Building a Portfolio Website - part 1 / by Nigel Rumsey

web-site-grab This is the first part of my Beginner's Guide to Building a Portfolio Website (on a limited budget). This is a huge subject and the options are almost endless, the web as we all know isn't changing by the day, it's changing by the hour. You can almost guarantee in the time it's taken me to research and write this article at least one 'great new portfolio service' has been launched. Whether it still exists by the time you finish reading it is a whole other thing. So let's start before the next one comes along.

There are three principle deciding factors in how you achieve your shiny new site: 1. The amount you're prepared to spend. 2. The technical, web related, knowledge you have. 3. The time you have to devote to the project.

1. Money: If you have plenty of money you don't need too much time or knowledge, you just pay gifted designers and coders to do the job for you. Done, end of story. This is the one part of the equation I have almost no knowledge of - correction - I have no knowledge of. But the good news is you need read no further you can go off and take pictures, which is let’s face it is far more fun. There is an important business decision to be made here though. If you're running a business, even if you have the skill, is it worth your time to build your own site. That really depends on how busy you are and how much you charge compared to getting someone else to do the work. These are decisions only you can make but it's certainly worth doing the sums - it's not necessarily cheaper to do the DIY thing.

2. Technical Knowledge: If you have plenty of web knowledge you probably won't be reading this, or if you are it's just to see if you agree with me. Either way the whole thing is a hell of a lot easier.

3. Time: If you don't have the money and you don't have much tech knowledge I'm afraid the bad news is this may take a while. But it's important to say that with only very little tech know how it is possible. You may stumble along the way, but if you make the right choices you can make a good portfolio web site - believe me? Good! Don't forget that you want visitors to your photography not your website - they're not interested in whether you can code but whether you can take photos.

THE OPTIONS As you may have suspected there are a shed load of options, but I'll try to make this as straightforward as possible. Generally your choices fall into the following categories - we're going down in price so don't get disheartened if you think this will all be too expensive for your budget.

A. Bespoke Made-to-Measure Sites

As I said above I don't have the money for this option so I can't give you firm recommendations. What I would say is if you don't have a clue where to start look at the sites of photographers you admire - generally a website designer / developer will put their name on there somewhere - find a site you like, look at the developers site, see what else they've done and go from there.

B. Hosted Template Sites

These sites will be the most popular, and sensible, choice for most working photographers. You will know some of these names - Squarespace, Zenfolio, Smugmug, Photoshelter, Livebooks - they advertise in all the photo magazines. There are many more to choose from. This is the next best option for most working photographers. You will need some technical knowledge to make the most of the options they offer, but most will give some level of technical support, generally depending on how much you're prepared to pay. But at a basic level if you can upload a photo to 500px, or Flickr, and operate Lightroom you can certainly get one of these sites off the ground.

Some of the criteria you'll need to take into account when you decide which service to use:

  • do you want to create password protected client galleries? - very useful for wedding and event photographers
  • do you want an online print ordering service?
  • do you want that service to fulfill print orders direct or send that customers requirements to you to fulfill?
  • does the service have an upload limit? If you're uploading full sized jpegs from your D800 you could run into problems.
  • do you want to use your own domain name (i.e. www.yourname.com)? - I would imagine all services will offer this but it's worthing checking. (Note: Although it's convenient to 'buy' your domain name from the service provider it does make moving provider more challenging in the future. Ideally you should register the domain name separately then you just need to give the service provider the information to show you're the registered owner and they do the rest - more on this subject later.)

COST: costs, of course, vary. Squarespace a very popular service, and one that would be on my list to check out, charges (at time of writing) $16/month for their 'Unlimited' package - which includes your custom domain name.

Ted Forbes, who makes the excellent Art of Photography video podcast, has a great video discussing some of the items I'm covering here. He discusses Squarespace and similar services. I think Ted mentions, his show is sponsored, in part, by Squarespace but I genuinely believe he wouldn't recommended them if he didn't rate their product.

Ted has made a couple of other videos on this subject I'll be linking to those in part 2, or you can find them on The Art of Photography site.

I've already started working on Part 2, where I'll be examining the options for self-hosting, I hope to publish that in the next week. In the meantime if you have any questions please leave a comment below or send me an email mail@nigelrumsey.com.