Expert Advice: Website Dos and Don’ts
Written by: Samantha McCafferty/Wonderful Machine
Here at Wonderful Machine we tend to spend a lot of time looking at photographers’ portfolio websites. The web is constantly changing and what was standard a few years ago is now ancient history. As such, we’ve gone ahead and revamped our old Website Dos and Don’ts article. So here it is, a fresh new checklist of dos and don’ts.
General Tips: At this point, you should have a website that is HTML5. Prior to HTML5 sites, Flash sites were pretty popular. Not anymore. With the development of the responsive web, Flash just wasn’t able to keep up. The word Flash is also actually enough to make any designer or photo editor wince, so please, for our sake, just get rid of it.
The web has also evolved to include a number of sites that have pre-existing templates that you can customize to your needs (think Squarespace or aPhotofolio). For most people, this eliminates the need for a custom site, which is great for affordability. Another great perk of these sites is that many are responsive or have mobile-optimized versions of your website, which are absolute must haves. Not convinced? According to KPCB, between 2014 and 2015, 51% of digital media time in the US was spent on mobile devices while only 42% was spent on desktops. You want people to be able to see your work no matter what type of device they are using.
It’s also good practice to have your domain name and email address be your actual name, so people can easily find you. This is something that is super easy to do with Google Apps.
Here are a few reoccurring thoughts from all of the time spent traveling through online portfolios:
- Your site should be succinct and minimal.
- Please no Flash. Seriously, it’s poor form at this point.
- Monitors are huge these days, your image size should reflect that.
- Side scrolling galleries are awesome and easy to navigate through.
- A photographer is rarely his or her own best editor. More often than not, a second set of eyes can give you a brand new perspective on your work.
- Less is more. I have a feeling this one will always be true.
- Your site should be responsive or at least have a mobile optimized version.
Here are a few thoughts from our photo editor Stacy Swiderski on what she looks for in a photographers’ site.
When I look at a portfolio site, I’m expecting it to be organized in a way that supports their brand and the type of work they’re looking to do for clients. It should emphasize the best of their capabilities in a manner that’s streamlined and responsive. Images, whether organized by specialty or by project, should be presented in a manner that’s concise and effective, carefully showcasing a curated selection of fresh content, rather than archive of all the work they’ve done in the past.
Clients don’t have the time to waste clicking through layers and layers of work, getting distracted by fussy design elements, or having to squint to see your images. So be decisive, be committed, and be honest with who you are as a photographer and what your brand represents.
Now, here are a few items you should consider as you evaluate your site. I won’t go too much into detail but I will, however, mention that functionality is number one for a reason. A glitch or oversight in functionality is the quickest way to lose a visitor.
- Is the navigation intuitive, consistent, streamlined, easy to use?
- Are the pictures a comfortable size and palatable number? Too many images tire the eyes and attention span.
- Are there any spelling or grammar problems? Triple check.
- Do all of the links work properly?
- Have you linked to your social networking pages?
- Is it clear where you’re based?
- Is there sufficient and easily noticeable contact info?
- Do the pictures take too long to load?
- Is the current gallery highlighted?
- Do I have to move my mouse around to browse the galleries?
- Are your thumbnails large enough to be useful?
- Is there music? Let your images do the singing.
- Are you using transitions? Are they noticeable?
- Does your site work on all the main browsers?
- Does the website have the photographer’s name clearly visible on every page?
- Is the URL consistent with the branding?
- Does the email address use the same URL? Does it say “info@”? It shouldn’t. Try “yourname@.” “Info” is a bit impersonal.
- Are the type and colors cohesive and consistent?
- Do any graphical elements interfere/clash with the images?
- Do the pictures speak in a consistent and coherent style?
- Are the pictures separated into useful categories?
- Are there too many galleries with too many images, or are they showing their best work?
- If there are multiple specialties, do they clash with one another?
- Are the pictures marketable?
- Do any of the pictures look dated?
- Do you have a copyright date? Does it still say 2014?
Some important things to remember—keep your gallery edits tight, and make sure there aren’t too many images in each of your specialties. Make sure there are no oddballs, like dated work or inconsistent styles.
Now, a topic that makes some photographers grimace…social media. It’s important to have a blog, professional Facebook, Twitter accounts and an Instagram. Keep them updated weekly (at least)! Social media can give potential clients a clearer picture of you or your work and increase brand awareness, but only if you use it properly. It’s better not to have any of the above than to be a ghost on all of them.
We’ve talked with many photographers who are intimidated by writing blog posts, or can’t devote that much of their free time to writing a blog. A good alternative to a traditional blog is a Tumblr. You can post your outtakes or behind the scenes work without the pressure of writing a full blog post, but it still gives you the option of doing so.
Including a little bio about yourself (preferably with a picture) is a nice touch. Make sure to have a clear contact page, as well as some indication of where you are located. List and link your full email over contact forms, which are too impersonal and prone to human error.
If you’re happy with your website, that’s fantastic! There’s a fair chance that your site kicks ass. However, be mindful of trends and changes in web design. Stay competitive and visit other photographers’ websites frequently. You don’t have to reinvent your online identity every time there’s a new trend, but be sure to keep your site current.
If you’re looking for help designing your website or blog, contact Wonderful Machine through their consulting page!
This article was originally written by Paul Stanek and Amanda Friend, and published on November 23, 2010. It has been updated in February 2016 to reflect changes in web design.