. However, for the selling of images, a separately hosted e-commerce solution is needed and the Adobe Portfolio service can’t be purchased individually. But, for existing adobe users, the service is an obvious way to build a basic website and portfolio.
5. Wix (Budget Winner)
It’s not hard to see why Wix has become one of the most popular website builders around. While it’s not specifically aimed at photographers, it still has one of the easiest to use interfaces, with over 30 templates out of the 500 available for photography use.
The simple drag-and-drop editor makes it very easy to place areas of text and images on specific pages. This makes building a standard website a complete breeze.
If you need more than just a basic website, such as e-commerce facilities and extra storage, these require an extra fee. Wix is a great solution for a basic website and portfolio. But if you need the functionality of extensive galleries, built-in from the ground up, e-commerce, and links to photo labs, than the other options on this list will be a more seamless fit.
Culminating the Best Photography Website Builders
The process of setting up a basic website to a full-blown e-commerce platform has never been easier for photographers. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get to work, even the most feature-rich platforms can be set up in next to no time. Then the deciding factors are do you go for a basic website builder or a service that provides the full workflow?
The list above provides a good selection of one extreme to the other and even with the most expensive services, they provide plenty of room for growth and generally add more facilities and easier ways of working as time goes by.